As published in School, Band and Orchestra Magazine, by Glen Schneider.
Now that the school year has started, it’s not too early to remember recruiting and retention.
The data shows us that it’s typically not an issue getting students to sign up for music education, it’s keeping them going that we have to constantly stay on top of, so that you are not losing one or two here and there. This fall I would encourage you to take note of the following reasons that students DO stick with music, and make sure you are emphasizing and facilitating these areas with due diligence:
Students may not necessarily be aware of the importance of administrative support in a school district the way a teacher may be able to, but they do notice when principals and other admin are present. Make sure to acknowledge those people at concerts and important events. If your principal finds the funds to do something special for the band, make a big deal about saying thank you. Find out about your administrator’s views of music education and share with your students how “cool” Mrs. or Dr. So-and-So is because they used to sing/play in the orchestra. Students may not realize it, but scheduling classes, setting budgets, and having general administrative support has a direct result in students being able to continue with their music education.
Parents are the ones that make it happen, let’s be honest. Honoring parents only takes a moment at your concerts/events, but it makes a huge statement about your awareness of what they do for the program. If you have a booster group, make sure to acknowledge those parents who go above and beyond, perhaps even invite one of them to speak briefly about the importance of music education at one of those events. They often have the stories and experience to truly educate the parent community...sometimes better than you can. If you haven’t done so in a while, make sure your music parents are getting the credit they deserve.
Selecting quality music for students to experience and perform is a huge part of your job, and many do this well. Honestly though, I encounter many teachers who feel their knowledge of repertoire isn’t nearly what it could be, or their creativity in programming concerts could use some help. You may not be able to play that difficulty of music, but often you can see how to theme a concert or deal with a variety of pieces in a creative order. In the end, students should remember the music and the performances. Make sure you have a way of recording the concerts so that students have a way of listening back to their work. If they have an archive of recordings that they can feel proud of over the years, chances are that pride helps them realize the long journey of accomplishments they have achieved.
Students stay in music because they build strong and lasting friendships. Those friendships are well formed through all of the ups and downs of rehearsals, school bus rides, nervous preparations for festival performances, and trying to play in tune and in time through a variety of music in marching band, concert band, jazz band, pep band, and the list goes on! I’ve noticed over the years that students who feel all alone or don’t fit in very well, often times don’t see the value in continuing because they lack the relationships to feel truly connected on a social-emotional level. Watch out for those students and help them feel special. Keep them all connected to one another and chances are you will have students that feel like they have a friend in the group...better yet, 50 friends!
Students stay in music because they have opportunities. If you haven’t yet figured out the importance of student leadership, try making some changes to the way you operate by including students in the leadership and ownership of the music ensemble. From setting things up on the stage crew, to volunteering as an usher at feeder school concerts, to performing at a nursing home, or joining a local youth orchestra, a large part of your job is making sure that the troops are busy and doing worthwhile things to further their musicianship and leadership skills. Then you’ll have more time for score study, communication, big picture ideas, and program development – you know, the stuff that only YOU can do. Students stay with music because they have things to do that are worthwhile and are connected to a very specific skill set that they have learned and earned. Make sure all students have access to opportunities, so they stay involved.
Students continue in music because they enjoy their teachers. You can cause them to have a good day or a great day. You can turn a bad day into the best day of their life. You are one of the teachers that they may have for years instead of just one semester. You are the teacher who can turn a piece of music into a life story. Your students play for 45 minutes and feel like 5 minutes just went by. You are their cheerleader and their biggest advocate, and they can tell you care. You can also crush their spirit with one look, one comment, or the lack of empathy in a time of trial. You can help them love or hate a piece of music based on the rehearsals that led up to a concert. You are going to see these young people in a few years when they are all grown up and shopping at the grocery store, when they become your next school board member, when they become a colleague at your school. It’s about successfully delivering them into society with the idea that they could not have become who they are as an adult without music education...and of course, their music teacher....you!