Another school year is about to begin. As you prepare to greet your choral students with exciting plans for new music and materials, it may be helpful to reflect on some of your underlying goals. One certainly is to instill a lifelong love of music in their hearts. When students initially encounter a colorful, organized classroom and are greeted with a vibrant, positive personality, you have already formed some initial inroads on this ultimate goal.
Today I’d like to share a checklist and an organizational framework that has served me well in starting each year on the right foot.
(Taking Care of) Me
Your first task is to bring the very best version of you to the classroom every day. This includes taking care of your physical and mental health. Getting sufficient exercise and rest is vital during these first few weeks. Once inside the school building, remember to eat a healthy lunch daily and to drink plenty of water to take care of your voice. Plus, with all the exposure to new people, it’s particularly important to fastidiously wash your hands. This may all seem obvious, but it’s easy to get stressed out at the beginning of school and overlook some of the basics.
I like to begin the year with a quick introduction. One great way to do this is to prepare a three-minute Keynote or PowerPoint presentation about yourself to share with students. Including pictures of yourself when you were their age may help them see you in a different light. Share your educational background, your reasons for teaching music, your goals for the upcoming year, and talk about those activities that you can’t wait to begin.
Being organized from day one will serve you well all year. Maintaining a “to do” list on your computer (or even on a pad of paper) can help you manage the abundance of large and small tasks that you must perform during the first weeks of school. Strive to answer parent emails immediately and to take care of individual student needs promptly.
Among your more long-term tasks, be sure to memorize, plan, and rehearse numerous positive classroom management techniques to use at a moment’s notice. And, always know your school’s plan for every emergency situation.
The secret to each year’s success is your chosen repertoire. Typically this is a combination of new music and“tried and true” music from previous years. Order new music for your classes as early during the school year as possible to generate excitement and anticipation through preparedness. The recipe for a year-long choral repertoire should include equal amounts of different genres: classical, pop, rhythmic, lovely melodies, contrapuntal, tight harmonies (save for spring and advanced groups), and crowd pleasers. As an example of a crowd pleaser, we asked younger children to stand on the risers with us and sing “Let It Go” when the movie Frozen was popular. In my opinion, repertoire choices make or break your choral program.
Organize your choral music selections by concert. Consider having a theme for each of your concerts, which is carried out by the names of your selections. For example, a Winter Holiday Concert could have a “star” theme; the Spring Concert could communicate a nature theme.
Create neat stacks of individual titles of music in front of the classroom. Ensure that the music is in good shape—not written all over or torn or falling apart. Insist that the students “handle with care” both the music and the binders that you will entrust to them daily. Stress the cost of the music and the fact that each student is holding $35-$50 of music materials in their hands. The students will appreciate your entrusting them with valuable material. That amount of expensive sheet music is tangible proof of your valuing their musical contribution and anticipating the development of excellent musicianship. Ask students to leave music binders with their music in the classroom; however, introduce them to websites where they can listen to, review, rehearse, and peruse musical selections at home.
I suggest purchasing 3-ring view binders for the largest number of students in one class. Place colorful paper in the window of the binder with the names of students from each class who will be sharing that numbered folder. Punch 3 holes in individual copies of music to place in the chorus binders for each student in one class. Students in different classes can share the same binder; each student in the same class needs his/her own copy of music. (Young teens have a difficult time sharing the same copy of music.) Save your time by distributing individual copies of music during class; allow the students to “load” their own binders.
Obtain a folio cabinet or shelves where students are expected to retrieve individual music binders for daily classroom use; dismiss students in plenty of time to place binders back in place prior to the bell ringing.
In addition to musical repertoire, practice and plan numerous body and vocal warm-up exercises for use at any time. The same exercises do not work for every day or even every class period.
Materials Other Than Music
Do everything you can to manage the student experience when they enter your classroom on the first day of school. Specifically, make a room décor plan and carry it out. This might include bulletin boards, word walls, and whiteboards that are bright, vibrant, and informative. If design and the visual arts aren’t among your strengths or interests, invite gifted visual arts students to assist you in decorating your room and preparing bulletin boards. Your room should reflect your excitement and expectations for musical development for the upcoming school year. Consider hanging prints of pictures from the previous school year on classroom walls and/or bulletin boards to welcome back students. At the same time, remember that too much visual stimulation may serve as “eye candy” and can be a distraction to audible instruction.
In addition to decorating your classroom, if possible, plan several classroom set-ups to maintain a fresh air of expectancy as students enter your classroom daily. The same “day to day” procedures do assist in maintaining classroom order, but the occasional disruption of routine generates an air of expectancy.
Other preparations for the first days of school include counting the number of chairs that you need for the maximum number of students in one class. Be sure to have that number of chairs in your classroom. Order choral uniforms and/or contact your uniform representative. Make copies of handouts for each student, including your class syllabus, uniform order form, choral year-long calendar, and any other “back to school” information.
Set up a way to communicate with all students and parents through email or the “Remind” app. Send classroom information, calendar dates, chorus uniform forms, and other welcome-back-to-school materials to parents as attachments via email.
Establish daily classroom expectations for students as they enter your classroom. On the first day of school, I always tell students that I am going to “talk and talk and talk” about what I expect, but on succeeding days, we will be making music continuously. However, periodically during these first few weeks, you will need to rehearse your classroom expectations.
For example, you may need to line up students outside your classroom door, and one by one, invite each student to enter, get their assigned music binder, and find their assigned seat quietly. This procedure may need to be rehearsed more than once as the first few weeks of school progress. If you expect students to begin a music journal assignment that you have placed on the WhiteBoard immediately upon their arrival, insist that every student begin the assignment. Again, a student may need to rehearse your expectations for classroom entry more than once. Maintain a positive attitude as students rehearse your classroom expectations, ensuring them that you just want them to be “the best that they can be.”
One of the most exciting aspects of chorus is being a member of an organization larger than yourself. In our public, Title 1 middle school, 70% of students were members of a performing music group. Establish high goals and musical excellence so that your choral students will want to invite and encourage other students to join chorus. Develop incentives for the chorus class that enrolls the most members. This might be a pizza party during lunch or another exciting activity. Visit general music classes and/or homerooms to encourage students to enroll in chorus during the first few days of school.
You will also want to check your class rosters carefully to be sure that each student sitting in your class matches your school’s records.
Some students enjoy a more challenging choral experience. Set up rehearsal times and auditions for extra-curricular honor groups. Call local assisted-living centers or county officials to schedule performances by these honor groups. Tell the students that you enjoy “showing them off” to the community. Make students aware of opportunities to be members of state or district choral groups.
If you are traveling with your group in the upcoming school year, schedule any related meetings with students and parents. You’ll also want to confirm the exact number of students and chaperones going on the trip and finalize travel plans. My previous post offers additional travel-related tips.
Finally, remember to update your memberships in national, state, and local music education organizations.
Taking care of yourself, organizing musical repertoire, planning materials, and ensuring active choral membership in your program will ensure a positive, exciting, anticipatory start to your new school year. Download this free checklist to help you track each related task.
Be proud of the fact that you are offering students the opportunity to develop a lifelong skill. Take immediate control of a positive, successful school year by completing the above checklist in your first few weeks. Being organized at the beginning will ensure shorter, more vibrant school days and on-task, exuberant student behavior.