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Contemplation Music Writing for Educators

Posted by on in Professional Development
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For the new school year, why not try a little “day music” to get educators acquainted with themselves, colleagues, and students in a professional development session? My Contemplation Music Writing Project helped students find inner peace and I believe it will work with teachers.

But you might be wondering how I can make this leap from kids to adults? Can the project be adapted to expand intra- and interpersonal communication skills in educators’ worlds? How do we create a more tranquil individual and overall school environment? Can we deflate the stress effecting teachers today? Is it at all possible?

In a word, “yes.” My approach to EI/SEL is an alternative to the mindfulness programs used in schools. It was extremely successful with inner city students under very difficult circumstances. People use this simple technique in daily life without realizing it. And it all centers on music and music listening.

Picture this imaginary scene in professional development session:

Step 1: Music is played for 10 minutes. Note: Teachers and administrators break up into small groups before the PD begins.

Step 2: Group members close their eyes and contemplate whatever goes through their minds, imaginations, bodies, and hearts while listening.

Note: From my experience, the “music technique” will lead educators on peaceful journeys of self-awareness, self-education, and self-motivation as it did with my students. Through music teachers will appreciate that it’s better to get into it and get it out through contemplating, writing, and discussion than to keep it inside.

Step 3: When the music finishes, the group members recall, reflect, and write about whatever they experienced internally.

Note: Openness and honesty are keys to describing triggered thoughts, emotions, mental images, memories, reflections, dreams, daydreams, fantasies, and bodily sensations experienced. Contemplation music writing provides a positive vent to release busy inner worlds and will create clarity, balance, and presence. During the contemplation sessions teachers learn to express in writing and orally whatever happened inside. Writing “things” down empowers people to gain access and greater control over their inner/outer worlds. Getting things out in the open is a major theme that will become a habit by practicing this original music technique.

Step 4: Music/music listening, contemplation, and writing are followed up by discussion. Individuals read aloud their “contemplations” and are probed by group members and discussion leaders using an inquiry or question-and-answer approach.

Note: A faculty of 50 teachers, for example, would break up into 5 groups of 10 people with 1 discussion leader assigned to each. Discussion leaders collaboratively practice the “music technique” for a week prior to the PD session to become familiar with the concept of how music can help teachers express thoughts, feelings, and experiences calmly. Keep in mind that it takes time to open up inner/outer communication lines amongst diverse groups of individuals.

 Introductory questions discussion leaders can ask participants:

(1) How did you feel while the music played? Why?

 (2) What thoughts and ideas came up? Describe one.

 (3) Did you visualize any mind-pictures like fantasies, dreams, or present-moment events while listening? Give an example of a mental image  you visualized.

 (4) What feelings were triggered by the mind-pictures visualized? 

 (5) What surprised you about your music listening and contemplation experience?

 (6) Were you able to stay focused on or contemplate events that happened inside? Why or why not?

 (7) If you stopped contemplating your inner experiences, where did you go? Describe.

 (8) In everyday life, do you ever find yourself taking side-journeys while listening to music? Describe what these digressions or voyages are like.

 (9) When you normally listen to music, do you ever feel the sounds fading away as you start getting into or listening to yourself? Why do you think this happens?

 (10) Did you enjoy today’s contemplation music writing experience? Why or why not?

 (11) What didn’t you like about it? Why?

 (12) How would you change the process and procedures used?

 (13) Do you think writing about inner experiences related to personal and school life will open up communication lines, decrease stress, and initiate psychological growth? Why?

 (14) What kinds of music would you prefer?

 (15) What types of music do you think would work best with contemplation? Why?

 (16) Do you ever write down experiences, describe feelings, and reflections after listening to music—or with no music—just to recall them because they were important?

For The Contemplation Music Writing Project to have an impact on adults, practice it twice a week before school with one optional lesson done at home. Allow 10 minutes for listening and contemplating, 10 minutes for writing, and 10 minutes for oral readings and discussion. Note: The home session obviously omits discussion, however, these writings may be read orally at the school contemplation sessions.

