All band programs go through highs and lows. These peaks and valleys are especially noticeable in small band programs, where small numbers of students entering or leaving the program can have a big impact on success. It’s not as easy to “re-load” students in small band programs, but it is easy to “Re-Boot”, a process described below. By consciously “Re-boot”-ing every year or two, small band programs can smooth out those peaks and valleys and see a more consistent and constant climb upward.
To “Re-Boot” your small band and set them up for big success, consider the following:
Take some time to reflect on the past year or two with brutal honesty.
- Have you met the goals you had set for your program, both internally and externally?
- Have there been deficiencies in performance that have been consistently nagging your program and causing performances to be less than what you and your students expect?
- Have you gotten the scores you expect at your contest/assessment/festival?
Chances are, if you reflect honestly, you’ll find things about the program that need to be changed, fixed, tweaked, or polished in order to move forward in a positive direction. Take note of those areas of the program.
Take your list of reflections and examine it.
- Is there a trend here that ties together the aspects of your program that need fixing?
- Or, if each aspect is somewhat unrelated, why are those areas weak?
This is often the hardest part of the process because it takes real brutal honesty and the setting aside of one’s pride to admit weaknesses in program building, pedagogy, organization, programming, or any other of a myriad aspects of a program in which we take pride as band directors. But, by honestly examining weak areas of a program, it is much easier to start the process of moving forward. As soon as you’ve thoroughly and honestly examined the weak aspects of your program, you’ll start to develop ideas of how to fix/tweak/polish those areas.
Now that you’ve examined and thought carefully about how you can go about setting your program back on the right track, you need help. No band director can enact real and lasting change from the podium; we need the help of student leaders to help increase peer buy-in and help monitor progress as perceived by the students. Build (or rebuild, if necessary) a group of student leaders whose assets align with the parts of your program that need to be changed. This can be difficult, as often a student who deserves to be a student leader (because they’ve been in the program longest, volunteered a lot, etc) might not be the best leader to help fix specific issues. It is vital that student leaders have the skill set to help enact cultural and musical change, so ensure yours meet those goals.
What are some tangible, measurable goals that you can set that will help start the process of fixing the weak areas of the program while still ensuring a good experience for your students? With the help of your newly minted student leaders, outline goals for the coming year. Goals should be challenging but achievable, and once set, the entire band should be made aware of them. Individual accountability is key, so hold yourself, your leaders, and your students to meeting the goals.
Once goals are outlined, a cogent plan to achieve them must be organized. Go about organizing steps to goal achievement both alone and with student leaders. Be exacting in setting the steps in motion and keep in mind that no step is too small and no step should be overlooked. Check-in often with student leaders to assess progress on each step, measure student morale and buy-in, and readjust organization as necessary to keep the program on track to meet goals.
This bullet might seem out of place on such a list, but the development of traditions is vital to the success of a program. Now that you’ve reflected, examined, built, outlined, and organized, you’ve likely met most (if not all) of your goals. This is a great time to establish new traditions that will increase student pride in new success and help to ensure the success will be lasting rather than fleeting. Traditions also give students something tactile to hold onto, something to look forward to, and something to work towards, and these common program-wide goals will increase individual student accountability and buy-in, and help the program overall to stay on an upward trajectory.
Throughout all of this, remember that all band programs go through highs and lows. Having a plan in place to get through the lows and back to the highs will help lead to success. Whatever happens, don’t get discouraged, keep working, and keep the goals you’ve set at the forefront of your mind. With continuous determination, you’ll set your program back on the right path towards success.
Christopher Dobbins is the Director of Instrumental Activities at Washington and Lee University, where he conducts the University Wind Ensemble, University Orchestra, and teaches conducting and music education courses. Prior to his appointment at WLU, he served as Director of Bands at Sul Ross State University, where he conducted the Wind Ensemble and taught courses in conducting and music education. Prior to teaching at SRSU, he was Instructor of Brass at Our Lady of the Lake University, Instructor of Trombone at Texas A&M International University, and Director of Bands at Saint Mary’s Hall College Preparatory School. Chris earned the Bachelor of Music in Education and in Trombone Performance from Hastings College, the Master of Music in Trombone Performance from the University of Utah, and is completing requirements for the Doctor of Education in Music Education from the University of Georgia. Chris is active as a conductor and clinician, and is an Educational Clinician for Jupiter Instrument Co. He resides in Lexington, VA with his beautiful wife, daughter, and houseful of furry children.
Patrick Moore is an active percussion performer, educator, arranger, adjudicator, and clinician. Moore is a versatile percussionist with experience in many areas of percussion. He is an education endorser of Vic Firth Sticks and Mallets and Majestic percussion, as well as a published author having works published with Alfred Publishing Company and Kendor Music. Moore has presented clinics at numerous music education conferences in the United States as well in Guatemala. Currently, Patrick Moore is the Director of Bands/ Director of Instrumental Studies at Houston Baptist University in Houston Texas. He received his Bachelor of Music from the University of Arkansas, Masters from Texas Tech and is also pursuing his Ed.D from Abilene Christian University.
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