Instrumental music teacher Chris Gleason at Patrick Marsh Middle School, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, USA, grew up in his father’s band room watching him teach and inspire students every year, and is proud to follow in his footsteps. For 24 years he has worked hard to create conditions for growth in his classroom and beyond. He has helped many students struggling with drug addiction, mental illness, abuse, and poverty by providing free instruments and supplies, developed a comprehensive program that provides individualized instruction designed for each student, and ensuring the content of his classroom intentionally focuses on social justice and social-emotional learning.
Chris says he does not teach music; he teaches through music, teaching beyond the musical notation to help students interact with some of the finest minds in history and better understand the world and themselves, as they use music study as a gateway to qualities like empathy and compassion. Innovations he has brought to class include collaboration with nationally renowned composer Samuel R. Hazo to create a sonic representation of Georgia O'Keeffe's painting Blue and Green Music with a world premiere performance at the Wisconsin State Music Conference, featuring the composer conducting and members of O'Keeffe's family in the front row, visibly moved by the experience. This allowed his students to act upon their curiosity and explore their imagination while empowering them to create something with meaning that transcended their own lives, a lesson so successful they named it 'ComMission Possible' replicating its success every year since 2009.
Giving back to the community, Chris organizes an ensemble every year to perform at the local food shelter, nursing homes and events such as Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, while he directs the local high school marching band to play in Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades, and has formed a band for student parents. Selected as an NEA Foundation Global Fellow he spent a year of professional development on in-person workshops, online coursework, webinars by leading experts, peer learning, and an international field study experience in South Africa in 2019, with the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills to integrate global competency into daily instruction, advocate for global competency in schools, and help students thrive in our increasingly interconnected world, as they collaborate with students from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Johannesburg, South Africa, and Perth, Australia, using UN Sustainable Development Goals to discuss challenges faced across the global community. He has shared this work with teachers across the country during a recent global webinar series and plans to present authentic, learner-centred lesson ideas at future teacher conferences and workshops.
The achievement he is most proud of is the creation of non-profit organization 'Beyond The Notes' that works to create life-changing musical experiences for students, helps inspire pre-service teachers and supports the work of composers and artists. To date, the organization has inspired more than 35,000 young musicians and 70 future music educators. Chris is the 2017 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, 2017 semi-finalist for the GRAMMY Music Educator Award, and the first Wisconsin teacher to be named a finalist for National Teacher of the Year in 50 years.