For those who might be skeptical about adapting a project for adults originally created for elementary/middle school kids, I will add that the “music technique” transformed students’ lives, expanded their EIQs, while at the same time, improved academic skills in writing, reading, thinking, and creativity.

This approach to self-, other-, and world-awareness created a cohesive, caring, sensitive, motivated, and compassionate classroom environment. I believe educators working in high-stress circumstances would achieve similar results.

As a side-note, my average class size was 35 students who were not thrilled with school or learning. With some larger 5th and 6th grade classes, you have to appreciate how children built up animosities because the majority was together since kindergarten. Music, contemplation, writing, and talking helped break down emotional walls.

Don’t expect the contemplation sessions to come easy for teachers, unless they’ve had similar group and individual experiences where they expressed feelings and thoughts to others in face-to-face situations. This project is not cyberspace, Facebook, or Twitter where there’s anonymity. Contemplation Music Writing is an unscripted “real” reality show for all participants.

The music technique, for some participants, might start out as a “shock” to the system. Not everyone will get emotionally involved right away. There are no specific writing prompts; it’s an open invitation to tell it like it is, which can be a little scary and tricky. You’re asking people to contemplate on, to consider carefully for a sustained period of time, what’s happening inside, to get into it, which can conjure up events that they might not want to encounter or confront.

Talking about, describing, and explaining the processes going on inside teachers’ minds, bodies, and imaginations will be a productive, expansive, transforming experience. If more individuals open up to contemplating and expressing inner experiences in writing and discussion, the greater the chances for improved intra- and interpersonal communication as well as higher “individual and group EIQs.”

Questions discussion leaders can ask participants about internal processes occurring in the contemplation sessions:

 (1) How do you see mental image pictures in your mind? Describe what happens.

  (2) Describe your visualization process. How does it work?

  (3) How much detail do you see in mental images or mind-pictures? Give an example.

  (4) How do you contemplate your inner experiences? What happens inside?

  (5) Were you able to stay focused, concentrate, and contemplate on particular key inner experiences? Why? How?

  (6) Did you get any crazy or wild thoughts while contemplating? If so, give an example.

  (7) What bodily sensations did you experience? Where? Describe.

  (8) What did you observe about your feelings while contemplating inner experiences to music?

 (9) Did you experience any self-talk? What were you saying to yourself? Why?

  (10) Do you normally experience self-talk in your everyday life? Give an example. Is it helpful? Explain.

  (11) Did you find anything “strange” about the contemplation music writing experience?

  (12) How did the music affect your contemplation experience?

  (13) Did you lose track of the music at any point where you found yourself totally into your head? Give an example by describing what happened.

  (14) Did you lose track of time while listening and contemplating? If so, describe the experience.

  (15) Was it easy or hard to open up and be honest about yourself and inner life? Why?

  (16) Were you able to express in words and writing the entire inner experience that happened during contemplation? Why or why not?

  (17) What did you realize about your thinking and writing processes through contemplation? Did you discover something new about how these skills work inside?

  (18) Do you reflect on or contemplate your daily life experiences? Do you write these events in a notebook or journal? Did you ever try writing  things down and then stop? Why?

Once groups have had several discussions and inner journeys are expressed—the good, the bad, and the ugly—people will slowly start to feel more comfortable. If group members feel free about saying things to colleagues, they will look forward to discussing what’s on and in their minds and imaginations in an emotionally intelligent way. Contemplation music writing, if effective and affective, becomes a vent for unexpressed and unknown worlds.

Think about this: Using music to trigger inside world experiences can be an eye-opener for some participants. Yet we do it naturally when listening to music without really “taking note of it.” Contemplation Music Writing leaves people—children and adults alike—in the middle of their heads through a self-motivating, self-entertaining, self-quieting, yet self-demanding method. If the project works out in the long run—it is not an instant fix technique—it would lead educators to greater inner-sight, awareness, and hopefully, some inner/outer peace both in and out of the workplace.

