Creating An Easy Transition

You may have noticed a silence on my blog recently. This has been due to a number of things, but mostly due to the craziness of finishing a school year. I just checked my calendar for the rest of the school year and realized that we have 20 days of school left. Of those 20 days of school, I will be traveling on school related business 9 of those days! It’s definitely a crazy time of year.

The other thing that has been occupying my time lately is a new job! I will be teaching at a new school next year in the DFW area (I’m not saying which one in order to give the current teacher time to make the announcement to their students.) The new position will allow me to teach courses that I absolutely love and will allow me to spend much more time at home with my wife and 17 month-old daughter. While I’ll miss my current coworkers, students, and administrators, I am definitely looking forward to a new school, new challenges, new people, and new opportunities with my family.

Being neck deep in a transitioning job has made me largely aware of the types of things that I can do to help whoever follows me in my current position. Here are some ideas I’ve come up with that you can use to ease the transition when you move on to your next job!

  • Leave a detailed calendar of your previous school year – I remember the first year at my current school felt like a game of Let’s Make A Deal where we were always wondering what was behind the next door. Never knowing what was expected of the band, or what unknown event was coming up next was a nightmare. This little move should help a new director plan out the year with pretty good accuracy.
  • Create an “important contacts” list – Names, phone numbers, emails, and a short job description of important people in the district, and those that service the district such as road reps and vendors, will aide the new director
  • Leave a list of those “expected” responsibilities – We all know that we often get saddled with duties that are not described in our interview or official job description. Giving the new teacher a heads up on what was expected but not detailed might save them a lot of hassle.
  • Prepare your students – Leaving without preparing your students will do nothing but poison their relationship with a new director. I had a negative experience with this once, and the way the director left their school totally devastated the program. The program has been a revolving door ever since. Be honest with your students, give them and yourself opportunity to say goodbye, and encourage them to give the incoming teacher a chance.
  • Take a thorough inventory – My wife and I worked until 3:00am trying to do an inventory because the school didn’t have any idea what it owned. We were getting ready to start summer band and had no idea if anything worked, or if there were instruments to issue to students. Nobody knew anything. Please don’t let this happen by providing a recent inventory for the new director.

Bottom line: Go above and beyond to make the experience of a new teacher following you as easy and enjoyable as possible. It’s common courtesy to be professional, but going a little beyond that will allow you to leave your program in the best situation possible.

Question: What else can be done to ease a transition?

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Getting A Fast Start To Every Class

“What are we doing today?” That question is the very bane of my existence. Or at least it used to be. That is before I automated the whole process of preparing my students for each class period!

After hearing this same question from every student that walked in the door for 8 periods a day, I started looking for ways to answer their questions without having to repeat myself hundreds of times.

I started by writing instructions on the board, but by the time I finished teaching one class, I couldn’t get the new instructions written on the board before the question started circling my head. We came up with an idea that has saved us tons of time and energy answering annoying questions. It also helps us get a very fast start to every class. Here’s what we do!

I started posting the instructions for each class period in a Google Presentation slide. I also shared this slide show with my coworker so she could edit the slides that effect her primary classes as well. The slides include what is needed for the current class period, a brief description of what we are working on, as well as any other special instructions for the class period.

My coworker came up with the idea of linking a YouTube video of a timer into the slide so the students know exactly how much time they have to finish setting up and warming up before we begin class.

We simply bring up the slide for the next class as the bell rings, click play on the timer as the current class leaves. The timer ticking down as the next class enters the room ensures they hustle and stay on task…at least as on task as middle school students can be.

Here’s an embedded view of the slide show in Google Presentation, and a link to download it in PowerPoint.

PowerPoint Slides

A couple of tips for implementing this procedure in your classroom:

  • Use highly contrasting text on the slides to ensure your students don’t have problems reading the slides.
  • If your students have iPads, or other devices equipped with QR codes, feel free to paste them in the slide show as well.
  • Add as many slides as you need for each class for important upcoming dates, class discussion questions, or other resources you will use in your class.
  • Train the students to look at the screen before asking any questions when they come in the room. My default answer to any question when implementing this routine is  “Did you look at the slide?” Usually the students will look at the screen again (or for the first time) and the question is answered.
  • Stick to the routine! Post the instructions every day and refer the students to the screen every time they ask a question. It will take them a few days to catch on, but they will catch on.

It only takes us a few minutes to edit the existing slide show each morning, but saves us tons of time and frustration throughout the day. Feel free to create your own slide show, or download and edit our slide to fit the needs of your group!

