As a former band director, campus administrator, and Director of Performing and Visual Arts for my district, I interacted with a number of administrators on a variety of topics. What I have discovered in my 31 years in education, and now another 10 in the music business world, is that communication is key to ensuring effective outcomes. It is also very important to know your audience, when and how to best communicate, and what is going to be the best method of communication. This may take some time on your part to “do your homework” before engaging in critical conversations with your administrators, but it is time well spent.
So, again, who is your audience, and what type of administrator are you dealing with? Do they have any experience with music? Maybe he or she has a child in music, or maybe they sing in the choir at church. Maybe you’re the lucky one to have an administrator that was a former band member or, better yet, a former band director. If you are, then you are definitely ahead of the game. That doesn’t mean that you’ll get everything you want, but you won’t have to spend as much time educating and/or advocating for your program because they will already have an understanding of what you do. Most administrators do not have a fine arts background or much experience with music, so their learning curve might be greater when trying to understand what you do.
Are they a numbers person? Are they so data-driven that this is the only evidence they need or want in order to make a decision for your program? Do they need to see how the “numbers” are going to impact learning or increase test scores before they will give your program additional funding or support? Some are just not influenced by personal feelings or emotions, and they make decisions based on the facts that they have available. If this is the type of administrator you are dealing with, you will want to provide the data they desire to support your requests.
Are they already an arts advocate? By that, I mean someone who understands that data is important but they realize that the experience the students will get by being involved in music is equally important. I recall a trip to a district to do a clinic with a band where the principal of the high school was in attendance during the rehearsal. He indicated that he knew academics were important, but he felt it was equally important that students graduating from his high school had a solid arts experience. Plus, when you look at the skills students learn in music (commitment, creativity, teamwork, structure, time management, etc.), it’s hard to ignore the positive impact music has on a student.
Have they ever been a principal before? Although I had a great mentor when I was an assistant principal, when I became the principal, I had to deal with things I had never had to deal with before. Like everything else, you don’t really know what it’s like until you’re in that position. If you have a new principal, they may not initially have the time or desire to learn about your program. Most likely, they are just trying to keep their head above water and deal with the most critical situations at hand. So, what if you are in this situation? Being understanding and empathetic to your principal’s situation will serve you well. Be patient and reasonable with your requests, and maybe even ask if there is anything you can do in general to help. Be cautious that you don’t come across as sounding like you know more than they do but choose your words carefully and offer your assistance in a helpful and genuine manner.
Finally, can you find out what type of communicator they are and what type of communication they prefer? This can be more difficult to do, but it will also help improve the way the information is received if you can get this information. Do you know and realize what type of communicator you are? So, what does this mean? Over the years, I’ve participated in a number of programs that measured my leadership style, my strengths, and my personality traits in the workplace. Once completed, everyone is typically given a number, color, etc., that identifies your specific style and traits. What I discovered about my communication style is that I like to give details about situations….sometimes LOTS of details. What I discovered about a previous boss was that she was a “bottom line” type of person and didn’t want to hear all the details at first…or maybe not many at all. People like me drive people like her crazy!! I had to be sure I adjusted how I delivered my information in a way that she would best receive it.
So, once you figure out “what makes them tick,” give them what they want! Gather the type of information you need that is going to be of interest to them and that will make the biggest impression on their way of thinking.
“No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.” (Comer, 1995) Dr. James Comer, Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale Child Study Center, coined this phrase to help adults better connect with children. However, I believe this thinking is equally important when working with adults. As a matter of fact, building a positive relationship with your administration is one of the most important things you can do to open the lines of communication and strengthen support for your program.
Rick Ghinelli worked in the Spring Independent School District for 31 years as band director, an elementary and middle school assistant principal, and a middle school principal. He completed his last 13 years prior to retiring as the Director of Performing and Visual Arts.
Rick has been very active in many aspects of music education throughout his career. He has done presentations and staff development sessions for a number of conferences, universities and school districts across Texas and the nation. Currently he serves as the Director of Music Administration Outreach and the Educational Support Manager for Conn-Selmer, Inc.
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