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MALI Teacher Leader Story: Kaitlin Young

June 5, 2018

Music Educator

This is one of several blog posts in 2018 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 7 Teacher Leaders and Teaching Artist Leaders. This series includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about each leader. CLICK HERE  for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE  for more information on the 93 Teacher Leaders and 8 Teaching Artist Leaders.  CLICK HERE  for Arts education resources. CLICK HERE  for the MALI Resource Bank. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past teacher leader stories. Thank you Kaitlin for sharing your story!

Kaitlin Young has taught music within the RSU 68 school district in Dover-Foxcroft, Me. for the last eight years. Currently she teaches music to students in prekindergarten through fourth grade at SeDoMoCha Elementary School. She is also the choral director of the SeDoMoCha Singers at SeDoMoCha Middle School. Kaitlin is the 2017 Piscataquis County Teacher of the Year, and the 2018 Maine Teacher of the Year.

What do you like best about being a music educator?

Music is pretty cool. I love that I have the unique pleasure of providing experiences for my students that are at times indescribable through words. I love to watch their faces when they hear something they have never heard before, or even better hear something they know and love in a new way. Moments when they laugh uncontrollably at a silly song, tear up as they connect to a piece of classical music, or beam with pride when they have created something uniquely their own.

I love that I get to share in these experiences that elicit strong emotional connections through music with my students. I love that I get to bring joy through song and movement, and that in my classroom kids get to be kids. Wonder and awe are essential to the human experience.

I love that music education provides students an outlet to express themselves as well as a way to connect to their community both locally and globally. I love that as an educator, regardless of content, what we do is about fostering relationships. I love that I get to build these relationships over several years and experience all of these moments of joy with my students.  We are engaged in this journey together.

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

First, always keep an open mind.

No matter what role we hold within a Visual and Performing Arts program, (student, teacher, administrator, community member, etc.) it is essential that we continue to be open to possibilities. Whether it be growth and learning, actively sharing and listening to others ideas, thinking creatively about solving a problem, or simply being willing to try something new. Our ability to capitalize on those unexpected teachable moments will help us continue to engage others within our programs and help them to reflect our communities.

Second, build trusting relationships.

Relationships are the foundation of a strong education, and are essential to the human experience. We learn the most from people we trust and respect. The arts innately foster empathy, connections, and community. As a valued colleague once told me, “the arts bring people together.”

Third, be willing to persist and advocate for what you love!

We must set goals with our students and colleagues and actively pursue them even when the going gets tough. Advocacy is sharing what we love on behalf of those we love. And one of the best ways to advocate is empowering our students to find their voices and advocate for their future.

How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?

Assessments are a tool to help us to know where we are, where we are going, and clarify how we might need to get there. Once I grasped the concept that assessments could be informative and diagnostic (which felt much different from when I was in school!) it changed the way I viewed learning the learning process. I love being able to use consistent language to identify the skills necessary to help my students develop and grow into strong musicians. Assessment provides the opportunity to improve feedback and promote positive conversation surrounding learning goals and growth for both students and teachers!

Utilizing assessments to share what students need to know and be able to do to demonstrate their learning has allowed students to take control. Assessment has also helped us to advocate within our school community as we challenge the belief that music education is just for the talented few.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership initiative?

Working with such an inspiring and passionate group of educators brings out the best in everyone! Whether it is the facilitated discussions within professional development sessions, informal conversation surrounding our craft at lunch, or follow up phone calls/zoom meetings with friends I always leave feeling uplifted, supported, and encouraged to challenge myself to grow as a professional.

My growth throughout my teaching career has been supported through various opportunities provided by the work of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (formerly Maine Arts Assessment Initiative) and I continue to look forward to the connections that I will be able to make and the doors that may open through this continued experience.

What are you most proud of in your career?

My kids. It might sound cliche, but my husband and I do not have biological kids (yet…growth mindset!) and I love that I get to share in many special moments with all of them each and every day and over the course of many years!

I take pride in all of the small moments where they accomplish something they didn’t think was possible or when they make a fantastic connection that gives greater purpose and meaning to what they are learning. Over the last year it has brought me great joy to share their thoughts and ideas with others as I have presented at conferences as I advocate on behalf of our profession. I continue to be inspired by their words and I am proud that I get to share their ideas!

Kaitlin at the Hall of Flags in Augusta with the arts teachers honored as the 2018 county teachers of the year. (l to r) Kaitlin, Sagadahoc: Christine Del Rossi, Mt. Ararat High School, Knox: Anthony Lufkin, Friendship Village School, Prescott Memorial School, Union Elementary, and Waldo: David Coffey, Belfast Area High School and Troy Howard Middle School

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

Paperwork, pressure, and misperceptions oh my! While I am a strong advocate for assessment and high quality education I do agree that often times I can get caught up in the administrative aspects of my job. In a time of “evaluation and accountability” there can be intense pressure to justify your worth, or the worth of your program, based on the misperception of what music education is or “should be,” not upon what we know, as professionals, to be best for our students. Music education, and what music classes might look like, continue to evolve. We have, hopefully, moved further away from some of the sit and get or “mouth the words” experiences that others have had. It can be hard to alter or influence the expectations of those who may have had a poor music experience, do not understand, or simply do not value what it is that we do. That can lead to logistical challenges including itinerant or unrealistic schedules, a less than ideal physical work environment (like being on a cart!), or unsupportive administrators and/or communities. However the need to understand and explain (often way more than we would like) the importance of what we are teaching and why we are teaching it sets us up to be some of the most reflective and effective advocates for our students!

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

Take the advice that you give to your students each and every day in your classrooms.  Actively listen. Be reflective and patient. Play nice with others. Dream big, think different, work hard, and be kind.

On a recent trip to Washington, D.C. representing Maine as the 2018 Teacher of the Year Kaitlin takes the opportunity to have a conversation with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

I would love to start a scholarship for my students to have the opportunity to travel to explore musical opportunities/experiences beyond our local and state community on a consistent basis. I would also like to take my husband on a road trip across our country, specifically to see all of the National Parks. His affinity and admiration for the beauty that simply exists through nature always inspires me to pause and appreciate the small moments.

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?

I wish I would have been more diligent about writing down the small special moments from the classroom during the beginning of my career. Mostly because my memory is not what it used to be, but also because in education it is the small moments that fill up our buckets. That’s what I will look back upon and smile about the most!

Thank you Kaitlin for representing Maine educators as our 2018 Maine State Teacher of the Year. 

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