33 Teaching Hacks: A Cheat Sheet for Improving Your Teaching Now!

I keep a list of ideas about teaching…really about life.  It consists of many one line comments I’ve heard, or decisions I’ve made that I want to remember. Some of them are lessons learned the hard way. Others are things I hope to try some day. Nevertheless, they are all ideas that can help us be better at our jobs. This is not a complete list (I have to save something for a future blog post), and the ideas are in no particular order, but I hope these may spark some new creativity in your teaching, or perhaps remind you of something you already know. Enjoy!

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Cheat Sheet

  1. Treat others as you would have them treat you.
  2. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  3. Always speak well of others. Always.
  4. Treat all students with respect and kindness.
  5. Be patient in all circumstances.
  6. Respect the rules and guidelines of the district.
  7. Respect the opinions of others, especially when contrary to yours.
  8. Seek advice and wisdom from more experienced teachers.
  9. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone.
  10. Not all responsibilities are enjoyable.  That’s why they pay you.
  11. To teach well you must be willing to learn.
  12. Realize you can learn from your students.
  13. You don’t know everything…work on that.
  14. Teaching only one way will reach only one learning style.
  15. Don’t be afraid of hard work.
  16. Borrow ideas from the best.
  17. Share your ideas with colleagues.
  18. PCP – Positive statement, corrective statement, positive statement.
  19. It’s ok to show your students your human side once in a while.
  20. People like to hear their name.
  21. Welcome your students as they enter your classroom.
  22. Encourage others to be better.
  23. High-fives always seem to put a smile on students faces.
  24. Be generous with your praises.
  25. Teach your students to be creative.
  26. Flip the classroom! Let your students teach for a change.
  27. With kids more is caught than taught.  Let them learn from your example.
  28. Attitudes are contagious.  Is yours worth catching?
  29. Always say please and thank you. When did this stop being important?
  30. Never underestimate the stupidity of people in large groups.
  31. Don’t expect students to know everything.  They’re called students for a reason.
  32. Ask yourself: “Would I say/do this if my principal were in the room?”
  33. Think often about yourself as a student.  It will change how you treat your students.

Discussion Question: What teaching/life tips do you have to share?

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4 Music Lessons Learned from the Denver Broncos

As I start to make final preparations for UIL contest this week, I started thinking about the week ahead of me and the week behind me.  I haven’t had a single rehearsal in the last two weeks with all of my students in attendance.  Golf, baseball, softball, tennis, and ag shows have all decimated our rehearsals.  No Pass, No Play also cost our group some great musicians. Though I have a group of very talented students, the past two weeks have left me with an uneasy feeling. What does this have to do with the Denver Broncos?

Denver_Broncos_wordmark_(c._1997)I have to admit…I was more than a little disappointed with “The Big Game” this year. I’ve been a Peyton Manning fan for years and would have liked to see him win another championship, but I really felt like it would be a pretty even matchup.  All the commentators felt it should have been a very close game…but it wasn’t. It was so lopsided that many of my friends quit watching the game right after the second half kickoff was returned for a touchdown. As I sat and thought about the game (through some pretty lame commercials I might add) I realized that there were several parallels between this game and our lives as musicians and music educators.

Like making high quality music, playing in the NFL is a blend of hard work and preparation, but that preparation must then be executed flawlessly! There’s no doubt the Denver Broncos were an awesome team. But all the preparation in the world didn’t get the team to loosen up and just play the way they were capable of playing.

If you’ve spent more than a day working with student musicians, then you’ve experienced what I’m talking about. Some performances are so beautiful they bring a tear to your eye, and some just make you want to cry. Click here to tweet this It seems there’s no rhyme or reason to the why, but like the Broncos in “The Big Game,” things just don’t turn out as you planned.  Here are a few things for us to remember as we prepare for contest.

Sometimes you have off days. Sometimes you have problems with things you’ve never had problems with before. Every once in a while your group just can’t seem to get in tune. Why? Who knows. It probably has more to do with lack of concentration due to external distractions, but the fact remains some times your group will have a bad day.  Teenagers just have off days, and we have to do all we can to keep them prepared to ensure these days don’t happen on a performance day.

Sometimes you get off to a rocky start. Don’t let an early mistake cause you to stumble further.  It’s easy to kick into panic mode when something unfortunate happens early in a performance. We had a very noticeable missed note during a solo in a performance last year. Many of the students gave me that deer-in-headlights look and I did my best to reassure them with a smile and nod as we continued to play.  Fortunately the rest of the performance went off without a hitch.  Keep your cool, and reassure your students that everything will be ok.

