The National Music Teacher Mentoring Program (NMTMP) relies on our specialist mentors sharing their expert skills and knowledge to help assist other teachers.

To help learn a little bit more about how the program works, we sat down with Susan Marshall and Melissa Common, a Mentor/Teacher pairing from Pennington Children’s Centre in South Australia. 

AYO National Music Teacher Mentoring Program teachers Susan and Melissa sit next to each other in a music classroom
Susan Marshall (left), Melissa Common (right)

Susan Marshall (mentor)

How long have you been teaching music?

I have been a classroom music teacher since 2002 – 19 years!
I have been involved in the NMTMP since it was first implemented in SA in 2017.

What led you to join the program as a mentor?

Having been in my current school since 2007 I was looking to share my knowledge and experience with other teachers, branch out, find a new challenge to improve my teaching, make me reflect on my process and pedagogy and to discover new repertoire. I teach using the Orff Schulwerk approach and I wanted to share this wonderful teaching methodology with other less experienced teachers.

Have there been any significant personal highlights during your time as both a mentor and a lead mentor?

Being involved in the NMTMP has influenced and expanded my knowledge about process and thinking through content and how I am going to teach. I critically evaluate and make notes for improvements. I constantly consider learning outcomes for students when teaching and mentoring. This is also reinforced in my classroom teaching at Unley PS. Inspiring teachers to realise that they can indeed teach music and the enjoyment on students’ faces when they are experiencing music is a highlight for me every day.

The effect of the mentoring process is also further reaching than I would have initially anticipated. Other educators and staff (SSO’s, bilingual support staff and student teachers) utilise the repertoire I have taught and implement music into their teaching practice. Students share the work they have achieved in the classroom with their families at home. It is clear to see that music is branching further out into the community. At one site, between occasional care and support staff, playgroup, and kindy educators, it is safe to say that up to 100 families have benefited from the NMTMP.

On a personal level, having professional dialogue with these teachers and really breaking down the teaching process into manageable steps is really beneficial to my teaching practice as I am constantly reflecting about how I teach.

What would you say to any other specialist music teachers thinking about becoming mentors?

Being a mentor is such a rewarding experience. It is great to work with different teachers at different sites. You will get great satisfaction in sharing your knowledge, experience and expertise with other educators and working alongside them to realise that they can indeed teach music!

You will have opportunities to really reflect on your own teaching and to analyse and think through your teaching process. You will discover new repertoire to use back in your site.

Finally, what’s your favourite song to teach the students?

I find that students love learning songs in different languages. ‘Funga Alafia’ is one of my favourites. It is a greeting song sung throughout parts of Africa. It has a catchy tune, is repetitive and is great for accompanying on drums and other non-melodic percussion instruments. We can sing the song as the A section and then in the B section, students love improvising on their instruments before we sing the A section again.

Melissa Common (teacher)

What was your experience teaching music prior to participating in the National Music Teacher Mentoring Program?

Although I had worked with music before in my career as a dancer and dance teacher, I had not had any formal music training beyond a few piano lessons when I was seven. Incorporating music looked like sharing simple rhymes that I remembered from my childhood, ‘Just Dance’ videos played on the smart screen and playing musical statues as a brain break.  Although they were all fun and valid, my lack of content knowledge and understanding of the process of teaching music inhibited them from being powerful learning experience for the children I was working with.

What made you decide the mentoring program was right for you?

In 2020, I was a new graduate teacher with the fortune to have a fulltime contract at Pennington Children’s Centre as a Preschool Teacher. I found my preservice placements at kindergartens and childcare centres overwhelming because I was just so impressed by the musical repertoire of the educators there.  At the beginning of 2020, as we started planning out our year, I was at a loss as to how to increase both my confidence and repertoire of songs. From my background in dance teaching, I knew that I wanted to incorporate music and movement into my teaching practice- but I just didn’t know how! When the Director at Pennington bought the program to my attention, I was immediately eager to get involved.

Would you mind sharing what your experience was like during the mentoring program? What kind of changes have you seen in your classroom, and in your own teaching practice?

The mentoring program was a positive, engaging, and fun experience from start to finish.  Susan was supportive, friendly, and an expert mentor, tailoring the planned learning to our cohort of children and to the needs of us as educators on our own learning journey. The way the program ran over the course of the year helped us to feel successful and  well scaffolded throughout the process. When it was our turn to run the sessions, we felt supported and well prepared, receiving extensive on the spot and written feedback.  Visiting Susan’s school was a powerful opportunity for us to see where our learners were heading and how we could stretch their learning to support their transition to school.

In terms of the changes I have seen at our site, it is clear to my colleagues and I that there has been an increased engagement at our small and large group times when music is incorporated. As we explore music, movement, and rhyme, we see regulated and engaged learners, ready to demonstrate their creativity, rhythm, and coordination. Across the whole community from birth to the primary school, we are seeing a continuity of learning that has supported children as they move through the different programs at our site… from babies at playgroup, to toddlers at occasional care, into kindergarten and off to school.  We have noticed children incorporating music, familiar songs and movement into their play as well as creating their own songs and rhymes… showing us how confident they are as communicators, language users and literacy learners.

2020/21 saw a lot of changes in how students experience learning environments, have you developed any new skills from the mentoring program that have helped support these new learning environments?

Absolutely! Our music training has helped us to maintain continuity of learning through both online platforms and parent supported learning. We supported relationship building by sending home resources to help children share much loved Kindy music with their families and to discover the environmental sounds that they could make in their own home. Music was incorporated in our ‘home learning’ plans to support our literacy goals of listening, syllabification, and rhyme. Alongside this, we have used our new learning in music and movement to support children and families physically and emotionally while in lockdown.  The mentoring program has really opened our eyes to the power of music to support connection and wellbeing as well as deep academic learning.

How has your own relationship with music changed since the program?

In my practice as an educator, I have noticed an increase in my confidence and my appreciation of music.  With this appreciation, I have also developed the skills to model and share my learning with my colleagues and at professional learning opportunities within our local kindergarten partnership. Music has become an integral part of my teaching pedagogy and practice and as well as a part of my identity as a teacher.  I now can’t help but listen out on the radio for songs that have the potential to work well with our learners!  As a result of the mentoring program, I now sing a little louder (although no better!), play more confidently, share my newfound knowledge, watch movement carefully and listen deeply to the music around me… what a beautiful lens to see and experience the world through!

What is your class’s favourite musical activity at the moment?

We are all loving chair percussion! It is amazing to see how creative the children have been as they discover the different sounds a chair can make… and who doesn’t like to make a racket! We’ve just started learning and reading different types of rhythms using graphical notation, working towards the children notating their own rhythms.  Such competent and capable kindergarten learners (three- and four-years-old)! We’re hoping to explore beat, rhythm, call and response, form, improvisation… but really, the possibilities are endless!