We live in a world where we raise our children with the expectation that they will go on to work for someone else: whether it’s for their financial dreams, desire to make a difference, or to give them the opportunity to fulfill other goals . Whatever the reason for our approach to teaching is, the bottom line is that this country was founded on outdated teaching practices, employment expectations and curriculum; ideas from over 200 years ago which are still being used today, but don’t fit modern society at all.
It’s time for a revamp.
When I was growing up in New Zealand, the Maori-inspired educational framework that my teachers delivered my learning through had a hugely positive impact on not just my school work, but also on how confident and successful I felt. It’s easy for me to see why so many young people grow into adults with self-confidence issues if they haven’t been taught within a school system that honors their culture, or by someone who endeavors to understand them at an emotional level. This is why it became important for me as a musician, and a youth empowerment coach to not only lean into students’ familial-, cultural-, and experiential- backgrounds, but also teach from a place of understanding that every student brings their own experiences to the learning environment. When I’m working with students, whether virtually, in person, or in online group coaching sessions – it’s important that I understand and draw on their backgrounds to empower them in reaching their full potential.
Our cultures, our histories, and our experiences make us who we are.
Tikanga Ako is an indigenous-to-New Zealand cultural approach to learning and thinking that focuses on four traditional principles of
- aro (reflection)
- ako (learning, teaching)
- te hiringa (passion, spirituality and motivation)
- and whanaungatanga (relationships)
But these principles aren’t solely for the school climate. Approaching life with these four principles in mind has helped me succeed as an award-winning -educator, -musician, and -youth-worker, which became especially important when I moved to the States, and into a culture where we’re encouraged by our leaders to not settle for what is easy; but to instead do the hard work, and make a difference. Make an impact. Leading with the aforementioned four principles has been monumental in ensuring that while doing the “hard work”: students benefit from their arts education, and I continue to grow and evolve as well.
But Why Focus on Culture in the Classroom?
To clarify, Tikanga Ako translates to “the right way to learn and teach” in indigenous Maori language, but the principles are essentially the same across most Pasifika cultures. Tikanga Ako encompasses the following teaching principles:
- The constant acknowledgement that participants at any time and place are always engaged in relationships with others, their environments and families.
- The constant acknowledgement that pursuit of wellbeing is at the core of all learning.
- The constant acknowledgement that quality spaces must be claimed and maintained to enable activities to be undertaken in an ethical and meaningful way.
- And the constant acknowledgement that valued contributions are to be given and received responsibly.
We need to be raising children who can practice critical thought, logic and outside of the box thinking, whilst recognizing the power of their identity, culture and authenticity, and in our fast-paced society with its ever changing trends – it becomes difficult for not only parents but also educators to teach future generations critical skills, critical thinking, and the ability to conduct research. By leading with the aforementioned principles, we’re able to start from a powerful foundation from which we can start to build our teenagers’ well rounded education.
By recognizing, honoring, and learning one’s culture and background, we are able to ensure students participate regularly in class, student attendance increases, and students retain information more effectively. Most often, these cultures are seeped in music.
Let’s dig deeper.
We must teach our students in a way that resonates with each of them, and incorporates their cultural, experiential and familial backgrounds. We cannot simply focus on lectures, quizzes or visual learning aids if a student is trying to contend with English as a second language, a difficult home-life, being labelled by peers and family members as “trouble”, or systemic racism; it would be like teaching to a [frustrated] brick wall! It is key to identify and understand a student’s experiences, histories, and cultural backgrounds so that they can feel empowered to learn from where they are; not where a teacher expects them to be. Utilizing arts education or music classes allows students – especially minority students – to actively show up, so that their education and academic achievement has a solid foundation to build from.
Benefits of Arts Education
Essay writing used to be an indication of knowledge, but why not encourage research papers be delivered as a song, poem or rap performance? There has been countless research to show the positive impact music has on learning, memory retention and cognitive development.
Guided conversation and shared experiences are more effective than lectures for developing knowledge. Everyone – including the teacher– can benefit from this method of learning, as students and faculty alike can brainstorm, give and receive constructive feedback, and facilitate each other’s academic growth.
Instead of pop quizzes, we can now lead creative songwriting sessions to demonstrate knowledge. Why? Because creativity – especially music – engages multiple areas of the brain thus helping students retain information better than ever before!
So Why Music?
The use for music is so much more than just entertainment. Beyond the academic benefits: it’s an essential part in everyday life that holds significance among every single community and tribe around the world. Song is a powerful form of communication, and is often used to commemorate family history, and facilitates the process for teenagers to learn life lessons.
We all know that music has a huge impact on our brain, because as it stimulates the frontal cortex [aka the creative brain], as well as various other parts of your brain like those responsible for storing information or making decisions – we can now help students make healthier life choices, retain knowledge better and achieve higher test scores – simply by implementing music, creativity and songwriting.
The World is Changing at an Unprecedented Pace.
We need to keep up with the social, emotional, communicative, and academic changes of the technological era in order for us, as educators and providers of education resources, tools and information – to best serve our students’ needs now. A child or teenager being taught how to think creatively throughout their educational life stimulates all of the skills necessary for success in adulthood:
- quick wittedness
- self esteem (the belief that you can succeed)
- and cognitive function such as retaining knowledge.
This creates a person who knows what they want when it comes time to enter into, or create careers, so not only does introducing creativity and cultural education into the classroom offer our kids the tools they need now, but ones eyes begin to open towards endless possibilities after their school career.
This year, let’s get creative by providing different types of creative arts activities that engage kids’ minds while also scaffolding skills they will use throughout life.
Click here to hop on a call with me to see if songwriting is one of the right creative projects for your young person.