Teaching In Harmony
May 10, 2022
Fairfax County Public School Teacher Kristin McClure Brings a Musical Twist to STEM Learning
Some people are lucky enough to find their calling early on in life. Centre Ridge Elementary School Kindergarten teacher Kristin McClure, who has been teaching with Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) for more than 15 years and who was once a student there herself, is one of those individuals.
“Growing up, I loved working with kids─as a nanny, a tutor, a music teacher─and I knew early on that my calling was education,” McClure recounts.
A music enthusiast from an early age, McClure entered James Madison University with the intent to study elementary music education, but she soon found she also had a passion for teaching elementary education content areas, particularly math and science. Instead of choosing one practice over another, McClure decided to combine them, graduating with a degree in Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies with minors in Early Childhood Education and Music, and eventually earned a Master of Arts in Teaching PreK-6.
After graduation, McClure found a home at Centre Ridge Elementary, where she has made a concerted effort to integrate music into her teaching practices every day because she believes it helps students better engage with the material and encourages creativity.
“Teaching through the arts really empowers students to take ownership of their learning and express their ideas in different ways,” she says. “There have been so many times that my students were able to show me what they had learned and that they understood abstract concepts (such as force or time) through dance, music, drama, and puppetry. I would have never otherwise known that they understood if not for teaching through the arts.”
McClure, a National Board Certified Teacher, also holds an Advanced Academic Programs Endorsement from FCPS and serves as a mentor teacher for George Mason University pre-service teachers. She is also a frequent collaborator with Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, which she credits with being “the most meaningful, ongoing professional development I have received throughout my years of teaching.”
“Having someone regularly co-teach with me in my classroom and support me as I integrate best practices in the arts with best practices in the content areas has helped me feel confident in building my arts skills, as well as rethink my lesson instructions throughout the school day,” says McClure. “I plan my instruction now with an arts focus and think about opportunities that students will have for joyful and active learning experiences that engage all types of learners.”
The positive responses she’s seen from her students run across the entire curriculum spectrum, but McClure still counts math and science among her favorite subjects to teach.
“I love watching students make connections across the content and I love embedding the arts throughout these concepts,” McClure says. “It’s amazing to watch students who are just learning English or are struggling with content vocabulary dance the life cycle of a plant or match instrument sounds with sounds in nature to show that they have embodied these concepts, even if they don’t have the language skills to communicate their learning.”
And while McClure herself, as a clarinetist with the Fairfax Wind Symphony, could not be called an amateur, she is quick to encourage new teachers to find ways to integrate the arts into their lesson plans, regardless of their level of talent or experience.
“You don’t have to be a musician or dancer to use arts skills in your classroom─start small with some movement and chants and build from there,” McClure advises. “Don’t be afraid to try new things and step out of your comfort zone for your students’ benefit!”
Like many of her colleagues, McClure’s most treasured memories as a teacher are seeing students’ faces light up when they experience the joy of learning new things: “When students have a variety of creative ways to demonstrate what they know and feel confident enough to share their learning with others, deep, meaningful, and joyful learning is happening!” To learn more about Wolf Trap Education programs, visit wolftrap.org/education.aspx. Interested in bringing Wolf Trap to your classroom? Sign up for more information at: wolftrap.org/global/education-info.aspx.