I’m sure that the vast majority of us band directors were brought up to be defenders of our content. Instead of being recognized as contributing to the overall education of the student, music and other fine arts have been identified as dispensable by many in our government. I remember clearly having horror stories about this told to me in my college classes and at band camp after I had graduated. The stories were always concluded with, “It’s not enough to teach music. You must always be an advocate as well.”
While I agree with the need to advocate, I think it is important to discuss the method we choose to act on this idea. I have observed many who believe strong arts education advocates must be combative. Amongst ourselves, we talk about “fighting” our administration. After my time as the Fine Arts Director for a large school district, it’s difficult for me to imagine something more counterproductive than getting into a fight with your principal or district administrator. In most cases, your principal wants to be your advocate. They just may not understand how.
Don’t forget that you and your principal likely got into education for the same reason: to positively impact the lives of children. Your administration simply started out by doing so through another content area. And now, in their current position they are being pulled in many directions by the teachers they are expected to lead and attempting to comply with all of the district policies given to them by those in the administration building. It is a difficult place to be and we are better off supporting them instead of becoming someone that adds to their stress level.
Here are a few simple suggestions on building a relationship with your administrators:
- See how many conversations you can have with him/her before asking for money. The more the better.
- Recognize him/her by name at your concerts. This is about more than just making them feel good (although that helps). It is part of their job to interact with parents and community members. Your principal needs them to see that he/she is present and accessible. By recognizing them, you’re also helping them.
- Invite them to become part of what you do in a very superficial/responsibility-free way. Example: Have them guest-conduct the march at your next concert. It requires no extra effort and they will have a blast waving their arms in front of the kids and parents. If you need to, you can train them to watch you off stage.
- Share good news frequently with your principal in a way that makes him/her look good:
- Instead of sending this in an email, “Sally Johnson, the band’s first chair clarinetist, was named outstanding soloist at the contest last weekend.”
- Type up a press release, “One of our own Fighting Mustangs, Sally Johnson, was named outstanding soloist at the contest last weekend.” If you type this up as a press release, you keep them from having to format this information themselves and he/she can forward it easier. Also it shows ownership in the school and not just your program. Your principal needs to see that you take ownership in the campus and not just your program.
- Find ways to help your principal see the value of your program. An example might be giving him/her a copy of a letter from a parent stating that your band is the reason little Bobby comes to school in the morning.
- See how many problems you can solve on your own. And then run it by him/her to make sure it’s ok. If you do this the right way, you are making their lives simpler, not more complicated.
- Don’t gossip. The last thing you want is someone sharing words you said in anger and confidence with your principal. See it as part of your job to put a positive spin on everything that goes on at your campus.
By building a relationship with your principal based on substance and trust, you change every interaction with him/her for the better. In my opinion, this is a far more effective way to advocate for music education.
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