The Urban Music Education Institute: Exploring Context Specificity in Music Teacher Professional Development


Julia T. Shaw, The Ohio State University

Betty J. Hill, Columbus City Schools

Lisa M. Brandt, Columbus City Schools


An emerging line of educational research examines context-specific models of teacher education that account for historical, social, cultural, political, and economic particularities of specific school and community settings (Hammerness & Matsko, 2012; Matsko & Hammerness, 2014; Quartz & TEP Research Group, 2003). Although music specialists’ discipline-specific professional learning needs have been addressed thoroughly in extant literature (see Conway & Edgar, 2014; Hookey, 2002 for reviews), investigations of their context-specific learning needs are scarce. As music specialists working within a socio-cultural context that presents distinctive challenges and rewards, urban music educators are one population of teachers whose context-specific professional learning needs have been underexplored.


Accordingly, the Urban Music Education Institute (UMEI) was established with the aim of providing context-specific professional development (PD) tailored to urban music educators’ needs. The UMEI featured a collaborative partnership between a university and its surrounding metropolitan K-12 school district. The program focused on culturally responsive pedagogy, an approach to teaching that participating educators identified as relevant to their experiences in urban contexts. The year-long program encompassed a series of five workshops presented by nationally recognized teacher educators and a biweekly collaborative teacher study group (CTSG) intended to support teachers’ implementation of learning from the PD. In this session, various stakeholders will contribute perspectives on how the UMEI attended to context-specific dimensions of teaching music in urban schools: (a) a university teacher educator who served as program director and CTSG facilitator; (b) a district-level arts administrator; and (c) a public school music educator and program participant. The presentation is further informed by program evaluation surveys, interviews with additional program participants, and artifacts teachers supplied as evidence of program implementation.


Collaborative dialogue with colleagues working in comparable educational contexts emerged as a key programmatic element urban teachers perceived as fostering their professional growth. The UMEI’s CTSG functioned as a social-justice oriented community of practice in which urban music educators grappled with teaching dilemmas in the company of colleagues with shared contextual understandings. Topics teachers raised for consideration most often centered on socio-political tensions associated with culturally responsive and socially just practice, suggesting a need for teacher educators facilitating collaborative PD for urban educators to be prepared to navigate “courageous conversations” about race, racism, and social injustice (see Singleton & Linton, 2006). Thus, this session will suggest possibilities for productively and ethically guiding such conversations in the context of a teacher-led collaborative PD program.


Context-specific PD models such as that described in this session suggest a promising “possible future” for music teacher education. The UMEI model offers one alternative to PD focused exclusively on musical content, which can allow for the avoidance of socio-political issues and perpetuate colorblind and “colormute” (see Pollock, 2004) approaches to music education. Themes explored in this session align with the work of the Professional Development for the Experienced Teacher, Cultural Diversity and Social Justice, and School/University Partnerships ASPAs.




Conway, C. M., & Edgar, S. (2014). Inservice music teacher professional development. In C. M. Conway (Ed.), Oxford handbook of qualitative research in music education (pp. 479-500). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Hammerness, K., & Matsko, K. (2012). When context has content: A case study of new teacher induction in the University of Chicago's urban teacher education program. Urban Education, 557-584. doi:10.1177/0042085912456848

Hookey, M. (2002). Professional development. In R. Colwell & C. P. Richardson (Eds.), The new handbook of research on music teaching and learning (pp. 887-902). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Matsko, K., & Hammerness, K. (2014). Unpacking the “urban in urban teacher education”: Making a case for context-specific preparation. Journal of Teacher Education, 65(2), 128-144. doi:10.1177/0022487113511645

Pollock, M. (2004). Colormute: Race talk dilemmas in an American school. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Quartz, K. H., & TEP Research Group. (2003). “Too angry to leave”: Supporting new teachers’ commitment to transform urban schools. Journal of Teacher Education, 54(2), 99-111. doi:10.1177/0022487102250284

Singleton, G. E., & Linton, C. W. (2006). Courageous conversations about race: A field guide for achieving equity in schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.