MacPhail teaching artist L.A. Buckner leads students in bucket drumming.
MacPhail teaching artist L.A. Buckner leads students in bucket drumming.

MacPhail teaching artist L.A. Buckner, who teaches bucket drumming in school partnerships and with the MacPhail Northside Youth Orchestra, deeply understands the community in which his students live.

“I come from North Minneapolis, I went to school in North Minneapolis my entire life. I knew that you were lucky if your textbook had a front cover, if you knew what the cover looked like,” he remembers.

It’s this understanding that informs his knowledge of the achievement gap as well as his teaching philosophy. He believes that closing the achievement gap is about giving personal attention to each student.

“We have all these children who aren’t at the reading level, who aren’t at the math level, who are just passing through and it’s creating more of a problem. The only real impact you can make is one student at a time. That’s the most truthful impact any teaching artist, any educator, any administrator can make.”

L.A.’s tactic is to meet his students where they are.

When he teaches girls in a second grade classroom in North Minneapolis, he noticed the lessons were more successful if each girl’s idea was encouraged. That’s why the students serve as DJs during musical chairs, where they choose all the latest pop and danceable songs. “Sometimes musical chairs turns into a dance off,” L.A. admits. “They like to do the whip and nae nae.”

“These students don’t go home to conditions that allow them to do homework. They’re focused on where they’re going to stay and if they’re going to eat tonight. You need to figure out a way to bring that child comfort, make them feel included, to make them feel a part of the team,” he says. “A teacher should know how to convey their subject matter in a form that students can relate to.”

As a percussionist, L.A. gets creative to help build confidence in students through activities like bucket drumming. The students play for three bars, then stop. Then, each student gets a solo.

“They insert their own sense of personality into the beat and that builds a sense of confidence in them. When it becomes their turn again they know what they want to do. It helps their decision making. It’s tiny, but you do it enough and it becomes ingrained in their memory. Team building skills, confidence building, articulation, thinking on the fly. Those are things that happen with two sticks and a bucket.”

L.A. finds satisfaction when he knows he has connected with his students by meeting them where they are. “When a kid figures something out, when they say, ‘Oh, I get it!’, or if I find out we have something in common or we share opinions musically, I know I am making an impact. Music is the vehicle for the actual impact.”


Learn more about how music makes a difference!