Student Leadership, Part 1

The “to do” list never gets any shorter. An overload of administrative duties can eat into an ensemble director’s teaching schedule. But you don’t have to do it all yourself.

If some of your hours could be better spent doing music education than doing endless paperwork, perhaps it’s time to put some of your reliable students into leadership positions. Let these students assume more responsibility and assist you at the same time. DMA student Bradley Miller offers theses ideas:

  • Assemble a leadership team of students in the upper grades.  These students can do things as varied as taking attendance, acting as ensemble officers and section leaders, planning and carrying out details that support events from carwashes to concerts. A few extra-credit points for their extra effort can sweeten the deal.
  • Create a crew of who can do occasional chair and riser set-up for performances, and offer specific rewards (snacks, a night at the movies at the end of the quarter) for their help. These students and community members don’t have to be musicians—but they need to be reliable and supportive of your program.
  • Ask an art teacher if a couple of creative students would be willing to make a limited number of original signs or posters for concerts, special recitals, or fundraisers. Make sure the artists sign their work prominently. Community members with artistic talent or calligraphy skills are also a good occasional source of signs to advocate your program. An attractive poster that says “Concert Tonight” can be reused many times.
  • Rotate the responsibility for postconcert reception treats.  Simplify your menu by serving water (less of a disaster when spilled) with the cookies, brownies, and savory snack foods such as cheese and crackers. Have napkins or paper towels handy to deal with minor disasters. Don’t forget to have at least two people bring fresh fruit or veggies.
  • Get student leaders to help create an ensemble website or Facebook page.  With the permission of your administration, get tech-savvy students to help promote your program in cyberspace. Make sure those who come up with ideas get credit, including mention at your events and at community performances. Publically thanking a student webmaster or site contributors is a great way to publicize your ensemble website.

Gretta Sandberg, a seasoned professional, also recommends “using your section leaders to run sectional practices.” Sandburg adds, “I see, so often, music groups that are run like dictatorship, with the students and parents given no voice.” She suggests that directors who “give up some of their power and let other voices in can spread the burden” of running any organization, especially and ensemble.
Ideas adapted from “Student Leadership—Everybody Wins!” by MENC member Bradley Miller, a graduate student at the University of Arizona in Tucson. MENC member Gretta Sandberg directs the Highland County String Program in Monterey, Virginia, and conducts the Allegheny Mountain String Orchestra.

–Ella Wilcox, March 2, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (