Leading with Empathy- Stephanie Gravelle talks #QLC17

An Interview with Stephanie Gravelle
Interviewer: Oroni Hasan

Stephanie Gravelle is a music teacher at the American School of Doha, and holds a bachelor of music from Carnegie Mellon and a master of music from Teachers College Columbia University. She believes that a classroom should not only be for rehearsals, but should also be a safe environment where students get to develop their creativity and compassion.

This year at QLC, Stephanie Gravelle will present “Experience Empathy: Building awareness and compassion through experiential learning”. This presentation will give us a deep insight into experiential learning and how education is truly derived from experience. The audience will also brainstorm ideas and be taught various activities that are examples of experiential learning, simultaneously rendering a deeper connection between them and various issues.  

What inspired you to achieve your goals and passion as a music teacher?

I was living in New York City auditioning for musicals when I found out my former high school was going to cancel the musical in my youngest sister’s senior year because they didn’t have a director.  I took a chance and flew home to Wisconsin.  I had a cast of 50 kids and they completely changed my life.  I loved spending every day with them making music and perfecting their performance.  I went back to school to study music education at Columbia University.  There my teachers taught me about creativity and democracy within the classroom.  Community and building on students’ potential became my focus, and I would never focus on talent or be a dictator (unless absolutely necessary).  Now, my students continue to inspire me.  I’m amazed at what they are capable of.  I’ve had students write their own music, perform in huge concert halls, travel to Carnegie Hall, but best of all they’ve made audiences feel joy, compassion, and empathy.  

What accomplishments have you made in the past that relate to your interests?

I’ve seen my numbers in choir grow.  My first year at ASD, there were 5 girls in my treble choir.  Now there are 24.  There were 11 kids in middle school choir 3 years ago.  Now there are 37.  I challenge myself to present at a conference every year.  Presenting is much scarier than teaching, so it does take some mental preparation.  This year in addition to QLC, I’m presenting on Creativity in the Choir Classroom for The Association for Music in International Schools in Berlin.  I also see a huge growth in my students.  My first year, no one could read music.  Now my students can sight read a bit and have an understanding of chord structure.

How has presenting at QLC or any other conferences benefited you?

The subject I teach does not lend itself to lecture-style teaching.  The only time I make a powerpoint is for these presentations.  I usually pick a topic that I’m interested in, but do not teach in my class.  It’s an opportunity to do something a bit scary and to research a topic that I might not otherwise.  Also, it’s similar to high school students being in NHS or another service organization.  Presenting looks great on a resumé.

What effect on the audience do you hope to achieve after presenting at QLC?​

I hope they have fun.  I hope I help them to think creatively.

Why do you believe the topic you’re presenting is so important? Why does the audience need to know about your topic?

Too often, we are given a stack of papers to read or worse – someone reads their heavily-worded PowerPoint to us.  To really have people care about a cause, they need to be able to empathize with those who are suffering.  Using games to illustrate social issues gets your audience actively involved in learning about a topic instead of passively receiving information.  I can tell you that North America has the most amount of resources per capita, but seeing and feeling that information can be more impactful.