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The activities that follow have been selected with national and state learning
outcomes in mind, across the key learning areas of English, Studies of Society
and Environment and Music. Secondary
teachers are encouraged to select and
modify activities according to the needs
of their students.

When were young our dreams lie
out in front of us, there for the taking,
and our plans seem so clear. But like
many of us, Glenn Holland (RICHARD
DREYFUSS) never could have predicted
the course his own life would take when
he reluctantly accepts a job as a teacher.
A musician and composer consumed with his love for music, Hollands
true goal is to write one memorable
piece of music to leave his mark on the
world. But instead, he finds his calling
in the most unlikely place, sharing his
love of music with his students - to let it
fill their lives, the way it fills his. His students respond to his contagious passion,
and as the years unfold, Holland finds
himself on an unplanned path. Redefining success and his own dreams, Holland realises that his legacy will be
greater than he ever dreamed - the hundreds of students hes inspired and the
lives he changed. And with the help of
his students and his family, Glenn Holland learns that though our lives dont
always turn out the way we plan them,
life is what happens when you embrace
the unexpected.

English and Studies

of Society and
Mr Hollands Opus is a heartwarming and compelling story of an unlikely
hero. At a time when huge changes are
occurring in the ways students are
taught, and schools are examining the
many ways students learn, Mr Hollands
Opus reminds us of several essential
truths. Whatever else happens in the
education process, this film celebrates
the critical importance of a strong human bond between teacher and pupil.
Mutual respect and commitment are at
the heart of the very best teaching and


Discuss in small groups, the most effective ways that you learn. Consider

how your learning is advanced by

what you:
are told
Who have been your teachers? Write
about an occasion when your
knowledge was increased by:
a school teacher
a parent
a friend
an experience
Did your own circumstances and attitude have a bearing on how well
you learned?
What makes a good teacher? Discuss the merits of good teachers you
have known. Make a list of their
qualities as teachers.
Do good teachers need good students?


Teaching and Learning
Mr Holland becomes an unintentional hero to many of his students. Yet
he initially joins the teaching profession
as a fall-back position while working
on his musical compositions. His early
experiences are probably recognisable
for many young viewers.
How would you describe his early
attempts to teach his classes? Was he
doing anything wrong? Were the
unresponsive students at fault?
Mr Holland receives some early advice from two colleagues. The Physical Education teacher, Bill Meister,
first tells him that teachers dont
wait in the canteen queue, because
school is not a democracy. How
does the fact that Mr Holland did line
up, give a clue to his later success?
Principal Jacobs advises a struggling
Mr Holland that he must not only fill
the students minds with knowledge
but must then give their minds a
compass. What does she mean by
this? Can you identify any specific

occasions when Mr Holland applied

this advice?
Mr Holland is overwhelmed by his
early classroom experiences, and confesses to his wife, Iris, I am putting my
kids to sleep ... It never occurred to me
at school that the teachers didnt want
to be there.
What is the turning point for Mr Holland? When does he start to become
an effective teacher? What changes
does he make in his classroom?
What teaching aids does he use?
Why do students suddenly start listening to him? What seems to motivate him?
What values does Mr Hollands
school seem to have? Does Mr Holland agree with them? How do decisions made by the administration affect his teaching? Are you aware of
your School Charter and the values
your school prioritizes?
Speaking at Mr Hollands farewell
assembly, the now adult Gertrude
Lang assures Mr Holland, We are
your symphony, the music of your
Construct a conversation that might
have taken place between Mr Holland and former students who attended this assembly. Try to reveal
why they held him in high regard
and how you think he would have
responded to their views.

Dreams and Ambitions

The films title suggests Mr Hollands

dream of writing a memorable piece
of music is the main focus. Discuss
the title choice.
Many of us have hopes and dreams
for our futures. Some remain mere fantasies, others come to fruition as we
work towards them. Mr Holland

thought he had a clear path ahead. Suddenly, his dream is compromised by the
need to earn money to support his family ... and for a time he is lost.
Was the decision to teach difficult for
Mr Holland? What choices confronted him in the early stages of his

doned his dreams? Did he appear to

have regrets about his career
choice? Why did teaching Rowena
Morgan confront him with a temporary crisis?
Share your future hopes with class
members. Have you decided on a
career path? What choices are likely
to confront you?
The director of this film, Stephen
Herek, believes that, Life is what
happens while youre busy making
other plans. What do you think this
means? When does this observation
seem to apply to Mr Holland? How
does he cope, for instance, with the
realisation that his son is deaf?

most prized asset. What teaching technique is that?

Louis Russ is a poor student academically but a champion sportsman, the boy who knows how to
work hard, but is just not a school
type of person. What challenge does
Louis provide for Mr Holland? How
is their relationship touched with
both humour and sadness? How are
the student misfits treated at your
The talented but disinterested
Stadler is yet a different kind of challenge. Why does Mr Holland take
Stadler to Louis Russs funeral?

