“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” – Helen Keller
“It’s amazing to hear how far the students have come in such a short amount of time!” Chances are you have heard something similar to this phrase by a parent, patron, or administrator following a successful performance, and they are right! It IS amazing what our students are capable of when they put their minds to it. However, we also all know the feeling of pressure that comes from shouldering the burden of a large program on our own. As the director of a 5-12 band program for almost 12 years, I discovered early on that the job of running a band program is too large for any one person. The most impactful change I have made to my program administration is the amount of delegation that I use to lessen that burden and improve my own teaching, efficiency, and overall quality of life.
This was not an easy process for me and it has taken a very long time to address through the years. Like most band directors, I had a fear of trusting others to complete important tasks that could negatively impact the students and program that I care so much about. That fear compelled me to say, “I’ll take care of it.” That approach was compounded by my perception that accepting help and delegating responsibilities amounted to having someone else doing my job for me and contributed to significant mental and physical wear that left me exhausted and feeling like I was just treading water. As I reflected on my program, I began to realize that trying to do everything alone was actually hurting my program. I realized that in order for us to reach our potential, I needed to do a better job of allowing others to help me.
My first attempt at delegation came after I attended a workshop session about how to build a successful band booster program that convinced me that it was a necessary first step for me to start allowing others to have input into my program. The clinician gave me the contact number of their booster president, who was incredibly helpful in helping me establish a booster group that fit the needs of our program. I quickly realized that I would have been much less stressed if I would have implemented a booster board much sooner! The key was to find parents who possessed three qualities: they needed to work well with others, be dependable, and be organized.
As I looked for parents that met those criteria, I saw that there is no shortage of amazing people around my program that are willing to give their time to help their students be successful. When I realized that my booster parents were far more efficient than me, I was able to step back and let them share in the responsibility. My booster board now schedules the monthly meetings, sets the agenda, handles the majority of finances, organizes fundraisers and volunteers, and sends out quarterly newsletters the parents. This has dramatically reduced my administrative burden and has given me more time to focus on tasks directly related to teaching.
I have also implemented the strategy of delegating leadership and administrative responsibilities with my students. To reinforce student ownership in the program, I have the high school students choose who will be their section leaders and drum majors for the upcoming marching season each spring. The students also give input on potential instrument managers, assistant section leaders, marching morale boosters, and many other positions. My responsibility is to make sure that all leadership roles and responsibilities are clearly laid out in the leadership handbook, and the students are responsible for selecting the peers that will be best for each job. Once the leadership members are selected, we hold annual meetings in which the majority of the decisions regarding the goals and direction of the program are made by the leadership committee.
Leaders in Middle Schools
Having student leaders in the high school band program is not uncommon. However, many directors tend to be reluctant to establish similar positions with their younger students. However, I believe that it is never too early to get students thinking about the many ways that they can serve their peers and the band program. In my 5th-8th grade groups, my goal is to give students as many leadership opportunities as possible, and students assume responsibility for the class from the moment they walk in the door. There are specific students in charge of setting up the room before everyone comes in, taking attendance, and making sure that any necessary materials are available for their section before rehearsal begins. Each day, a random student is in charge of coming up to the front of class and leading section reports, which are a time when each section leader stands up and says who is absent and if anyone forgot their instruments. The section leaders track who has forgotten instruments or had discipline points assigned and turn them in to me at the end of the month. Another student leads breathing gym exercises and chooses which scales the class will play for warm ups. At times, section leaders will also appoint students in their section to be in charge of correcting posture and watching horn angles. The whole process takes eight to ten minutes and allows me to address individual student and instrument issues. This has made a huge difference in my bands and allows class to start in a relaxed, efficient manner with little intervention on my part.
Every three weeks, I set aside a class period for the students to lead the rehearsal. Student leaders utilize the sight reading process taught in class to help their own sections initially. Students then move to a full band rehearsal. The section rehearsals can sometimes get loud, but as long as the students are on task I will not intervene. The students write goals for the rehearsal on the board and they use that as a rubric for a reflection at the end of the rehearsal.
In my program, I took a top-down approach to delegating responsibility, beginning with my boosters, moving to my high school leadership, and finally working with my youngest students. However, I think that this order is actually backwards. As with any change in a program, the best way to approach it is to begin with the youngest students. Now, when my middle school students arrive at the high school, they are used to a system of student leadership and responsibility. This culture takes time to create, but the payoff is well worth the wait.
Allowing students and parents to share leadership responsibilities has allowed me to focus more attention to the music. Not only that, I have found that frequently, my student and parent helpers find better approaches than I would have! Students have taken more ownership in the band, leading to higher retention, and I am consistently impressed with the students’ ability to step up and excel with leadership responsibilities. With a systematic approach and clear expectations, delegation can make any teacher more effective, more efficient, and more satisfied with their job.