Mentoring New Music Teachers for Lifelong Success in the Profession

Mentoring New Music Teachers
for Lifelong Success in the Profession

By NAfME Member Michael D. Stone
Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator, Bakersfield City School District, Bakersfield, California;
Immediate Past President, California Music Educators Association


Segun Eubanks, Director for Teacher Quality at the National Education Association, states that “high-quality mentors and competitive salaries make a difference in keeping teachers”[1] in the profession. While music program leaders may not be able to influence teacher salaries within the greater teaching profession, we can foster supportive, effective mentorship programs offered to new music educators. Teacher attrition is alleviated when formal and informal structures of support are provided and nurtured within the profession.

What works when it comes to mentoring those new to the profession? Clearly, music program leaders have the ability to create structures for professional learning that will ease entry into the multifaceted profession of music education. Additionally, professional associations can provide an additional avenue of support. During my years as a state Music Educators Association (MEA) president and music supervisor in the Bakersfield City School District I have learned several key elements necessary for the successful mentorship of music educators new to the profession.

(1)        Professional Relationships are Key. Those of us who have been in the profession for many years can attest to the fact that we were all influenced by a few key role models during our first years of teaching. My list included Gerald E. Anderson, UCLA Music Education Department Chairperson; Lida Beasley, Santa Monica College Director of Bands; and Dr. Thomas Lee, UCLA Director of Bands. What was it that these three individuals did to mentor my work in profession? Above all, each demonstrated genuine concern and encouragement of my work as a young teacher. Personal friendships developed out of those professional relationships established so long ago. Although each of my role models were very different personally and professionally, they all had one thing in common. They each invested time in developing a professional relationship with me during my formative years as an educator. Meaningful professional relationships can foster a spirit of success for young music educators who feel inexperienced and lacking in confidence during their first few years in the profession.

An example of the successful establishment of a professional relationship between mentor and mentee is that of California Association for Music Education (CMEA) Mentor Ella Webb and Mentee Melanie Work. CMEA recently launched its Mentorship Program, a first in the history of the Association. Program Coordinator, Mr. Mark Nicholson, Music Supervisor with the San Diego Unified School District, took great care to match mentors with mentees so that professional relationships could be initiated.  In February of 2016, just six months into the process, success was apparent. At the 2016 California All-State Music Education Conference, or CASMEC, I was able to see first-hand the work of mentors and mentees as information was shared at a conference session on mentoring. CMEA Mentor Ella Webb spoke of the professional growth her mentee, Melanie Work, had made over months. Ms. Work spoke openly about the challenges she had faced in the classroom, and how she used her mentor, Ms. Webb, to be a trusted sounding board, role model, and confidant.  What spoke volumes to me was that a professional, trusting relationship had grown between mentor and mentee over the course of just a few months. That relationship was helping Ms. Work respond to the challenges she was experiencing. Crucial to anyone’s success as a new music educator is the establishment of trusted professional relationships with those who have had many years of experience.


CMEA Mentor Teacher, Ella Webb, and CMEA Mentee Melanie Work, pictured here, are a shining example of how professional relationships can result in professional growth over time (Photo credit, California Music Educators Association, at 2016 California All-State Music Education Conference, San Jose, California).


(2)        Professional Learning Communities Provide Structure for Support of New Music Teachers. Although the school district where I have worked for the past twenty-seven years has only recently embarked upon Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), I have already seen first-hand their many positive effects in providing support for young music educators. When the Bakersfield City School District decided to fund four new music teacher positions to expand vocal music in the District in 2015, I realized that we would likely hire some inexperienced teachers due to the current teacher shortage in California. As predicted, three of the four new hires were first-year teachers. Realizing this challenge for the new Choral Team and other disciplines throughout the District, an hour of collaboration time was provided each week so that teachers could meet in PLCs. The Junior High/Middle School Vocal Music Teacher PLC became a structure of immense support for all participants. Even though most of the teachers in the PLC were inexperienced, the camaraderie that developed among the members of the PLC was effective in providing a level of peer support for each member. Peer support can often be paired with mentorship support in order to help the young music educator find his or her way in the new profession. This type of mentorship support that can be very powerful. When problems or issues became apparent to members of the Vocal Team throughout the year, the PLC provided immediate support for its member. 

