A Motto for Success
The Surprising Benefits of Music Classroom Sloganeering
By NAfME member Lori Schwartz Reichl
This article was originally published in the October 2016 teacher edition of In Tune Magazine.
“Vision without execution is hallucination.” —Thomas Edison
Throughout my teaching career I have served in rural, suburban, and urban schools. I’ve come to recognize that most students respond similarly in a musical setting, no matter their location, ethnicity, financial status, or level of talent. And I’ve learned that you gain more trust from students, parents, colleagues, and administrators if they consider you to be organized.
Organization, however, requires more than the ability to conduct rehearsals, teach lessons, catalogue music, repair equipment, create documents, record grades, and gather data. It requires coordination of your thoughts and beliefs. For a music program to succeed, the director must believe in its quality and value—and make that clear to the community. How do you get this message across in an effective way, a way that doesn’t just communicate but also motivates?
Encapsulating Beliefs, Instilling Pride
Mottos encapsulate beliefs. They instill pride in people. They inspire us to do our best. Think of all the slogans that are used to advertise products, brands, or services. One of my favorite childhood TV commercials was for Burger King. “Have it your way” was just about the catchiest tune I can remember from my youth. I sang it often, because I loved hearing it. And when I sang it, I could taste the burger. I’m sure you have your favorites too; maybe it’s the candy that “melts in your mouth, not in your hand,” or the famous quarterback Peyton Manning singing, “Nationwide is on your side.” Be honest: When a familiar ad comes on, don’t you always sing or hum along, if only in your mind?
From August 2006 to June 2014, I was band director at Oakland Middle School in Howard County, Maryland. My students and I often quoted the marching band’s teamwork theme: “One band. One sound.” As time elapsed, we affectionately added “One family” to the end of the phrase. My students and their families were proud to belong to a music program that demanded high expectations, yet also fostered a family-like atmosphere. Together, we had created a motto for ourselves.
In February 2014, the members and supporters of our music program made a presentation at our state music association’s annual conference about our “One band. One sound. One family” motto. We performed, celebrated, and spread our love of the program. Exactly one week later, the county’s newest school, Thomas Viaduct Middle School, offered me a position. I’d been given the opportunity to build a music program from scratch. The offer to inspire another community was both challenging and intriguing. On the other hand, making the decision to leave a musical family I loved was incredibly difficult.
I made myself sick over that choice. I’m not sure I was convinced I’d done the right thing until the day I set foot in the new school. But at that moment, the journey of my career made perfect sense, and the initial motto for the new school’s band program became clear: “Building one band. Creating one sound. Connecting one community.”
Why did I use the word “community” instead of “family” for the new motto? I initially feared that my former students might feel slighted if I duplicated the previous motto. How could I possibly use the same words with a different community whose members I hadn’t even met? However, within the first few months of the new school’s opening, these students and I behaved like family too. It became evident in the way my newest students acted, listened, learned, and trusted me. They were behaving incredibly well and musically improving at a rapid pace.
At Thomas Viaduct’s first concert, I was touched when students from my previous school attended. After kind words were exchanged, hugs were given, and photos were taken, a former student questioned the new school’s band motto. She asked why I hadn’t used the word “family.” I was stunned by her question. She seemed insulted by my exclusion of the word. I gently told her my reasons. She replied with a profound statement. “We want you to create another family. Do it again!” she said enthusiastically.
Beyond the School Walls
This student taught me that the motto we had instituted at my former school did not have to remain confined inside a single building’s walls. “One band. One sound. One family.” demonstrated how I had come to teach; it echoed how I chose to live and treat those around me; and it proved the method by which my students learned. It didn’t belong to one group of students, it was a gift to give to all of them: former, present, and future.
Last year I adjudicated a high school band festival and was amazed by the accomplishments of a particular ensemble. I repeatedly commented, on both the adjudication form and the audio recording, that this group was “small but fierce.” A few weeks later I was ecstatic to hear that the band’s director had created shirts for its members that contained the program’s new motto, “small but fierce.” Inspiration had sprung from my three little words.
What if you were to create a motto for your own music program? Which magical words would excite you, inspire pride in your students, and unite the community? Reflect on your beliefs and incorporate them into a brief statement setting out how you choose to live your life and how you desire your students to learn. Consider traditions, accomplishments, or goals of your program while embracing the uniqueness of your community, your students, and your personal strengths. Invest in the power of the motto you create. Recite it often. Believe in it. Live it. Learn from it. Be inspired by it. If you don’t, no one else will.
About the author:
Lori is the author of the series “Key Changes: Refreshing Your Music Program” published monthly in the teacher edition of In Tune Magazine where she provides resources to enhance the music classroom. As a writer for Teaching Music Magazine, she interviews master educators. Lori is an active adjudicator, clinician, and conductor. As an avid presenter at conferences, professional development sessions, and universities nationwide, she serves as a resource for building inspiring music programs, developing effective classroom management techniques and rehearsal routines, motivating diverse learners, and achieving unity in ensembles. Within Maryland, Lori serves as Music Education Intern Supervisor at Towson University and as Coordinator of Howard County Public School System’s Secondary Solo and Ensemble Festival. As Director of the Regional Repertory Wind Ensemble, she has collaborated with composers Brian Balmages, Tyler S. Grant, Samuel Hazo, Richard Saucedo, Robert Sheldon, and Frank Ticheli. Learn more about Lori here.
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