Featured Activity: Serving the Community through Music

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Graham Johnson
, this week’s Educator of the Week, shares how his band students engaged their local community as they thought through ways of improving their music program. Read more about this activity and other ideas for connecting students to the world around them.

Activity: Serving the Community through Music
Grade Level: 7-12
Time Commitment: One to five hours per week

Important education elements like community service and understanding how local communities are connected to the rest of the world can be incorporated in any class or discipline.

In band class, my students engaged in weekly hour-long discussions about how to incorporate and serve the local community with our music program. Through these brainstorming sessions, the 7th-12th grade band students came up with ideas for how their class could serve our school community through peer coaching and performing at school events. They also developed plans for serving our city by raising money for a local hospital and performing at other schools and a local retirement home.

I also extend local and global connections to what they are learning. From a local perspective, my students study and celebrate the local culture and music of New York City, such as salsa and jazz. We then study music from all around the world that has influenced these genres.

Why is geo-education important to you as an educator?

Geo-education prepares students to live in an interconnected world. My job as an educator is to help students realize how much of an impact they each have on the world and inspire them to shape their impact in a positive way.

Do you have advice for teachers who want to get more involved with geo-education?

As a starting point, teachers should collaborate with other teachers and organizations in their local communities and find ways of connecting their students with students in other classrooms and schools. From there, teachers might seek to expand their networks further by connecting with communities of educators online or at national or regional conferences.

Graham teaching his band students in New York City.
Graham teaching his band students in New York City. Photograph by Graham Johnson.

What is one simple activity to get students to think about their world?

Ask students to brainstorm how they are connected to local and global communities. Students might make connections to family life, religious organizations, clubs, social networks, or the food chain. Then guide students to connect these ideas to a common cause they are invested in and set goals for a service project.

What are you looking forward to in the coming school year?

I’m looking forward to my students’ ideas and enthusiasm when they collaborate with more local organizations and schools on projects involving music, literacy, and environmental initiatives.

Do you have a favorite book, blog, or website that inspires your teaching?

An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students, by Ron Berger

Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you in your life or in your teaching?

“Think globally, act locally.”

Graham Johnson teaches middle school and high school music and English Language Arts at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School in New York City, New York. He is passionate about helping students connect music to the local communities and cultures. Visit his school’s blog to see videos and news about their music program.

Do you know of a great activity? 
Nominate a colleague or yourself as the next Educator of the Week! 

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The Educator of the Week series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.


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