Sometimes your best just isn’t good enough. We’ve had some groups over the years that honestly performed to the best of their abilities.  I was extremely proud of the group for working hard, and giving the performance their all, but it just wasn’t good enough to earn the highest rating they hoped for.  It didn’t mean they were bad students, nor were they slackers.  It simply meant we had room to grow and improve for next time. And we did.

A single moment doesn’t define us.  Click here to tweet this This is the most important thing to remember.  We see our kids work hard all year. Judges make an assessment of our entire year after seeing us perform for ten minutes. It’s important for us, and our students, to remember that a single performance doesn’t define them…good or bad.  A sweepstakes group can sound like garbage tomorrow if they don’t give it their best. And a group having an off day may perform beautifully the very next day.

Keep these things in mind as you and your group continues to prepare for their upcoming performances. Teach your butt off and let the ratings fall where they may.

Discussion Question: What do you tell your students after a rough rehearsal or performance?

The Birthday of Andrés Segovia


SEGOVIA, ANDRES 1963       © ERLING MANDELMANNAndrés Segovia was born on this date, February 21, 1893. He brought our world beautiful music by elevating the status of the classical guitar. Rest in peace Maestro. We are forever grateful for the impact your life has had on ours.

Lean your body forward slightly to support the guitar against your chest, for the poetry of the music should resound in your heart.”  

– Andrés Segovia

3 Secrets to Successful Band Director Marriages

Today’s post is written by my wife Jennifer.  She’s a stay at home mom now, but taught band for six years prior to becoming a mother. She’s written a great post with some tips on keeping your marriage healthy while juggling the responsibilities of a being a music educator.  You can read her blog here! Hope you enjoy it!

3 Secrets to Successful Band Director Marriages – by Jennifer Stidham

50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce, according to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri. What about divorce rates among band directors/music educators? According to this article, band directors’ divorce rates are at 50%. Most of us have friends in this profession who have endured the pain and emotional turmoil of a failed marriage.


My husband is a high school band director. Since I was also a high school band director for six years, I understand the long hours, the grueling schedules, and the emotional investment required.

That doesn’t exempt him of his duties as a husband or father.

We came to understand the following three things must be in place in order for our marriage to work and our home to be happy. When these three things happen, our family dynamics are fluid and we are all in tune. When one item is missing, we are out of balance and out of sync. We currently use these three methods of protecting our relationship:

Remember that each of you has jobs to do at home. If you don’t do them, your spouse will find someone else to do them (including sex).Click here to tweet this
Be as good at your home jobs as you are at your regularly paid job. We understand that I do the laundry, cleaning and cooking; hubby helps with dishes after dinner; we both help with our daughter’s bedtime routine.

Be present when you are at home. Put your phone down, turn off the tv, look your spouse or children in the eyes when you speak, spend time with your dog, quit trying to get that last bit of work done before the next day. Enjoy your kids while they are awake. A lot of time, my husband gets some practicing done or writes another blog post after baby girl goes to bed. Once we figured out where the OFF button was on the TV, our communication increased and our productivity sky-rocketed!

Schedule time for yourself. Make it a priority for each of you to spend a little time doing whatever you want to do, whether that is watching TV, reading, exercising, or tinkering in the garage. When Dadda gets home, Mama is “off the clock” until dinner time, which means it’s one-on-one time for baby girl with Dadda. This allows me time to check facebook, exercise, finish up any projects that are covering the dinner table…. My hubby usually needs his daily dose of Jeopardy to make his world feel right again.

Protecting your marriage is crucial and takes work.Click here to tweet this
It requires patience, understanding, and flexibility. Just as in a music rehearsal, the three-part communication cycle must be present: hear, assess, do it again but better. Use these secrets to protect your marriage and avoid becoming another divorce statistic!

Discussion Question: What do you feel is an important part of a healthy marriage?

3 Reasons Your School Needs a Guitar Program

Budget cuts in education have schools all across the country looking for ways to fund fine arts education. In Texas, House Bill 5 is causing schools to look for new fine arts offerings while keeping costs as low as possible. If this sounds like the situation in your school district, I may have just the solution for you!

guitarGuitar programs are popping up in schools all across the nation because they are easy to start and cost effective. They also teach students the same skills offered in more traditional music programs. Most states have guitar solo and ensemble events already in place. So why aren’t we teaching guitar in the public schools as much as other musical disciplines? I think it’s fear of the unknown. Let’s correct some of the misconceptions about guitar programs.

Records show as many as 90% of guitar students were not in music before entering a guitar program. Adding a guitar program to your school can grow your fine arts program by drawing students unreached by other programs. The majority of guitar programs I’ve studied draw students who aren’t involved in music at school. This gives us the opportunity to expose them to the same life lessons and benefits our other music programs teach. As an example, I teach in a small school and 50% of my guitar class is not in another music program at our school. But they’re learning and performing music every day, and they love the class!

