John Phillips spends a lot of time asking questions. His favourite questions are about music education.
Why teach music in schools?
What should be taught in the curriculum?
How should it be taught?
Who should teach it?
“I got my inspiration from R. Murray Schafer after reading one in a series of books titled The Rhinoceros in the Classroom, written in the 1970s when Schafer was at Simon Fraser University,” said Phillips.
“Those four questions help us know the impact of music education.”
The quest for understanding that impact has motivated a lifelong search for the Don Wright Faculty of Music alumnus and part-time faculty member. After receiving a BMus and BEd from Western, Phillips pursued a master’s degree in music education at Boston University. He is completing his studies as a doctoral candidate in ethnomusicology at York University.
His teaching career spans 30 years in the public system, at schools in London, Scarborough and York Region. He was a principal and instructor of in-service music teacher training programs at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
Phillips has also taught at the University of Toronto and York. At Western, he teaches the third-year music education course in conducting and teaching methods for instruments. He also teaches the instrumental option for pre-service candidates for the Faculty of Education.
“Teaching both courses this year has grounded me, made me feel part of the Western community,” said Phillips.
He also taught a graduate seminar, which he is repeating this summer. The course helps experienced teachers discover new ways of looking at innovation and interpretation and become leaders in the profession.
“I want them to talk about what curriculum is and what it could be or should be,” he said. “Who is best suited to be teaching in the school system as opposed to a studio? What skills are needed? We also examine 21st-century learning theory and the impact of technology on learning and learners.”
Integrating theories, concepts and strategies examined in the course will help students develop their own model.
Phillips wants the students to design a curriculum model for their own use in their own context. “I encourage them to adapt more in-service for a more practical rather than theoretical approach.”
He believes this is critical to the success of the curriculum. “If it is only a manual on a desk, it has no life, no meaning.”
Phillips came to this conclusion after a three-year review and revision of the provincial arts education. “We compared music curricula across Canada, in North America and globally,” he said. “We looked at how we line up around the world. We examined the political impact and other issues that affect curricula.
“My experience at the Ministry gave me a 360-degree viewpoint of the Ontario education system in context,” he said. “I saw the politics, administrative, budget and supervision. I worked on three major projects that current Premier Kathleen Wynne funded in her earlier role as Minister of Education.”
One of those projects was video resource and the creation of 60 webcasts of exemplary teaching in the arts. The second offered funding for professional development and was administered by the Ontario Teachers’ Federation. The third provided lesson plans and study units free for teachers of the arts available through the Ontario Music Educators’ Association as well as the visual arts, dance, and drama educators’ associations.
“For me personally, it was the best professional development experience of my entire career,” he said. “It expanded my educational outlook beyond music to visual art, media, drama, and dance.
“After all, teaching music is applied ethnomusicology.”