Staying Focused: Music Educator Award™ Finalist José Diaz

Staying Focused

Music Educator Award™ Finalist José Diaz


Nominate a teacher by March 15, 2018.
Applications due by March 31, 2018.


The GRAMMY Foundation® and The Recording Academy® have just chosen 10 finalists for the 2017 Music Educator Award™. The award was established to recognize current educators (kindergarten through college, public and private schools) who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrate a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in schools. Nine out of the ten finalists are NAfME members, as was last year’s ultimate winner, Phillip Riggs of North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, NC. Teachers are encouraged to apply by visiting Teachers participating in the Music Educator Award process by applying makes them part of our overall music education advocacy movement.




José Diaz, another NAfME member, is director of bands at MacArthur High School and founder/artistic director for the Diaz Music Institute in Houston, Texas. He has been named as one of the 10 finalists for the 2017 award. José answered some questions from NAfME:

Q: Why did you decide to become a music teacher?

I thought my high school band director, Dr. Herbert Yancey, was the coolest human being on the planet and I wanted to be just like him! I grew up in a low-income neighborhood in the south side of Chicago that was full of gang activity and drugs. Dr. Yancey gave us hope by making us believe in ourselves and helping us develop the determination we needed to improve our quality of life. He taught us that our dreams could become a reality if we stayed focused and work on our goals consistently. Yancey helped many of us receive scholarships for school and many of us were the 1st generation in our family to attend college. He inspired all of us to always do our best. Dr. Yancey is my hero and I became a band director because of him!

Q: What role do you believe music education plays in the overall learning experience of students?

Through my experience as a teacher and my personal experience as a kid growing up, I found that music education helps save lives. There is a lot of research that clearly demonstrates the importance of the arts in developing cognitive skills but it is more than that. Music education helps to develop the inner you and helps you to understand the emotions that you feel and how to express them with complete honesty. Music education helps you to be brave, creative, and resilient. The discipline of music builds character, values, personal development and it envelopes you in the “joy” of doing something well. Music can transform a child with confidence and positive attitude and helps to develop a culture of understanding and social tolerance.


music educator


Q: Please describe your music program and what role you believe it plays in the overall fabric of the school.

MacArthur High School is a Title 1 school with over 90 percent of the students on free or reduced lunch. The band program consists of a marching band, three concert bands, jazz ensemble, jazz combo, percussion ensembles, indoor percussion, and winter guard. The band program, especially the marching band and jazz ensembles, has become one of the most popular organizations in our school and community. Students at MacArthur High School love their band program and cheer for them during football games and competitions.

The success of our program has been viewed a beacon of hope for our school and community. The students have done such an amazing job of changing their lives and becoming a positive influence in our community that many of them are looked upon as future leaders. Many of my former students have come back to share their success stories, like graduating from Harvard, performing in Beyonce’s all girl band or becoming a district court judge.

Q: Any thoughts on the GRAMMY Educator process?

The process of the Grammy Educator of the year Award is amazing! From the nomination to the various levels of recognition makes teachers feel like superstars. It is an honor for me to be involved in the process of such a prestigious award.

Q: What role do you believe your NAfME membership has in the professional development aspects of your career?

NAfME is a huge resource and network for music educators of all levels. I found the information, research, professional development, and advocacy available through this organization to be practical and insightful. NAfME is a national organization and it involves all music education levels and disciplines. Whether you are an elementary music teacher, college professor, band director, or music theory teacher, there is a wealth of useful information and resources. I have been able to use that research in my teaching as well as discovering that someone else was using the same concept I was using in my classes. NAfME resources have allowed me to keep up with current trends in music education. Through NAfME I met other directors that I was able to network and share information. I had opportunities to present workshops, write, or be interviewed for articles for NAfME.


For more information on the GRAMMY Music Educator Award™ process please visit
Nominate a teacher by March 15, 2018.
Applications due by March 31, 2018.

Brendan McAloon, Marketing and Events Coordinator, February 21, 2017. © National Association for Music Education (