Summer is a time for teachers to relax – and to reflect on the previous year. How successful was your year? We know music directors are always looking for ways to encourage their programs to thrive. With that in mind, we asked accomplished WorldStrides OnStage music directors with experiences ranging from starting from scratch to taking over an established program for their best tips for building and maintaining success. Here are seven of their best recommendations.
Be honest and be yourself
Students reward honesty with investment in you and loyalty to your program. You’ll also be more comfortable, which leads to further success.
Maintain a positive outlook
Setbacks are nearly inevitable, so it helps to view obstacles as challenges to be mastered, not impassable objects. Budgets, equipment, and scheduling issues seem nigh-universal among teachers, but as one director put it: “Don’t make excuses – your kids are no different from anyone else’s.” Do what you can with what you have whenever you can – before and after school and during lunch. Set your expectations and maintain them; they build the basis of the culture of your program.
Embrace personal evolution
Keep learning! The only way your students are going to improve is if you do. Seek out professional development opportunities of all kinds. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Because music directors don’t necessarily have set curriculums, they have the opportunity to try new methods, pieces, or techniques. Steal from the best and make your loot your own.
Prepare over the summer
Front load the year’s planning over the summer so you have (slightly) more room to breathe during the year. Get everything you can squared away before you’re dealing with the day-to-day of a new school year. Plan travel! Fundraise! Whether you are planning to take your choir to a music festival in the spring or bring your marching band to a national bowl game, plan to make announcements at the appropriate times. This will help you recruit and build support for your program in the community.
Define your goals for the year – for teaching, music, and your vision for the program. These may be based on what went well (or not) in the year that just finished – so make sure to take time to review the year. If possible, ask for feedback from students. Your goals can be something you’d like to do daily, time-sensitive projects, overarching concepts – whatever you’d like to accomplish.
Keep music education at the forefront of everything you do
Speak passionately about your discipline to any and all who need to hear it: your students, parents, fellow teachers, administrators, and board. Make sure that your students are engaged and consistently playing quality music – and, as one director put it, “The tuba player isn’t just playing half notes all year.” Act on your convictions.
Build a supportive base
Offer your students ways to take ownership in the program. They can earn officer roles with actual responsibilities, have input on repertoire, offer feedback and suggest improvements – whatever you’re willing to offer them. The same goes for parents – offer them a range of opportunities to be involved and share with them your passion for what you want to do for their children. Parents can be your biggest ally when it comes to fighting for things your program needs or wants. If your community boasts music organizations or other arts groups, ask for their support – financially or otherwise! Make sure to recognize and thank your advocates for their support, both personally and at each of your events. Be specific and be sincere.
Don’t forget the importance of politics
Go to the school board meetings and make your face (and voice) known. Schedule casual social meetings with members of your administration and school board. One director occasionally meets with the Superintendent for informal chats over coffee. The friendly nature of these meetings means that when there’s an issue that arises, the director is more than simply a name and a title with a problem.
Also – invite administrators and board members to your gigs! Performances are a great opportunity for them to show their faces at well-attended events AND they can see (and hear) what it is you and your students do.
We hope you are finding your summer break to be restful, restorative, and productive – and that these tips will set you on a path for future success.
Learn more about our WorldStrides OnStage programs.
The author would like to express her thanks to the music directors who shared their experiences for this article, particularly Joe Murphy and Ken Schultz.