Diversity in the Choral Classroom


Diversity in the Choral Classroom:
Adversity or Electricity?

By NAfME Member Dee Ann Gray


“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and test of our civilization.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Congratulations! You’ve just accepted a choral teaching position in a Title I school in Hawaii, and arrive five weeks into the semester, only to be greeted by suspicious, unfriendly faces with unfamiliar customs and points of view. What do you do? How do you build trust, and foster a sense of teamwork and musical success where there is mistrust and multicultural diversity?

Photo courtesy of Dee Ann Gray


This was my experience several years ago when I was hired after a phone interview to build a choral program in a struggling Title I school in Hawaii. Coming from 14 years in Kentucky to the island of Oahu was quite an adjustment.

My first day on the job, I opened the door to the 50-year-old building where I would teach, and was greeted by a flying cockroach which fluttered and landed on my head. After the initial shock of this unwelcomed arrival, the reality of the situation I faced loomed ahead as I quickly realized I was in uncharted territory with very few resources, and even fewer commonalities with the students around me.


The Challenge

  • What do you do when the reality of your situation doesn’t match your expectation? How do you handle the challenges of diversity in your classroom?
    iStockphoto.com | Glopphy
  • Cultural diversity in U.S. schools is a subject that affects everyone. Research shows that the number of minority elementary/secondary school-aged students has been steadily increasing since 1997, yet the race/ethnicity of U.S. public school music teachers is 81.9% white.
  • The challenge is before us as music educators to embrace this cultural diversity.
  • Our awareness of this issue, and our willingness to address it, is vital to the success of our music programs.


The Choice

  • We can choose how we view cultural diversity in our classrooms: negative or positive? blessing or curse? “Adversity” or “Electricity”?
iStockphoto.com | yayayoyo, Mack15, davidcreacion
  • “Adversity”: hardship, and unwelcome difficulty intruding into our plans.


  • “Electricity”: energy, or a current that can infuse and spark interest, creativity, and growth.
  • How we choose to respond will have lasting impact on the lives of those we teach.


The Strategies 


  • Learn seven strategies for success in managing the diversity in your classroom.
  • These strategies have developed over time, through trial and error, and are based on my experiences building a successful choral program in a school with only 6.5% of the student population sharing my ethnicity.
iStockphoto.com | djvstock


To learn more about the seven strategies for success in managing diversity, and to hear more about my Hawaiian adventure, watch my NAfME Academy webinar, “Diversity in the Choral Classroom: Adversity or Electricity?”


The Success 

  • Cultural diversity touches us all.
  • Our awareness of this issue, and willingness to address it, is vital to the success of our choral programs.
    Photos courtesy of Dee Anne Gray


  • We can choose to view diversity as negative “Adversity” or positive “Electricity.”
  • EMBRACE the challenge, and change lives!


About the author:

choral director

Dee Ann Gray has been a music educator for 30 years and currently teaches choral music and piano at Wahiawa Middle School in Wahiawa, Hawaii. Her teaching experience includes inner city, rural, private, and public schools from elementary to college, and she still considers herself a lifelong learner. She is a Hawaii State Teachers Association 2014 “Teacher of Excellence,” and 2013 “Good Idea Grant Recipient.” She holds degrees from Oklahoma Baptist University, and the University of Kentucky, and can be reached on LinkedIn or dgraysong@gmail.com.


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