Essel Linton

Congratulations to Essel Linton, ACEMM’s Fall 2018 Spotlight Award recipient! A veteran music educator, Essel’s unique background influences her teaching while addressing student needs at a school where for many, English is not a first language. Read on to find out more about the ways her dedication and teaching approach benefits young learners and colleagues!

A glimpse into Ms. Linton’s world… from Korea to the United States

Annandale Terrace Elementary School in Annandale, VA., is a thriving community of young musicians, led by a passionate music educator.  Essel Linton teaches grades K-5 at this Title I school where a majority of students receive free or reduced lunch, and where for many,  English is often a second or third language. Ms. Linton works with students of varying backgrounds, levels of English proficiency and learning differences, and she takes great care in crafting music lessons that meet her students’ academic and social needs. Her commitment is a result of her own childhood experiences and first-hand knowledge of what it is like to be an immigrant in the American school system.

“I know what these students new to America are experiencing; I was born and raised in Korea. When I was in 5th grade, my parents brought me and my sister to the United States.  Growing up as an immigrant myself, I faced many challenges in school.  This is something I remember in the classroom everyday. I place myself in their shoes and work hard to make music one class where students can be successful with limited English skills. The Orff Schulwerk approach of elemental music and movement is one uniquely able to reach English Learners as lessons are built through Preliminary Play, Imitation, Exploration, Improvisation and Composition.”

Third graders create their own hand-clapping patterns

Ms. Linton began her career as an elementary music educator at Annandale Terrace, and over the past thirteen years she has transformed her school from one where music performances were mostly “traditional” winter and spring choral concerts, to one that embraces music making and performances across the grades levels throughout the year. A kindergarten Flag Day celebration including singing, movement and sign language, and a first grade Mother’s Day program which highlighted student-composed rhythmic speech, as well as body percussion, singing and instruments have been featured. The second grade play was based on a children’s book, Nuts to You! by Lois Ehlert, published by Harcourt, Inc. This coordinated effort by the Fine Arts Team, for which Essel serves as Lead Teacher, involved a great deal of student input. The story provided the framework for student-created songs, movement, speech and instrument playing with guidance by the teachers. Art teachers assisted the students with props and scenery, and the PE teachers collaborated with the music teachers to incorporate movement for the play.  Check out the YouTube video at the end of the article to see the production!

Seven years ago, the Music Team initiated Orff and Recorder Ensembles where 4th and 5th grade students rehearse once a week. Singing, speech, body percussion and choreographing movement provide skill-building opportunities and creative outlets for innovative, well-rounded concerts. 

Music across the grade levels, across the year

One of the biggest school events of the year is Dance Night hosted by the Music and PE Team. The selection of dances and music comes from across the world, and includes a few popular songs. As Fine Arts Lead Teacher, Essel organizes the event and ensures that the program meets the Program of Studies standards for the Fairfax County Music and PE curriculum. The dances are taught to the students during Music and PE classes during a 2-week lead-up to the program. Essel also choreographs several dances for this large community event, which takes place in the local high school gymnasium to accommodate the hundreds of students and their families who attend.

Ms. Linton also wears the hat of professional guide and facilitator. As the Fine Arts Lead Teacher, she holds regular meetings with Music, Art and PE to initiate new ways to be effective in the community and to collaborate in teaching. In addition, she meets with administration and grade-level teachers to ensure that Fine Arts is an integral part of the school community. As a Cooperating Teacher, Essel has worked with student teachers after leaving their placement, in lesson planning, meeting student needs, taking on best practices and collaborating with colleagues.  She frequently mentors new and experienced teachers in Fairfax County to help them make successful transitions into the general music classroom by sharing classroom management strategies, lesson planning tips and by observing teaching.

DeStephanie Johnson, PE teacher describes how Essel has stepped into the role of Fine Arts Lead Teacher. “I have worked with Essel over the last 14 years. We are a part of the same Fine Arts team… Essel is a great colleague to her music team, fine arts team, as well as the rest of our staff. Her willingness to help our students and teachers makes her invaluable to our school…She is beloved and respected by her students and colleagues.”

Madelyn Magnotti, former student teacher, tells about the guidance she has received from Essel.  “Essel …was my cooperating teacher… She is very enthusiastic, loves her Keurig coffee, and is super organized… an amazing mentor and colleague… She taught me how to lesson plan (…she would stay up to midnight on google drive to help me make changes), differentiate lesson plans to meet the needs of ESOL learners, but most importantly, how to find my teacher voice. One of the biggest takeaways… is the gift of reflection as an educator. She taught me that it’s okay to have failures …how to reflect and make changes to better myself and my students, so they are able to be lifelong learners.”


St. Andrews Choir Camp

Outside of school, Ms. Linton teaches at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church’s Summer Choir Camp in Burke, VA. This week-long camp for 4-10 year olds, explores children’s choral music. Working closely with music director, Aaron Goen, Essel has brought an Orff Schulwerk approach to the experience with singing, movement, playing instruments and creating.

