“Speaking A Common Language or Getting Lost in Translation?”

By Dr. Jenny L. Neff, Ed.D.,


One of the goals of the Danielson Framework for Teaching used by many districts for teacher evaluation was to create a common language for its users.  Many teachers and administrators have been speaking this new language over the past few years during pre- and post-observation conferences.  Some schools have expanded the use of this language to PLC groups, where teachers meet to discuss student data and learning.  These areas can provide pathways to teacher and student growth.

In addition to the Framework for Teaching, there are parts of the teacher evaluation system that connect student test scores to teacher ratings, commonly referred to as “value-added measures” (VAM).  Research warns of the divides that can be created when individual teachers are attached to specific student scores.  As a result of the value-added stress, we may experience situations when our school communities seem to be lost in translation rather than speaking a common language.

Standardized test scores only address 20% of tested subject areas.  While we hope that administrators and teachers cultivate collaborative environments in their buildings, these added pressures and (for some) hyper-focus on tested areas can create a natural divide between tested vs. non-tested subjects.  Some in the field have even referred to it as a sort of “VAM-sanity.”  Even though federal policy defines music as a core subject area (ESSA), I’m sure we have all been on the receiving end of comments or actions by others that try to move our content area lower in a hierarchy of what is essential in educating the whole child. 

Advocating for music in the past was something that took place largely outside of our buildings, but recent pressures call for efforts within our own school walls.  While educator autonomy has been limited as a result of federal policy over the past decade, it is important to try to continue to foster a positive school culture and climate in our advocacy efforts.  Sharing a language common to teaching, not just content, with those outside our subject area continues our advocating and educating efforts beyond those in our classrooms.  By being collegial, speaking a common language, and collaborating with others, we can work to break down barriers that may divide our profession and advocate for students in all areas.


Potential Barriers

  •      How we are grouped in the building (e.g., schedule, teams, grade levels)
  •      PLC’s by content area
  •      Professional day groupings or isolation
  •      Physical location in the building
  •      Testing pressures and resulting attitudes/morale/motivation
  •      Remediation time taken from rehearsals/lessons
  •      Curricular/co-curricular/extra-curricular philosophies


Breaking the Barriers


  •      Develop a mutual respect with others.
  •      Lend support to colleagues (e.g., special events, etc.).
  •      Connect on a social level outside of your classroom.
  •      Show gratitude and give back.
  •      Be part of the “craze”, but avoid the “craziness” (or drama).

             Common Language

  •      Speak a language common to teaching, not just content.
  •      Share best practices.
  •      Model a unified message within your department through actions and words.
  •      Continue to educate non-musicians who might not understand the purpose and value of what we do in our classrooms. Start with what they know in “translating” our music language to theirs.

             Collaborative Culture 

  •      Collaborate with others (e.g., units, lessons).
  •      Invite others to visit your classroom (e.g., guest speaker).
  •      Work as a team in and outside of your department.
  •      Accept an offer to be a guest speaker in another classroom.
  •      Stay positive - trends and fads will come and go.
  •      Continue best teaching practices - they are more likely to survive. 

Jenny L. Neff, Ed.D., is an instrumental music teacher at Bala Cynwyd Middle School in the Lower Merion School District.  She is also the Eastern Division Representative for the NAfME Council for Band.




Posted on May 12, 2016 and filed under Educators.