In planning instructional support structures for these newly-hired music teachers, the District also secured funding for three full days of intensive professional learning built around the needs of its teachers. Issues identified by the PLC were addressed by veteran music educators who provided professional development during the professional learning days. The biggest take-away for me as the music program leader for the District was learning that multiple points of support are needed for young music teachers to grow and learn over time. Sometimes, peer support can be as important as expert support. We all need both types of support during our early years in the profession.


Bakersfield City School District Vocal Music Teachers, pictured here, work and learn together as a Professional Learning Community, or PLC, during professional learning day activities held in early 2016. (Photo credit, Bakersfield City School District, Bakersfield, California)


3)         Provide Young Teachers with the Opportunity to Share Their Expertise. In my work as a music supervisor in a large school district with roughly 30,000 students, I have had the opportunity to observe and mentor numerous new music educators over the past twelve years. I remember a colleague telling me years ago when I first became an administrator that I would learn so much by observing instruction in other teachers’ classrooms. Oh how true!  One key realization I had a few years a go was the fact that all teachers, regardless of experience, have unique expertise that can be developed and shared with colleagues. In the Bakersfield City School District, we believe that each faculty member has unique attributes and experiences which can be shared with colleagues. I believe that it’s my job to identify model instructional practices as exhibited by various faculty members and encourage a spirit of collaboration where best practices can be shared. School districts must provide numerous opportunities over the course of a school year to give professional educators the opportunity to share their expertise.

Bakersfield City School District music teacher Stephen Johnson is an example of a young music educator who has many talents and abilities to share with his more experienced colleagues. Mr. Johnson is a unique educator. He thrives on thinking outside of the box and working to make what’s good better. He is creative in the classroom, constantly trying to learn more. He works reflectively. It is important that teachers like Mr. Johnson be given the opportunity to share with his peers, many of whom are more experienced faculty members. School districts must strive to develop the talents of all team members, including those with many years of experience. Sometimes, a colleague who is relatively new to the profession can provide the inspiration necessary for encouraging the lifelong learning of more experienced colleagues. School districts should encourage all of its faculty members to share best practices and good ideas, regardless of experience!


mentoring teachers
Bakersfield City School District Music Teacher Stephen Johnson, pictured here, works with the 2015 District Junior High/Middle School Honor Orchestra. My Johnson, in his first years of teaching, is an expert in the area of string bass pedagogy (Photo credit, Bakersfield City School District, Bakersfield, California)


(4)        Professional Organizations Must Help to Facilitate Mentorship Relationships. Outside of school district structures, professional associations can provide young teachers with structures for professional mentor-mentee relationships. The CMEA Mentorship Program, and others like it across the nation, provide safe, effective ways to help young teachers reach their potential. In alignment with CMEA’s Strategic Plan, the CMEA Mentorship Program launched in the fall of 2015. Since then, numerous music teachers have volunteered to serve as mentor teachers. Mentees applied and were assigned in the fall of 2015. While the program is still young, it has already begun having a positive impact upon mentees who have signed up. Mentees have expressed appreciation for the professional networking provided by CMEA. The results over time should indicate that more educators will remain in the profession for many years. National and statewide professional associations across the nation should put priority in creating formalized mentorship programs.

Local and regional professional associations can also have a huge impact upon supporting those new to the profession. In my own community, the Kern County Music Educators Association, or KCMEA, holds its annual Fall Together Night, an event to provide networking opportunities within the music education community. Informal relationships developed at this level are also effective in assisting new music educators with the opportunity to feel support in their local community of music educators. KCMEA has been successful in providing support new music educators by simply creating a music education community of support.


California Music Educators Association Mentorship Program Chairperson, Mr. Mark Nicholson, pictured here, discussing CMEA’s Mentorship Program (Photo credit, California Music Educators Association, at 2016 California All-State Music Education Conference, San Jose, California).


