Nadine Levitt, founder of WURRLYedu, speaks about her passion for music in schools.
Nadine Levitt has lived a varied life. Born in Switzerland to German and Kiwi parents, Levitt found her footing as a lawyer. But her true passion was music. After six years in law, she decided to pursue her music career as a professional opera signer and songwriter. She’s shared the stage with some of the world’s most notable artists. David Foster, Andrea Boccelli, Kiri Te Kanawa, Roger Daltry, Christina Perri, and Steven Tyler to name a few. She found a way to incorporate that passion into helping kids find ways to express their emotions.
According to her bio, her passion also led her to sit on the national board of Little Kids Rock. In 2016, she led the development of the music education platform WURRLYedu. The platform “empowers student voices and makes it easy to bring a fun and effective music education to schools.”
Levitt extended her love of the arts to include writing. She’s penned children’s books, including the My Mama Says book series. She answered a few questions about her career, her technology and her latest endeavors.
Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello, my name is Nadine Levitt! I am a mom, the CEO and founder of a music education tech platform called WURRLYedu and education nonprofit called Inspired Educ8ion, and the author of the children’s book on emotions, My Mama Says Inside Me Lives A Village.
You’ve had an extensive music career. After being a lawyer for six years, why and how did you manage to get so heavily invested in music?
I was always passionate about music. Since I was in elementary school I had wanted to be an opera singer. When I was about 8 years old I had seen Dame Joan Sullivan sing. As she opened her mouth and liquid gold came out, I clutched my mum’s hand and stammered, “I want to sing like that!” Then I went on to play piano and also the cello all through high school.
I actually only studied law because my dad urged me to get another degree (other than music or my bachelor of arts). As a safety net, so to speak! I enjoyed law but music was where my heart was at. After six years as an international trade lawyer in New Zealand I had the opportunity to audition for a movie role. (That I got, woohoo!!) This took me to LA. It was when I got to the States that I rediscovered my “home” in the arts.
What led you on the path of helping children addressing their need to better express their emotions?
I am a mom, and I saw my kids trying to make sense of their emotions. I found a lot of the literature on emotions either disempowering or overly complicated. Often emotions were being portrayed as positive and negative, which doesn’t seem very empowering to me. I really wanted my kids to have a good relationship with all of their emotions. To understand them rather than fear them. I also didn’t think it was accurate to describe yourself as feeling only one emotion at a time. The truth is we are always feeling many emotions. It is only when you acknowledge all of them that you can truly process anything signposted for you.
As a side note, I also noticed through WURRLYedu, how the arts can be leveraged to make us feel emotions. As such, they provide a great environment for teaching social and emotional skills, but only when done so purposefully. I am thrilled that both My Mama Says and WURRLYedu utilize the arts (and play!) to fuel emotional understanding and expression.
What inspired you to create your Mama Says series?
It is much easier to practice healthy emotional responses when you know you are modeling it for someone else. I recognize that we as parents have a ton of pressure coming from many angles. So we can’t always offer the best examples. I created the My Mama Says series of products to help foster simple rituals (all leveraging play and creativity) so we can start conversations about emotions and strengthen emotional literacy skills in a deliberate way. I also wanted to create something that my own kids could play with. My kids test every product from placemats, to plush toys to yoga cards. (They are 100% kid approved!)
Can you tell us about the creation of WURRLYedu?
We had a consumer product called Wurrly. While I was on the Board of a nonprofit called Little Kids Rock, I started noticing teachers using Wurrly in classrooms!
Wurrly provided access to thousands of popular songs, and the ability to customize the key, speed and instrumentation before recording. It was this observed need that drove the full pivot to education. We built out a product on the philosophy that lessons should be engaging and inspire authentic curiosity. And now we have one of the largest catalogs of popular music in K-12 education. We support it with videos of Grammy award-winning artists and world-class web-recording tools. It gave us the opportunity to offer a very unique curriculum including a full ukulele curriculum, a general music curriculum that has students step into the shoes of a music reviewer, vlogging and podcasting, songwriting and production and music business and artist branding to name but a few.
Please tell us about PD Reimagined. Where did you get the inspiration for this latest endeavor?
I saw exhaustion mounting all around me in the world of education. Every week there were more stories of teachers leaving, and surveys of teachers outlooks and job satisfaction dropping. For example, The 2021 State of the U.S. Teacher Survey published by RAND showed that “frequent job-related stress, feelings of burnout, and symptoms of depression appear to be nearly universal among teachers.”
Then EdWeek shared survey results in March 2021 that showed 54% of teachers said they were “somewhat likely” or “very likely” to leave the teaching profession. If even half of these numbers are true, it would literally cripple the education system. It is, in my opinion, the biggest education crisis that we are facing right now. Not just for the retention issue down the road. But also for the wider repercussions right now, including academic outcomes and student outlooks.
So I wanted to do something about it.
I am very lucky to have an amazingly innovative and supportive team at WURRLYedu and Inspired Educ8ion, who helped architect and plan PD Reimagined with me. We were super conscious that before we are teachers, students and school leaders, we are human beings with needs and feelings. As such, we want to celebrate teachers and honor them. Refueling them with inspiration so they could pass it on to our students! We combined monthly gift boxes, monthly virtual summits with thought leaders and inspirational speakers from sports, business and entertainment and peer groups that help support as inspiration gets turned into action.
We just kicked off our pilot in January, so will hopefully be able to share more in June! One thing I did want to add though is that none of it would have been possible without the support of both WURRLYedu and Nickelodeon who came on as our pilot sponsors. It meant a lot to have the support of a media giant like Nickelodeon. They’ve been a longtime supporter of teachers and education, with educational brands like Noggin!
What’s the ultimate goal of the platform?
We want to net out the percentage of teachers leaving the teaching profession. It is such an unbelievably important job. We all have at least one teacher that was influential in our life, who helped form us somehow. Don’t we want the very best people there, and then set them up for success the best we can? The way to do that is to celebrate, honor, and inspire them.
Your have varied and extensive experience utilizing the arts in ways to help children. Do you have any other ambitions to use your musical skills to help the community?
I think my work with all my entities helps the community through the arts, both through schools and at home. But I do hope to scale these in a big way and make them accessible to all. For example, we are partnering with Toybrary to offer yoga emotion workshops in Austin. We are also planning on being much more visible at other local events! We are also participating at SXSW EDU this year so hope to foster more local relationships there too!
Any other thoughts?
If anyone wants to get involved with PD Reimagined, as an educator participating, as a speaker presenting or a foundation or company supporting, we need all the help we can get so please reach out to us at pdreimagined.com!