Music Education Hiring Johanna Gamboa-Kroesen Puts Students First

Johanna Gamboa-Kroesen was on her way home when the call came.

“I was driving on one of those beautiful rural New England highways, in the woods,” Gamboa-Kroesen recalled. It was 2006 and she was in the final stages of getting her MMEd. at the Hartt School of Music in West Hartford, Connecticut. She was expecting the call, as she had a phone interview with a Southern California school district for her first job, but not so soon. “Investigators were ahead of schedule,” she explained. “I had to pull off the road to take the call. I had my first interview right there on the side of the highway.

She got the job.

For Gamboa-Kroesen, it was the first step in a professional career as a music teacher that took her from public schools to doctoral studies in the Philippines on a Fulbright-Hayes scholarship. In the fall of 2022, she will join the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music as an assistant professor of music education.

His passion has always been to teach and share the joy of music. In all, she would spend sixteen years in Irvine schools teaching music to elementary and high school students. It was fulfilling work, something she loved deeply. For ten years, she perfected her art, winning two teaching awards along the way.

But she also noticed something strange along the way.

“I had students who did very well in music class. They responded well to instructions, improved steadily and were good participants,” said Gamboa-Kroesen. “But they struggled in other areas. And when I talked to their teachers or coaches, it was like we were talking about two different students. What made these seemingly troubled students thrive in his class?

It was the start of a research question she would bring to her doctoral program at UCLA. She already had a decade of experience teaching in public schools, and now she was ready to create a study that would measure the impact of music pedagogy on student achievement. She identified five schools as sites, developed surveys and observation instruments, and presented them to her thesis committee.

The committee was enthusiastic. They recommended that he begin by collecting data on teachers before asking students about their experiences. But Gamboa-Kroesen wanted to reverse the process, starting with students and then collecting data from teachers.

“I was quite insistent with my committee,” Gamboa-Kroesen said. “If we want to be student-centered in our practices, then we should be student-centered in our research.” She didn’t have to press hard. “My committee was very understanding and they accepted my justification.”

The Gamboa-Kroesen study yielded important results. Student success, she found, correlates with a strong sense of community and belonging. Music ensembles were such a place to build communities.

“Students can go to school and not hear their name all day,” Gamboa-Kroesen said. “Musical ensembles are where students can feel like they belong, where they feel like ‘these are my people’. And that led to not just better grades, but better emotional states. Students who participated in hosting musical ensembles were more likely to participate in other classes and less likely to engage in risky behaviors.

Gamboa-Kroesen probed why some teachers were able to construct more successful sets than others. An exciting finding from his study was that music teachers were generally more effective when they minimized competition in ensembles and instead focused on shared responsibilities.

For generations of music students who grew up with performance auditions and chair placement based on skill level, this is a counterintuitive conclusion.

“When you think about it,” Gamboa-Kroesen said, “it makes sense. It’s actually harder to sit in the back and learn than to be in front. as professional musicians can’t just spend their student years under the conductor’s nose, they also need to know what it’s like to be in the back.

Gamboa-Kroesen’s work has important policy implications. If music education can pave the way for better student outcomes, including student emotional well-being, then it is important that administrators and policymakers continue to prioritize it.

Music, it turns out, is essential after all.

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