Teacher Feature: Mrs. Smith

Welcome to our second installment of Teacher Feature, introducing our new staff members at Grace. Today we are featuring Mrs. Smith, our new music teacher!

We were lucky enough to catch Mrs. Smith right after she returned from the Annual Professional Development Conference for the American Orff Schulwerk Association, where she was not only an attendee, but a featured presenter, too!

music teacher

Mrs. Smith posing in front of her session panel announcement. Her presentation was called and was based on her articled published in the journal Orff Echo in June 2016.

But wait. “What’s an Orff Schulwerk?!” you might ask. Great question! Orff Schulwerk is “an approach to building musicianship in every learner through the integration of music, movement, speech, and drama . . . In Orff Schulwerk classrooms, children begin with what they do instinctively: play! Imitation, experimentation, and personal expression occur naturally as students become confident, life-long musicians and creative problem solvers.” http://aosa.org/about/what-is-orff-schulwerk/

Or perhaps you’re more of a visual learner and will enjoy this short YouTube video about the approach.

The Orff Schulwerk approach emphasizes creativity, communication, critical thinking, and collaboration . . . hey, wait! These sound like twenty-first century skills that Project Zero emphasizes and that we here at Grace are working to help our students develop. And that’s no surprise — both Project Zero and The American Orff Schulwerk Association (AOSA) are organizations that are about 50 years old, founded in the 1960s with a similar belief that learning and development in the arts is a “serious cognitive activity.”

As Mrs. Smith notes, “The belief that every child has the ability to learn and express him or herself as a musician is key in the Orff Schulwerk classroom and holds true for all Grace students.” This approach binds together Mrs. Smith and her predecessor at Grace, Mr. Kennedy, who also made great use of Orff Schulwerk in his classroom. In fact, Mrs. Smith is a trained Orff Schulwerk instructor and once had Mr. Kennedy as an attendee at one of her workshops!

music teacher

Read on for a little more about Mrs. Smith and her musical journey through life:

Were you always a musical person?
Yes! Everyone in my family is either in education, or music, or both. That includes my parents, grandparents, siblings, and spouse (husband Terrell Smith is the Assistant Director of Bands at Stevenson University and the Marching Percussion Coordinator at UMD).

I started singing in the church choir when I was little, and began playing piano in second grade. In fourth grade I started playing the flute and I was in love! It was my major focus all the way through college.

I’m currently an active musician, when time allows. I perform as a flautist in solo recitals in the area. My last recital was in June, and I have one scheduled for February in Pennsylvania.

How long have you been teaching?
Being a music teacher is something I knew I wanted to do since middle school. I’ve been teaching for 13 years now. I thought I wanted to be a high school band director and I tried that out for a year. After that, I got a long term substitute position in general music, and then I knew that elementary school music was the place for me.

What brought you to Grace?
I learned about the position from a colleague who also taught in the DC area, at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School. I made a connection to Grace Head of School Jen Danish that way. I loved the educational philosophy at Grace and knew that it would be a great match for my teaching approach.

What are your favorite things about teaching music here?
I love that students are encouraged in all areas of learning to problem-solve creatively and to think outside the box. It’s natural for them to bring their creative thinking to music class, because they are encouraged in that everywhere else at Grace.

I also love that the school places equal value on all teachers — so specialists feel that they contribute equally to student development.

Any surprises so far?
It’s been a really nice addition to be able to teach early childhood classes. In musical development, that is the essential time to develop skills. If children from preschool and up are exposed to music and creative arts / expression, then it becomes innate.

You’re a Grace parent, too. What’s it like having your own child as a student??
It’s wonderful because when you’re drawn to working at a school because of that school’s values, that’s what you ultimately want for your child as well. I feel like I get to experience the best of both worlds here at Grace!

So . . . give us a preview. What can we expect at Christmas Chapel this year?
It’s pretty exciting for me to be working on a holiday presentation in a school with an Episcopal identity. In my case, it allows me to include music that I haven’t been able to use in a public school setting, so I can pull from wider resources.

On Dec. 14, expect a celebration of the Christmas season and the Christmas story that will include singing, instrument playing, creative movement, and more . . .

Thanks, Mrs. Smith! We’ll be there with bells on.