Sebastian was there to let the thrilled educator (and his students) know that he was one of the four finalists (from more than 1000 entries) for the 2018 ARIA Music Teacher of the Year award.
The news only got better later, in late November, when Maxwell was announced as the winner of the award at the Australian music industry’s night of nights, hosted by Keith Urban at The Star in Sydney.
“Guy was great,” Maxwell says.
“It was just amazing...
“He’s a good bloke, and I think we share a lot of the same philosophies on music, particularly that music should be for everybody and it’s really important that we devise ways that allow kids to access music.”
In his ten years at Grant High, along with colleague Mike Bakker, Maxwell has transformed music in the school, focusing on accessible music genres, emphasising real world performance opportunities and showing a willingness to adapt his teaching to suit the needs of his students.
When he arrived at the school, he found that students were disengaged.
“I don’t think the student cohort were able to make any solid connections.
“They weren’t seeing the music that they listened to or the music that they loved being represented in the curriculum.
“The first thing I did was to turn it on its head. It was all about really trying to have kids see the stuff that they liked being represented in the material that was presented.”
Bakker and Maxwell write their own school musicals, which cater perfectly to their students’ needs and interests.
“We’re like a creative bombshell when we get together,” Maxwell says, laughing.
“Things move really quickly, and it’s a really good example for the students - they see us working together, and they see that interaction that we have with each other, I think that’s really important, really role model stuff for the kids.”
Maxwell has also implemented a song-writing program, that has seen many of his students pursuing original compositions.
“It’s ingrained in what I teach. I’m all about creating music, but it’s whatever the kids want to get out of creating music.
“So some kids work towards creating orchestral scores, some kids work towards creating jazz and big band scores, other kids work towards creating some specific piano/vocal or guitar/vocal or work on creating rock band scenarios.
“It’s all about that differentiation and letting kids explore and engage in the things that they are passionate about.”
Indeed it was a passion for music that transformed his own schooling life and set him down a life-changing path.
“School wasn’t really a place that I really cared about much, and I definitely didn’t see it as a place for learning.
“When I started playing guitar, I was so infatuated with getting better and learning the instrument that I just spent countless hours practising and practising.
“By the time I had mastered the guitar, what I’d actually done is I’d made all of these learning connections with my brain, and I had this moment, that I found out how I’d learned, how I learnt the guitar, that’s how my brain functions."
Maxwell was then able to apply that to anything he did.
“So any new venture, I was able to say ‘well, I know how to do this because I did it when I learnt guitar.
“By the time I did the mature age entry to university it was an absolute breeze, from someone who didn’t really connect at high school, to being able to easily get myself into university.... and all the way through university, I was one of the top students.”
As an extension, Maxwell sees his own teaching as having an impact far beyond his subject area.
“Music has many skills within it, highly employable skill sets, like being able to problem solve in groups, that communication in a creative environment,” he says.
“They’re things that are quite full-on, they’re the qualities and attributes that people are going to be looking for in future jobs and they’re things that can’t be taken over by technology.
“They’re very human attributes and that’s one of the things that I love about music – is the human factor.”
As word of his nomination spread, Maxwell says he was humbled by the numerous Facebook messages from ex-students talking about how much of a difference he’d made in their lives.
“I think the kids really appreciate what’s going on here.
“They appreciate the opportunities that I’m able to give them, they appreciate all of the creative work that I do behind the scenes...
“To think that what I’m doing is really working, is really making a positive impact on kids’ lives is just amazing.”
As for the future, Maxwell is keen on taking his passion and expertise beyond the walls of Grant High School.
“Moving forward, I guess I’d love to be able to help other schools in the same sort of situation to develop music programs so that the sort of thing that I’m doing could reach more kids.”