Get Your Music Program What It Needs by Embracing Data

Get Your Music Program What It Needs by Embracing Data

Being a school music director involves so much more than teaching, assessing, and managing students. The tasks required to run a music program of any size can be daunting, and often, our preservice training doesn’t provide sufficient administrative background needed to navigate some of the biggest challenges of the job.

Bring a group of band, choir, or orchestra directors together and ask them to discuss their frustrations, and you’ll often find that the resulting list contains very little that is directly related to music or young people. As a group, we tend to be pretty well equipped in our musical knowledge, pedagogy, and educational best practice. But we don’t always know how to fix things when the challenges center around insufficient funding, inadequate staffing, or a master schedule that doesn’t work for performing arts. So how do we talk to administrators and bring them on board in addressing these concerns?

Administrators Respond to Data

Love it or hate it, you’re going to have to do a little digging into the data in order to get the support you need from most administrators. Superintendents, and even principals, have a lot to juggle. In order to keep everything moving, sometimes our administrators have to make tough choices based on concrete information, rather than on emotional appeal. By providing data, you are able to give your administration a better understanding of what your program needs and why. In short, you are aiding in the decision-making process by taking out the bias and emotion, providing a long-range view, and allowing the administrator to make direct comparisons.  

What Kind of Data is Helpful?

What kind of data is best? Well, that depends on the situation. Every school and every administrator is different. Each brings to the table different experiences that shape the way they approach their jobs. So, get to know your administration. Find out what they value and respond to, and use this information to your advantage.

That being said, let’s look at three common challenges faced by music directors and some possible data to use.

1. Inadequate Instrument Inventory or Repair Budget

Start by creating an inventory report including age and condition of each instrument, making special note of any instruments that are currently unplayable. Additional helpful data could include:

  • Repair history of instruments
  • Cost of repairs (historical figures as well as current estimates)
  • Average cost for annual maintenance of instruments
  • Industry figures on average lifespan of school-owned instruments
  • Purchase price of instruments and value after depreciation
  • Student enrollment figures (particularly if your program has grown and you do not have enough instruments)
  • Repair and replacement budgets of comparable schools in other districts
  • If a budget for purchasing new equipment is your goal, you will want to eventually include an itemized list of needs and costs associated with purchase or lease. Be prepared to prioritize this list.

As an additional tip, check with your local music store for help with many of these items. You might also want to explore my related article, a podcast with Elisa Jones, and the wealth of resources available on the Conn-Selmer website.

2. Inadequate Staffing

When making a case to increase staffing, include:

  • Enrollment figures over the past several years, particularly if there has been an increase
  • Responsibilities of current staff. Include the number of classes, preparations, class sizes and students per teacher.
  • Extra-curricular responsibilities and number of contact hours with students spent outside the school day
  • Comparison data. What is the student-to-teacher ratio and the number of class preparations in other curricular areas? How does your staffing compare with other similar schools?
  • Proposed responsibilities for new staff
  • Benefits of hiring additional staff (make this student-centered)



3. The Master Schedule Is Not Conducive to Enrolling in Music Class

Helpful data to include in a discussion of the master schedule could include:

  • Attrition data: How many students have you lost from the program due to conflicts with the master schedule?
  • Schedules from other schools that work
  • Advocacy research and articles that show the benefit of music study
  • Anecdotal evidence/ personal testimony from students about the benefits of music class and the challenges they encounter with the current schedule

Making Your Case

Once you have collected and prepared your data, schedule a time to chat with your administrator when neither of you will be rushed. Let your administrator know that you would like to discuss some challenges you are facing as well as possible solutions. Be prepared to provide factual information and answer questions.

This is not the time to let emotion take control. Don’t be the director that only complains about problems without offering realistic solutions. Your principal may not know anything about running a music program, but he or she is probably very adept at navigating administrative red tape in your school district. If you can provide sound evidence that backs up your claims, as well as providing possible solutions, you will have made it much easier for your administrator to go to bat for you.

Realize That This May Not Be a “One and Done” Conversation

You may need to start the conversation with just some basic information so that you don’t overwhelm your administrator. For example, if you don’t have enough working instruments, you might start with just two documents: an inventory report showing which instruments are playable and enrollment figures that justify the need for additional instruments. In some cases, this will be enough. If not, find out what additional information your administrator wants and schedule a follow-up meeting.

Particularly if your request involves a significant financial expenditure, it may take some time to get approval. School budgets are planned and money is earmarked far in advance. You may have to allow time for your district to set aside the funds that your program needs. Be prepared to prioritize, set a reasonable timeline and keep the conversation going.

Coda

Every administrator differs in how they support the arts. However, if you are struggling to get what your program needs, this does not necessarily mean that your administration is unsupportive. It may mean that they are unaware of your challenges, or are trying to balance the needs of many areas. Be patient, yet persistent. Work to educate your administration. Luckily, you are a trained educator! Just as you have to differentiate instruction for your students, you may also have to try multiple approaches with your administration.

I wish you the best of luck as you advocate for the needs of your students!

Wendy Higdon is the director of bands and unified arts department chair at Creekside Middle School in Carmel, IN. She began her career as director of bands at Lebanon Middle School (IN) in 1991 and came to Carmel Clay Schools in 1999 where she taught band at Carmel Middle School until the opening of Creekside in 2004. Under her leadership, the performing arts programs at Creekside have grown from 400 students in 2004 to nearly 900 students this year.
Wendy is also a writer and an active blogger on the subject of teaching band. Learn more on the On and Off the Podium website.

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