What can I do right now to make ‘future-me’ a happier, more effective band director? Transitioning from being a college student to a public school teacher is a challenge, and in this article, we hope to shed light on organizational topics/challenges to help young band directors find their way in the confusing world of band directing and set up their future-selves for success.
When striving to set yourself up for future success, work to address planning, procedures, physical space, communication, documentation, and time management. Each of these can be individual articles themselves, so the following ideas are a broad overview of where to start when organizing a band program.
Have you heard the phrase, “that’s a problem for future-me”? Well, future-you will happily thank past-you if you PLAN AHEAD. Young band directors need to have a plan for EVERYTHING. This can seem overwhelming at first, but by taking the time to strategically plan every detail, directors become more efficient and effective teachers in the long run. While planning can take place by yourself, it is best to utilize your colleagues and have regular staff meetings where directors can collaborate to create/maintain pedagogical vertical alignment within the band program as well as set goals for individual classes or ensembles. This is the ultimate form of long-term organization! Calendar meetings are also important to schedule your events in advance, allowing facilities managers, students, parents, and the community to be prepared for events.
Intentionally plan procedures (daily expected behaviors) for both the students and yourself. You cannot adjust your plan when everything goes wrong if you don’t have one! Construct an ideal image of what you and your students should be doing in your band hall. If you aren’t sure or your ideal band hall is unclear, go watch other band directors teach and take notes. Focus on the procedures as well as the teaching strategies. Once you know what you want your procedures to be, teach them to your students at the beginning of the year and then practice them. Procedures are only as effective when they are clear and are applied consistently.
Dr. Gabriel Arnold stated that “having a clean area makes a big difference in student’s behavior in class, care for their instruments, and treatment of other students.” Keeping the band hall clean demonstrates professionalism and should be modeled by the teacher but practiced by the students. In one of our band halls, this looks like our 8th-grade student leadership straightening the chairs and stands, picking up trash, and organizing papers/supplies on our front table. By delegating this task to students, not only are you teaching them how to take care of their environment, but it also alleviates your mental load.
There’s a difference between over-communication and frequent communication; Over-communication occurs when there are simply too many words and directors bury the lede, while frequent communication is professional and brief. People already have full inboxes, so make it easy for them to find the information they need! For example, send weekly emails/newsletters with information for the upcoming week and celebrations from the previous week. These can be as broad or specific as you wish. Send separate emails with details solely about a single event. This information can also be printed on colored paper or cardstock and passed out to students in class. By doing everything in your power to communicate information to stakeholders, you reduce wasted time and energy in the future.
Utilize communication platforms and notification systems for ease of communication AND as a database for student information. It is crucial that you celebrate your students with staff and parents! Send campus-wide emails with audition results, contest results, classroom accomplishments, etc., and post these to your band’s social media/website. Finally, don’t forget the power of phone calls or in-person communication – speaking directly with parents about both positive and negative experiences can eliminate some of the miscommunication that happens via email.
Documentation (a.k.a. #receipts)
Document what exactly? Everything! Write down everything: student behavior, a summary of a phone call with your principal or a parent, or anything that you think you could possibly need in the future. Documentation is critical for so many reasons. It can simultaneously protect you and expose you. Beware that anything you put in writing can AND WILL be used against you in a court of public opinion (or law)… so be smart and be professional.
The form of documentation we use the most is simply a running list of episodes regarding behaviorally-challenged students. By documenting student behavior, you are taking unrecorded behavior and creating a factual record for that student. This can be used as evidence for a parent-teacher conference when managing misbehavior; thus, it protects you from a he-said/she-said situation (“thanks, past-me!”). It is important to write down even the smallest behavior infractions because the “little things” can snowball into “big things” that could have been prevented. Keep in mind that any documentation is covered by FERPA, so keep it safe and secure.
Time blindness is a common problem for young directors, often due to a lack of experience. It is difficult to estimate how long a lesson or subject will take until you form a relationship with your students, know their skills, have actually taught that lesson before, and have efficient delivery. Instead of planning exact time frames for parts of lessons, start with time windows: 3-5 minutes for x, 20-30 minutes for y, etc. This can alleviate some anxiety about staying on schedule and allow for a more organic and organized lesson flow. You can also set alarms on your phone, smartwatch, or even have a timer in your teaching space that alerts you when class is almost over. There are free visual timer apps you can download that will divide into sections to follow your lesson plans. Trying to find ways around this hurdle in advance will save you headaches when you’re deep into your lesson.
Emily Moore is the assistant band director at Aledo MS and is in her fourth year of teaching. Her responsibilities include teaching the beginning woodwind classes and the non-varsity Symphonic Winds. Prior to joining Aledo MS, Mrs. Moore began her career at Vista Ridge MS in Keller ISD where she taught the beginning double reeds, saxophone, and euphonium classes, Jazz Band, and the non-varsity Symphonic Band. Mrs. Moore graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in Music Studies from Texas State University in May of 2019. During her free time, Mrs. Moore rehearses and performs with the Mansfield Wind Symphony and Fort Worth City Band on oboe. Mrs. Moore and her husband Dexx Moore happily reside in White Settlement, TX with their three cats.
Dexx Moore currently serves as an assistant band director at Aledo High School where he directs the sub-non varsity concert band, non-varsity jazz band, teaches music theory, and assists with the marching band, as well as the varsity and non-varsity concert bands. He received his Bachelor’s Degree at Texas State University in 2019, and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Music Education at Southern Methodist University.
John Denis is currently an assistant professor of music education at Texas State University and is the author of Program Notes: A Comprehensive Guide to Band Directing and Tuning with Technology: An Unofficial Guide to Tonal Energy and the Harmony Director. He also produces Program Notes: The Band Director Podcast and teaching upper-level music education courses at Texas State. Prior to entering academia, Dr. Denis was a band director in east and north Texas.
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