Retention is a daily and ongoing process which happens in every rehearsal, every communication and every decision for your music program. The director is the one person who can control the most elements in any music program. Students’ time, talent and energy is valuable. If you want high levels of student retention, then respecting those resources must be a part of the daily operations of the program.
Start with the End in Mind
When creating rules, policies, calendars, etc. envision your ultimate goal for every student. If you want students to be long-term members, with independent musical growth, then keep that the focus. Do not get tied up in chasing trophies, creating burdensome schedules or unrealistic practice expectations.
The program will never be more important to anyone than it is to you. Furthermore, your priority of the program will not be shared by every family. Decide what are reasonable expectations to meet the program’s’ goals and be willing to live with the consequences. Many directors will win a battle or two but lose the war when structuring the program.
Quality Materials & Music
We believe that 20% of the students will be “die hard” band kids. These kids will love everything about band almost all of the time. Maybe 10% will be “on the fence” and may only be there because a parent is insisting on it. These kids will resist or at best tolerate almost everything about band almost all of the time. The remaining 70% will be casually committed. These students like band if it fast paced, social, rewarding and meaningful.
How do we engage all of these students? High quality literature. Selecting your literature should be an ongoing and careful process that evolves as the group develops. The better the quality of music, the more your students will be engaged. Engaged students stay in band.
Make it easy for students, parents and administrators to find information easily. Update websites and social media often so your band community has a reason to check in with these sites. Frustration in finding information often causes families to give up on a program. It is critical when communicating with families that you work toward solutions to issues or conflicts. Ultimatums end relationships. Is the program there for the student or is the student there for the program? Whatever your answer, that will be at the center of your communication. Keep in mind that reasonable flexibility helps students know that they are important to you and the program.
Consistency in daily rehearsal structure, assessment procedures, routines and expectations will give students a sense of security and build a foundation of trust. That trust leads to strong relationships with students and families. A critical area of consistency is in setting a calendar of rehearsals and performances. The earlier this is set and the less it changes, the easier it will be for families to keep their children in your program. Chaos in the program creates chaos for families and is disrespectful of the students’ time and home schedule.
We believe that by keeping retention in mind, not just at the end or the beginning of the year, we can better serve both our students and our program.
Jessica Shields is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Music Education. A current member of he National Association of Music Education, she is classically trained on clarinet and enjoys playing jazz tenor saxophone.
Ms. Shields currently serves as a director of bands at Traughber Jr. High in Oswego and is enjoying her fourth year of teaching as a Traughber Panther!
Rachel Maxwell currently serves as the director of bands at Traughber Jr. High School and as the Jr. High performing arts and band coordinator for the Oswego, IL School Dist. #308. She has taught music ed. courses at VanderCook College of Music and North Central College and has been a guest conductor, clinician and adjudicator at many music camps and festivals.
Under her direction the bands at Traughber JHS have received national acclaim and have performed at The Midwest Clinic (as a clinic presentation and rehearsal lab group), the Illinois Music Educators Association All State Conference (1999, 2008, 2010, 2014), the University of Illinois Super-state Festival and at the ASBDA 2004 National Convention.