Bridge-Building: Fostering Safe Spaces in the Secondary Choral Classroom

Elizabeth Parker

Time Magazine’s recent feature article, “The Kids are Not All Right” (November 2016, p. 44-51), addresses the current state of mental health of adolescents across America. Author Susanna Schrobsdorff writes:

“They are the post-9/11 generation, raised in an era of economic and national insecurity. They’ve never known a time when terrorism and school shootings weren’t the norm. They grew up watching their parents weather a severe recession, and perhaps the most important, they hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society.” (p. 47)

Current secondary choral programs are comprised of this post-9/11 generation. Emerging from these global events, conceptions of safe space have gained greater momentum and importance in schools. Safe space stretches beyond the notion of classrooms as places of physical safety for students into where students feel psychologically and emotionally free to take risks, express viewpoints, share knowledge, be themselves, and openly participate. Holley and Sterner (2005) write, “In classrooms, students who experience ‘safe space’ are able to express themselves as individuals, even if those actions and ideas may considerably differ from others within the environment, including students, the instructor, and perhaps the profession-at-large” (p. 50). In music education, several researchers have established that choral classrooms are safe places for many students. Choral music settings represent a home away from home, a place for belonging, and self- and social identity. However, little research has focused on how safe spaces are specifically fostered in choral music settings.

Bridget Sweet

Our session will address the questions: (1) How are safe spaces built and upheld in choral classrooms to facilitate psychological growth and well-being? (2) What roles can safe spaces play in the longevity of adolescent involvement in music-making? (3) How does a safe space philosophy bridge the development of safe people who then help to further transform our schools and communities? During our session, we will discuss effective strategies for developing and upholding a culture of safe place in the choral classroom. As part of the conversation, we will share research that we have conducted on safe space, involving multiple choral contexts (e.g. choirs for students with disabilities, charter school settings, single and mixed gender choirs). Our proposed presentation connects to the eastern ACDA theme of “Building Bridges” as choral music educators strive to become more inclusive and reflective of the lifelong goals within choral music participants, goals that include a more socially just and equitable society.