Musical Futures-my story by Champion Teacher Kirsty Hirst

2nd April 2016

Musical Futures Champion Teacher Kirsty Hirst blogs about her experiences of teaching a new qualification in a new school

Post 1 March 2016

My first teaching post in Edinburgh was a temporary, part-time post teaching Music to S1-S3 students and assisting Advanced Higher students with independent study. My two colleagues, both full-time, permanent teachers of Music, also taught S1-S3 and delivered the National Qualification courses – National 4/5, Higher and Advanced Higher. As I didn’t deliver these courses there was very little need (or opportunity, due to my short working hours) for me to get involved in the planning of these courses.

But now I am about to start a full-time permanent position where I am the sole teacher of Music. I didn’t train to teach Music in Scotland so I’m learning all of this as I go along. I am both excited and scared about this.

The school I will be teaching in is small, it has a roll of approximately 600, and uptake in Music in low, there is one S3 class of 15 students and one National Qualifications class (National 4, National 5 and Higher) of 13 students. One of my main priorities is to increase the uptake of students at S3 and National Courses. This is why I am excited. I have been in this position before and know how effective creating a curriculum that fully embeds Musical Futures can be. The pedagogies and approaches of Musical Futures not only resulted in increased uptake at KS4 (I was previously subject leader of Music at an inner London comprehensive) but it also improved student engagement and independence across all levels, significantly reduced negative behaviour issues, boosted participation in extra-curricular activities and, what I feel is the most important point, made my job exciting and fun again!

Now for the reason I’m scared! I don’t fully understand the SQA National Qualifications, I have no experience teaching them and I really don’t want to end up delivering ‘paint by numbers’ composition lessons, ‘chalk and talk’ listening lessons and endless hours of ‘practical’ (otherwise known as students “practising” their performance pieces) lessons. I want to stay true to my professional beliefs and deliver integrated lessons that are engaging, effective, practical and student-led.

In this blog I will share my experience with readers. I will let you know about my successes and my failures and what I discover along the way.

Post 2 April 2016

Well it has been an incredibly interesting start to the summer term. I’m sure everybody is aware of the current situation of some schools in the City of Edinburgh – 17 schools have been closed due to concerns regarding the structural safety of the buildings, one of them being my school.

Because of this my journey toward embedding Musical Futures in my delivery of the SQA National Qualifications and BGE (Broad General Education) has been temporarily put on hold. Once I am able to access resources I will begin planning units and creating teaching resources that I will share with you all via the MuFu Facebook page. Sadly I won’t be able to let you know what works and what doesn’t until I get a chance to deliver these units and at this stage we don’t know when that’s going to be.

I would like to take this time to show my appreciation and admiration for my teaching colleagues in the City of Edinburgh. Liberton High School (LHS) has offered the staff and senior students of GHS a temporary home. We have been here for three days now and I can say enough to express how fantastic the staff of both GHS and LHS have been. I am also in awe of how deeply the staff of GHS care about their students. When we were informed that we were going to be relocated to LHS with our senior students and that we had no access to the GHS buildings staff were willing to sign their lives away in order to gain access to the buildings to retrieve student work and resources. The students and their assessments are what the staff are concerned about. Although my start at GHS has been something that I’m sure no other teacher has faced before, and hopefully no teacher will ever face this situation in the future, I have been made to feel welcome and included. Once we’re back in a permanent home I know this is going to be a fantastic school to work at and I am confident that I will have support to get MuFu fully embedded at GHS.

Post 3 May 2016

Life continues to be interesting here at GHS. Our senior students are currently on exam leave and our junior school are currently being accommodated at Wester Hailles Education Centre (WHEC).

My daily routine is quite unusual. I arrive at school where the junior school jump onto coaches. After a few weeks of doing this I have become quite attached to my coach and the group of students I travel with. Our journey to WHEC takes around 20 minutes depending on traffic and how fast the coach driver drives. Once we reach WHEC we all venture to our different rooms that the staff from WHEC have kindly found for us.

The rooms are not ideal but they are definitely better than nothing. They are missing things that we often take for granted – whiteboards, smart boards, data projectors, computers, WIFI/internet access, speakers – and have been unused for a while so have accumulated piles of random text books and worksheets. There are tables and chairs though so we have got someone for our students to put their bottoms and it’s a functional space. Of course the first thing I do when I arrive in one of these rooms is to move all of the tables out of the way and get the chairs in a circle.

I have been lucky enough to find a temporary home in an unused music classroom that has a drum kit in it. A few keyboards and guitars have been transported from GHS to WHEC for me and I have managed to set myself up. Sadly I don’t always have access to this space. There is an adult class that takes place a couple of days during the week so I become homeless for a few hours and don’t have the use of the instruments.

So how do I cope with this and what on earth am I teaching?!

I am thanking the universe that I decided to embrace MuFu a few years ago as I don’t think I would have been able to cope with this situation if I hadn’t. I immediately turned to ‘Find Your Voice’ and was able to start delivering my lessons. I also feel that my experience with MuFu has made the fact that I don’t know any of my students and the classes are changing every couple of weeks less daunting.

My journey toward embedding MuFu at GHS has started and although it has been a less than desirable start it is definitely a positive one. The majority of students look forward to their music lessons, I am often being asked “Miss when do we have you next?” They are also really engaged in their work. I have been stopped in the playground at lunchtime by students wanting to show me that they have mastered the body percussion pattern they were taught in class and there is often a round of “ta ta kiddy” going on during the coach ride home. Several students are also asking me to clarify rhythms for different activities so they can work on it in their own time.

This really shows me that when you’ve got a positive outlook it’s amazing what you can achieve!

Again I have to say that I can’t speak highly enough of all my colleagues and SMT. Staff at Liberton High School and WHEC have made us all so welcome and are doing what they can to help us out and support us. The SMT are completely snowed under with pressure coming from all directions but still manage to find the time to check in on me and ask if I need anything. I am still incredibly happy that I am working at GHS and I know that I am going to be able to embed MuFu throughout the school.

(Keep your eyes open for my new resource ‘My Approach to Find Your Voice’)

Excellent workshops ‑ extremely accessible for all abilities and levels."

Claire Armour, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra