- Nurture Student Ambitions
- Share Program Ownership
- Provide Out of School Opportunities
- Successfully Engage Student Intrinsic Reward System
- Help Student Meet Basic Human Needs
- Inspire Students to LOVE Music
- Build Student Experience on Success
Mr. M did not inspire me through a single action but rather guided me to grow as a student musician all three and a half years I had him as a teacher. He demonstrated that he cared because he worked with me, joked with me and provided me the guidance necessary to be able to take part in activities that other students didn’t. As a result of his leadership, and lessons in teamwork I learned that being a band director was exactly what I wanted to do.
It is my hope that you can relate to these scenarios and possibly suggest more fantastic ways that music educators continue to inspire students.
1) Nurture Student Ambitions
Nurturing student ambitions is part of building a quality student-teacher relationship. Inspiring students is based on a student-centered concept. I would like to recognize my high school band director Mr. M. Mr. M took me in as a new music student the second semester of my freshman year in high school. I truly did not have much of a music background until I joined the high school band and I did not know what to expect. My only real contact with anyone in the school’s music department were a few friends that were in the band.
I was a young freshman boy in high school looking to find himself and this seemed like a good place to start. If I knew how much of powerful influence music was going to be for me, I would have started music classes at a much younger age.
2) Share Program Ownership
The next powerful way music educators inspire their students is by sharing their program ownership. Certainly, music educators need to have control of their programs, however, the purpose of a school program is to enhance the lives of their students. Why not provide responsible students with leadership opportunities that prove to be powerful learning experiences and also help with the operations of your program?
My next inspiration is based on the teachings of Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser. Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser is a huge music education advocate that truly believes in music education. He has written several student leadership publications that I have used with my program. These resources can be used to help any student in marching band, choir council or student government role. The concepts and activities that he uses to engage students and teachers provide a fresh eye-opening perspective that breaks the mold.
Here is a youtube video of Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser detailing success vs. significance. Ask yourself, do you want to be a successful or significant leader?
3) Provide Opportunities
Providing school opportunities to further student growth should be a normal goal for every driven educator. Unfortunately, not all opportunities are considered equal for students. Students are often at different levels of skill development, some play instruments that are used more than others and sometimes these opportunities come in limited supply. I would suggest that every music educator make a conscious effort to provide your students at least a few opportunities that will shape their music education outside the classroom.
One particular source of inspiration came from an assistant director of mine I had in college. Let us call him Mr. K. Something that separated Mr. K from other educators was that always managed to provide me with regular paying gigs. I am sure every student would love to have this opportunity. His educational philosophy tied into his response to having strong university relations with the community.
I was inspired by Mr. K’s decision-making process and his tactful skill of digression. Mr. K provided opportunities fairly and he did so while meeting the level of expectations of the university administration. In simple English, he made sure that every performance and gig was great while spreading an opportunity for wealth (college student perspective.)
Sometimes being the director you have to play a political game that won’t make everyone happy (this is almost guaranteed.) Through regular communication and positive rapport with his students, Mr. K has inspired an army of educators to go beyond the expectation of his classroom teaching to be more than what society says they should be.
4) Successfully Engage Student Intrinsic Reward System
Successfully engaging our student’s intrinsic reward system is a goal I wish I could reach each and every day. For some students, this is easily done because they are self-motivated and rock stars. Unfortunately, for many students, they embrace the cultural norms that reinforce the idea of “what’s in it for me,” or extrinsic rewards.
Mr. B, who was one of my most influential college professors, was a deep thinker and was a challenging teacher. He was not challenging because he was hard to work with but rather his class performance expectations mirrored the skill set expectation of a master teacher. To me, he was like a prophet who had a limitless amount of wisdom that was available to anyone willing to listen.
He taught me it is important to make mistakes in order to learn. He opened my eyes to the value of transference which is the idea of taking lessons from other disciplines and applying them to your class or scenario. Finally, he taught me the value of family and understanding the sacrifices and balances points necessary to have a happy and healthy life as a director.
5) Help Student Meet Basic Human Needs
This is one of my favorite ways that music educators inspire students. Helping students meet their most basic human needs is not so much the most obvious technique but truly one of the most important to me. For the sake of this conversation let me talk about an amazing high school guitar teacher that I used to teach with. We will call her Mrs. R. Mrs. R was a goal oriented, task driven and professional coworker. Mrs. R and I quickly became friends and I enjoyed how we could always bounce ideas off each other.
We shared a music room and we regularly got an opportunity to watch each other teach. On several occasions I observed her giving one particular student food. I thought this was a little odd being that everyone else in the room saw this too. I later came to find out that this child was homeless and didn’t have much of a family life. Mrs. R had gone out of her way to share what she had just to make this one child a bit more comfortable.
Eventually, I found out that this was not a singular occurrence but the norm. Mrs. R explained to me that many of her students were homeless, had troubled pasts and desperately needed an adult to show they cared since their parents were rarely around. This took me back and helped me realize that despite what is expected at school some of our students don’t have the luxury of doing homework at home because they have to work to help pay for rent. Some students have to babysit their brothers and sisters while mom and dad are at work or don’t have parents to come home to. For her students coming to school and taking her guitar class was the highlight of their day.
Mrs. R’s students were inspired by her tough love and support. Like many of her students, Mrs. R had a tough upbringing in Detriot Michigan and she made it a point to comfort her students through a rapport that put her students at ease. Even though I did not have Mrs. R as a personal teacher, I learned several humbling lessons, along with her students, of what really matters.
6) Inspire Students to LOVE Music
Music is what centers our passion. Sharing this amazing force of nature and humanistic power with others is a great reason to be a teacher… however, it is not the only reason. I cannot say that there is only one teacher that inspired me to go into music. Every music teacher I came in contact with is passionate about music and sharing it with others.
There is one teacher that helped broaden my perspective on music beyond the performance side of the art. We will call this teacher Dr. C. Dr. C was a kind, knowledgeable and deeply nurturing individual. Not only was she a world-class music educator but she was also a music therapist.
One of my last semesters in graduate school I took a class entitled “The Psychology of Music” which was taught by Dr. C. This ended up being one of my favorite classes ever and for some reason, I couldn’t pinpoint one specific reason why I loved it. Was it the idea that it was a music class mixed with science and kinesthetic theories? Or was it because it dove into perceptual interpretations?
I loved that class and Dr. C so much because she was able to create the perfect learning environment for me. No fancy technological gizmos were used and unusual teaching aides. I needed a fresh way to interpret music and she opened my eyes to some amazing possibilities. I felt like the class was “Bill Stevens-Centered” however, the other fifteen students would disagree. The great thing is that each of my classmates had an equally incredible experience which was unique to their own special way of thinking due to Dr. C’s teachings.
Loving music is the best part of the music educator culture. We are a collective team that has the vision to share what God has provided us. I am inspired by this culture and the energy it brings to my life and others. I would like to challenge you to find three people that haven’t experienced this joy and share with them this special gift of music.
7) Build Student Experience on Success
Building student experience through success is my final highlighted technique that music educators use to help inspire students. It wasn’t until my fourth year of being a director I truly understood this concept. As a young band director, I ended up taking on jobs of small programs that needed some sort of program boost. Sometimes it was necessary to get enrollment numbers up, whereas other times my primary objective, according to my principals, was to get my new students to earn a superior at assessment.
Being hired under these circumstances always provided me a set of challenges in which I would have to find ways to enhance my personal skill set. I worked hard to meet the expectations of my administration, program, and community, however, I found myself working my tail off with little downtime for myself.
About 10 years ago I accepted a band director position in Northern Virginia in a district that I currently teach. The director prior to me had gotten in trouble and was forced to resign midyear. As a result, one of the social studies teachers at the school was given the responsibility to temporarily take over the band program. We will call him Mr. S.
Mr. S had a strong musical background and marched with the cadets in his youth. He was a couple years younger than me and had an energy I desperately desired. When I joined the program, he was contracted to run the marching portion of the band program. I was certainly not opposed to this especially since I had arrived on site around mid-August and he was running on all cylinders. I gladly served as a staff member under his leadership and took this opportunity to revitalize my marching band teaching technique.
The biggest challenge of being the new director at that school was replenishing the student enrollment in the band program due to a massive drop off after the previous full-time director was released. Mr. S served as a mentor and was just an all-around good guy. He clearly had a more contemporary and discovery-based approach to his teaching. The marching band operated under his vision and our 29 member marching band ended the season with a USSBA Class A Marching Band National Championship.
This was an amazing feeling for everyone who was involved in marching band. Mr. S had provided the students, parents, staff, community and I, a clear-cut example of how an inspirational effort can pull off any objective. Since then, the program has gone onwards and upwards towards greatness.
If there is a point to this post it is this: Music educators teach students to play their instruments, they hold concerts, they do paperwork, they have non-music oriented duties but they are so much more than that. They have the power to help shape the culture of our youth. I learned so much from my music teachers and credit them for making me the type of man I am. It is clear that music educators inspire students. If you were ever in a music program in which you learned how to work as a team, learned self-discipline, learned to read music or cultivated a passion, thank a music teacher.