THE CHALLENGE OF YOUR NEW BAND
written by Gary Rupert, Leadership Coach & Culture Strategist for ||:Leaders Creating:||
Perhaps the greatest challenge of taking on a new job is having to determine the best approach to making changes in the learning culture. Even if you are taking on a well-established program, there will inevitably be areas of the existing culture that you will want to change. In any case, when you want to change “the way we have always done it” you can expect there will be some push back. Having taught at four different schools in my 40-year career, I have learned that when you can make the changes as organically as possible, you will encounter less push back and more sustainable results.
Before even arriving at my last teaching assignment, I was told by the outgoing director that the kids were never on time and they talked all of the time. He expressed that despite his continual efforts, he was unsuccessful at changing the behavior and the impact it had on the overall culture of the program. I knew it was important that I showed up on my first day with a plan for addressing these issues. I also knew from experience that I wanted to make the changes occur with minimal disruption. When you read the story of how I addressed each situation, I think it is important to note that my methods may not be effective for everyone. Some have suggested that it takes a certain personality to make it work. I just think it took high expectations and the patience to allow results to naturally occur.
As in most programs, preparations for marching band began before the actual start of school. The first rehearsal was to begin at 6 P.M. and I was ready to make my first statement on the importance of being on time. At 5:55 I locked the doors to the outside so that once rehearsal began, no one could enter the school. I began rehearsal sharply at 6, knowing that everyone was not present. Soon, there were several students knocking on the windows of the band room and telling me “we can’t get in.” I responded to them that they were absolutely correct, the natural consequence for showing up late for rehearsal is that they could not get in. Ten or fifteen minutes later, I sent a student out to let them in. As calmly as possible, I explained that 6 was the time for rehearsal to begin, not the time of arrival. I also expressed that good musicians need to arrive early to get set up and ready for the rehearsal. The next night everyone arrived by 6….and I locked the doors at 5:50. This process continued until I locked the doors at 5:30. The students soon understood the expectation of being early for rehearsal, soon calling this approach “Rupert Time.” Lesson learned. No yelling. No discipline. Just natural consequences.
To be on time is to be late. To be early is to be on time!
I knew that once school started, I would still have to deal with the issue of being on time for class. I did not want to be dealing with referrals for tardiness, so I needed a plan. We had 5 minutes between classes so on the first day, I began each class at the 2 ½ minute mark. That first day only about half the band was seated when I began class, but no one was actually late for the bell. When someone asked what they had missed, I commented that the natural consequence of being late is that you miss the information shared. Within the week, every kid in the band was in the room, seated, and warming up at the 2 ½ minute mark. From that day on, if someone would come into the room to speak with me and the 2 ½ minute mark hit, the section leaders would begin warming up without me.
The other issue, the incessant talking, was described by the previous director as a major problem. He said that when he would stop the band during rehearsal, before he could even speak, kids were talking with each other. If a parent came to speak to the band regarding fund raising efforts, they would continue to talk as if the parent was not in the room. Clearly this would have a huge impact on the ability to effectively teach and learn. I knew for me to be effective; I would have to find a way to eliminate this problem.
I found a stool in the band room and placed it next to the podium. During that first rehearsal, the moment I stopped the band, the talking began. I stepped down from the podium and sat quietly on the stool. After what seemed like an eternity, but I am sure was less than thirty seconds, one of the student leaders began to encourage the band to be quiet because I was waiting for them. When they got quiet, I simply stood up, said “Thank you. Now I can do my job” and went on. This repeated itself a few more times with each pause shorter than the last. We went from them getting quiet after I sat down, to getting quiet as I moved to sit down, and finally to when I stopped, they sat there quietly awaiting whatever I had to say. Again, no yelling. No discipline. Just natural consequences. They could not play while they were talking, so if they wanted to play, they were just going to have to stop talking
Culture changes are difficult to do. When you take over a new program any change will be seen as an attack on the way things used to be. Even if the entire culture needs to be changed, know that it is ill-advised to change too much, too soon. There will be some things like tardiness and talking that will need to be addressed immediately because of their impact on learning and growth. Whatever method you choose to address such issues, I encourage you to try to make them as organic as possible. Discipline might bring about change faster but will be less sustainable over time. An organic change, one in which the students choose to make the necessary adjustment in behavior, may take longer but is far more sustainable.
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Gary L. Rupert was a music educator for 40 years and was most recently the Band Director at Smithsburg High School in Smithsburg, Maryland where his bands consistently achieved Superior ratings at local, state and national levels. He is a sought-after conductor and adjudicator in the areas of symphonic bands and jazz ensembles. An avid blogger whose daily entries are followed by people in over 57 countries, Mr. Rupert is the author of a daily inspirational book for students and teachers, “Today, No Every Day.” He is also a sought after speaker on leadership, motivation and creating a positive learning environment.
Gary Rupert has been named an Outstanding Maryland Music Educator, a Teacher of Excellence in both the Frederick and Washington County public schools, and has been twice nominated as a Disney Teacher of Excellence.
Gary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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