Taking over a new program and how to maneuver through the challenges of creating your new culture and system.
I was incredibly lucky to accept the head director position at Burleson High School and bring with me two other band directors, Kaleb Schumann and Tyler Gerton. The previous directors were at BHS for 25 years, 25 years, and 10 years. So many traditions and so much culture to dive into one day at a time. I hope this article assists directors taking over a program and how to navigate through the important things that will make the transition easier.
I have broken it up into four major sections that will be easy to follow and break down.
It is so important when coming into a program that your high school and middle school staff is on board with what your vision is for the program. It all starts with your effort and investment in them to create a sustainable program. You should have many talks before the first student steps into your room. Put it all out there. You will find out through talking that there may be some major philosophy differences to work out. At the end of the day, it is the head director’s program and their vision that will ultimately drive the culture. Here are some things to ask your staff when talking about a culture/vision change…
- “What did you do last year and what do you see yourself wanting to do this year?”
- “What do you wish the high school head director did more for you? How can we support you more?”
- “Are there things you are incredibly passionate about that you want ownership of?”
- “What do you want to personally get out of teaching this program?”
Here is where I grew the most as a head director. I was vulnerable enough to let go of the reins a little to allow my staff to take ownership of the transition. Here is a breakdown of what my staff does and WANTED to do in our initial conversation…
- Day – Overall philosophy, artistic philosophy, marching band, wind ensemble, financial responsibilities, middle school, and private lesson program.
- Schumann – symphonic winds, chamber ensembles, facilities, inventory (including making lists for admin about instrument needs), revamping music library, handbook, and booster efficiency.
- Gerton – concert winds, percussion teaching, Itineraries, district posting, contest administration, and percussion inventory.
The band staff all put in so many hours before the school year started to clean the offices, band hall, extra storage spaces, etc to make sure the students knew we were serious about our facilities and wanting there to be a positive change in the program.
This may actually be the easiest one to navigate, even though it seems to be the hardest. If you immediately invest in them, they will work for you. Kids want to be successful, but most importantly, they want to know you care about them. Traditions matter most to them and this is when you hear that magical phrase “This is how we’ve always done it.” Don’t be afraid of that phrase. It’s what they think the band is and that’s okay. It’s your job to make it easier for them to accept change and you get brownie points for keeping some of their biggest traditions. Here are some tips for student culture as you get ready to meet them for the first time.
- Meet with your leadership students first. It is the most influential part of your program. If they buy in, then it will trickle down.
- When meeting with them, ask them what their favorite traditions are and why? Some of them will realize the silly ones don’t need to stay. You will also find that they have really cool traditions that you’ll want to keep. I have to continue to tell myself daily that the students create a culture just as much as the staff does.
- You will find out very interesting things about the program by asking them things they want to change. We found out very fast that one the biggest things they wanted to change was their relationship with the football team. As a staff, we did everything in our power to create a different environment at games and eventually got the game ball by the head coach.
- Tell them how great they’re doing. Don’t get lost in the daily grind of technical precision that you forget to be their biggest fan. Celebrate their little victories, even if it’s not band-related. Go to a soccer game, ask them how their job is going, etc. Be invested in their lives. It will go a long way.
I was personally blessed with a wonderful set of boosters that backed me immediately when I walked in the doors. They ultimately want what’s best for their kids. It’s very simple. If you show them their kids are at the forefront of every discussion and decision, they will be on your team. Here are some things I would suggest thinking about when talking with parents.
- “What can the staff do to serve your kids more?”
- “What fundraisers have you done and can I offer suggestions to raise more money?”
- “How can we support our families that are struggling?”
- “What can we do to provide the best positive experiences for our program?”
If you have an assistant that jams about Robert’s Rules and bylaws, get them going on this. One of my assistants helped our boosters go from having three-hour meetings to forty-five-minute meetings.
Administration is different at every school and district you encounter across the county. It is the head director’s job to make sure you know what administration wants from you as a major player of the school. Here are some questions that you may not have asked in your interviews that can help you wade through these waters…
- “What expectations do you have for me competitively this year?”
- “What community/school events do I need to put on my schedule to make sure I don’t forget anything?”
- “Is there anything the band program can do to help support the school more?”
Meet your custodians, AP’s, secretaries, and counselors IMMEDIATELY. They will play a huge role in making your transition smooth. When you have them on your side, you’ll be able to make tweaks and changes throughout the year. They’ll be more willing to help you. Gift cards, band shirts, staff jerseys, etc go a long way!
Brandon, Kaleb, and Tyler are band directors at Burleson High School in Burleson, TX. Brandon came from Azle High School, where he was an assistant band director for 5 years. Kaleb was at Galena Park High School as an assistant band director for 3 years. Tyler was recently at Paris High School as the percussion director for 2 years. They all went to the University of North Texas and have taught together at multiple programs. In their first year together at Burleson in 2019, they took the marching band to Area Marching Band Finals for the first time in school history, placing 7th.
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