No approach to awareness, mindfulness, and meditation is perfect. There are always things that need to be adapted, added on, or changed to update and grow a technique. Gradually over time the music and accompanying experiences realized by teachers will accumulate and make sense inside them, leading to genuine changes: a tranquil self- and classroom-environment centering on helping relationships, which is what you want in a school—and life—situation.

Final notes: Contemplation Music Writing is about music listening, contemplating, writing, and discussion. It will help open up communication between teachers and their students as well as colleagues.

Mix it up with different types of music, whatever works for the various groups. For my students, I chose Top 40, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, oldies-but-goodies, classical, meditative, Native American flute (Carlos Nakai and Werner John), and James Galway.

I let the kids become DJs and create their own audiocassette tapes (way back in the dinosaur days), which was greatly appreciated by classmates. If there is a diverse group, and people can’t agree on the music, teachers can use ear buds to play the music of their choice.

Music listening changed my students’ lives for the better—and it can do the same for educators of all kinds from elementary through high school.

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Jeffrey Pflaum has been an inner-city elementary school teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, for thirty-four years (NYCDOE, retired in 2002). He worked as a creative writing, whole language, social studies, gifted/talented, physical education, and mentor teacher in grades K – 6 and special education. Pflaum coached middle school boys and girls basketball teams and one of his players became coach of the Pace University team. Tennis was also taught on the elementary school level to lower grade kids as part of the NY Junior Tennis League Program founded by Arthur Ashe. Pflaum considers himself a teacher-developer-researcher experimentalist who created successful education projects in emotional intelligence, social and emotional learning, reading, writing, poetry, thinking, creativity, vocabulary expansion, concentration, and intra- and interpersonal communication skills. He has written articles for professional newspapers and publications about his curricula. Various programs appeared on web sites such as ERIC and CASEL/Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (“Experiences, Reflections, and Insights”). One program was featured at the International National Council of Teachers of English at NYU as one of the best examples of English Language Arts in the NYC Public Schools, K – 12. His students’ poetry and prose have been published in college, writers’, gifted secondary, and children’s literary journals, magazines, newspapers, and by major commercial book publishers; read on public radio (Poetry-In-The-Morning, WNYE-FM, sponsored by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative/NYC); and, won honors and awards from PBS, Channel Thirteen/NYC. One student, Noel “Speedy” Mercado, became a top NYC disc jockey on WKTU-FM. Pflaum published an inspirational book about adolescent reading lives titled MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS: HOW TEACHERS AND PARENTS CAN LEAD THE WAY (Rowman & Littlefield Education). For book reviews, go to http://www.examiner.com/review/motivating-your-kids-to-read to see Kecia Burcham's response to the book, and also, The Teachers College Record for Karen Polk's insightful article. For Karen Polk's review (8/24/12), from the Teachers College Record, google "MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS - Teachers College Record." Go to www.JeffreyPflaum.com for more articles on "Contemplation Writing," Meditative Writing Ideas, Internet radio interviews, published student poetry, and newspaper articles about his book on motivating adolescent readers and Inner Cities Arts Project. His recent interviews on Contemplation Writing can be found at these "Pure Imagination" links: http://prn.fm/2012/07/14/pure-imagination-071312 and Pure Imagination - 07/13/12 | Progressive Radio Network. A second interview on "Connect With Julianna" (Toginet Radio Network) about "Contemplation" or "Music" Writing can be found at these links: http://bit.ly/iTFbk7 and http://bit.ly/t5FA0W; or, Connect with Creative Educator and Author, Jeffrey Pflaum. Pflaum is currently a regular blogger on The BAM Radio Network's blog, ED Words, where posts about a plethora of his projects can be found at: www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/blogger/listings/jeffpaul.

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