Music educators are often caught in the “arts bubble” where they are ignored by administrators because they don’t teach a core subject. Developing strong communication with your school administration is a great way to avoid this scenario. With the Every Student Succeeds Act making the arts a core subject, improving your relationship with your school administration is more important than ever.
We met Jeff Bradford at the Texas Music Educators Association Conference this spring, where he was part of a panel discussing how teachers can strengthen their relationships with administration. Mr. Bradford is a former band director who is now the director of fine arts for Richardson Independent School District, and has insights from both sides of the relationship. He’s was kind enough to share these with us — and you!
When does communication between ensemble directors and administration break down? Why? What can the director do to help?
Most communication breakdowns occur when staff thinks of things too late or when we react instead of plan. My rule of thumb is look for times when the schedule is going to be tight or thick. Think ahead as much as you can, find out how the administrator communicates best (email/phone/cell/text), and always be flexible. When admin sees a flexible teacher, it’s amazing how far they’ll bend to help.
From the perspective of an administrator, what’s the easiest way directors can improve their lesson plans?
Design a curriculum and lay it out. Get input from cluster staff, colleagues, and mentors about important objectives. Look at basic checkpoints along the way and what you want students to be able to do. Concerts are great checkpoints.
Map out during the summer a skeleton of basic dates and needs. As you come back into in-service and the school year, design more concrete ideas and plans for the weeks leading into performances or mastery based objectives. Create a punch list or objective sheet that holds kids accountable during the grading period and your lesson plans will flow right next to the student expectations of skills and mastery.
When directors ask for more funding, what separates the approved requests from the ones that don’t get approved?
Want vs. Need. We all want things for our programs. But needs are the things you must have in order for your program to function at the basic level. I want iPads for all of our kids. But I need a projector for my daily technology integration of lesson planning and communication.
If a teacher can clearly define the need and the administrator is willing to come do a walk through of the need, usually there’s a way to get it done. Admin loves to come through with wants as well, but those are always secondary to necessities for class to occur.
What’s the biggest thing principals without music backgrounds misunderstand about ensemble classes? How can directors help provide more information for those administrators?
Music classes are sometimes viewed as a “fun” and “relaxed” type of atmosphere. Almost a period off from the grind of core classes. But in reality, when administrators observe music classes they see the complete opposite. Constant focus, laser like energy from staff and students, and zero downtime. The pacing of most music classes is like a sprint compared to other classes observed.
When we look at expectations for public school education and when the next “buzz terms” come out, music courses never seem to change or get rattled. Differentiated instruction, professional learning communities, scaffolding, vertical alignment – that’s what we’ve been doing for years. Many of our staff model the expectations of the district and campus admin. When administrators are invited to observe class or see something different, they often times leave wondering how they can use the music classroom as an example for everyone else.
My advice for music educators is to contact your administrators to share positive things, too; not to just ask for things or complain. Touch base for no other reason than to say thanks and make the effort to become a colleague and team player.
If your principal sees you in the hall and looks down or turns around, consider working to rebuild that relationship.
And think through how often you’re asking for something. That’s not to say that you don’t tell them what you need. But consider timing, want vs. need, and what may be going on in the school that requires more attention at that point in time. It’s all about the priority list and the global aspect of an administrator’s responsibility.
How can ensemble directors most easily impress their administrators?
Volunteer for community performances, get involved outside of your class, serve on campus committees, and make it about the campus more than just your program. When you begin serving as a proud member at XYZ Campus instead of “the music person,” you show that you are here for more than just “your” classes and “your” kids. You’re part of the climate shaping the entire campus. Then the campus and all of its students become “your campus and your kids.”
Speaking of campus, supporting and building relationships with all staff will impress your admin. Host a staff breakfast or lunch in your band hall or email teachers regularly about choir grades or behaviors.
Principals know you are a great teacher and they love awards and honors that bring positive attention to their campus. But when they start seeing the all-in spirit and true team collaboration, they experience their biggest win!
Jeff Bradford is the Director of Fine Arts at Richardson Independent School District in Richardson, Texas. In this position, he oversees performing and visual arts across 54 district schools. Prior to his position as Director of Fine Arts, he was the Director of Bands at Lake Highlands High School.
Mr. Bradford has 14 years of experience in music education, serving a band director in Cooper and Sherman ISDs before moving to Richardson ISD in 2006. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Texas A&M-Commerce.