Jill Russell

  • Title: K-8 Music Department Head/Teacher
  • School: Danbury Public Schools
  • Location: Danbury, Connecticut
  • Grades: K-8
  • Instruments: Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Ukulele, Cowbell, a little of everything

Congrats to Jill Russell for being our Music Teacher of the Month! Working with Danbury Public Schools, we have known Ms. Russell for many years, so we can speak first-hand to her dedication to her students and music education. She is the Music Department Head and a K-8 teacher. This year, she's teaching instrumental music for grades 4 and 5 and special education music classes for grades K-5. She plays a little of everything, including the flute, clarinet, saxophone, ukulele, and cowbell!

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Jill Russell, I am the K-8 Music Department Head in the Danbury Schools as well as a music teacher. Throughout my career, I have taught all aspects of K-8 Music, including theater, chorus, band, general music, and modern band. I was fortunate to have access to music education in the public school system I attended and when it came time to choose a career path- teaching felt natural- music is the vehicle by which I can reach my students. I had the privilege of having many teachers through the years, including college, who demonstrated how important it was to show students that you care.

In my role, I work with nonprofit organizations that have created access and culturally relevant materials for our students. Thanks to the partnerships we have with Save the Music Foundation, Music Will, SpreadMusicNow, the NAMM Foundation, and the Kiwanis Club of Greater Danbury we can reach ALL students, regardless of any roadblocks or open roads they endure in their lives.

I am a proud mom to an amazing five year old, who has solid rhythm skills and enjoys my made-up lyrics to songs, and two giant dogs who have a lot of patience. My mother was a graduate of Danbury High School & my father was a graduate of Abbot Tech Technical High School. In many ways, Danbury has always felt like “home” to me.

Who nominated you?

My colleagues and a building principal I work for. This was a pleasant surprise as I consider myself fortunate to learn each day from the amazing team I work with!

How long have you been teaching?

This is my 22nd year teaching music.

What has music and/or teaching taught you?

Teaching music has taught me that students who struggle academically, linguistically, socially, or emotionally always have a voice in the arts. Music is a language of its own, I believe we are all born musical.

Teaching communication and leadership skills through music and supporting our teachers to ensure all students are learning in their classrooms are things I do daily. It is incredibly rewarding, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

What types of music or instruments are your favorites to teach?

I enjoy teaching modern band instruments- ukulele, guitar, bass & drumset. I live by the motto, “Don’t be afraid to mess up trying something new.” My skills on these instruments are not at a master performance level, but this allows me to empower my students to be leaders in our classroom, come up with creative ideas, and most of all, enjoy making music and feel good about themselves.

What is your favorite type of music to play?

Nothing beats Bach or Hindemith on the flute, but being able to rock out a few chords on modern band instruments is also pretty cool! :) Currently, I am loving the ukulele and learning tunes I enjoy listening to. (And Blippy songs for my kiddo, of course!)

What do you like to do for fun? Do you have any hobbies?

I spend a lot of time with my son and have become well-versed in dinosaurs, snap words, and Monster Trucks. When I'm adulting, I enjoy hiking, biking, spending time with friends and family, and making memories.

What advice would you give music teachers just starting out?

Take risks- don’t avoid the difficult stuff. Show your students humility and how to overcome challenges. You will teach your students to persevere and their respect for you will be immeasurable.

Observe as many teachers as you can to find your style. Don’t be afraid to learn something new, ask questions and challenge yourself. Every day won’t be perfect- but there will be more days you leave your job feeling like you made a difference than not.

Remember your passion- remember what music class was like for you and make it even better for your students! Keep this and decisions that are best for students first, and you will move mountains!

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all music students if you could?

Don’t give up- musicians are not quitters. Find your voice. Be Confident, Spread Kindness, and Stay Brave. Be very brave!