Mental health and wellbeing column: Be vocal, stay visible

Emma Hutchinson
Monday, May 1, 2023

In this month’s mental health and wellbeing column, Emma Hutchinson, specialist and trainer in Early Years music and founder of Music House for Children, shares her experiences with wellbeing and accountability in music education, providing teachers with some practical tips.

Music House for Children

Accountability sits uncomfortably on many shoulders. In our capacity as teachers, we must manage our pupils, resources, planning and expectations. Busy Early Years music educators often rush from one developmental age-group to the next, with many being non-verbal. Accountability hovers even as we engage with our respective communities, often emerging when something unexpected occurs.


What do we know about the children that we teach? What do we know about the setting, its resources, the carers, the setting’s ethos? Why do they want music lessons from an external provider? Is all this relevant to mental health and wellbeing? In this context, the adage ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ carries far more weight. Be accountable!

All too often I hear ‘I’m not given any information due to data protection’. Do not wait to be told. Make it your priority to find out as much as you can from the top dog. A good starting point is ‘tell me about your children to help me provide outstanding music lessons’ – you will gain mutual respect since, ultimately, we all want the best for our children. This knowledge will help you connect with the setting’s ethos. You reduce anxiety by knowing that every child is properly supported through music and are in a stronger position all round. Bespoke lesson plans, the new ‘adaptable’, help carers acknowledge individual responses for their assessment criteria, and will ultimately save you time and potential redundancy. For music educators, a little reading on early-childhood pedagogy brings an additional advantage; a good place to start is Early Education (see link in box).

Cultures and bias

The information you are given will be an important snapshot of your children, though you should be open to new discoveries as you go. Many years ago I taught at a private setting where there were 15 children with one carer in a small room. Over the weeks I frantically used every educational straw to retain control over seemingly privileged two- and three-year-olds climbing the wall, pulling resources off the table, running round in circles screaming and generally being anarchic. My mental health deteriorated; I dreaded Wednesdays and felt like an utter failure when I resigned. What went wrong? The problem was me. I had not enquired about the children’s backgrounds, the setting's ethos or what the leadership wanted. I later realised that many children were from different cultural environments, and some spoke no English and had significant needs. My template should have accounted for fewer resources, more topic-based movement and interaction.

Resources or not?

How many times have we over-loaded on resources to maximise musical offerings to young children? In some cases, when monitoring teachers in action, I observed anxiety, stress and even fear. One example involved using several tactile resources at once – puppets, scarves, instruments and bubbles! The teacher sang at heightened pitch, taught at a frantic speed and hid behind her guitar. On the surface, everyone seemingly had a brilliant time, however the teacher looked frazzled and there was a notable lack of spontaneity and shared musicianship. After the lesson we reflected and picked the lesson plan apart. With support, the teacher considered her musical objectives, removed several resources and gave both herself and her beneficiaries more time and space to really experience music.

Taking time out

In our various guises as a freelancer, and despite working with lots of children, teaching can be lonely and often frustrating, and accountability for our personal wellbeing is realised too late. Practical solutions include taking care of your voice – it is the window of your profession after all! Breathing, taking water and steaming during time out from speaking are all helpful remedies.

Communicate your woes to a trusted friend. A listening ear is worth its weight in gold and can be reciprocal. Music teachers spend enormous energy and time on musical learning for children, but what of the provider? We often forget our own musical enjoyment, too. Play and sing for yourself!

Vision, positivity, health

Paradoxically, a teacher's vision for excellent, musically achievable outcomes must put the teacher's wellbeing at the forefront. Teachers who are constantly absent, ill-prepared or miserable are not selfless, committed or amazing at all. This may seem harsh, but being professionally accountable and realistic can do much to help redress the balance of work and play. As an educator I know too well the downward spiralling of mental health, and how this can be avoided. Your vision for achieving outstanding musical outcomes in your children can be realised if you are in control.

Books, references and links