11 February 2019

How a New Zealand music teacher is changing students’ lives

Linley Boniface

Music teacher Kyle Proffit is the secret behind the success of some of New Zealand’s globally successful musicians.

Music teacher Kyle Proffit is the secret behind the success of some of New Zealand’s globally successful musicians. But he’s just as proud of empowering his international students with a confidence and resilience that help them excel beyond the subject of music.

Kyle says his international students are often surprised to discover his classroom isn’t what they’re used to back home.

At Garin College, a co-educational Roman Catholic high school in Nelson, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, learning is personalised to each student. All of Kyle’s senior students have individual lesson plans, and they’re encouraged to learn by making music rather than by memorising theory.

Another difference is that Kyle rarely stands in front of the class delivering information. He runs a mentor-based classroom, which means he and his music tutors can usually be found working with small groups of students.

It’s a distinctive New Zealand style of learning that helps students develop qualities such as communication, teamwork, independence, critical thinking and resilience – skills in demand by global employers.

“I take away the judgement and the pressure to succeed, and make it more about personal growth,” says Kyle.

As one of New Zealand’s most influential music teachers, Kyle Proffit has helped shaped some of the country’s most successful musicians, including Broods and Robinson.

While Kyle’s delighted that some of his students have become world-class musicians, he is just as proud of the international students whose lives have been changed through studying music at his school.

A Japanese student who had given up a successful career as a travelling musician rekindled his passion for music at Garin College. “He came back to life here by playing the music he loved,” says Kyle.

Another Japanese student was shy and withdrawn when he arrived in New Zealand, but decided he wanted to learn the drums. He formed a strong bond with his drums tutor and ended up playing in an award-winning band – and becoming Dux (the highest academic performer) of his year.

“I am so proud of my international students and how they develop here: not just musically, but as confident, independent people,” says Kyle.

“I always make a point of spending time with new international students to find out where they come from, what their family is like and what their school was like.

“I want to build a connection with them and help them to feel part of our community.”

Kyle Proffit with students at Garin College in Nelson.

The New Zealand education system encourages lifelong learning, for teachers as well as students. Kyle makes it a priority to constantly stay in touch with new trends in music, music production and music technology.

“Every student is different, and the way students learn is changing so fast. As a music teacher and a mentor, I need to keep up to date and understand what students’ lives are like – inside and outside the classroom.”

Kyle says he sometimes only meets his international students’ parents for the first time when they come to watch their children perform just before leaving New Zealand.

“The parents of our international students are amazed to see what their children are capable of. They can’t believe how skilled they are, or how strong and independent they’ve become,” he says.

“They usually either break down in tears or get up and dance.”

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About the contributors
Linley Boniface

Linley Boniface is a contract writer for Education New Zealand. She is based in Wellington, her favourite city in New Zealand. A former journalist, Linley spent a year in Montreal, Canada, as a secondary school student.