Organization Tips for the First Days of School
By NAfME Member Meghan Cabral
This article was originally published on the SmartMusic blog.
The importance of getting organized for your students’ arrival cannot be emphasized enough. Day one is full of paperwork, handouts, excitement, and lots and lots of students coming through the music room doors. The better prepared you are, the smoother the first few weeks are going to go. Here are some of my favorite organization tips to help.
Whether you choose Excel, Google Sheets, or something similar, you must make friends with a database program. If you utilize it correctly, it can save you so much time! When students enter into our program, we use SurveyMonkey to conduct an online survey. Initial information we collect includes student and parent names, e-mail addresses, students’ ID numbers, and instrument choices.
This information is edited in a sheet that follows each student all the way through their middle school journey. My colleague and I work collaboratively with this document regardless of who is teaching which student each year.
When students start playing music with multiple parts, their part assignment is also listed in the database in addition to their seat number. (I will explain this more later.) We also add other data like the lesson group name.
Assigning Seats and Attendance
If your band room is like ours, it gets used a lot. We have students from multiple grades coming in and out all day long. Every grade has a different number of students, unique instrumentation, and other factors that require specific seating solutions. I have tried every possible type of student seating chart. I have handed out papers with straight rows and made curved seating charts in Word. We keep “x” number of chairs in each row as a rule, but for some reason, the students always forget to “fill in the missing seats” and “move to the middle”!
Through a Band Director’s Facebook group, I discovered this fantastic online seating chart generator. To best use it, I first determined what the instrumentation was going to be for our largest band (which has 66 members). I then set up the chairs for that band and ran a seating chart with numbers. Next, I looked at each of my ensembles and assigned a chair number for each student based on this seating chart. I put each student’s seat number in the Excel sheet for my records.
For any group that was smaller than this 66-person setup, I left the chairs on the ends blank. For example, if I only have eight students in the first row, I won’t assign chair 1 or 10. When these students sit, they will begin with chair number 2.
For each ensemble I have, I will print off one of these seating charts and cross out the unused seat numbers. Each day during band, I can circle the seat numbers that are missing, thus identifying which students are absent. I can easily sort my database by the student’s seat number to find out their name for attendance purposes, and if I want to move students around, I will just change their seat number in the database.
Since I teach middle school, I do not “seat” the students in such a way that the same student plays first chair all the time. I find that many students are capable of playing first, and I do not want to limit anyone. Instead, I group students together in pairs or threes and have those students play first on one piece, and then another group of students play first on another piece.
I seat students so that they are always next to the person playing first. To do so, I will have the seats move within the section when necessary. Sometimes I may have my first clarinets coming from seats 1, 2, 3, and other times I have them in seats 11, 12, 13. If I find an issue with sound or production, I will have seats 1, 2, 3 switch with 11, 12, and 13 so that the firsts are in front again. So many ensemble directors set up their groups differently that often firsts are in different spots depending on the group anyway.
What about percussion? I do not assign percussion parts prior to school. Instead, when I give the percussionists their parts, I give them all the parts.
If you use Word and do not utilize the mail merge feature, check it out. You will love it once you try! Mail merge allows Word to talk to your Excel databases. From Excel, I create a mail merge document with Word. This document allows Excel and Word to talk to one another so that I can easily create one document for each of my students. This document includes their name, instrument, their seat number from our seating chart, their lesson group name (for pull-out lessons), and all of their music assignments. Students utilize this document to confirm they have all the correct music as well as to remind them of their lesson group name and seat number.
Get Volunteers to Fill Folders
Students love to volunteer to help, even in the middle of their summer vacation. Before school starts, I ask some students to come into school. Typically these are older middle school or high school students who are either looking to fulfill honors society requirements or just want to help out. They come to school one day and help me get all the band student folders sorted. We form an assembly line to get all the information into the folders. Students will typically plug their phones into speakers in the band room and listen to music (most of which I do not know) while they work.
They create a folder that has the mail merge document (mentioned above) stapled to the cover. Inside the folder is all the music and handouts the students will get during the first week of school. This allows me to hand out music very quickly to my band classes of between 60-80 students without wasting rehearsal time.
“I Didn’t Get My Part!”
Often, even with the best planning, something gets left out of a folder. On day two, when most of the students already have their binders with them, I will have students hand out band folders. Again, since they are clearly labeled with each student’s name, it is very easy to hand them out quickly. Each student will check their folder to make sure that they have all the music, warm-ups, scale sheets, fingering charts, etc.
If there is something missing or they have the wrong part, students fill in an index card indicating their name and what they are missing. I then collect all the index cards (hoping there aren’t too many), and find the missing music. Sometimes students will help volunteer to find the missing music, but often I will just do it quickly and easily if it is not too much. I will then staple the index card directly to the missing documents to be able to hand back out to the students during the next band class.
Quick Thoughts on Organization
Some of these suggestions may seem like they would take a lot of time, but in reality, they do not. While students sort folders in their assembly line, I am putting instruments away, printing, making copies, or updating our website. The amount of time saved during class is amazing. When we hand out music during class, there is no chaos. The task is done in a very quick way that gives us more time to focus on music.
What If Our School Year Has Already Started?
Regardless of where you are in your year, if you do not currently have a database, start one. Keep any information in there you think you will need. Start with student name, instrument, ID number, etc. You can always hide columns if you have more information than needed.
You can also adjust your seating chart at any time! I adjust my seating charts frequently. Create a seating chart, assign students a number, and then let the students know what their number is. This can be done verbally or by handing each student a sheet with their name and number on it. If you have your Excel document, mail merge the student’s seat number and name into a Word document with a copy of the new “numbered chairs” seating chart.
Finally, ask your students to help! If you do not currently utilize your students’ help, start. Have them organize books in filing cabinets, have them put together programs, sort music—anything that can get them involved. The more they do, the more ownership they will have over the band room and program.
MakeMusic, Inc. is a corporate member of NAfME.
About the author:
NAfME member Meghan Cabral teaches middle school band in Carmel, New York, and was a quarterfinalist for the GRAMMY Foundation 2017 Music Education Awards. She has written for many music publications including The Instrumentalist, NAfME’s Teaching Music, Music Educators Journal, NYSBDA’s Band Stand, as well as NYSSMA’s School Music News. Meghan is an active guest conductor as well as clinician for music departments and at state conferences. You can follow Meghan by visiting her website. Meghan’s new publication, “A New Band Approach,” was just released that includes flipped classroom videos starting on Day 1 of Beginning Band as well as more advanced flipped classroom videos on enharmonics, whole vs. half steps, circle of 5ths and more.
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