Golden Apple Moments

Music Educator Shelby Leyland Uses Music to Empower her Students to Express their Authentic Selves

Music is a powerful force that uplifts, unites and inspires. It is a catalyst for community-building and a vessel for self-expression. Music is also a great tool for education, especially for educator Shelby Leyland. She leads the music program at Lowell Elementary School in Seattle and focuses on the positive influence of music as a way to empower her students, highlight collaboration and create a space for them to develop their own identities. 

“Music is a really great way to express yourself. In school settings, in school culture, this is something that is sometimes missing — the ability for students to have their voices represented, show how they are feeling and express a part of themselves that they don’t normally get to,” Leyland said.

Leyland’s classroom allows her students to show up as they are, with no real pressure or parameters to their learning and self-expression. She and her students are currently focusing on a world music subject, which brings the voices of students, their families, and their home cultures into the classroom. 

“It’s a really, really cool opportunity for us as music educators to allow kids to share things that they’re experts in. When they bring in a song they learned from home, they become the expert in the classroom. They know more than anyone else, including me, and it’s really powerful for kids to be able to teach one another. It also reaffirms positive identity — something that our culture doesn’t always give space for. It’s really valuable and special when kids get to bring their voice into the curriculum,” Leyland said.

Alongside learning about music, Leyland’s students learn about the importance of collaboration. They spend a lot of time together, playing games and team building, which encourages them to listen to each other, value community and have pride in the identity of another community member. Leyland believes that instilling positive values in her students is a meaningful pursuit. 

“I think being a teacher is one of the greatest responsibilities that I’ve ever had in my life. When we can reach students in a really loving and positive way, it just lifts us all up as teachers, as a school community. We all benefit from that,” Leyland said.

What are KCTS 9 Golden Apple Moments?

The Golden Apple Moments program celebrates educators, programs and schools making a positive difference in Washington State education, from early childhood through high school. KCTS 9 shares these bright-spot success stories of innovative educators and programs through all its content delivery channels: KCTS 9,, social media and partner channels.  

Golden Apple Moments are profiles of those who inspire us. Those who think a little differently and are reimagining the way we teach our young people. They are individuals who are not waiting around for someone to tell them how to move our education system forward. They are pushing the boundaries, engaging our youth to advance and succeed in a rapidly changing world. Golden Apple Moments focus less on complex statistics and benchmark results and more on a teacher, a program or a school’s novel idea or approach — why and how it is challenging the status quo and inspiring others.

Golden Apple Moments highlight the educators, program administrators and nonprofits/organizations working to improve education outcomes and discover new blueprints for success for children in Washington State and around the country.

The KCTS 9 Golden Apple Moments are made possible through funding from PEMCO Insurance. Nominations are now open for the 2021 school year.

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PEMCO Insurance is a proud sponsor of Golden Apple Moments, which recognizes those who have made Washington schools better places for learning.

Previous Golden Apple Honorees