Friday, August 30, 2013

Classroom Leadership

I've been thinking a lot about leadership lately ...

• I am directing an 8th grade choral group of 85 students this year
• I am mentoring a new MS/HS choral director in our district this year
• I am in my 3rd year of K-12 leadership in our music department
• We have some transitions at my elementary school (my "home" school)
• Our keynote speaker for the week focused on attitudes and leadership

I am thinking about leadership mainly because I will have a choir of at least 85 eighth grade students, all in one section.  This was not the fault of a guidance department error or some other schedule anomaly.  I asked for it.  The principal checked my sanity several times.  The guidance people checked to be sure, too.  District-level people checked to be sure this was not a mistake.  It was not.  I asked for it.

For the past several years, my Middle School choirs have been split into two sections.   It would be two sections of about 35 students each.   We would combine for ONE joint rehearsal right before a concert.  It worked.  Barely.  But it wasn't fair to the students.  When students are learning to sing in parts, there is strength in numbers.  Last year, I decided that academically ... musically ... it was the right time to make a change.  So I asked for it.  And they're coming next week.

That brings me back to leadership.

Educators are expected to be natural leaders.  Music educators are expected to be natural leaders with large groups of students from day one.  Principals and coaches are expected to do the same as well.  In a society where most people would say leadership is earned, teachers are dropped into the midst of the storm.

I am a true believer in servant leadership.  That fits the role of a teacher perfectly.  Strong leadership, but always from a foundation of service.  My favorite quote about leadership comes from Max DePree, a CEO famous for his leadership skills.  He said "The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.  The last is to say 'thank you'.  In between, the leader is a servant."  That's the role of a teacher - to define reality (here's where we're at and here's the vision), and at the end to thank all those who made it happen.  In between, the leader is a servant.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Does Your Classroom Have a Dream?

50 years ago, on August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his tide-changing "I Have a Dream" speech.

Yesterday, Principal Baruti Kafele was the keynote speaker for our district inservice.  Principal Kafele spoke about identity and dreams.  He said "Our dreams our as divergent as our identities."  You can't share a common dream unless you first establish a common identity.

Ask the teachers in your building what the identity of your school is, Principal Kafele suggested.  If you get a variety of answers, then you do not have a common identity.  And you will never share a common dream.

Perhaps we need to ask our students "What is the identity of our classroom?"  As a music teacher, it is a little daunting to think that the 85 students in my 8th grade choir this year all could have differing ideas of the identity of our class.  How does each of those 85 students fit into our common identity as a performing ensemble?  But the challenge can loom just as large for 20 kindergarten students.  Students across the board are developing their own identities, and we need them to share a classroom and school-wide identity as well.  How could a student who attends four or eight different classes every day juggle "identities" if we do not have a school-wide common identity?

Identity is going to translate to purpose, vision, mission, and dreams.  Dr. King eloquently laid out his dream for the world.  It was through his leadership and vision that the rudder of humanity set a new course.  In our own schools and classrooms, we must show leadership this year to establish common identities and, only then, share a common dream.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Music & Mentoring

I was cleaning a bookshelf in my office the other day and came across a set of the "Journal of Research in Music Education" from MENC (now known as the National Association for Music Education).  I'm guessing I must have been getting this journal when I was writing my Master's thesis several years ago. As I flipped through the table of contents for each journal, one research article caught my interest:  "Perceptions of Experienced Music Teachers Regarding Their Work as Music Mentors" by Colleen Conway and Al Holcomb (Journal of Research in Music Education, Vol 56/1, Spring 2008).

As I begin year 15 of teaching, I am mentoring our new MS/HS Choral Director.  This person is not new to the profession - just new to our district and we are so excited that he is in our district.  But this is the first time I am serving as an official "mentor".  I have taken classes about being a mentor, but never had the occasion to serve in this capacity.

Some of the questions in the method of the research article caught my attention:
• What do you believe to be the characteristics of a good mentor?
• What do you think you have to offer as a mentor?
• What will help you to help your mentees?

Mentor programs are not new.  I was a mentee in my first position in Iowa.  Iowa Choral Directors Association was piloting a program that paired up new choral teachers with seasoned professionals.  I had a great mentor - the only problem was she was in a different school district.  It's hard to develop good communication between mentor/mentee when you rarely see each other.

When I came to my current district, we had a strong mentoring program.  The problem this time was that due to a wave of retirements, there were four new music teachers in our mid-size urban district, and therefore, not enough music teacher mentors to go around.  As the most experienced teacher of the four, I was assigned a mentor that was not a music teacher.  He is an excellent teacher and has a great music background, but not a member of the music faculty.  But at least we were in the same building, and I did not have that many questions at the time.

But now I think mentoring takes a village.  Our district has seven music teachers, and besides our new hire, the rest of us have been there a decade or more.  Having gone through some tough budget years, we lean on each other more than ever - team teaching, teaching in areas that people may not be as comfortable, etc.  We have had to mentor each other through some new situations.  And, even more importantly, we think about the K-12 music program before we think about our own programs.  Everything we do affects each other and the program at large.

But what did the research article say?  Some of the results said that:
• mentors need mentors (creating a community of practice - our department)
• time management (taking time can be hard, but essential to future success of program)
• observations are important (including mentees observing mentors)
• technology is a positive resource for mentors and mentees (we are working at getting our entire department active on Google Hangouts, too)
• a supportive, rather than evaluative role for the mentor is best

In the last few years, I have come to believe that having an impact beyond the walls of your classroom is essential in the growth of a teacher.  Mentoring another teacher to discover and deliberately use that impact will be a new adventure.