Music is diverse. Music affects us across the lifespan from before birth to being elderly and infirm. Music can make a difference to our health, well-being and identity. Its impact on our lives is enormous. As music educators, we have a very broad and inclusive definition of education which means that, between us, we engage with all of these aspects. But none of us engages with everything. For a learner to have access to the full benefits of music needs input from more than one of us.
We each have our individual passions and preferences. Often music has transformed our own lives and we are enthused to share our passion with others, especially those who haven’t been as fortunate. Sometimes we may have had less positive experiences and our passion is to avoid others having similar negative experiences!
Some of us have portfolio careers. Others work full time in schools or Higher Education institutions. Others are community musicians or are employed in an orchestra. We each make a vital contribution to the lives of the people with whom we interact. Sometimes an individual will share our passions and we can help them to engage and progress. At other times, their interest may still lie within music, but follow a different pathway – needing help from other music educators.
Whatever our sphere of interest, there are times when, working effectively in partnership with others, we can achieve more than we can alone. But partnership working doesn’t automatically work just because we have a shared passion for music education.
In this short article I will focus on the education of young people, although the key principles apply to any situation. How can a diversity of musical experiences form a coherent music education, enabling young people to develop musically and personally? What is clear from all of this complexity is that none of us can do it all alone!
In England we have music education activities that are both statutory and non-statutory, they are offered individually and collaboratively by a range of providers, both in and out of school. If we are to benefit the learner, then we must be aware of how our contribution complements and enhances those of other music educators. As our National Plan for Music Education in England[ii] states, “great music education is a partnership between classroom teachers, specialist teachers, professional performers and a host of other organisation.”
Successful partnerships can involve a number of different people and organisations. They can be between policy makers and deliverers, providers and recipients. They can be both strategic and operational. Partnerships can operate in several different ways at the same time. But ultimately it is people who make partnerships work (or not!). Personalities are crucial and collaborative working depends on the role of individuals. Partnerships are almost always based on a unique blend of personal and professional relationships and circumstances. Sound legislation and policy are essential, but there is no substitute for building positive relationships between all those involved.
Even in England, the word partnership can be interpreted differently by different people. Clarifying from the outset exactly is expected is therefore very important. This can be negotiated, but ultimately needs to be agreed.
Partnership working is also complex and challenging because organisations have distinctive and different core purposes. As well as their own personal values and attributes, partners will bring with them the values of their organisations or institutions. Schools and arts organisations have different cultures: different priorities, needs, values, working patterns and vocabularies. One partner’s understanding of the other’s culture may vary enormously from individual to individual. Effective partnership working has to be based on a thorough understanding of each other’s provision, as well as the benefits to young people of working together. We need time to get to know each other, our values and aims and to build relationships.
Of course, there is never enough time. Effective planning, talking, learning and not making assumptions takes more time than people think, but these elements are essential in getting maximum benefit from the partnership. The success of partnerships lies as much in the quality of preparation and follow-up work as in the event itself. If we fail to plan, we plan to fail.
Partnerships also require leadership. This can be provided by one or more people acting on their own behalf or as representatives of an organisation. In sophisticated models, different people are empowered to lead at different times according to their skills and expertise and the needs of the partnership.
The extent to which the above issues can be discussed within the partnership will depend on relationships, values and the amount of trust that exists between the partners. These relationships will be influenced by context, historical and geographical considerations. Time is required for trust to grow. It cannot be rushed. All of these issues need to be considered and each time a new person or organisation joins the partnership the issues may need to be revisited. A useful checklist with seven steps to successful and effective partnership working is as follows:
- Be clear why a partnership is being formed.
- Be clear what the partnership values and is aiming to achieve.
- Decide who needs to be a member of the partnership.
- Revisit and agree (1) and (2) above with all new partnership members.
- Agree roles and responsibilities.
- Ensure the appropriate people attend the relevant meetings. Clarify communication channels and decision-making processes.
- Build in sufficient time to ensure quality outcomes are achieved for all concerned, including time for ongoing monitoring, evaluation and feedback to inform future plans. Identify and address training needs.
Through ISME we have a unique opportunity to come together and learn from each other. Through the commissions and special interest groups we can learn from others who share our passions and interests. But we can also learn from those who are equally passionate about different aspects of music education. Conference themes unite us and different sessions will approach similar themes from individual perspectives. Consider attending a session you would not normally go to and see how it feels. Who knows, you may even find new opportunities for effective partnership working!
For more information reference: Effective partnership working in music education: Principles and practice Hallam R. International Journal of Music Education 29(2) 155–171 2011