Profile: Mehernaz Pardiwalla, Head of Music Junior School, Diocesan School for Girls

Can you give us some background on your teaching career? How did you start off in teaching, and what made you decide to become a teacher?

My first encounter with teaching was as a young musician in my teens when I taught beginner pupils piano and flute at a Saturday music school.  I loved interacting with young children and enjoyed being able to pass on my own love of the instruments. 

After qualifying from the Royal Northern College of Music in the UK as a pianist I did a lot of itinerant piano teaching and group music teaching.  I found I particularly loved working with primary and pre-school aged children.  Their can-do attitudes and confidence were infectious and nothing ever seemed impossible! Conducting my first choir of seven and eight year olds got me thinking about being a classroom teacher and I signed up for my teaching degree after our first concert.

After seven years as a classroom teacher at Diocesan, I changed roles in 2015 and took up the position of Diocesan Junior School’s Performing Arts Coordinator.

Were there enlightening moments or inspirational people to set you on your way to a career in music education?

All my primary and secondary music teachers and piano tutors were very influential and significant in my choosing music education as a career, but my first piano teacher was probably the most inspiring.  She was an amazing performer and her lessons were always engaging and challenging.  She set high standards and instilled in me the discipline and ‘grit’ I needed to succeed as a musician and performer. 

As I continue my own journey in learning, I am continually inspired and motivated by the number of amazing Music Education lecturers here in New Zealand and around the world.

Can you tell us a bit about your Junior music programme? And the upcoming performance in Chengdu? How did that come about?

Over the past four years, the Junior Music programme at Diocesan has grown significantly.  Girls from Foundation class through to Year 6 learn music twice a week and are taught musicianship skills using a combination of Kodaly and Orff pedagogies.  The girls also get to try a variety of instruments in their music lessons.  With over 100 girls involved in the two upper primary choirs and about 150 girls learning to play instruments, and some choosing to be part of the three instrumental ensembles we offer in the Junior School, I can safely say that our girls are definitely set up to move confidently into the competitive senior school music environment. 

This year, Diocesan’s elite Junior School choir - the Chapel Choir - has been invited to participate in the Chengdu International Chorus Week in China. This will be the first time that a Diocesan Junior music group has toured overseas and we are very much looking forward to sharing our music and sharing the stage with choirs from around the world. 

Can you share a bit about Dio’s success in Kids Sing?

I have had the privilege of conducting the Chapel Choir for the past six years, with Diocesan’s Junior School winning a Gold award every year at Kids Sing.

More significant to me than the awards is the discipline and resilience the girls gain when preparing for music competitions.  It is about preparing the girls to perform as a team to the best of their ability in a pressured situation. Learning to cope on stage when things go wrong and having the confidence to listen and fix things during performance are hopefully life-long skills the girls take with them. There is also the buzz that comes from working hard and having the reward of a performance given well!

How would you describe your teaching style?

My job requires me to do a lot of demonstrating in lessons but I like to think of myself as a facilitator.  I like to immerse the girls in the skill I am teaching them using a variety of games, tasks and challenges, and then use good questioning to provoke their thinking about what they are hearing or doing. Music is essentially performative so it is important to me that children are continuously learning to critically think and reflect on what they are hearing in their own performance.

What attracted you to Diocesan School for Girls?

The high standard of the Performing Arts department.  Having a Music degree, I wanted to be involved in teaching extra-curricular/co-curricular music groups at a school alongside my classroom teaching duties.  It was important for me to work at a school that would value my knowledge in music and allow me to use my skills to help the Music department in any way I could. During my first few years at Dio I accompanied choirs, played in Chapel, conducted the Junior choir and directed a tone chimes group.

What do you enjoy most about being a teacher?

I love sharing my passion of music with the girls each day.  I have the pleasure of working with all the girls in the Junior School and it is so fulfilling seeing their music skills develop and grow.  Nothing gives me greater pleasure than watching the girls blossom into confident young performers.  It also gives me so much pride hearing the girls sing whilst skipping along the corridors and sharing the songs we learn during lessons!

One of the most motivating things about being a teacher is that I am always continuing to learn, whether it is from professional development days or from my pupils!

What are your thoughts on the benefits of independent schooling?

I went to an independent school myself and I know that the smaller class sizes, the specialist teaching that is available and the resources that are offered are fabulous.  I feel independent schools can offer children the best education where individual needs are met and catered for academically, in the arts and in sports. 

In your role as a teacher, what do you most want for your students?

I would like the girls to have an overall understanding and appreciation of different genres of music.  I hope they learn to admire the skill and hard work that musicians put in to succeed at their art form.

From my music lessons and music groups, I hope each of the girls takes a set of life skills such as self-discipline, a ‘can do’ attitude, determination and grit to achieve even when faced with challenges.  I hope they feel inspired by my love of music to choose a pathway that they are passionate and ambitious about and that they choose to continue learning and improving themselves constantly.