Success in Small School Band: You Can’t Do It Alone

By Donny Longest, an inductee of the Oklahoma Bandmasters Association Hall of Fame

Reprinted with permission from Band Directors Talk Shop.

One of the most important things in building and maintaining a successful band program in a small rural school is to develop those relationships with people around you. Through these relationships, you are building a team that can help do things to save time and make your job easier.

I learned early on that the two most important groups of people in the school to take care of are the secretaries and the maintenance staff. The secretaries were always willing to help me with submitting purchase orders, filling out paperwork, etc. The maintenance staff was always very helpful in changing lights, keeping the band room clean, getting the band trailer ready to go, etc.

Here’s the secret, treat them with the respect that they deserve. Sometimes teachers talk down to these groups of people, which gets them nowhere. Every year when we would get our band t-shirts made, I made sure that the secretaries, maintenance staff, cafeteria workers, and band bus drivers got a t-shirt. It was really cool on the first Friday game day when all of the students went through the cafeteria line, and all of the cafeteria workers had their band shirts on. INSTANT RECRUITING!

Also, are you able to talk to and relate to the people in your community, many of which will be your band boosters? Do you know enough about what the people in your community do that you can talk to them? For example, is it an area of high agriculture, oilfield workers, etc.? If you can relate to the people in your community and treat them with respect, they will be a lot more willing to help your band program. They may be able to save you time by doing projects for you, which enables you to focus on the band. Make sure that your band supports community events. For example, I always had a trumpet quartet play at the local chamber of commerce banquet, had the band march at the Christmas parade, etc.

Can you talk to coaches and other organizations’ sponsors?  In a small school, you have to share students with several different organizations, and there seem always to be difficulties with coordinating schedules. It is important to develop a line of communication with coaches and other sponsors to help with that. I had a line of communication with the basketball coach so that when he would start scheduling for the next year, we would visit about leaving a night open for me to have the Christmas concert. I would always be responsible for running off the high jump at the track meets that we hosted. I’ve been known to throw batting practice to the baseball team or even coach junior high softball for a year. Helping out in these areas not only helped my cause, but students could see that I was also taking an interest in them outside of the band room.

And finally, can you talk to administrators? Administrators never like surprises. Always keep them informed. As a director, you need to keep them educated on what your needs are for your program. Also, you need to stay up to date with your state’s education requirements so that you can talk intelligently with administrators about current trends that may affect your program.

Teaching in a small school can be very rewarding, but even more so when you build these relationships with your colleagues and community.

Donny Longest is a graduate of Southeastern Oklahoma State University and holds a Masters degree from Southwestern Oklahoma State University. He taught at Konawa for twenty-one years. During this time, The Konawa Band received a Superior rating at the OSSAA Regional Marching Contest and a Superior rating at the OSSAA District Concert contest for twenty consecutive years. The Konawa Band received the OSSAA Sweepstakes award twelve times. He is a member of many professional organizations such as the Oklahoma Bandmasters Association, Oklahoma Music Educators Association, Phi Beta Mu, Kappa Kappa Psi, and the National Association for Music Education. Mr. Longest is also a past-President of The Oklahoma Bandmasters Association, The East Central Band Directors’ Association, and the Oklahoma Music Adjudicators Association; he was named Oklahoma Bandmasters Association Band Director of the Year in 2004. Mr. Longest currently serves as the Executive Secretary for the Oklahoma Bandmasters Association and was inducted into the Oklahoma Bandmasters Association Hall of Fame in 2015. Donny Longest retired in 2016 after 33 years of teaching in Oklahoma.

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