Board-Certified Teacher Walks the Red Carpet

March 2, 2016

We had a chat with 2016 Grammy Music Educator award recipient, Phillip Riggs, NBCT, to learn more about his Grammy moment and his experience with Board certification. Read what he said below!

When did you find out that you’d be winning this award?
I was notified before the actual CBS This Morning announcement. It was really difficult not sharing the news with everyone I know.

Did you get a trophy?
That happens in April. The Special Merit Awards event is April 23 in Hollywood at the Dolby theater. One of the four Special Merit Awards is the lifetime achievement award. I’ll be there with artists such as Linda Ronstadt, Herbie Hancock, Earth Wind and Fire, Jefferson Airplane and other artists, too. PBS will televise the event in the summer.

What did your students think?
They were very excited and supportive. I was actually already on the plane to LA when the announcement was being made on CBS. I emailed the students to let them know that I was in the air and that they would be performing our winter concert without me. The concert was scheduled for the Sunday that we were in LA. The students knew ahead that there was a chance I wouldn’t be there because they knew I was in the running for this recognition. It was really great because the chancellor, my wife Carol and I did a Google Hangout into the concert. I spoke at the beginning and at the end of the concert. We listened from across the country. They were very supportive and the audience was very excited for me. That was a fun thing – a concert and celebration in one. My colleagues Scott Laird, North Carolina School of Science and Math (NCSSM) Fine Arts Chair / Orchestra Director and Dr. Evan Feldman, Conductor of the UNC Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band conducted in my place.

What were the highlights of your trip to California?
The whole thing was surreal. I knew that the Grammy Foundation was very supportive of music education but didn’t realize the extent to which they are involved. They flew my wife and me out to LA. They also flew Dr. Todd Roberts, NCSSM Chancellor out later in the week. Carol and I were in LA for a week. We attended various Grammy Music Education events, as well as media events. Highlights included the "MusiCares person-of-the-year” event. This year’s recipient was Lionel Richie and of course, the Grammy Red Carpet, awards pre-show and the televised event Monday evening were very exciting.

Monday night was incredible. We were in the fourth row and everybody was so kind and thanked us for being music teachers or had a story to tell about their music teacher. Right before the event started, Ryan Seacrest sat in front of us. I introduced myself and said hi. I thanked him for Tweeting congratulations to me earlier and told him that my students now thought I was cool because he had Tweeted my name. It was at this time that I learned that he would be the person to recognize me from the stage. Gary Sinise was sitting beside my wife Carol. After he spoke, we thanked him for recognizing the men and women in the military. He said it’s really meaningful to him and he recognizes service members whenever he has the chance. We have lots of people in our family who have served, so that was especially meaningful. He was very nice and we were honored to meet him.

To our right were the Pentatonics. We had a conversation with them and found out that several of them were in their high school music program together. They were really excited just like us – almost star struck because they were getting to sing with Stevie Wonder and were having a great time themselves. Luke Bryant was near us and so was Beck. Meghan Trainor, Chris Stapleton, John Legend and Lady Gaga were seated in our row. They were all excited and celebrating music.

Why did you become board certified?

One of the biggest reasons originally was – in North Carolina it’s a significant pay raise. A lot of North Carolina teachers look at it initially for that reason. The raise is larger than a Master’s degree. Obviously, North Carolina values having the certification. Once I looked at the process and went through the process, I discovered that it’s a great way for teachers to reflect on what they’re doing. Do I need to do anything differently? Can I improve my practice? Doing the recordings to create the portfolio – that camera doesn’t lie to you – it’s brutally honest in a lot of ways. I know that once I got into the process, I saw that made me a better educator.

For me, the process wasn’t about the perfect video. It was about observing the video, reflecting on the successful aspects of the lesson, and identify ways the lesson might be improved. The climate in education in North Carolina doesn’t feel like they want people to be career teachers. I’m definitely a better teacher because I went through the Board certification process and I’m an incredibly much better teacher than I was 20 plus years ago. I’m not sure why as a society that we don’t value career teachers. I’d love to see more states step up and follow the North Carolina model and realize the value and validity of teachers who put themselves through the National Board certification process and are successful on the other end.

Are you serving actively as a mentor now?
I believe one of the reasons I stood out to the Grammy committee was because I was the first chair of the New Music Teacher Mentor Program through North Carolina Music Educators Association. I was chair of the committee for the first three years. I strongly believe that we have to help our brothers and sisters who are teaching, particularly the younger ones. Most new music teachers remain in the classroom an average of three years. This mentor program has helped many new teachers extend their career as music teachers.

What does winning this award mean to you?
I do not consider this "I have won and the others have lost". Instead, I have been given the opportunity to represent all music teachers who are doing great work. When we met the folks at the Grammy Foundation office, they told me that this year would change my life. I hope that’s true. This has been my life for 28 years and I hope that this recognition gives me the opportunity to keep music education in the spotlight.


Phillip Riggs, NBCT

Phillip Riggs, NBCT,  has taught band and choir at various levels in North Carolina for the past 27 years and is currently at the North Carolina School of Science and Math. He received the Exceptional Contribution in Outreach Award from the University of North Carolina Board of Governors for work with music education. Prior to joining NCSSM, he served as the first Fine Arts Coordinator at Reagan High School, 2005-2008. In the fall of 2015, Phillip was the first faculty member inducted into Reagan High's Hall of Fame. He is a past president of the North Carolina Band Directors Association and served as chair of the North Carolina High School All-State Band for eight years. He also served on the board of the NC Music Educators (NCMEA) as the technology chair and was the founding chair of the NCMEA mentor committee.