A class set of 30 guitars costs less than one tuba. Here’s where the affordability part kicks in! Band and orchestra instruments are expensive. This fact of life will drive some students away from your program. But a guitar program can reach these same students! A student can buy a new, student-level nylon string guitar for as little as $100. You can find a used guitar for even less. When comparing the cost of a guitar program to band and orchestra, the cost is minimal. This is a cost benefit to the school and to the lower income students in your district.

Many of these classes are being successfully taught by non-guitarist music educators. It’s true! In an ideal setting this wouldn’t be the case, but it does work every day. It works because the same general music skills used to teach choir, band, and orchestra relate to teaching a guitar class. There is also an abundance of guitar learning resources available for free! Just do a quick YouTube search for guitar lessons and see what you come up with. Yes some of it is junk, but there are also quite a few highly skilled guitar teachers that share instructional videos on the web. Need more help? I would be shocked if you couldn’t find a single teacher at your school who plays a little guitar! Ask them for some help because seriously, who wouldn’t want to take a little time at work to play guitar? Or better yet, check out GuitarCurriculum.com! I use their curriculum in my guitar class because of its quality, ease of use, and flexibility for students of different ability levels. It’s very affordable, too!

If your district is looking to add a new fine arts program that reaches new students, is fun and exciting, and is cost effective, then a guitar program may be just the answer you’re looking for!

Discussion Question: Does your school offer a guitar class? If so, post the name of the school, city, and state in the comment area below!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Advocacy information taken from GuitarCurriculum.com.

Musician Alert: The New Law That Affects You

In 2005, I flew from Little Rock to Atlanta, from Atlanta to London, and from London to Munich.  Much to my horror, upon arrival in Munich, my prized and very expensive Jose Ramirez guitar didn’t arrive with me! After about a week without my guitar, it was delivered by the airline to my apartment in Munich (with a damaged case, of course).

In 2006, I flew from New Orleans to Dallas with a guitar as a carry on.  A few days later I flew from Dallas back to New Orleans but this time was not allowed to carry the guitar on the plane.  I instead opted to leave the guitar with family in Dallas due to the previously mentioned incident, and had to use a different guitar while on tour.

If you’ve had an experience like mine you can agree with me that Congress finally did something right!  Musicians everywhere can breathe easy now that a law written two years ago has finally gone into effect. The 112th Congress passed The FAA Modernization and Reform Act in January of 2012, but the law went into effect just this week. What does this mean for musicians?  In short, U.S. airlines are now legally required to allow you to carry small instruments onto the plane as a carry on with no additional fee.  It says so on PDF pages 74-75 linked above.  I’ve copied the appropriate section from the law below, which is really pretty self-explanatory.

Here’s a few pointers for flying with an instrument:

  • Know The Law – Chances are not everyone who works for the airline will be familiar with this new law, so my suggestion to you is to print these two pages of the law and carry it with you.
  • Call Ahead – It’s also always a good idea to call ahead to let the airline know you are traveling with a fragile and valuable instrument. They will often give you their check-in and boarding procedures. These procedures do vary between the different airlines, so check with them first.
  • Arrive and Check In Early – The law requires airlines to allow you to carry on your instrument only if it can be stored in the overhead safely.  The earlier you get on the plane, the more room you’ll have to stow your instrument.  Get an early boarding number so this isn’t an issue.
  • Protect Your Instrument Remove any loose items from your case and store them in your checked luggage.  Be sure that your instrument is in a proper case that doesn’t allow it to move.  If you are traveling with a stringed instrument it is always a good idea to loosen your strings a little to relieve a little of the pressure on the bridge.  Also be sure to attach as many “Fragile” stickers to your case as possible.
  • Make It Easy To Spot A case tag with your contact information is helpful in the event you are separated from your instrument. Also some bright-colored electrical tape on the handle will make your instrument easy to spot in the overhead bin.  And if you unfortunately have to check your instrument, it will be easier to spot coming off of the conveyor.
  • When Checking, Do So Carefully If you are required to check your instrument on the plane, insist that you carry it to the gate yourself. At the gate your instrument can be handed to the baggage crew and loaded under the plane. Doing it this way prevents anyone from playing frisbee with your instrument, or using their coffee break as an opportunity to see how well it plays.  It also insures that your instrument will be one of the last items loaded on the plane. This will place it on top of the pile instead of buried under hundreds of pounds of luggage. You can also request that the instrument be brought to the gate when you arrive instead of traveling on the conveyor, but I’ve found this doesn’t always work.

You should have an easier time when flying with an instrument, thanks to the new two-year-old law.  With a little planning on your part, and some good fortune from the airline, you and your instrument can have a safe and enjoyable flight.

Discussion Question: What’s the worst thing that’s happened to your instrument/luggage while traveling?