Discovering an Elemental Approach 

“Music for Children: The first year I started teaching elementary music, I unboxed the resources left behind by my predecessor and came across the Volumes. At first glance, I had no idea what it was and I did not see any “lessons” in them. Those two weeks in the summer of 2014 transformed my teaching and changed my life. It was that summer that I also came across a quote from Carl Orff: “Elemental music is never just music. It’s bound up with movement, dance and speech, and so it is a form of music in which one must participate, in which one is involved not as a listener but as a co-performer.” As an Orff certified teacher, I think of this quote often and reflect on my lessons to make sure that all students sing, speak, dance, move, play, improvise and create in a way that is natural to children. Dance and Movement are the fundamental foundation in my classroom. It is a natural starting point and a way for students to be themselves. Movement concepts including locomotor, non-locomotor, time, space, energy and form take the elemental approach and transfer it in a physical way that allows for student creativity, collaboration, and endless possibilities. Starting each lesson through Preliminary Play – a fun ‘catch’ to pique student interest – allows students the opportunity to travel with ease through all the aspects of the elemental: Imitation such as body percussion and mirroring, Exploration with speech and singing, and improvisation and composition with instrument playing and creative movement. The use of this process has meaningfully transformed my lessons and brought essential musical experiences to my students.”


What others are saying about Essel Linton…

“Essel Linton is a gifted Orff educator and an amazing colleague. She magically captivates students with her intuitive lessons and focused teacher language. I am always impressed with her ideas on how to smoothly connect exploration and process with our county standards; she seamlessly integrates literacy into engaging activities that push students’ higher level thinking skills. Further, she spends every spare second of the school day planning new lessons, reflecting on our past lessons or finding new activities to share.” ~ Matthew Stensrud, former colleague

“Working alongside her every day I’ve found Essel to be a thoughtful, conscientious, and selfless teacher and colleague. She devotes time and energy daily to ensure our students are successful and safe in their musical experience. Essel mindfully creates music lessons that are positive and purposeful for students across all grade levels… Essel does not settle for mediocrity. Her work ethic and love of learning is inspiring and shows she’s devoted to being a strong Orff educator.” ~ Christine Nguyen, colleague

“Mrs. Linton is nice and lets everyone be who they are.” ~ Padraig Dillon, 2nd grade student

“(Essel)… has contributed significantly to the success of the music program within our school, our school pyramid, and our school district. She is a considered a highly effective teacher and role model, and is well respected by her colleagues.”   ~Ingrid Badia, Assistant Principal, Annandale Terrace Elementary School

“… I am a church musician and had a desire to start a summer choir camp last year. I was put in touch with Essel and she has been a joy to work with. She really understands the essence of music, working with 25, 4 through 10 year olds. Through singing, movement, poetry, and Orff instruments, she has paved the way for a budding choral program at my church. Not only does she have talent as a singer and pianist, but she understands how to work with large groups of children who don’t know each other well, and has them singing and dancing together by the end of the week. Through music, she has laid the foundation of how to work as a team, how to be patient, how to be respectful of others, how music can be fun, exploring the voice, dance, and cooperation. She is a great educator.”   ~ Aaron Goen, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Music Director

“Essel takes every opportunity to create lessons that are fun, meaningful and includes all students. She meets them at their level, but having high expectations, she continually gets them to exceed them.”  ~ Jennifer Dillon, parent and colleague


ACEMM congratulates Essel Linton for bringing elemental music to to her music classroom and entire school community. We applaud her dedication in applying an elemental approach to her teaching, as she meets students ‘where they are.’ 


7 thoughts on “Essel Linton is ACEMM’s Fall 2018 Spotlight Recipient!

  1. I am so happy to see Essel recognized for her expertise and commitment to children. I got to work with her for many years and never saw her have a bad day or bad moment! Our children loved her classes and her instruction, and we felt lucky to work beside someone who provided such an example of positivity and good teaching. Thank you for this very nice piece about someone special.

  2. Congratulations, Essel!
    This is a lovely article, and I appreciate reading about your insights as an immigrant yourself. No wonder you touch everyone who works with you. You share so beautifully your love of music and love of children with our school community. How blessed we are to have you at Annandale Terrace Elementary School!

  3. A wonderful teacher & amazing coworker to have! Such a wonderful article spotlighting how critical the arts are to our students & what a difference it makes to have a positive & reflective music teacher like Essel. Congrats… it’s a joy to work with you!

  4. I had Mrs.Linton back in 2006-2010, as a College student now I can look back and say she was a teacher that I will never forget. Mrs.Linton showed me what music was and I instantly fell in love with music, it was that year that the drumming group also started. And I carried music onto my high school years with theater, orchestra and the impact that she had on my life was tremendous. As I am in my first year of college seeing that she is finally acknowledged for her hard work and is evident above. I thank you Mrs. Linton for making such a huge impact on my life as I may not be majoring in music, I am still playing music to this day because of you. Thank you, for teaching me music it was a privilege to be taught by you. And I hope you go on to influence more kids as you did in mine. Thank you!!

  5. It was a pleasure to work with Essel as a Level III Orff Schulwerk student a few years back. As an adult student, she showed all of the qualities that are spoken of in the article above. She was a gentle, focused, hard working individual who had a high sense of quality and purpose in her work as an advanced elemental music student; the same qualities that she now expects of her students . Congratulations, Essel

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