Mentorship of new music educators should be all our responsibility! The result will be lifelong music educators who constantly strive to grow and improve in teacher effectiveness for the next generation and beyond!  


[1] John Fensterwald, “Half of New Teachers Quit Profession in 5 Years?  Not True, New Study Says,” July 16, 2015.


Mr. Stone will be delving into the topic of Mentorship at the NAfME National In-Service in Grapevine, Texas this coming November.


“Mentoring New Music Teachers for Lifelong Success in the Profession”
Michael Stone, Presenter
NAfME National In-Service
Friday, November 11, 2016
4:30 – 5:30 p.m.

Statistics show that music teachers are more likely to succeed in the profession when provided with a systematic mentorship support system in the first critical years of teaching. Mentorship programs paired with professional learning opportunities are key to keeping new teachers in the profession. The session will focus upon how music program leaders and experienced teachers can work with young teachers to provide crucial support to music teachers new to the profession. Peer coaching and professional learning models will be reviewed, including professional learning communities. The nation is experiencing a music teacher shortage. New music teachers must be supported or the teacher shortage will only get worse. This session will provide solutions for music program leaders and veteran teachers responsible for onboarding new music education professionals into K-12 school systems. The session presenter has worked as a school district music supervisor for 12 years and taught music for 14 years. He also served as a Mentor Teacher in the Bakersfield City School District for many years. Mr. Stone is also the current California Music Educators Association President who initiated a Mentorship Program two years ago to serve California’s newest music educators.  


About the author:


Michael D. Stone earned the B.A. in Music Education/Performance and the M.Ed. in Education from University of California, Los Angeles. Mr. Stone serves as the Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator for the Bakersfield City School District. As the arts administrator for the district, he oversees arts programs at 31 elementary schools, 6 middle schools, and 2 junior high schools. Prior to assuming this position, Mr. Stone served for over 14 years as instrumental music teacher at Chipman Junior High School, also in the Bakersfield City School District. 

Chipman bands and orchestras consistently earned Unanimous Superior Ratings at California Music Educators Association (CMEA) ratings festivals during his tenure. Chipman ensembles performed at the state conferences of CMEA and California Band Directors Association (CBDA). Mr. Stone was featured in the January 1999 issue of The Ins trumentalist Magazine, and has written several articles for the magazine since that time. During the summer of 1998, he was awarded the prestigious “Fellowship in Music Education” at Northwestern University. In March of 2009, Mr. Stone served as an Online Mentor for the Music Educators National Conference National Council of Supervisors of Music Education. 

Under his leadership, Bakersfield City School District was named a 2013, 2014, and 2015 Best Community for Music Education by the National Association of Music Merchants. The District’s Music In Our Schools Week instrumental music recruitment program received a 2014 Golden Bell Award of the California School Boards Association, the only from Kern County.  In October of 2015, Mr. Stone was recognized by the Arts Council of Kern as its Outstanding Arts Educator at its Accomplishments Awards Gala. 

Mr. Stone is President of CMEA, and a Past President of California Band Directors Association (CBDA), CMEA Central Section, and the Kern County Music Educators Association (KCMEA). He has also served in an adjunct capacity at California State University, Bakersfield, teaching instrumental music methods to undergraduates. Mr. Stone holds active memberships in many professional organizations, including The National Association for Music Education, CBDA, CMEA, KCMEA, and Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association. He was inducted into the American School Band Directors Association in 2001. Mr. Stone is a euphoniumist and trombonist, and is a founding member of the Bakersfield Winds, a symphonic wind ensemble. 

Active as an adjudicator and guest conductor, Mr. Stone has conducted honor bands and orchestras throughout California, as well as in Arkansas, Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon. Recent guest conducting engagements include the 2014 Clark County Middle Honor Band in Las Vegas and the 2013 California All-State Junior High School Concert Band. He has served for many years as a guest conductor at the Cazadero Performing Arts Camp in California’s Sonoma County.


Michael Stone presented on his topic “Mentoring New Music Teachers for Lifelong Success in the Profession” at the 2016 NAfME National Conference in Dallas, Texas. Register today for the 2019 NAfME National Conference.


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