Today we’d like to recognize Chris Gleason, the 2016-2017 Wisconsin Middle School Teacher of the Year, a national semifinalist for the 2017 Grammy Music Educator Award, and the only music educator among the four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year Award.
Those are just a few of the recent accolades Chris has received.
Now in this nineteenth year of music education, Chris is the band director at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie, WI. After extending our congratulations, I spoke to Chris briefly about his background and the secret to his success.
When did you begin to suspect that you would pursue music education as a career?
As a young child I loved playing the tuba. I still remember the day I first saw the Canadian Brass on TV. The moment I heard Chuck Dallenbach (Canadian Brass tuba player) I made it my mission in life to someday play in the Canadian Brass. It’s a good thing I gave up that goal since Chuck is still going strong!
I had many wonderful opportunities to perform but I found my true passion working with young musicians. I owe a great deal to my teachers and the amazing education I received at UW-Eau Claire and UW-LaCrosse. In particular, Dr. Jerry Young, UWEC Tuba Professor Emeritus, had a big influence on my life.
Did you have a primary mentor as a music educator (or many)?
I am blessed to be in an amazing family of educators. I basically grew up in my father’s band room in Arcadia, Wisconsin. We later moved to Durand and then LaCrosse, WI. Wherever we went, the band room was my home within the school. I remember watching my father give students a 45-minute lesson after school and then say “Come back tomorrow and we will do it again.” He gave his students his most precious possession – his time. His dedication, persistence, and passion are with me every day. Dad passed away just over one year ago.
My mom is also a huge influence having grown up on a poor family farm in rural Arcadia. She was the first in her family to attend college. Not only has she defeated cancer but earned a doctorate in education. My brother and my wife are also both band directors. I learn from them constantly as they are both amazing educators.
Can you share a little on your philosophy and your “secret” to getting students to practice at home?
I started my career requiring signed practice charts. I found that students would either write in the practice minutes in front of me and forge their parent’s signature or have it completed but have no idea how to play the assignment. It felt as though I was playing a “cat and mouse” game with them. The focus wasn’t on getting better. Rather, the focus was on filling out a chart.
Now I believe in teaching the students about myelin, a fatty substance or sheath that wraps around a child’s neural networks. In Daniel Coyle’s book “The Talent Code” he states the myelin is the “holy grail” of skill development. By teaching the students what skill is and HOW to practice, they have the tools to be more effective. Moreover, the students better understand WHY they need to practice. I have found this to be a key element. Students need to make the decision to practice on their own.
Certainly, we can inspire them to practice, just as Chuck Dallenbach inspired me. Yet, we have to be careful that we as educators do not manipulate or coerce them. Motivation lasts the longest and meaningful when it is intrinsic and not extrinsic.
How did you learn you’d been named Wisconsin’s Middle School Teacher of the Year? What was your reaction?
Being selected as Wisconsin’s Middle School Teacher of the Year was a complete surprise…literally! My school surprised me with this honor at an all-school assembly in September. The presentation was made by the Wisconsin State School Superintendent, Dr. Tony Evers. Family and friends came from all over to share the moment with me. A few months later I was honored again when I was selected as a National Teacher of the Year Finalist.
My reaction to all of this was surprise, excitement, humility, but mostly gratefulness. I know that this recognition would not have taken place without lots of support from family, friends, and colleagues over many years. I am thankful for all of my past teachers, mentors, and schools for inspiring me and instilling the love of learning. I’m grateful to work in an environment that supports curiosity and puts kids first.
What goals do you have for the future?
I am passionate about elevating the teaching profession, amplifying educator’s voices, and inspiring our youth to consider this noble profession. I’m excited about sharing my message of “Lighting a Fire In Kids” by instilling intrinsic motivation, cultivating curiosity and establishing meaningful connections with students. I’d encourage anyone who’d like to learn more, or who might be interested in having me speak, to visit my website for more information: http://www.chrispgleason.com/
On behalf of all of MakeMusic, we’d like to congratulate Chris and thank him for his commitment to music education.