What is Mr Hollands finest achievement? When does he realise that his

life has not been one of failed opportunity?

Key Characters
We witness the evolution of Mr Hollands professional career and follow his
familys challenges. The film develops
his relationships with several students
during his thirty years teaching.
Gertrude Lang, Miss Lang, is a keen
but poor clarinet student who just
wants to be good at something, so
she can compete with other family
members talents. What impresses
you about the way Mr Holland treats
her? List the qualities he demonstrates when encouraging her?
When all seems pointless, he realises, weve just been playing the notes
on the page, He implores her to trust
yourself ... the music is in your head,
and he exhorts her to play the sunset, a
reference to her fathers admiring description of the colour of her hair, her

Rowena Morgan is a talented student who has dreams of becoming a

great singer. Why is Mr Holland crucially important to her future? Why
is she so special to him? Discuss
Iriss reaction to her husbands work
with this student.
When Rowena leaves at the bus-stop,
she remarks that their parting is not
the way I thought it would be, but
Mr Holland assures her ... no ... but
its the best way. Why is this one of
the most poignant moments in the

Iris and Cole Holland

Glenn and Iris Holland must balance
their relationship against his commitment to his job and the challenge imposed by their son, Coles, deafness.
Does Iris encourage her husbands
dreams? How does she support him?
Why does Coles deafness put special
pressure on their marriage?

Why does Mr Holland relate the story of

Beethovens deafness to his students?
Iris accuses Mr Holland of devoting
more time to his students than to his
own son. Is this true? How does he
defend himself against her claims?
John Lennons death leads to a critical point in Mr Hollands relationship with Cole. How does the film
highlight the role that music plays in
Mr Hollands teaching? What in fact
does Mr Holland learn?

The Setting - Inside the

Mr Hollands Opus is set in American classrooms over a period of 30
years. Many other films and television
shows which you would have seen are
set in schools. Does the film give us any
sense of the nature of American school
culture during this period?
Consider these questions:
Look at the different periods emphasised in the film: 1964 - 1970s 1980s - Today
Describe what the film tells us about
each of these periods:
- students attitudes
- what they consider important
- their physical appearance dress, fashions, etc.
- attitudes to teachers and authorities
- their general behaviour.
Select any one of these periods, and
find an adult who was at school in Australia during this time. Ask them about
these same aspects of school life, and
build up a comparison with the images
presented in the film. Discuss the similarities and differences, and your overall conclusions about school life in the
two countries.
You could also look specifically at
American school culture in a number of
other films or TV shows, and discuss
your findings.
Todays youth is said to be more independent, more aware of its rights,
more difficult for teachers to control.
Students are represented on School
Councils. It is politically correct for them
to be empowered and to be owners of
their own education.
Do you feel that your experience as
a student differs greatly from Mr
Hollands students?
What do you expect from your
school? What relative importance
would you give to the availabiiity of
modern facilities, physical resources
such as computers, a broad range of

subjects, extra-curricula activities,

quality teachers? Is Mr Holland exceptional?
Near the end of the film, when
budget cuts force the axing of Mr Holland and the schools Creative Arts program, Mr Holland warns Principal
Wolters ... Youll create a generation of
children without the ability to think.
What makes a good school?

Creating cultural symbols

One way in which Mr Hollands
Opus identifies the different periods in
the film is through use of readily identifiable cultural symbols. For example,
we see the name of the school being
changed from Grant High (after President Ulysses S. Grant) to John F.
Kennedy High. This gives a strong cultural message to an American audience
- they would identify that naming after
the assassination of the President in
1963. At other times in the film, there
are particular fashions which are used
to set the time; particular sound bites
from famous events, such as the landing on the moon; and particular universally recognised music.
Are there similarly powerful cultural
symbols in Australia? Try to create a
set of images, music, events, styles
or sounds which you think would be
cultural symbols in Australia by
which people would recognise a
particular period - from the 1960s to
the 1990s.
You should survey a range of people,
and try to establish which symbols are
the most powerful ones among Australians.

What is valued in a
In a recent visit to Australia, Doctor
David Suzuki, a famous environmentalist, argued that economists never take
the environment into account in their
economic ideas. They would not, for
example, take into account damage to
the environment caused by more cars
using a new freeway in considering the
costs and advantages of that freeway. In
Mr Hollands Opus, Mr Holland loses his
job when the school system says it can
no longer afford his music classes. The

decision-makers in that case were saying that they did not value the contribution of music to education in comparison to other elements which were still
valued (such as the schools sporting
Look at your own schools curriculum and programs. What is valued
in your education community?
How will you work this out? You
need to look at the evidence of what actually happens in your school. For example:
- What evidence is there which reveals what your school values? For example, look at the awards which are
given at the end of the year.

