By Scott R. Sheehan, NAfME National President 2022-2024

This article first appeared in the September 2022 issue of Music Educators Journal.

Welcome to what may be the most meaningful and inspiring school year of your career. Whether you are a college student, someone who is just entering the profession, or a veteran music educator, the challenges we have faced throughout the past two-and-a-half years have kept us on our toes and wondering what happens next. The global health crisis has impacted virtually every aspect of life, including music education; and in many ways, we are all forever changed. It is our choice whether these changes will move us toward new possibilities and new ways of thinking and doing, or if we will long for days gone by and wish we could go back to a more comfortable and predictable way of life.

The pandemic greatly impacted how we teach and how students learn. It also brought to light many issues that have not been a typical top priority for some decision makers yet have been around for decades. Schools are beginning to face the additional realities the pandemic highlighted regarding inequities of resources, funding, and even reliable internet, especially in historically marginalized communities. For many of us, as we begin to emerge from what has hopefully been the worst part of the suffering inflicted by COVID-19, we are starting to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable in a world that has certainly felt upside down in so many ways. To quote National Association for Music Education executive director Chris Woodside, “In the not-so-distant future, courses will be taught about navigating schools and associations through a pandemic.” There is much we still need to understand, but to achieve the goal of “music for all,” there is a great deal of work to do both on the inside and outside of our association and the profession.

It is in the upside down where we can find many opportunities to grow and learn. In the early months of the pandemic, the music education profession rallied together to create online tools and resources at a rate that under normal circumstances would have taken several years to develop. Everyone from publishing companies and music education associations to instrument manufacturers and software companies, as well as the scientists who led the International Coalition Performing Arts Aerosol Study, worked to ensure music education could happen in a meaningful, low-risk way for students. Many creative online lessons were developed, and unique ways of engaging students musically happened using new and innovative learning platforms. Out of a terrible external crisis, a renaissance of new ideas occurred throughout music education, positively impacting children’s musical lives across the country. So, what is next? What is on the horizon for music education and NAfME?

Although there are many outside factors impacting music education, such as budget reductions, school funding formulas, and scheduling challenges, perhaps the most critical issue facing our profession is a looming teacher shortage in many parts of the country. There is a great need to recruit new music educators, partly due to attrition and retirement but also because the challenges of the pandemic compounded by issues of school safety have been overwhelming. Teachers, and especially students, need an environment where they feel safe for learning to occur. NAfME, along with collaborating organizations in the field, are working together to address these issues both internally to our members and externally to administrators, parents, and students. Additionally, NAfME president-elect Dr. Deborah Confredo is leading an initiative to identify barriers that exist for entrance to music teacher education programs. They are also investigating what supports are needed to retain new teachers entering the profession. Look for more information and updates on all these initiatives in the coming year.

As we look on the inside—the inside of NAfME—the pandemic gave us a time to pause and really take a deep look at ourselves. Under the leadership of Dr. Mackie Spradley, NAfME immediate-past president, we began to answer some big questions, such as Who are we? Why do we exist? What do we do? Why do we do these things? What should we be doing? Why belong? Who doesn’t belong? What is the value of membership? and the list goes on. Throughout the process of having many conversations with members, town hall meetings, and high-level discussions with leaders from across the country, we have developed a new conceptual strategic plan that answers the questions previously mentioned and centers around three cornerstones: (1) advocacy and public policy, (2) professional learning and growth, and (3) research and music teacher education; and the keystone of equity in music education is interwoven throughout the plan. After a period of public review by the membership and revisions by the writing teams, the final draft of the plan will be presented to the National Executive Board, and details of NAfME’s new strategic plan are slated to be shared later this fall.

In addition to coming to terms with who NAfME is and why we exist, during the past year we worked to repair a relationship that was damaged due to the exclusion of African American music educators from NAfME (then MENC). During our National Leadership Assembly in June 2022, we had the privilege to honor the leaders from the National Association for the Study and Performance of African American Music (NASPAAM) as it celebrated its 50th anniversary. In many ways the celebration was like a homecoming of sorts, but we also recognized the role that the harmful actions of NAfME (then MENC) had in the founding of NASPAAM five decades ago. Although we are just beginning to forge a new relationship, the leaders of NAfME and NASPAAM are confident we will find ways to support one another, and NASPAAM members will always have a place to belong at NAfME. You can find more information about NASPAAM by reading the resolution that was passed by the National Executive Board and shared during the 2022 NAfME National Leadership Assembly and by visiting the NASPAAM website.

Also on the inside, NAfME continues to work to improve communication and our responsiveness to member needs. We realize our reach and impact are a team effort, and it is important that we recognize the efforts of our state associations and their leaders from across the entire country. Our MEAs persevered and rallied through tremendous challenges during the past two years, and their dedication to our members continues to make a difference for students and teachers alike. It is because of our combined efforts at the state, division, and national levels that our membership has grown during the past year by close to 20 percent. Additionally, the Professional Learning and Partnerships Committee (formerly the Professional Development Committee), worked hard last year to plan many meaningful and engaging webinars and town hall sessions on a variety of important topics. This committee, made up of all the NAfME society and council chairs along with members of the Equity Committee, is currently planning many exciting and new opportunities for the coming year. Also, don’t miss the national conference, “NAfME is ME!,” and the All-National Honor Ensembles this November in National Harbor, Maryland.

Perhaps the biggest change on the inside of NAfME during the past two years was the establishment of the Equity Committee as a standing committee of the association, with two members from this committee now appointed to serve on the National Executive Board. In April 2022, the membership approved a historic by-law revision that led to this change, a culmination of Dr. Spradley’s vision for systemic change on the inside of the association. The NAfME Equity Committee, comprised of thoughtful individuals with diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise, exists to guide the work of the association through a lens of diversity, equity, inclusion, access, and belonging (DEIAB). In addition to the formation of the Equity Committee was the development of the Equity Leadership Institute (ELI). ELI meetings, taking place on the first Tuesday of the month, are open to all state leaders and interested members who are advancing DEIAB work in their states and schools. Details can be found on the NAfME website, and all are welcome to join in the discussion.

It is imperative that as we continue the critical work of advocating for music education and supporting music educators, we work to find commonalities, compromise, and build community. As leaders, we must listen to our members and to those who think of themselves as on the outside. They matter, too, and we can learn from why they may not have chosen to identify with NAfME to date.

Each one of us brings our own unique strengths, backgrounds, passion, and expertise to our profession. Just imagine what would happen if we could truly capitalize on the power of our collective advocacy for music and demonstrate to every community across the nation all the good that happens in our classrooms. Imagine if the music happening in our schools, colleges, and universities; our cities, towns, and countrysides; and eventually our entire country was celebrated and recognized because of its positive impact on the human experience and life, and all music, regardless of the genre, style, culture, or dialect, was lifted up for its creative expression and the joy it brings to others. Imagine if every child had the opportunity to express themselves musically and find their voice and their identity through music. Imagine, really imagine, what could happen if we all truly joined together to advance music education.

A simple quote from Diana Ross at the 2019 Grammy Awards sums up my belief about our life’s work quite well: “I believe in music and its power.” Just as music possesses the power to bring people together, together we can strengthen sustainable relationships that share a unified message of ensuring equitable access to music education for all students. Through music, we have the power to change lives and bring unity to our society. We need to lead the way in harnessing this power toward building the musical and creative future our country so desperately needs. We can do this! We are a music education nation on the inside, on the outside, and even if things are upside down. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work! Together, We Are NAfME!!

April 2024 Teaching Music


  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA)

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  • Blog / Article

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