Mungo award winner: Wendy Valerio

Professor shows future teachers how to bring out the music in everyone

Wendy Valerio prepares many of South Carolina’s public school music teachers, so it might be a little confusing to hear the Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award winner’s teaching philosophy. 

“I don’t believe in teaching when it comes to music education,” Valerio says. “I do believe that every person on earth is musical, that each of us is a musician, and that listening is the most important job of each musician.”

Valerio, who has been an early childhood and elementary school music teacher and has been at the University of South Carolina’s School of Music for 25 years, says her research shows that children will respond to music and can actually improvise their own musical responses even before they can speak.

“My research specialty is with toddler music development, and toddlers babble,” Valerio says. “We adults often label toddlers’ vocalizations as ‘babble’ because we can’t understand their vocalizations.”

But, she says, if you listen to toddler babble, it is quite playful and musical. Moreover, toddlers can musically improvise and communicate with someone who provides musical prompts, even as they are learning to communicate using language.

Her goal is to help her university students not to quash, but to nurture, the natural musical inclinations that all humans have.

“I have observed that humans of all ages learn music, and seem to enjoy music, by engaging musically, rather than being taught music,” she says.

As for her own students, Valerio helps them focus their attention on the music and arts standards for public schools, the South Carolina College and Career-ready standards for Visual and Performing arts Proficiency, as they are formally known.

When you ‘teach’ music, you are the leader who enables the followers to do music by leading them to develop and use their music potentials to the best of their abilities.

“My university students and I refer to these standards a lot,” Valerio says. “All of our school districts are getting students ready to be a part of the workforce and meeting these standards through music helps South Carolina’s students become creative problem-solvers who know how to listen, communicate and learn.”

Valerio also helped adapt the South Carolina Teaching Standards 4.0 assessment system in 2016 for use with UofSC student teachers.

But, equal to Valerio’s work training music teachers is her research in music education, says Andrew Gowan, interim dean of the School of Music.

She has co-authored several books on early childhood and elementary music education and has many published articles on her research on music development and acquisition in children as well as studies on how to better educate music teachers.

“She is easily the most influential figure in elementary music education in the state of South Carolina,” Gowan says.

For her part, Valerio says, being a music educator is not about teaching so much as it about doing music, listening to oneself and others, responding musically with an open mind, and analyzing and assessing those responses when helpful.

“I have taken a vow to stop trying to teach anybody anything,” Valerio says. “When you ‘teach’ music, you are the leader who enables the followers to do music by leading them to develop and use their music potentials to the best of their abilities.”

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