- What are the best awards given

- What gets most time on the curriculum?
- Which subjects are allowed to
remain with small numbers in
- Which events are commemorated or celebrated?
Make a list of as many examples as
you can of what is valued in your
school, and what is not valued. See if
you can work out any pattern or general principles of what is valued in
your school community. Do you
think your school would have kept
or dismissed Mr Holland?
In the end of the film, Mr Holland is
applauded and praised. But he still
is dismissed. Do you think the ending of the film is a triumph or a tragedy?

Good teachers
At the beginning of the film, Mr Holland sees teaching as a necessary but
temporary interruption to his real aim,
to be a composer. He starts as a terrible
teacher - but ends up as a great one.
What makes a good teacher?
Think about the qualities which
make Mr Holland a good teacher,
and list them. Now think about the
best teachers you know. Is there any
pattern or consistency in these? And
what makes the opposite - a poor
teacher? List the characteristics of a
poor teacher. Is there any correlation between what makes a good
teacher and what poor teachers
Are there any teachers whom you
might change your opinion about in
the future - that is, ones who seem to
be good now, or poor now, but who
might appear the opposite in time?
If so, why might that be?

Being a hero

Mr Holland ends up loved and respected by thousands of present and

former students. Would you consider him to be a hero?
What are the characteristics or
qualities of a hero? Discuss this and
come up with a list. Who would you
say were your heroes today?
For many young people, the people
they nominate as their heroes are musicians, film stars, and sporting personalities.
Is being a hero the same as being
popular, or liked? Should our heroes
be those who have a good influence

on people, or who inspire us by their

own strength or ability?
Mr Holland does not see himself as a
hero, and yet others see him in this
way. Are there any people in your life
whom you would see as a hero, who
might be surprised at knowing this?

Effective communication

One of the major themes of Mr Hollands Opus is communication. We

see Mr Holland communicating successfully and unsuccessfully at different times with his students, his
wife and his son. List some of the
ways in which this is shown to us in
the film.
What do you think are the vital elements in effective communication?
Honesty? Openness? Sharing? Make
a list of those things which you think
are essential for effective communication, and the ways in which we see
Mr Holland achieving these.

time to spend with his wife and to write

the great American Opus. It does not
take Glenn Holland long to discover that
teaching is a time-consuming, taxing
and often thankless task.

Activities (for students

and teachers)

Music Section
Music in Mr Hollands Opus is of profound importance to the film, and the
scores and songs which accompany the
thirty-year span of the film have been

What pieces of music make you love

music? Bring your favourite music to
school. It may be something you can
perform, or it may be a recording.
Play it for the class and talk about
why you like it. You might like to
think about the style of the music
(rock, house, jazz, classical), the use
of rhythm, the voice if there is any,
the other instruments and the lyrics.
John Coltrane redefined the way
people thought about the tenor saxophone, just as Miles Davis did the
trumpet and Jimi Hendrix, electric
guitar. Many of the lasting classical
composers were also great innovators, including Bach, Beethoven and
Mozart. Listen to a range of music by
these composers and discuss their
music and their contributions to future musical direction. Speculate on
directions music is likely to take in

chosen well to help elaborate on the

text. For example, when Mr Holland
commences his teaching position at
John F. Kennedy High he walks in to the
strains of Len Barrys number one hit
One, Two, Three, which continues, Oh
thats how elementary, its gonna
be....with obvious sarcasm, since elementary is anything but the way Mr
Holland would describe his initial teaching experiences. As a session musician,
he expects that teaching will provide
him with shorter working hours, more

the future and why you think this is

the case.
Enormous inroads have been made
with computer technology in making music and other forms of communication and expression more accessible for those with disabilities,
including deafness. The Soundhouses Association of Australia runs
workshops for students, including
students with disabilities, using an
array of music computer and key-

board technology. Organise to be

part of one of these workshops and
find out the kinds of techniques being used to make music more accessible for those with disabilities.
Some peoples predominant sense is
sight. For others it is touch and others, sound. Create a multi-media
performance which facilitates the
use of at least three senses. Try to
base the performance on one particular theme. You may find this task
easier to approach if you can firstly
be involved in some improvisational
work where you are unable to access one of your senses.
There are segments in this film
where there is little dialogue and
music plays a predominant part in
enhancing the mood of the script.
Either try to imagine what these segments would be like without the
music, or when the video of Mr Hollands Opus becomes available, turn
down the sound and just watch the
visuals. How effective are the visuals without the music? If a different
piece of music was used with the
visuals would they be as effective?
You could try adding a witty piece of
music to a dramatic part of the film
and discuss the effect. What is it
about the music which enhances the
visuals? See if you can pinpoint the
moment of greatest emotional impact and then look at the louds and
softs, speeds and uses of instruments
in that segment.
Make a video about anything you
wish and choose appropriate recorded music to accompany the
video where you think it will enhance the visual content. Work on
the video script and the musical content before you commit your ideas
to celluloid.
Make a video and accompany it with
music you compose and perform
yourself. Again use a storyboard to
organise where and what type of
music will be most appropriate to
accompany the visuals.
In the film, Glenn Holland asks students if they know and like A Lovers
Concerto, a pop song of the sixties.
He then explains that the melody of
this song is taken from Bachs
Minuet in G Major. Many pieces of
music are based on folk themes or
themes by other composers including Procul Harems A Whiter Shade
of Pale, also borrowed from Bach,
Beethovens 9th Symphony, where
the Song of Joy Theme was com-

