Once upon a time 130 students sounded like a lot to handle.
Then it was 170. And then 190…
220. 250. 280. 300.
And finally 330.
2002: 3 buses, 2 concert bands, 5 staff. I’m 28 and figuring it out.
2016: 7 buses, 5 concert bands, 20+ staff. I’m 41 and still figuring it out.
But I’m better at it now than I was then. A few thoughts…
ORGANIZATION IS KEY
Dealing with growth in your program means dealing with improved systems of organization for the size of your program.
As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I am skewed heavily to Type-A personality traits. I take joy in wiping down my desk and keep a healthy stock of cleaning supplies in my office (I fully embrace the use of Swiffer Dusters and Clorox Wipes on the regular). With that in mind, I understand that not everyone has a natural sense of organization about things.
Whichever camp you fall in to, I’ve offered some of my organizational tools for your consideration.
- Keep a bin for each ensemble/class that you teach. I store my scores for each ensemble in their own bin. If I have field trip forms, overdue library notices or handouts for students I can sort them into those bins. They are ready to hand out, off my desk and not forgotten as I have to go to each bin each day to retrieve the music scores.
- Big fan of a To Do list (insert audible gasp of surprise). If you’d like to see what mine looks like click here: ToDos Some of the items on the list are amusing out of context. If you’d really like to know why I’ve placed ordering umbrellas from Amazon on my work “To Do’s” you’ll need to see our field show this fall!
- Keep a notebook with a section for each class you teach and jot a few quick bullet points after each rehearsal about things to cover the next time. I know I quickly forget what happened as the next class is starting. It’s worth a few minutes of your time to collect your thoughts on what worked and what didn’t before you see your kids the next time around.
- On the first day of school start a folder for the following year. Use this folder to leave yourself notes, collect documents and ideas for the next year as things come up. We all have those “a-ha” moments throughout the year and this real-time Pinterest Board in Your Filing Cabinet will help you have a place to keep those ideas together.
- With credit given to Scott Lang, relinquish tasks to trusted student leaders that don’t require the specific expertise of your degree(s) to complete. I wish I’d figured this out much sooner!
- Consider procedures in your ensembles and whether or not they function well for the size of your group. As an example, when the marching band cleared 280 we had to reimagine every logistical plan in place, from attendance to entering the stadium, from boarding the buses to getting into uniform. With more kids, your plans need to reflect the space and time that those kids need to get to places and move.
GOOD ORGANIZATION IS KEY, BUT IS NOT MORE KEY THAN HOW YOUR GROUPS SOUND!
If you’re still with me, maintaining quality in the face of increasing quantity can be challenging. An increase in students means an increase of time spent on administrative tasks which can take you away from the very thing that hopefully brings you joy: teaching music.
So in the face of increased demands on your time, what can you do to keep the quality of your instruction and your ensembles moving forward?
For me it regularly (still) comes down to making choices about how to budget my non-instructional time in my planning. I make it a goal to set aside 30 minutes a day of my prep time to do one or some combination of the following:
- Score study (future blog post idea…)
- Playing my instrument
- Listening to repertoire/model recordings of lit we are doing
- Practice my conducting
I use to feel like I had to sit down all in one setting a master a score. Study it, mark it, practice it. That was not feasible for me. At any given point I might be working on 25 active scores with my ensembles. But what I can do is work through scores in small segments. And this is a system that has worked for me.
Other rehearsal strategies to keep the quality on a forward trajectory?
- Sit in with your groups. You will hear things differently inside the ensemble.
- Vary your set up as much as your physical space allows
- Utilize student conductors during rehearsal. This gets you off the podium to hear things in a different way and also gives the students the added benefit of experiencing the joys (and challenges!) of being on the podium.
- Record your groups as often as you have time to listen. Post the recordings on a shared platform (I use Google Classroom) and have your students share comments with the class about what they hear. Suddenly you have dozens of sets of ears on your ensemble. I’m always impressed by what they hear.
I think there are some bigger picture ideas on maintaining quality in the face of increased growth. Ideas that are perhaps more philosophical in nature…for another day.
I hope you got a few ideas you can use now or plan on trying for next year.
Thanks for reading and thank you to Steve Hendee for the topic.
And a belated shout out to my new friends at AMusEd for featuring me on their podcast. If you’ve got an hour to burn…Have a listen!