Sometimes it feels like even our top students are dragging their feet. News flash! Kids aren’t machines and they’re not factory workers either. Defining their roles and responsibilities is not enough.
If you want your top students to be jumping at every opportunity to contribute and help the band program, read on and apply these strategies.
1 – Ask Their Opinion
Ever had someone “higher up” ask you candidly for your opinion in a one-on-one conversation on how things are going or how your peers felt about something. Felt good huh?
That kind of respect feels good to adults, but to kids, it can be a life-changing event. It could be the first time in their life that they realize that their opinion might be valid or that others might want to hear it.
2 – Perks (But be careful!)
First of all, avoid giving explicit perks to student leaders. If anything, you might just encourage a culture of entitlement. Leadership comes with perks naturally as a consequence of the sacrifices that student leaders accept when they take on their role.
For example, some upperclassmen have been given the responsibility of filling the water coolers and bringing them out to marching band rehearsal. As a result, they miss a few minutes of the stretch block before rehearsal. They are doing hard work, yet envy fills the eyes of the freshmen at the stretch block, watching upperclassmen joke around with each other in the distance.
Be aware of these types of subtle perks and see if you can create more water cooler filling moments that make the younger students excited to take on responsibility.
3 – Hype Them Up (the right way)
Don’t pick favorite students. Pick favorite actions. When you give praise, praise actions instead of praising the students who make the actions directly.
“Wow, great job Brittney, that Bb was right on pitch every single time today. I can tell you’ve been practicing!”
“Did you all hear that? Every single time Brittney played that Bb today it was right on pitch. That is the kind of consistency we want to aim for in all our rhythms as well.”
When you praise a student directly, the message to the other students is that you have a favorite student. And that students who don’t regularly get praise are not favorites. That does not encourage students to aspire to be one of the favorites. Instead, it tends to create an “us vs. them” dynamic between favorites and “others”.
When you make the action the subject of your praise, the message becomes one of empowerment. “Anyone who does is worthy of praise.”
4 – Awards
Not all students strive to win leadership awards, but for a select few, it is something they will strive for year-round. You can also have awards for musicianship and perhaps one for each section or ensemble in your program.
Award them at the spring concert or end-of-year banquet event if you have one. Students will go on to proudly present a leadership award like that on their resumé for college and part-time jobs.
Assigning responsibilities and roles are important, but to have effective leaders who are chomping at the bit to help and contribute, takes a bit of psychological ninjitsu. The real key is understanding your students and knowing what makes them feel empowered and motivated.
John Filippone teaches the leadership and drum major program at Genesis Drum & Bugle Corps and puts on drum major clinics for high schools from time to time. He has created a free online course along with the Genesis conducting staff and drum majors called Drum Major Essentials.