(a) IN GENERAL.—Subchapter I of chapter 417 is amended by adding at the end the following:
‘‘§ 41724. Musical instruments
‘‘(a) IN GENERAL.—
carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage, if—
‘‘(A) the instrument can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft cabin or under a passenger seat, in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator; and
‘‘(B) there is space for such stowage at the time the passenger boards the aircraft.
carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a musical instrument that is too large to meet the requirements of paragraph (1) in the aircraft cabin, without
H. R. 658—75
charging the passenger a fee in addition to the cost of the additional ticket described in subparagraph (E), if—
‘‘(A) the instrument is contained in a case or covered so as to avoid injury to other passengers;
‘‘(B) the weight of the instrument, including the case or covering, does not exceed 165 pounds or the applicable weight restrictions for the aircraft;
‘‘(C) the instrument can be stowed in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator;
‘‘(D) neither the instrument nor the case contains any object not otherwise permitted to be carried in an aircraft cabin because of a law or regulation of the United States; and
‘‘(E) the passenger wishing to carry the instrument in the aircraft cabin has purchased an additional seat to accommodate the instrument.
carrier shall transport as baggage a musical instrument that is the property of a passenger traveling in air transportation that may not be carried in the aircraft cabin if—
‘‘(A) the sum of the length, width, and height measured in inches of the outside linear dimensions of the instrument (including the case) does not exceed 150 inches or the applicable size restrictions for the aircraft;
‘‘(B) the weight of the instrument does not exceed 165 pounds or the applicable weight restrictions for the aircraft; and
‘‘(C) the instrument can be stowed in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator.
‘‘(b) REGULATIONS.—Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this section, the Secretary shall issue final regulations to carry out subsection (a).
‘‘(c) EFFECTIVE DATE.—The requirements of this section shall become effective on the date of issuance of the final regulations under subsection (b).’’.
(b) CONFORMING AMENDMENT.—The analysis for such sub- chapter is amended by adding at the end the following:
‘‘41724. Musical instruments.’’.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

5 Rehearsal Secrets Every Music Teacher Should Know

Wow, what an amazing week! TMEA this year was the best I have experienced in quite some time. The clinics I attended were exactly what I needed to hear. The concerts were beautiful, powerful, and inspiring. I saw old friends, made some new friends, and spent time sharpening my axe. And now it’s time to get back to work!

In case I haven’t mentioned this before, I write this blog to organize my thoughts so my teaching can be more effective. I write as much for myself as I do to share information with others. As I head back to teach this week the need for making the most out of every rehearsal is weighing on me. Over the past month I’ve gathered a few secrets from some master teachers for making rehearsals much more focused and effective. Here’s what I’ve found so far.

Be More Energetic! – Even if I don’t finish my coffee (or heaven forbid not get any in the first place) I will still be energetic and passionate. Attitude is contagious! Is yours worth catching? Click here to tweet this When I stand at the front of the room and look and act like teaching is a chore, the students will feel like learning is a chore. When I’m excited and moving with lots of energy the students will be more likely to feel the same.

Have a clear plan and stick to it! – I always enter into rehearsals with my “Steak List” to guide my teaching. The problem is I tend to fixate on one of these items and spend far more time on it than necessary. My list is now going to include times indications. If I can’t fix the problem in the time allotted I will move on and come back to it tomorrow.

Don’t talk so much! – I love a good story as much as the next guy…ok, I love to tell a good story more than the next guy. I firmly believe that telling stories can be a valuable part of education. Moving forward I will refrain from telling one until all the work for that class period is complete. No time left = no story. Just more motivation for us to stay focused!

Give more responsibility to the students! – This one is a new idea for me that Allen Gray mentioned in his clinic “The Inside Track on Arranging and Publishing” this past week at TMEA. Gray indicated that turning over the responsibility to fix mistakes to your section leaders can save a lot of time. The students (who are closer to the mistakes than I am by the way) will address any issues immediately after we finish playing. My approach will be as follows: 1) Run a section of music, 2) Wait silently while the group fixes their own issues for 10 seconds, 3) Run the section again, 4) If issues aren’t resolved then I’ll comment on them briefly…which brings me to my next point.

Be succinct! – Why use 30 words when 3 will do? I don’t have to stop the rehearsal to say someone should play louder. I can address some issues while the group is playing. At the end of playing a passage I am going to keep my comments short and to the point. “David, more staccato at measure 39, please. Holly, 27 is marked forte. Let’s start at measure 19 again please.” My students are intelligent and can turn that information into a better performance next time.

These five tips will save me time, frustration, and will make my rehearsals far more focused, effective, and fast paced as I move forward. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Discussion Question: What tips do you have for making your rehearsals/lessons more effective?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.