What a Genius Can Teach Us About Music Education

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One of the primary goals we have as educators is to teach students how to think for themselves. Too often we get caught up in what our students know or don’t know that we do them a great disservice.  We end up telling them what to think instead of how to think (don’t get me started on standardized testing!) Click here to tweet this!

Everyone thinks, but not everyone thinks the same way. If we study the thinking skills of those regarded as geniuses, we can gain some insight into how we can improve our own thinking skills, as well as those of our students! It’s been determined that the most genius people around us have developed one skill in particular that allows them to out think us. Luckily for us, it’s a pretty simple skill to develop! Click here to tweet this!

Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People by Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein analyzes these thinking patterns. The authors devote two entire chapters to detecting and utilizing patterns…more than any other topic in the book. It’s been discovered in study after study that geniuses look for, and recognize more patterns in every day life than the average person. It’s that simple! If you want to improve your genius (and that of your students,) beginning with pattern recognition is a great place to start. I’ve always been a very pattern oriented person and I’ve developed a few ways of doing things that rely heavily on patterns. Here are a few tips to get you and your students started with thinking in patterns, just like real geniuses!

Go Back To The Score – This may sound a bit elementary, but most composers build patterns into their music.  We were all taught to analyze musical form (binary, rounded binary, rondo, etc.,) but most music educators I’ve encountered rarely pass this information on to their students.  Students miss out on a great deal of musical understanding when we fail to teach them this most basic element of music. The more of the large scale patterns that students can recognize in our music, the better.

My recommendation is to share the conductor score with your students (possibly project your score on the screen using a document camera.) Do a quick structural analysis with them watching and have them notate the form sections (A, B, A’, etc.) in their parts. Also, the more connections they can see between their part and their classmates, as well as the larger form as a whole, the better prepared your group will be to perform their parts in an appropriate context.

Look for patterns to help you memorize music. I’ve used this process with my students for several years during marching season to help them quickly memorize their parts. We take their individual parts (not the work as a whole) and do a structural analysis as this will be different for each instrument part. We break their part down into small sections, sometimes as small as a phrase or sentence, and have them pass off these small portions. It helps them to keep the memorized sections in manageable chunks, and it’s very easy to help the students remember their music when they forget. “Horns, measure 65 is a repeat of your ‘B’ section.” They instantly remember what they’re supposed to play, and we’ve basically eliminated all of our memorization headaches.

This can also be translated to fingerings during difficult passages. As a classical guitarist I sometimes rely on the visual patterns of my finger movements on the fingerboard to help my memory during lengthy, complicated passages of music. My students, especially my brass players, will use this at times to overcome very difficult passages as well.

When dealing with a fast, running chromatic passage we will sometimes focus on a valve combination momentarily to overcome the difficulties.  Yes my students know how to read the notes on the page, and yes they know the fingerings, but they sometimes get “black-note-itis” and bobble the fingerings all over the place.  If slowing the passage down and gradually speeding it up doesn’t work, I’ve found that stripping the passage down to a valve combination removes the confusion, breaks the ingrained wrong habits, and helps the stumbling fingers through the passage.

We often use this type of approach with lip slurs for beginners by discussing fingering/position patterns, and simply instructing the students to slur to the lower or higher partial before telling/showing them the exact pitch they are playing. We do this as well with percussionists…just look at the rudiments we teach them.  We drill sticking patterns into them so that when they see a rhythmic figure the sticking pattern comes naturally.  Please understand I am not advocating turning your classroom into nothing but rote teaching, but rather using the variety of teaching tools available to us to show our students how to approach problems on their own.

Start looking for patterns…they’re everywhere! Don’t believe me? Check out Holst’s Chaconne from the First Suite in Eb and look how he treats the melody (even in retrograde inversion!) Patterns are everywhere! Start looking for these patterns, and teach your students to look for them too!

How have you use patterns? Leave a message detailing how you use patterns.

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The Aviator March

ImageYou may have noticed that I haven’t posted nearly as much this week as I usually do.  That’s because I’ve been writing a concert march.

The Aviator March is designed specifically for young bands that want to play a great march, but still need to grow a bit in the process.  The march is in Bb and Eb concert and features just about everyone at some point, including the triangle player! The students will feel the excitement of a new flight with a full powerful sound, a woodwind feature symbolizing the peace found while soaring above the clouds, and a final celebration of a successful flight. Limited accidentals, conservative ranges, and 2/4 time make this the ideal march for your next festival or concert.

Music delivered in PDF so you can print unlimited copies for your program!

For a Sample Score and Streaming Audio, Click Here!