The annual ABRSM Teacher Conference is the primary source of professional development for many teachers and as such must cater to a diverse audience, offering relevant sessions with ready to use tips that can be put into practice on Monday morning. ABRSM’s 2019 conference focussing on leadership did exactly that.
As ABRSM celebrated 130 years with various musical performances inspired by this apparently magical number, Chief Executive, Michael Elliott reflected on ABRSM’s role as a leader in setting standards in music education and assessment; as a collaborator with teachers and in music education research and; as a champion for music education as the challenges of the 21st century continue to unfold. News of the imminent launch of a new online booking system to deliver better services online for exams was met with a ripple of enthusiasm: students, parents and teachers will be able to choose practical exam dates from a list of options, there will be greater flexibility for visits, and practical results, including examiners’ comments, will be available online more quickly, usually within one week of the exam.
KEYNOTE: The Teacher as Leader
John Holmes (ABRSM Chief Examiner) and Mark Armstrong (Professor of Jazz, Royal College of Music) highlighted and discussed the audience’s observations of musical leadership qualities before neatly grouping them into four main themes: Inspiring, Responsibility, Empowering, Influencing. These themes clearly linked to the various professional development sessions on offer throughout the day.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT SESSIONS
Making difficult choices is usually a good indicator of a well-planned conference. Here is my personal selection from the three 1-hour sessions and shorter informal lunchtime session, each offering four concurrent seminars.
Session 1 - Motivation and Progression: John Holmes examined the relationship and connections between motivation and the breadth and depth of progression. An exploration of the virtual circle of motivation, attainment, progression and assessment highlighted the importance of finding a balance between technical demands and creativity, emphasising the benefits of proactive, collaborative and reflective teaching.
Alternative Sessions: Developing Ensemble Skills (Samantha Carrasco); Developing Core Musical Skills (Paul Harris); Spotlight on Hearing Health (ISM)
Session 2 - A Musical Curriculum for All: This interactive session (run by John Holmes, Steve Daykin, Leigh O’Hara, Louise Matthew and Alison Walker) encouraged teachers to bring the national curriculum to life through exploring new repertoire by making connections, and developing instrumental skills through listening, improvising, transposing, notation, musicianship and interpretation.
Alternative Sessions: Practice and Goal Setting (Zoe Booth); The Art of Accompaniment (Nick Oliver); Becoming a Piano Star (David and Kathy Blackwell)
Session 3 - The Teaching Musician: John Holmes asked how teachers can navigate the tension between their inner teacher and their inner musician. He advised teachers to develop a teaching philosophy and identify measures of success to ensure their teaching is congruent with their vision. Teachers were reminded that reflecting on the aims and objectives, positives and negatives, of a lesson is an invaluable exercise.
Alternative Sessions: Musicianship in the Early Years (Karen Marshall); Composition Workshop (Mark Armstrong); Ask Us Anything… Strings
Informal Lunchtime Sessions: Ask Us Anything… Piano, Becoming an Examiner; Shine!; Discover the Grand Hybrid Piano Teacher Network
KEYNOTE: You are superheroes
Some might remember Will Gompertz’s edgy keynote in 2018 featuring a strong opposition to an exam-driven assessment culture. In 2019, YolanDa Brown brought an equally fresh approach to a non-traditional learning path.
YolanDa Brown is a double Mobo award winning saxophonist. She found her personal connection with music through the tenor saxophone as a teenager and her own, unique musical style fuses reggae, jazz and soul. YolanDa’s announcement “you are the superheroes of music education” was met by enthusiastic applause from the assembled teachers. She posed some probing questions ranging from considering what makes us fall in love with music to examining the challenges and fears we hold about teaching. YolanDa went on to advise teachers to regularly reflect on what they do, encouraging these superheroes to “fight your kryptonite” by learning how it feels to be out of control, challenging the hardest part of teaching and discovering the language of their students.
Exclusive offers were available from conference partners Allianz Musical Insurance and Casio Music UK. There were shopping and networking opportunities with exhibitors including Chamberlain Music, The Curious Piano Teachers, Dorico, ESTA Education, The European Piano Teachers Association (EPTA UK), the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), Music Teacher Magazine and the Piano Teachers’ Course (PTC). The new venue was accessible, light and spacious with tables in the main conference area and plenty of space for networking. The delicious hot lunch was elegantly served and cold refreshments were available throughout the day from a breakfast buffet to afternoon tea!
ABRSM delivered on their promise that teachers would come away from the conference with practical ideas and resources to develop their teaching. But, for me, longevity comes from John Holmes’ reminder: “Professional development is a journey rather than a destination; an effective teacher is a reflective teacher”.