CFA’s Karin Hendricks to Receive the 2023 Metcalf Cup and Prize, BU’s Highest Teaching Honor
Associate professor of music education cited for transforming her department by modeling the highest standard of teaching excellence
In most music education, Karin Hendricks says, there’s traditionally been one “right” way to teach.
“Someone comes in and they’re the ‘master teacher’ and they’re expected to have all the answers,” she says. “And, historically, students have been expected to listen. And if they didn’t get it, then they were deemed not talented. That’s the old-school approach.”
Hendricks does it differently, with what she calls compassionate music teaching.
The key is “an assumption that every student is capable, but has a different pathway,” she says. “Not only to success, but to their own version of success. So, we don’t even all have the same finish line. And a compassionate music teacher is attuned to students’ needs, interests, and pathways to get where they want to be.”
A College of Fine Arts associate professor and chair of music education, Hendricks has been named this year’s winner of the Metcalf Cup and Prize, the University’s highest award for teaching, to be presented at BU’s Commencement on Sunday, May 21.
She “has transformed the Department of Music Education mainly in response to the high standards of teaching excellence she models for her colleagues—both as a faculty member and now as department chair,” Gregory Melchor-Barz, director of CFA’s School of Music and a professor of music, musicology/ethnomusicology, wrote in support of her Metcalf nomination. “The department is now considered nationally and internationally as one of the top music education programs for undergraduate and graduate study.”
Hendricks, president-elect of the American String Teachers Association, is the author of Compassionate Music Teaching: A Framework for Motivation and Engagement in the 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). The chapter titles offer a hint at her approach: “Trust.” “Empathy.” “Patience.” “Community.” “Authentic Connection.”
The book “is really about students,” she writes in the introduction. “It is about inspiring them, motivating them, connecting with them, listening to them, hearing them.”
“Even if we’re all learning the same song,” she says in an interview, “not everyone is going to learn that song in the same way. Some people are really tactile learners and need to have that guitar in their hand. Whereas other people need to hear it on YouTube multiple times. Whereas other people need to sing it. Other people need to write it down. And so if I’m teaching everyone with my own learning style, then that only helps the people who are like me.”
Her way can require a teacher to improvise when a student is not doing well.
“If I’m teaching an orchestra, for instance, I might say, ‘Hey, let’s play this scale together, and let’s have [someone else] lead the scale. And I walk around, and I just lean over—and I could even be like, you know, acting like I’m fixing something—and say, ‘Hey, it seems like, you know, do you need some time to yourself? What’s going on? Should we talk after class?’ Because there’s no reason to belittle or shame someone, ever. Whether it’s in front of other people or not.”
Hendricks is a cellist and began her career as a string teacher. She previously taught at the University of Illinois and Ball State University before arriving at Boston University in 2015. Prior to working in higher education, she was a public school orchestra leader for 13 years. She was named Secondary Teacher of the Year for the Utah Chapter of the American String Teachers Association.
If I’m teaching everyone with my own learning style, then that only helps the people who are like me.
The principles of Compassionate Music Teaching have been applied by over 100 international scholars, according to the Metcalf committee, and the book itself is required in music teacher preparation programs here and abroad.
Perhaps surprisingly, Hendricks says she really hasn’t had any direct pushback from more traditional classroom maestros whose pedagogy her work challenges.
“There have been times—not here at BU, but earlier in my teaching career in public school—where I was applying for a job and someone on the search committee said, ‘No, we need a man for this because these students are far too difficult to control,’” she says. “But that right there goes back to the compassionate music teaching approach. I’m five-foot-two. I’m not intimidating.
“My approach, instead of trying to scare someone or intimidate someone into doing what I want them to do, is an emotional connection, and where I can motivate and encourage people to do things, simply because we have a connection and a shared understanding of goals.”
Hendricks’ Metcalf nomination came about because of the shared determination of three music education students she has taught or mentored to see her recognized. Undergraduate Delaney Finn (CFA’24), master of music student Cheryl Freeze (CFA’23), and doctoral student Lily Lung-Grant (CFA’23) got together via email to recommend her.
Lung-Grant says having Hendricks as her dissertation adviser over two and a half years made her a fan. Hers is a “very nontraditional” dissertation about the experiences of immigrant students in music programs in the United States, and Hendricks strongly supported her approach. “Right away, I was thinking, ‘Wow, she could be a very interesting adviser, because she’s not going to tell me what to do,” Lung-Grant says. “She’s going to ask me what I want to do. It’s just a very empowering and enjoyable learning experience with her.”
Hendricks wants to make clear that the Metcalf Cup and Prize is not just about her success.
“This award belongs to this whole department,” she says. “I’m talking about fostering a climate of trust, and I can’t do that without the fact that they go to any class and feel that sense of trust, and that culture goes way beyond what they do in my classes. So, shout out to my department colleagues, because they are tremendous.”
A gift from the late Arthur G. B. Metcalf (Wheelock’35, Hon.’74), a BU Board of Trustees chair emeritus and former professor, funds the Metcalf Cup and Prize and the Metcalf Awards for Excellence in Teaching, created in 1973 as the University’s highest teaching awards. The Cup and Prize winner receives $10,000; the Award winner(s), $5,000. A University committee selects winners based on statements describing nominees’ teaching philosophy, supporting letters from colleagues and students, and classroom observation of the nominees.
The winners of this year’s Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching are Joanna Davidson, an associate professor of anthropology at the College of Arts & Sciences and associate director of Kilachand Honors College, and Stephanie L. Byttebier (GRS’04,’13), a senior lecturer in rhetoric at the College of General Studies. All Metcalf awards will be presented at the University’s 150th Commencement on May 21.