Achieving Success in a Small (Rural) School


Big Things Can Come in Small Packages

Achieving Success in a Small (Rural) School


By NAfME Member Stanley Johnson


“Don’t teach music to students—teach students through music” – Stan Johnson

This November I will talk about the obstacles young directors will face and how to overcome them when developing a music program in a small (rural) school setting. Presenting a positive attitude toward the students is important. Do not let the size of the group affect the positive things that can be accomplished.


rural | benkrut


Some obstacles that a young director can face include:

  • the school administration
  • booster (parent) groups
  • developing a budget and funding the program
  • developing a workable curriculum
  • achieving classroom management
  • and knowing how to receive support from your peers

As a young director, it is important to make connections with your students and develop a community within your program. Next, get involved in your school and your community. When students, administrators, and stakeholders see the time and effort that you are investing, the payoffs are great. It is like having a bank account: If no deposits are ever made, then there is nothing to withdraw.

It is amazing what a second set of ears can hear and eyes can see when it comes to the flow of your classroom. Do not be afraid to ask for help.

One aspect that many young directors do not know about is a mentoring program. It is amazing what a second set of ears can hear and eyes can see when it comes to the flow of your classroom. Do not be afraid to ask for help.


Photo: Victoria Chamberlin |


Remember that teaching music can be incredibly fun and a rewarding career. It is the quality and not the quantity that brings success in the end. A small school is not an excuse for mediocrity. Always prioritize what you do!

In addition, other aspects that I will discuss are:

  • Setting high standards
  • Consistent discipline and classroom management
  • Learning through trial and error
  • Student involvement
  • Longevity
  • Organization
  • Communication

This session, “Achieving Success in a Small (Rural) School,” on November 13 at 4:45PM, will show young directors what obstacles they will face in a rural school setting, how to develop a successful program, and ways to boost their confidence throughout their career.

About the author:

band director

NAfME member Stanley (Stan) Johnson retired after teaching for 45 plus years in the public schools of Nebraska. He taught elementary, junior high, and senior high bands plus music/choir classes at the junior high and senior high levels. Throughout his career, his bands were recognized for Superior performances in both marching and concert. He holds a B.A. Degree from Hastings College, Nebraska, and a M.A. Degree from University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado. Stan served as State Chairman of Class D (small schools) All-State Honor Band for 19 years.

School Band and Orchestra Magazine recognized him as one of “Fifty Directors in the United States” who have made a difference in children’s lives. Stan was featured in Teaching Music magazine in 2006 in an article published on, “Teaching Music In Rural America.” He received a Distinguished Service Award from Nebraska State Bandmasters Association in 2007 and was named Nebraska Music Education Association’s Music Educator of the Year in 2007. The National Federation of High School and College Association selected him as one of their National Educators in 2010, representing Nebraska.

A member of NSBA, NMEA, NAfME, and Phi Beta Mu International Band Director Fraternity, he is serving as Nebraska (Alpha Theta) Past-President at this time. Stan is a member of the staff of Nebraska Ambassadors of Music, which travels to Europe every other year with 250 high school students, performing concerts in seven countries.

Since retiring, Stan has been busy, directing Honor Bands, judging many music/band contests, and working with music education students at the college level as they prepare for a career in teaching. A church organist for 45 years and active in the Lutheran Church. Stan and his wife, Suzann, have four children and nine grandchildren.


Stan Johnson presented on his topic “Achieving Success in a Small (Rural) School” at the 2017 NAfME National Conference last November in Dallas, TX. Register today for the 2022 NAfME National Conference!


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August 11, 2017. © National Association for Music Education (