Are you dealing with toxic culture in your band program?

So, we have a toxic culture. Now what?

Experience has taught me that dealing with a toxic culture is a three-pronged issue.

It will help if we take a closer look at each of these areas.

In the interest of developing a deeper understanding of dealing with a toxic culture, we might examine a couple of scenarios…

SCENARIO ONE: Toxic Culture Created Through Conflict With Administration

Your Principal comes to you and tells you that he would like to change your show because the people at the football game do not like your choice of music. He also wants to have a meeting to decide what music you will play in the future. You believe that your choices are in the best interest of your student’s musical growth and development.

What will you do?

As a music educator, you feel the responsibility for choosing appropriate repertoire belongs to you. You make those selections based on the educational needs of your students. While you hope what you choose is entertaining, you are not in the field of entertainment. You are in the field of education. When the Administration decides they should have some say in that choice, you see it as a violation of your role as a music educator. The conflict creates a tension between you and the Administration, ultimately resulting in a toxic environment.

SCENARIO TWO: Toxic Culture Created Through Student Behavior

A few your students show little or no regard for being on time with their work or for rehearsals. The lack of accountability for being late has manifested itself in other areas of the program. It has become so prevalent that it is difficult to move the group forward.

What will you do?

On the surface, this scenario appears more manageable because as the band director, you are ultimately in control. I think the cause of the toxic culture in this setting is often misdiagnosed. Most people would think the problem is students being late, but in truth, the problem lies in your unwillingness or inability to hold them accountable for their behavior. Sadly, most directors handle this from a reactive position and while this does have some short-term success, a more proactive approach might be more effective and sustainable.


We can all agree that there are numerous challenges that leaders must confront for their bands to be successful. Perhaps none are more damaging to group success than a toxic culture. As band directors, we must recognize that we are not only dealing with our program culture, but a school culture that can, and will, directly impact the effectiveness of the band. It is easy to place the blame for toxic behaviors on individual or groups of students, but the reality is we must accept the responsibility. When we allow toxic behaviors to continue, we are in effect allowing a toxic culture to be created. We must do a better job of recognizing toxic behaviors, identifying their root causes, and having pathways for solutions. Remember, it is leadership who sets the parameters for unacceptable behavior. It is also leadership who moves a toxic culture into a positive learning culture, one in which our students and programs have a chance to be successful.



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