Beethoven music.
In Mr Hollands first music lesson,
music is defined as sound in melodic or harmonic combinations for
voice or instruments. What is your
definition of music?

Songs (in order of

Edward Holland, John Madara, David White and

posed by F. von Schiller and Danny

Boy whose melody is an old Irish folk
tune. The original melody for Waltzing Matilda was also a folk song. Listen to some of these melodies and
try to define why it is that they are so
lasting in appeal and why other
composers want to use them. If you
play in a band or play a musical instrument, give an old melody a new
There are several songs in the movie
by the Gershwins whose music was
always regarded as not quite classical. George Gershwin wrote Rhapsody in Blue in part as an attempt to
gain some respectability as a real
composer, something which for
many is no longer an issue. Listen to
some Gershwin music; there are literally hundreds of vocal and instrumental versions of many of their
classic songs. You may like to perform some yourselves. Listen to
Rhapsody in Blue and talk about
whether you think Gershwin deserves serious composer status
with this piece. What makes a serious composer? Is some music more
important than other music? Why or
why not? Is some music worth
higher regard than other music?
Why or why not?
Both Beethoven and John Lennon
are given a high profile in Mr Hollands Opus. Find out as much as you
can about both composers. Are there
any similarities between them? Listen to a range of both composers
music and talk about it objectively
and subjectively. If you enjoy singing or playing a musical instrument,

Performedby LenBarry
Courtesy of MCA Records
SymphonyNo. 5 in C minor
Writtenby LudwigvanBeethoven
StrangerOn theShore
MinuetinG major
Writtenby JohannSebastianBach
Written by SigmundRombergand Oscar
Performedby RichardDreyfuss
Performedby The Kingsmen
Keep on Running
Writtenby JackieEdwards
Performedby The SpencerDavis Group
Courtesyof EMIRecords
Underlicenseof CEMASpecialMarkets
by arrangementwithPolyGramFilm& TV Licensing
I KnowAn Old Lady
Writtenby AlanMillsandRoseBonne
Performedby RichardDreyfuss
Performedby GrantHighSchool MarchingBand
Written by Stevie Wonder, Sylvia Moy and Henry
Performedby StevieWonder
Courtesyof MotownRecords
by arrangementwithPolyGramFilm& TV Licensing
Americans We
Performedby FortVancouverHighSchoolMarching
SymphonyNo 7 in A major
Writtenby LudwigvanBeethoven
Writtenand Performedby JohnLennon
Writtenby JohannSebastianBach

Writtenand Performedby JacksonBrowne
by arrangementwithWarnerSpecialProducts
Writtenby GeorgeGershwinandIra Gershwin
Someone to Watch Over Me
Writtenby GeorgeGershwinandIra Gershwin
TheyCant Take That Away From Me
Writtenby GeorgeGershwinandIra Gershwin
SymphonyNo.3 inE-flatmajor
Writtenby LudwigvanBeethoven
Writtenby JohnLennon
Performedby RichardDreyfuss
I Got A Woman
WrittenandPerformedby RayCharles
by arrangementwithWarnerSpecialProducts
WrittenbyPaulHuston,DavidJolicoeur,KevinMercer and VincentMason
Performedby De La Soul
Courtesyof TommyBoy Records
Performedby JulianLennon
Music by Michael Kamen
Produced by Steve McLaughlin and Michael Kamen
VisionsOfA Sunset
Writtenand Performedby ShawnStockman(of Boyz
produced by Shawn Stockman
Courtesyof Motown Record Company, LP

Soundtrack available on Polydor Records.

ScoreSoundtrackby MichaelKamenavailable
on LondonRecords.

Soundhouses Association of Australia. A
Project of the Directorate of School Education and the Brash Foundation. Contact Ken
Owen Ph:(03)9689 2362, Fax (03)9689 9048.

Mr HollandsOpusis releasednationallyon
March7 at cinemaseverywhere.

This study guide was written for ATOM by Mandy

Stefanakis, Bob Lewis and Andrew Mullett.