It’s remarkable what music can do to lift the mood in a professional development workshop, get kids happily moving between activities in a classroom, or spark reflection among colleagues. Once you begin to listen to songs with an ear toward professional uses, you’ll soon see surprising connections everywhere.
I asked Choice Literacy contributors to share some of their favorite tunes and artists for use in classrooms and workshops. I now have a remixed literacy learning soundtrack — I hope you find a few new favorites in their suggestions, too. Most of the recommended songs are available for sampling through Amazon in the links through the essay.
Editor, Choice Literacy
Teachers who have watched Debbie Miller on video will immediately recognized “All The Way Around The World” by Katherine Dines as the transition music in her classroom, even if they don’t know it by name. “One of my favorite songs for use now in classroom is ‘‘I’m Amazing‘ by Keb’ Mo’,” says Debbie. “I use it mostly for transitions. It has a great message and kids love it. Even fifth graders say, “Could you play that song again?”
Jack Johnson’s songs for children are terrific choices if you’re looking for music kids can enjoy, but that isn’t too treacly for the adults in the room to put up with all year. “I like ‘We’re Going To Be Friends‘ from the Jack Johnson Sing-A-Longs Soundtrack to transition into clean-up after writing workshop,” recommends Katie DiCesare. “For longer transitions, I like ‘The Good Green Earth‘ by James K,” she adds.
“The Sharing Song” by Jack Johnson has a great beat for getting kids up and moving to the rug for share time, too. Other long-time favorites by different musicians include “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning,” and “Linus & Lucy” (better known as the “Peanuts” theme). “At the beginning of the school year, when we’re talking about multiple intelligences, we listen to ‘So Many Ways to be Smart‘ by Stuart Stotts,” writes Mary Lee Hahn. “I also like ‘I Have Confidence‘ at the start of the year, from The Sound of Music.”
In the Background
Acoustic music is often a favorite to play in the background with adults and children, especially at the beginning of a day together. “Our favorite artists for use both in our classrooms and when we teach adults are Christopher Peacock and David Templeton,” writes Joan Moser (of “The Sisters”). “We love the fact that there are no lyrics and the cadence is light and upbeat. It makes for a wonderful entrance to professional development, or ‘return from lunch’ music. We also sometimes have the music on during the whole group turn-and-talk time — it helps fill the room with a pleasant buzz and gets discussions going. It also is a lovely way to pull conversation to a close. We just slowly turn the music down, and the din of the dialogue subsides with the music.”
George Winston is another artist played often as background music in adult professional development settings. The mood of his CDs can vary quite a bit — Summer, Plains, and Linus & Lucy have many tunes with simple upbeat cadences that work well for professional development.
Movie soundtracks sometimes have excellent instrumentals for background music — Shari Frost recommends the “Forrest Gump Suite” as a favorite in her meetings with teachers.
Professional Development Activities Linked to Songs
“My current favorite is ‘Say‘ by John Mayer,” writes Andie Cunningham. “It is from the soundtrack for The Bucket List. I used it at a recent Courage to Teach retreat — with the song playing, we each silently wrote what we needed to say to someone in our lives, after facilitators provided letters, stamps, and nice pens. It was the perfect lift-off for a number of folks, especially those participants who wrote to their spouses who aren’t getting enough attention from their teaching mates this time of year!”
Ruth Shagoury recommends another song, “Responsibility,” for easing stress in a workshop setting: “When our working community has had a lot of tension, I have used Stevie Forbet’s Texas rock ‘n’ roll to take a deep breath and step back from the sometimes overwhelming tension of our work lives. Though he is singing about the pressures on a top-notch rivet crew, he might as well be singing about teachers, who ‘don’t get time to pace ourselves; we don’t stand around and dream.’ We feel the overwhelming weight of our students’ lives — and their possible lives. It’s a huge responsibility, and listening to the song together and sharing our own responsibilities can help us realize the pressures that are getting in the way of working as a community.”
Shari Frost likes “Getting To Know You” for “when I am working with a new group, especially when they are engaged in an icebreaker activity like a ‘people search.'”
The themes from “Jeopardy,” “Gonna Fly Now” (from Rocky) and “Summon the Heroes” (the NBC Olympics theme) can be goofy fun for special events, and “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang is a perennial corny favorite. If you want to move beyond “Pomp and Circumstance” for a graduation or milestone, there are many options. “My Wish” by Rascal Flatts has an over-the-top twang if you’re in the mood for country.
“At our last coaching meeting, literacy coach Debbie Sheriff showed us a slide show of students engaged in Read and Relax. She played ‘Teach Your Children‘ by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. It got a very positive response from the other coaches,” writes Shari Frost. This song is a favorite of many of our contributors for slide shows or reflection, as Ruth Shagory notes: “I love this song as a reminder of the deep commitment we literacy teachers have to the children in our care. It can be used as a way to remind us of why we were drawn to teaching in the first place, fueling conversations about individual children we have cared for. It’s a good song both for beginnings and endings of school years or other educational cycles.”
There are lots of possibilities for slide shows at the end of the year. “When I make my year-end DVD of all the photos I’ve taken, I like to use ‘I Hope You Dance‘ by Lee Ann Womack and ‘Forever Young‘ by Rod Stewart as the background music,” writes Mary Lee Hahn. “‘I Hope You Dance‘ is my wish for my students, and ‘Forever Young‘ explains how they will be frozen in time in my memory. For me, they will always be 4th graders, which will explain why I don’t know them when they come back from high school to visit me!”
For retirement parties and goodbyes to interns, we’ve used the quiet bittersweet ballad “Caledonia” by the Irish group Ceoltoiri in slide shows with terrific results.
When Bad Things Happen to Good Literacy Leaders
When a little inspiration is needed, you can’t go wrong with the rollicking beat and good cheer of Marcia Ball. “That’s Enough of that Stuff” with its “I’ve got a little too little and a lot too much” lyric is perfect for a meeting where everyone is going to be buried in assessment data. “Dreams Come True” and “Right Tool For The Job” also lift the room from the first chord on.
“If I Had If I Had a $1,000,000,000 Dollars” from the Barenaked Ladies provides some black humor before the start of a budget meeting when cuts are imminent. Bonnie Raitt’s “I Will Not Be Broken” and “Gonna Make It” with Angela Strehli, Lou Ann Barton, & Marcia Ball are both good for bucking up when the news is bad. Ditto for “Happy Girl” by Beth Nielsen Chapman. For quieter reflection, “What is Success?” by Bonnie Raitt and “Why Walk When You Can Fly?” by Mary Chapin Carpenter work.
Most of the artists mentioned here can be found at Amazon or iTunes for sampling.