FOCUS ON ADVOCACY: The Power and Influence of Music Parents

October 1, 2011

Parents of music students play many important roles. Two parents -- Scott McCormick (CEO of the National Association of Music Parents) and Hiram Jackson (a frequent contributor to the SupportMusic Facebook page) -- offer ways to motivate greater parental involvement. You’ll also find links to helpful books by Dr. John Benham and David Vandewalker, and resources from SupportMusic and NAfME (formerly MENC). Please share YOUR ideas on the SupportMusic Facebook page.

Scott McCormick: I am the parent of a junior high band student. And, I’ve worked in the field of music education and advocacy for over 25 years. I thought I had a pretty good handle on what my role and responsibility as a music parent should be.

But, the reality is that we parents are all trying to answer this question: What is the role of today’s music parent?

Are we fundraisers?
Are we there to support the teacher?
Are we chaperones and volunteers for our kids’ trips and events?
Are we boosters? Are we advocates? Both?

YES -- to all of the above!

Key Role: Communications Assistant

When I sat with other parents and friends at school concerts, I noticed how little information came to us from the teachers. My child attends a school with excellent facilities, excellent teachers and administrators who ‘get it’. But, most of our teachers struggle to find any additional time to communicate with parents and community – and I realized they could really use our help.

Thanks to social media, web sites and blogs, sharing the benefits of music education can be easy. It’s also easy to use email to deliver information to parents to keep them engaged. But “easy” doesn’t mean that no time is involved or that blogs and email newsletters magically appear. Parents who like to write and be on a computer could assist music teachers with these communication functions.

Key Role: Community Representative

Attend school board meetings to learn what your district’s priorities are and where your school board members stand.

As John Benham says in his book, Music Advocacy: Moving from Survival to Vision, parents should be present at each and every meeting of the school board. I have attended two meetings already this school year, and to my surprise at the first meeting, I was the only parent in the audience.

When I walked into the school administrative building, I was chatting with the school board president. She asked why I was attending the meeting and I responded: ”I am an interested music parent representing our arts programs." I believe it is critically important that our school board members know that there are committed parents engaged in the school board process. Ultimately, we, the taxpaying parents, elect board members to office. And if things are not as taxpayers believe they should be, taxpayers are the ones who can ultimately make changes in district leadership.

Now, I am not suggesting we form vigilante parent groups to make all kinds of noise. I am simply reminding parents that, as taxpayers, we sit at the top of the education pyramid. We must tell our elected officials – at all levels of government – about the importance of music and arts education in our schools. Taxpayers hold the power and decide what is right for our kids.

Key Role: Greeter and Speaker

Fall concerts are beginning to happen. Holiday and spring concerts are not far behind. Our teachers could use help in writing and sending concert invitations to school board members, the superintendent, assistant superintendent for curriculum, school principals, community and business leaders, other parents etc.

in our district, we sent letters on behalf of our music program to invite people to our fall concert. We inserted facts about the importance of music and arts education. We thanked them for their commitment to the arts curriculum. And, we invited the Superintendent to say a few words to the parents. Then, during the concert, we designated a parent or teacher to speak to the other parents and to deliver a pre-concert advocacy message, with a clear call to action.

If you attend a concert where there are no announcements beyond introducing the songs that our kids our going to play, it’s a missed opportunity! These are perfect occasions to deliver the messages of “why” we are doing what we are doing (not just “what” we are doing). Once again, it all comes back to communication.

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Hiram Jackson: During the March 22, 2011 SupportMusic teleconference, I offered my Top Five most effective local advocacy tips:

1. Attend all school board meetings connected to the budget to remind board members that people care.
2. Collect enrollment statistics each year.
To gather statistics from past years, check listings from concert programs and yearbooks to keep track of the flow of students through music programs. Connecting student success to music programs helps to restore them.
3. Treat concerts as a way to connect the school district to the public. Invite a VIP (superintendent, principal, school board president, mayor, etc.) to serve as guest MC. Concerts are a very unifying and affirming experience.
4. Make sure all demographic groups are represented. When Davis Schools (in California) noticed many Spanish-speaking families were not participating, they began to send letters home to parents in both English and Spanish and they also now provide an interpreter at parent meetings. Music programs need to be accessible to all.
5. Hold a continuous musical instrument drive. Old instruments, particularly string instruments and those that may be inconvenient to sell (such as ½ and ¾ size violins) are then donated to students without access.

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More Parent Resources….

• Download bilingual (English/Spanish) PDFs, research studies, pamphlets and community advocacy and coalition-building materials here.

• Does your school have an organized parent group or booster organization? Maybe it’s time to take a Booster Strength Inventory. David Vandewalker, a band director in Georgia, has a great book & CD, Boosters to the Rescue! Handbook for Educators, and it includes several exercises for established booster programs.

• Two teachers convey why parents who know what their children are learning in music class make the best advocates in Knowledge Fuels Advocacy.