Junior was not the typical school leader, but he understood that listening to music could inspire his artwork.
After going over the syllabus and room procedures in my art class on the first day of school, the question came as it does each year: “Can we listen to our iPods in this class?”
The school policy allows students and teachers to listen to music through the computer but does not allow headphones. That exclusion of the iPod is referred to as the “off and away” policy.
I give my well-rehearsed answer and brace myself for the collective groans that occur. “But this is art class,” they reply. “It’s totally different.” I agree with them, but not out loud. I’m conflicted about this rule.
When students are quietly working on their art projects, music can help them focus. Selecting one album, or one Pandora station, to listen to as an entire class can take half the period to reach consensus. Music preferences are as diverse as the students in my room and I know they would tire easily of my choices.
I understand that if I decide to let my students listen to headphones it’s not fair to my colleagues who then have to listen to countless pleas of “but Ms. Ryan let’s us do it.”
When my students were making illustrated name cards, Junior, decided to lead the charge again. “Ms. Ryan can we please listen to our headphones… or can we go talk to the principal about this rule?” he asked.
I am a firm believer in allowing students a voice in decisions that impact them. It would be a valuable experience for Junior to gather up the nerve to talk to our principal about this rule. However, regardless of how amenable our principal is to student input, I still know the answer will be “no” and want to save everyone time and frustration.
We needed a solution that allowed for individual tastes in music but that did not violate the policy.
“Junior, what if you go around from table to table and collect a list of music that people want to listen to as a class?” I ask.
“Ms. Ryan, I am not that guy.” Junior replies.
After a few minutes I notice Junior get up and go to another table, holding a piece of paper. I overhear him explain that although students can’t listen to headphones individually in class, we can choose a new music station each class period and he will make sure everyone’s suggestions are played. This way we will have a list to refer to when choosing a station and we can have a variety of music to play.
Well done, Junior. You are that guy, and I am proud of your leadership.
Ryan Fear is a high school dean of students in Oregon.