Chris Gleason was nominated by a colleague who wishes to remain anonymous.
The nominator has had the privilege of working with Mr. Gleason for the past 14 years on the Wisconsin State Comprehensive Musicianship Through Performance (CMP) Project. The CMP Project consists of music educators who dedicate countless hours to providing their peers with substantive, meaningful ways to reflect, learn, grow, and raise the quality of music education across the country. Even in this very elite and thoughtful group of teachers, Mr. Gleason stands out as an especially hard working, highly creative, visionary leader.
Mr. Gleason is an accomplished musician, an excellent school leader, and a true intellectual. He could be successful in any music program and at any level. He has dedicated his career to working with middle school students. At an age when most students are going through significant personal changes, Mr. Gleason is able to create a classroom environment where students produce highly sophisticated examples of critical thinking in projects. His students are able to analyze and articulate what makes a particular piece of literature great and speak to their classmates, parents, and concert audiences about what they can do, know, and value. Most amazingly, his students willingly dive into at-home practice.
Mr. Gleason's students don’t practice because he chides them or criticizes those that can’t keep up, or even because he checks their practice charts. They practice because they understand why it helps and how their brain actually functions. They practice because they have a teacher holding them in such high regard that he taught them about the latest in brain research. Mr. Gleason assumes these children are capable of responding out of knowledge and love of making music and not simply out of duty or fear, and his music program has grown and thrived, with students who learn eagerly and joyfully. He has become a genuine expert on student motivation, and his dedication to building students who are internally motivated has challenged teachers across the country to examine their own practices, which are often founded more on habits and traditions than on research about how humans actually best learn and respond.
"While drills and sheer repetition might create a great concert, internal desire, engagement, and curiosity are traits that follow students their entire life," the nominator said. "As his students work with well-known composers on commissioned new works for their middle school band, they eagerly contribute because they can clearly see why their efforts matter and know that their individual voice is an important one in a project that is greater than any one person and may have a meaningful legacy beyond their band concert."
While it has become a trend for music teachers to involve students in introducing pieces at a concert, Mr. Gleason goes one step further by encouraging students to discuss, explore, and ponder the ideas of the compositions through a huge variety of creative means. Mathematical models, movies, board games, dances and visual artistic expressions are all valid ways of communicating in his room. When there are seemingly infinite choices, and students are encouraged to show what they are thinking in ways that intrigue them, the lines between work and play are blurred in a wonderfully engaging way.
As a long-time leader and past chair of the CMP project, Mr. Gleason not only shares his vast experience and understanding of strategies for creating motivated learners, but brings a huge wealth of research and original work on the area of assessment in music education. For years, most people have assumed that in a music class, the concert is the final assessment. In summer workshops in Wisconsin, graduate classes in the Chicago area, and at national and international workshops, Mr. Gleason has shown teachers that the potential benefits of an excellent music education are far deeper and richer than simply preparing a concert.
"Chris has the authority to speak to richness beyond the concert performance because he actually lives his educational philosophy," the nominator said. "For teachers who are reluctant to sacrifice any performance quality to allow room for reflection, discussion and contextualization, they can look at Chris’ program to see an ensemble of students who are also exceptional performing musicians. The program is a testament to how far kids are willing to push themselves when the investment level is high."
By working towards outcomes that are rich in skills, knowledge, and affective connections, the result is a classroom of students who are able to realistically identify their own strengths and personal challenges. In contrast to programs that focus solely on playing skills, Mr. Gleason's students, whose natural strengths are in the realm of abstract thinking or connecting their musical understandings to other disciplines, are also finding musical success and satisfaction.
"For the past 14 years, I have seen Chris grow as a teacher, thinker and workshop/inservice presenter," the nominator said. "When he first joined the CMP Project, he was a fantastic teacher of children and a strong leader at our workshops for adult music educators. We spent time discussing ways we could take a workshop that was already well respected to a higher level, and it was clear to us that for Chris, there was no top limit to how good something could become."
Mr. Gleason has continued to grow in his own abilities because of this ability to reflect, notice, research, apply changes, and continue to try new approaches. As a result, he's one of the most sought after music educators in the state, and teachers know if they hear him speak, it will be both practical and inspiring. "Chris has a reputation of working hard and never settling, yet he manages to convey humility and a sense of approachability," the nominator said. "Veteran teachers, as well as new teachers and college students, are unafraid to seek him out and talk about ideas, and Chris is always an attentive listener who is generous with his time."
By being the kind of teacher himself that he inspires his adult students (other music educators) to be, Mr. Gleason is a living example of continuously working to refine and build on one’s own teaching skills. Excellent teaching can make a difference. In a time when it is easy to be discouraged, feel overwhelmed with new initiatives and more paperwork, or despair that there are too many factors outside of the teacher’s control, Mr. Gleason has helped hundreds of music educators to remember what it was that drew them to the profession in the first place.
"His work with the CMP Project, State Honors Music Project, Wisconsin Music Educators Association, countless other organizations, and his own community and classroom gives all of us hope that a great teacher can still make a world of difference," the nominator said.