Have a Plan and a Purpose
By Scott Sheehan, NAfME Eastern Division Immediate Past-President
“In every successful business there is one budget line that never gets cut. It’s called product development, and it’s the key to any company’s future growth. Music education is critical to the product development of this nation’s most important resource – our children.” A quote by John Sykes, Co-Founder of MTV and VH-1 Cable Networks.
Think back to the beginning of the school year. Whether it was year 1 or year 21, most of us were excited to be back in the music room and eager to share our passion for music with our students. Perhaps for some, the enthusiasm was the anticipation of implementing new ideas learned during summer workshops, grad classes, or from reading an inspiring book or article. For others, after weeks of rehearsal the thrill of the first big marching band performance was contagious. And some folks were just glad to be back after a summer of relaxation, rejuvenation, and time with family and friends. Whatever the situation, the beginning of the school year brings about a fresh start with a sense of optimism for the year to come. Somehow, the perennial issues of scheduling, budgeting, testing, etc. seem less problematic during the beginning of the year as opposed to the end. It seems that each new year brings a feeling of hope that just maybe this year will be different; maybe the challenges we face might not be quite so frustrating.
I challenge you to capture your enthusiasm and fervor from the beginning of the year – the potential for everything to go “right” and the anticipation of great things yet to come. I believe that if we can build upon the energy and commitment that we bring to our students at the beginning of the year, we can take the necessary steps to proactively advocate for music so that it may be regarded as an essential well-rounded subject amidst the clamor of high-stakes testing, budget crunches, and less time to do more.
What Is Your Outlook? What Choices Will You Make?
Quite often our outlook determines our fate. I believe that if we creatively approach our perceived challenges as opportunities to find creative solutions, the result will be increased opportunity and better musical experiences for our students. Remember that advocacy is not crisis management; rather it is about the choices that we make every day. Effective advocacy can easily be part of our daily routine. It is our responsibility to have an advocacy plan and work together with our colleagues in our schools, across state, and with our federated music education associations (MEAs) and NAfME to ensure that music truly keeps its place in the curriculum as defined by the Every Student Succeeds Act; and perhaps more importantly, we must not stop advocating until music is truly treated equal to other subjects as stated in the ESSA law. Here are some practical, everyday ideas and thoughts to get you started:
Make Great Music
The musical experiences our students have under our direction is the truest testament of our commitment to a quality music education. All of our students deserve our personal best—our best teaching, our best planning, our best attitude, our best materials and repertoire, the best of everything.
Although our “best” varies from teacher to teacher, this should be at the forefront of your plan for advocacy. You have the power to make music class the most exciting and rewarding part of the day. You decide if your students will experience quality music that is appropriate for their ability level. Ultimately you determine how your students and their parents will advocate for your program, and whether or not they will demand more time and resources for music. It is much easier to advocate for music when the students and parents are committed to the quality program you provide. Make the most of the opportunities you are given, and give all that you have to making great music!
Make the most of the opportunities you are given, and give all that you have to making great music!
Be an Owl, Not an Ostrich
For those of you who know stereotypes about birds, you know that the owl is wise, and the ostrich buries its head in the sand. Awareness of the issues at hand is key to successful advocacy.
We can’t bury our heads with extra rehearsals, too much paperwork, planning the next festival or trip, etc., and assume that decisions will always be made in our best interest. We can’t expect that just because we don’t have a lunch period or have to teach five or six grade levels in one day that someone else will support our music programs. Without a doubt, music teachers are some of the busiest people in the school. However, it is our responsibility to know what’s on the radar before decisions are made.
Make time to attend a School Board meeting, a PTA meeting, and the faculty meetings. Keep your ear to the ground and know what initiatives are being discussed. When asked how you can support the next proposed change or new initiative in your school, make sure you already have an answer. Ignorance cannot be an excuse. Be wise and strive to be one step ahead of the changes challenges that lie ahead. Remember that if you’re not sitting at the table, you very well could end up on the menu!
Taking time to effectively communicate with others who support music education is perhaps one of the most critical components of a successful advocacy plan. These supporters can be everyone from parents, music colleagues, administrators, and school board members to other teachers, music industry reps, community music ensemble directors, and anyone else who is willing to stand up for music.
Creating a strong music coalition doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and calculated planning to truly have everyone on board, and it is crucial to have a common mission and goals to guide the group’s decisions. There is definitely truth to the acronym TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More. Bringing people together for music can be very powerful.
Bringing people together for music can be very powerful.
One of my favorite quotes by Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser is, “If you continue to think as you’ve always thought, you’ll continue to get what you’ve always got.” We’ve also heard the statement “you get what you expect” many times.
I believe in self-fulfilling prophecy, and as simple as these statements are, I feel that they still hold true. In essence, what we make important becomes important to others, and if we expect great things to happen then there is at least potential for positive changes to be made. Our music programs will only grow and situations will only improve if we expect those things to happen. We must use the resources around us and create new resources to aid us in effectively advocating for music. But first we must believe that our cause is worthy and that we are capable of making a difference. Then we can expect only the best for our programs and ultimately our students.
Each of these ideas reflects the choices that each of us makes every day. It takes perseverance and planning in order to go from crisis management to growth and fulfillment. Advocacy is more than simply putting a couple of statistics in a concert program, hanging up a poster, or other public relations efforts. I encourage all music educators to make strategic advocacy part of your daily routine and consider writing down your plan and sharing it with others. Give your students the best quality music education they deserve and be aware of the challenges that you will face. When tough choices are being made, don’t allow music to take a backseat. Arm yourself with high expectations and a strong coalition and don’t stop advocating until music is an essential part of a well-rounded curriculum!
About the author:
Mr. Scott Sheehan is the Director of Bands and Music Department Chairperson at the Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School in Hollidaysburg, PA. He holds a B.S. Degree in Music Education and a B.M. Degree in Music Marketing from Clarion University, and holds a Master’s Degree in Music Education from the Pennsylvania State University.
He is currently serving as the Immediate Past-President of the Eastern Division for the National Association for Music Education where he is the Program Chair for the All-National Honors Ensembles and served on the National Executive Committee. As an active member of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association, Mr. Sheehan has served as State President, as well as the District 6 Vice President and the District 4 President and Curriculum and Instruction State Representative. He coordinates the PMEA Leadership Academy, serves on the PMEA Mentoring Steering Committee, is co-chair of the PMEA Model Curriculum & Assessment Steering Committee, and facilitated PMEA’s most recent Strategic Planning initiative.
Learn more about Mr. Scott Sheehan.
Scott Sheehan and NAfME COO Chris Woodside presented their topic “Advocacy in Action: Advancing Music Education” at the 2017 NAfME National Conference last November in Dallas, TX! Register today for the 2018 NAfME National Conference!
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