Welcome to season two! In Episode 31, Kathryn and Theresa spoke with Dr. Matthew Arau, a professor of music at Lawrence University Conservatory in Appleton, Wisconsin. Prior to teaching at Lawrence, Matthew taught middle school and high school band in Loveland, Colorado. Matthew earned a master’s degree from the American Band College and a doctoral degree in conducting from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is the author of the book, Upbeat: Mindfulness, Mindset, and Leadership in Music Education and Beyond, and is also the founder of Upbeat Global. Matthew is passionate about incorporating mindset and leadership strategies in his teaching, and spoke about how we can use these to create a culture for student empowerment.
Where Did It Start?
When Matthew was teaching high school band, he created a leadership symposium for his students to help handle some cultural challenges within the program. As part of the symposium, student volunteers met weekly after school to discuss the culture they wanted to create and study various leadership works. The work paid off, and they transformed the culture into something very positive and encouraging. The students defined leadership as “inspiring and encouraging others to achieve their full potential.”
Matthew presented these concepts at the Colorado Music Educators Conference in 2014 and at the Midwest Clinic later that year. That led to an invitation to join the Conn-Selmer Education Faculty, and the formation of his company, Upbeat Global.
Creating the Culture
At the beginning of the year, Matthew suggests having a dialog with students to discuss their values and vision for the program. He’s found when having these conversations with students, it’s important to listen more than you speak. Ask questions, then allow students time to answer and follow up with their own questions. Students discovered that leadership skills aren’t something you are born with, but they can be learned and taught.
If you decide you want to meet with your students about what kind of program they want to create, spend more time listening than speaking.
Matthew continues to share ways he involves students in building culture at the beginning of the year.
- One technique includes a game: how we throw the ball affects how we catch the ball
- Students identify things they are doing well and use those to improve in areas of challenge and struggle
- During rehearsals, Matthew will often encourage students to work in small groups to find solutions to musical problems as a way to give them more ownership
- It’s important to incorporate emotion in our rehearsals. Matthew recommends music teachers read the book Permission to Feel, by Marc Brackett. As music teachers, we have the perfect space for this.
Matthew has found that by bringing gratitude into teaching, he’s been able to transform the culture and build deeper connections with students. He begins every rehearsal by sharing his appreciation for something. It brings gratitude into the space. He also likes to incorporate mindful breathing in the classroom. It helps students center and find focus during rehearsal. The gratitude breath is great for this. This sharing of gratitude helps create a culture of celebration.
When we breathe together mindfully, we connect together.
Matthew reminds us that leadership and culture begin with the teacher. We can choose our upbeat, our attitude, every day. He reminds us to set our intentions every day.
Every day is a new opportunity to write our story, and to create the classroom that is supportive, compassionate, engaging, and empowering for our students.
Be sure to check out the full interview on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform: Creating a Culture for Student Empowerment
Connect with Matthew and learn more about his work:
- Upbeat Global
- Upbeat: Mindfulness, Mindset, and Leadership in Music Education and Beyond
- The Music Educator Blog
- Inclusive Student Leadership From Any Chair
Listen to the full interview on your favorite podcast app or here, on Anchor!