The semifinalist list for the 2023 Grammy Music Educator Award includes, for the first time, a Minnesota-based teacher. The recent accolade for David Davis, who teaches general music at Park Spanish Immersion Elementary in St. Louis Park, comes as no surprise to his boss.
“I was excited, but I was not surprised,” says Corey Maslowski, the principal at Park Spanish Immersion. “He asks good questions; he’s a consummate learner; he’s a reflective practitioner. So, I was not surprised at all.”
The Music Educator Award recognizes “the excellent and impactful work being done by thousands of music teachers across the U.S,” according to the Grammy Museum. Teachers may apply on their own or be anonymously nominated by anyone in their community, including fellow teachers, administrators, students and parents. Evaluation criteria include making “a measurable difference in the lives of students,” “a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education” and “a significant impact on their school and community.”
Davis found out in 2021 that he had reached the quarterfinalist stage, when prospects are asked to submit videos that elaborate on their teaching process and philosophy. After doing so, he said he was thrilled and surprised to find out in late October that he had made it to this year’s semifinalist round.
Davis’ teaching style includes “research-based transformation, uplifting student voice and enabling choice,” he says.
Collaboration is central to those goals.
“Everyone is a teacher: parents, grandparents, colleagues, children, etc.,” he says. “Anytime knowledge is being transferred between people, young and old, formally or informally, that is teaching. Some of us are just specially trained.”
By that token, he adds, “a ‘formal teacher’s’ role in a community is to be a supportive assistant, coach, guide, partner and role model in unlocking others’ potential.”
Maslowski affirms Davis’ collaborative style, describing him as a team player who reaches out to fellow teachers at the school to embed music throughout the day. This outreach also extends to the students, the principal adds, with Davis helping each child and family to “show up and be themselves.”
The practice of student-centered education has broader implications beyond the classroom, Davis says.
“I also find it very important and motivating to work toward disrupting the status quo and fixing the current broken and racist system of music education, a system built on a foundation of exclusion, inequity and homogeneity,” he says. “I enjoy the work of collaborating toward research-based transformation, uplifting student voice and enabling choice, and growing myself along the way.”
He shared his teaching philosophy in 2021 on fellow educator Scott Kummrow’s Masters of the Musiverse program:
In Davis’ view, challenging the status quo is not solely a matter of social and political views — it’s a matter of effective teaching.
“Doing what is best for children requires maintaining quality music education in the schools,” he says. “But in order to stay relevant and keep up with rapid changes in our society, maintaining quality music education will require adaptation, reform, decentering whiteness and implementing innovative curricula by music teachers, professors and administrators. Therefore, I want to encourage people to ask questions, be skeptical of the status quo, work in collaboration, read the research, be creative and take risks so we can continue to make music learning more inclusive, impactful and relevant for all students.”
The Grammy Music Educator award was inaugurated in 2014. Several Minnesota-based teachers have made it to the quarterfinalist stage in years past, including Adrian Davis in 2014 and 2016, John Pohland and Eric Sayre in 2020, and Daniel James Felton, Nicholas Gaudette and Kathryn Ananda-Owens in 2023. One of last year’s finalists, Trevor Nicholas, originally hails from Minnesota, although he represented his current home base of Chicago.
Davis is the first Minnesota music teacher to reach the semifinals, an achievement he is honored to bear.
“When it comes to working toward a better music education system, making the vision into a reality feels like working on a giant, challenging, yet rewarding, puzzle,” he says. “Even if it is just small steps, this kind of progress and forward momentum in making the system better, especially for those who have been historically marginalized, continues to motivate me and give me hope.”
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