At the Nexus of the Expressive Arts, Social Emotional Learning, and Eco-Literate Pedagogy

Massachusetts Music Educators Association All-State Conference, March 1, 2022

Here’s a sample group affirmation for this session: “I am safe, I am loved, and I am musical. I care about myself, my students, and our planet.”

Thing 1) In attending this session or conference, my intention or affirmation is…

Thing 2) I wonder…

Thing 3) How are you feeling after the first expressive moment? What noticings, questions, musings, thoughts, feelings, or sensations popped up that you would like to note?

What is Social Emotional Learning?

The Illinois State Board of Education (https://www.isbe.net/Pages/Social-Emotional-Learning.aspx) states:

“Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to:

  • recognize and manage their emotions;
  • demonstrate caring and concern for others;
  • establish positive relationships;
  • make responsible decisions; and
  • handle challenging situations constructively.”
Text Box: The Illinois State Board of Education (https://www.isbe.net/Pages/Social-Emotional-Learning.aspx) states: 

“Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to:
•	recognize and manage their emotions;
•	demonstrate caring and concern for others;
•	establish positive relationships;
•	make responsible decisions; and
•	handle challenging situations constructively.”
Graphic from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (https://casel.org/fundamentals-of-sel/)

What is Eco-Literate Music Pedagogy?

Daniel J. Shevock (2015, pp. 16–17, emphasis in original) theorizes:

“Music education for ecological literacy should be a connecting venture that has the opportunity to deepen students’ understanding of the environment and of music. It requires music teachers and students enacting an eco-literate praxis by:

  1. Connecting to local places.
  2. Experiencing music and nature in connected, meaningful, and ethical ways.
  3. Developing ecological consciousness by ritualizing and creating music rooted in soil.
  4. Connecting to the planet more broadly by connecting local understandings to global ecological crises.”

What does “Expressive Arts” mean?

Some therapists, counselors, and health care professionals use expressive arts practices to facilitate growth and healing of the mind, body, and spirit. We as educators are of course not qualified to formally take on such responsibilities, but there are natural connecting points between these holistic healing practices and traditional music education. Bringing an expressive arts approach to music education can naturally facilitate both “learning” in a traditional sense, as well as holistic goodies such as self-awareness, self-care, self-love, connections, perspective on issues, and interdisciplinary learning.

There will likely be times when something grows out of the experience that requires professional assistance from a licensed therapist or counselor. Educators who employ the expressive arts should be prepared to refer students to school counselors or other appropriate administrators when necessary. The goal is of course not to maliciously expose wounds, but sometimes things come up when we least expect them to, like any other aspect of our service to children. It is our job to recognize when they need help and take the appropriate steps when necessary.

Barbara Ganim (2013) provides a framework for such practices called A.R.T. (access, release, and transformation). Using expressive arts practices such as visual arts, music, movement, drama, writing, and storytelling can allow us to tap into thoughts, feelings, and sensations. When interpreting them using a multimodal arts process, perspective and understanding can be gained. Furthermore, integrative journaling or further artmaking can lead to new, different, or healthier alternatives, changes, or interpretations moving forward.

Towards a Person-Centered, Eco-Literate, Expressive Arts Approach to Music Education

  • Intermodal processes
  • Learning about ourselves as much as learning content
  • Music for self-care, self-actualization, self-expression, self-love
  • Music for healing
  • Musicking and being that is life-affirming, care-oriented, and empowers growth
  • Musicking and (re)connecting with the environment; and rewilding
  • Musicking in concert with non-human sounds
  • Understanding how environmental health can be heard
  • Not using musical materials (instruments, etc.) that are ecologically destructive or labor-abusive
  • Reusing, repurposing, repairing, and recycling existing musical materials
  • Protecting the Earth with a critical lens to center persons most vulnerable and marginalized
  • Dismantling and decolonizing hierarchical structures in school and society for personal, societal, and ecological health; and creating sustainable alternatives

Thing 4: Did you notice a shift in your mood, thoughts, or feelings throughout this process? What can be gained or learned through this activity?

Thing 5: How did it feel to witness your partner’s movement? How did it feel to be the mover? What was it like to co-create with your partner?

Thing 6: Is there anything you hope to carry with you from this session into your personal life? If it’s helpful, try writing this as an affirmation.

Thing 7: Did this session spark any ideas for how the expressive arts and eco-literate pedagogy can be incorporated into your teaching? Like before, feel free to write this as an affirmation if you would like.

Thing 8: Your image…

References & Summer reading recommendations

CASEL. (n.d.). The fundamentals of SEL. https://casel.org/fundamentals-of-sel/

Devine, K. (2019). Decomposed: The political ecology of music. Cambridge: MIT.

Edgar, S. N. (2017). Music education and social emotional learning: The heart of teaching music. Chicago: GIA.

Ganim, B. (2013). Art & healing: Using expressive art to heal your body, mind, and spirit. Brattleboro: Echo Point.

Illinois State Board of Education. (n.d.). School wellness: Social and emotional learning. https://www.isbe.net/Pages/Social-Emotional-Learning.aspx

Rogers, N. (1993). The creative connection: Expressive arts as healing. Palo Alto: Science & Behavior.

Shevock, D. J. (2015). The possibility of eco-literate music pedagogy. TOPICS for Music Education Praxis 2015(1). http://topics.maydaygroup.org/2015/Shevock15.pdf

Shevock, D. J. (2018). Eco-literate music pedagogy. New York: Routledge.