Tips to Successful Collaboration

Start small. “Sometimes people need to see success before they want to become a part of it,” says 2007 Teacher of the Year Andrea Peterson. She recommends finding one or two teachers who want to collaborate. She took 15 minutes before school to ask a few teachers what they were working on in class. She then worked with her students to put together a musical play based on a book from the reading curriculumThe Outsiders. Andrea says, “When other teachers saw how powerful a learning experience it was, more people got on board. Now, 10 years later, the large majority of our staff is eager to involve their students. I now have incredible support in my school from parents, administrators, teachers, and the larger community.”

After teachers are on board. Andrea now meets with each grade level team before the school year begins. She requests a list of the major units teachers will work on throughout the year. Then, she buys music that fits the theme or composes her own music. She has created cross-curricular units with teachers of all grade levels, aligning music learning with content from the regular classroom. “From fractions to the U.S. Constitution to the invertebrates of the ocean, we’ve done it all!”

Some benefits. Andrea says, “Teaching in a cross-curricular way appeals to every learning style. Students who have trouble seeing the relevancy of their social studies curriculum can become completely energized about history by singing about the explorations of Lewis and Clark. When students are able to tie learning from one subject to another, their interest level increases, their motivation skyrockets, and their retention goes through the roof. What more can you ask for?”

Andrea’s recommendation. “I really just want to encourage music teachers to push their OWN creativity in finding areas to connect to. Music is such an incredible vehicle to reach kids.” She also has some insights for working with exceptionally creative students.

Andrea Peterson, an MENC member, teaches general music for grades 1–6 and an auditioned chorus for grades 4–6 at Monte Cristo Elementary School in Granite Falls, Washington.


— Linda Brown, April 9, 2008, © National Association for Music Education (

Andrea’s grades 4, 5, and 6 students were studying S. E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders. To support this learning, the students wrote a 30-minute play based on the book and selected three Broadway show tunes they felt exemplified the play’s themes. With a computer sequencing program, they created an accompaniment track to turn one song into a rap. Andrea composed two other songs to convey the play’s message. While learning the musical, the students studied The Outsiders with their classroom teacher. In addition to learning about literary elements, music composition, and arranging, they also applied that learning to the real world. “We had such rich discussions about why certain music was appropriate to the story. We talked about issues of race, equality, and social justice that led us to discover the author’s deeper intentions.” The performance of the students’ play was the culmination of learning in literature, social studies, and music.
Exceptionally creative students. Andrea says, “Much of the brain research done in recent years suggests that students with exceptional creative abilities process information very differently than average students.” While their academic grades may be low, they often surprise teachers and classmates with the depth of their ideas in class discussions. She suggests that such students “need to use patterns before they can understand them” and that they “often become frustrated in regular classrooms. They are asked to manipulate numbers and letters in complex patterns with little opportunity to experiment.”

Andrea says music can be the key to higher achievement. “Music is an amazing opportunity for children to experience pattern development. Melodic and rhythmic patterns are internalized, actually creating connective pathways in a student’s brain. These pathways transfer to other subjects, enabling our children to achieve more complex patterns in math, reading, and really any content area you can think of!”