Clay H. Blackman is currently a 2024 NAfME North Central Division President-Elect Candidate.
Responses to the election questions
What do you see as the major challenges music education will face during your term and in what ways can you transform these into opportunities during your presidency?
Music education faces major challenges, especially from divisive concept laws limiting social-emotional instruction. However, music cultivates kindness, awareness, and coping – critical for student success. Despite political headwinds, NAfME must persist in touting these benefits.
The National Executive Board and members have laid groundwork, but tenacity is required going forward. As one said, “the politics came for us” – motivating stronger advocacy.
Teacher recruitment and retention are also at crisis levels. NAfME’s taskforce needs support. Current teachers should encourage music education degrees and provide robust mentoring.
Insufficient professional development drives away young teachers before they can “recharge.” Conferences allow gaining fresh ideas and veteran strategies.
Advocacy is important. Music teachers are often reluctant, perhaps fearing the “A-word.” But NAfME offers great resources to start. Veteran teachers should inform new teachers and promote advocacy engagement. Regional coordination through Division Advocacy Chairs could assist. Flexibility is key with varying regional needs but unified area voices have greater impact.
Music’s social-emotional merits require promotion against political threats. Teacher development and retention are urgent. Veterans must mentor newcomers in advocacy, and regional coordination can amplify impact. Together, music education can overcome hurdles.
Advocacy should highlight how music instruction uniquely fosters diversity, equity, inclusion, access and belonging. Music classrooms model diversity as students of all types learn together. Multicultural music builds global awareness and connection. Social-emotional skills nurtured through music encourage empathy and solidarity. This intrinsic diversity and inclusivity must be continued.
Music educators have a duty to lead in diversity, equity, inclusion, access and belonging efforts. Our classrooms, institutions, associations and communities must reflect these priorities. Collaboration with other disciplines is powerful. With collective voices, we gain volume.
There is still great effort required. Systems must continuously improve to serve all students. Music education is indispensable to this progress, planting seeds of awareness, compassion and unity. Music binds our common humanity. Sharing these gifts is imperative for the future.
What do you see as the major challenges the association will face during your term and in what ways can you transform these into opportunities during your presidency?
NAfME remains strong thanks to past and present leaders working tirelessly for music education. We stand on the shoulders of giants who paved the way. Continued member engagement is a challenge. The question often is, “What does NAfME do for me?” We must ensure the organization continues offering something for everyone and continues providing teaching resources and support. The old website was difficult to navigate. The new and improved website highlights many available resources.
Finances are another concern. Due to school budget cuts, teachers often have to become members of NAfME at their own expense. With fewer teachers willing to pay membership costs from their own pocket, NAfME cannot rely solely on dues. We need financial independence. The CFO is exploring options, but members must think creatively about funding. Our current system is unsustainable.
Also, divisive concept laws shift education away from cultural teaching, which music provides. We must encourage the right people to attend and participate at meetings – the ones who are
willing to stand up and speak their minds for the good of the students. We should identify allies to join the journey and bring others along.
NAfME has a strong legacy but must keep members engaged through resources and services. By leveraging past success, strengthening outreach and diversifying funding, NAfME can stay vital.
How do you plan to advance equity/DEIA in NAfME during your term of office?
Serving on the Nebraska DEIAB committee showed me that this work is vital and must continue. We’ve raised awareness of its importance, but now must move to action. Marginalized students may feel nothing will ever be right, so through equity and DEIAB we must assure them of their right to succeed. NAfME should then provide tools and experiences to fulfill that promise, alongside other arts groups.
Nebraska’s DEIAB committee meets monthly and has developed guidelines for selecting diverse All-State conductors and repertoire, ensuring inclusion. The committee also reviews All-State music before board approval. We look at everything through a DEIAB lens – communication about gender-neutral attire, magazine articles, modifying the participation contract, etc.
A new Foundation will provide funds teachers can use for student costs and professional development like conferences, substitutes, etc. These funds can help to increase access.
The struggle for equity continues. More issues arise daily. We must address each carefully and calmly, being proactive rather than reactive. Equity, diversity, inclusion, access and belonging take many steps – but it’s a worthwhile journey.
Awareness must lead to action – assuring marginalized students they can succeed, then providing supportive tools and experiences. As struggles continue, our approach must be thoughtful, just and proactive. With persistence, we can progress.
By treating all people in an equitable manner, we must first acknowledge that inequity exists.
From my experience teaching in suburban, inner-city schools and in smaller, rural school districts, I realize that lack of equity exists everywhere, but in different forms. When I was teaching in an inner-city school where 80% of the student population was on free/reduced lunch, my Principal came to me one day to tell me that she never wanted our students to feel “less than.” While realizing our students had very limited resources, she made a pledge to do everything in her power for my students to have the same types of experiences as those from wealthier school districts. From Show Choir costumes to charter buses, stock arrangements to nice hotel stays, guest clinicians to seats at the Opera, she carried through with that pledge. She even managed to secure over $18,000.00 for us to replace our 30 year old choir robes!
We need to recognize that everyone does not begin from the same place due to differing advantages and barriers. Some of those barriers may include race, religion, socio-economic, family, and background. Once these considerations are acknowledged and understood, we must begin to address and correct the imbalance. Equity is an ongoing process, much like a living Google document. The ideas can be tweaked at any time as their situation develops or changes. Through the process of creating equity, we must ensure that all people – no matter where they started – are given the chance to be successful and grow, to develop and contribute to the world around them. It does not matter what their identity may be. Equity is the fair and just treatment of all members of a community.
There are several things that make a great leader but I believe the two most important items are building relationships and building trust. It is human nature for most of us to want to build relationships with family, friends, and our students. By building relationships and continuing to strengthen them through our words and actions, we can develop trust. Trust may not always be easily received but can be earned through the process of building and maintaining a relationship.
When I assumed the office of President Elect for the Nebraska Music Education Association, I realized that the NMEA membership had enough trust in me to choose me as their leader. I was very careful to continue to preserve that trust and to keep working to actively earn it by striving to form new relationships and continuing to improve the ones already in place. I accomplished that by being approachable when members had concerns or questions. I also made certain that I responded to each of the people who reached out to me. Everyone’s voice deserves to be heard and everyone wants to feel that their opinion is important.
Going into my term as President of the Nebraska Music Education Association, it was of utmost importance to me to continue to keep the trust of not only our Board but also our membership. Leaders are often tasked with making difficult decisions but, if people have trust in you, they are better equipped to understand why the outcome was the way it was. It is also important for leaders to trust the people who are elected to their Board positions. A true leader should help to guide the others who serve with them without micromanaging them. In addition to trusting their peers, it is the leader’s job to support, encourage, and nurture them as they complete the duties of their assigned job positions. Congratulating someone on a job well done can be a valuable tool when it comes to building and maintaining a relationship. A simple email or text just asking about their day can go a long way in building and maintaining relationships and a feeling of trust. Stronger relationships lead to stronger feelings of trust.