Be a Superhero to Your Administrators

Rick Ghinelli • September 2022UpClose • September 5, 2022

There appears to be a nation-wide issue with administrators just not “getting” what we do in music. This is not to say all administrators fall into this category because there are some who are extremely supportive of their music programs. So, what makes the difference? This communication gap can be attributed to several factors, but mostly it boils down to a lack of understanding on the part of the administrator about your program and not having a solid professional relationship between teacher and administrator. Both areas need to be nurtured on a regular basis to gain long-term support for your program. We generally call this advocacy, and this must be built into your regular routine with your principal. Starting only when you need something usually doesn’t pay off.

I think we’ve all seen being a principal these days isn’t easy. There has been tremendous pressure on principals dealing with COVID, and as with teachers, they’ve had to figure out new ways to be successful given the demands of keeping students safe at school. Even in normal times, a principal is expected to be the instructional leader, the building manager, the master scheduler, the disciplinarian, the financial manager, the lead counselor, the evaluator, the parent liaison, the cheerleader, the safety officer….the list goes on. Don’t forget time spent doing hall duty, lunch duty, bus duty, attending athletic events, plays, concerts, etc. While they have people helping them, ultimately, the principal is responsible for everything. Sometimes, your job literally depends on it. I’m not taking sides here; I’m simply providing perspective to give some understanding of the situation.

All principals want the same things:  high test scores, low failure rates, safe schools, good student attendance, high teacher morale, few parent complaints, and no serious discipline problems. In most cases, the focus is going to be on academics, and rightly so. However, we’ve all seen situations where kids were pulled out of band or orchestra to do remediation in some other academic class. I certainly don’t believe this is the best decision, but the pressure is on principals to perform. Do they want good athletic and music programs? Of course! But those are generally not causing the most concern, so sometimes they don’t get the attention they deserve. However, principals do want to know those teachers outside of the “core four” are also doing their part to support academics. If it is “just about my ensemble,” you will likely not gain the support you need from your administration or the staff because you are not perceived as a team player.

So, what type of administrator are you dealing with? It is important to know your audience to improve communication when trying to solve problems. Find out:

Have they had any experience with music before, either as a performer or as an administrator?

Do they lead with their head or their heart? If they lead with their head, they may be a “numbers person” who needs to see how music will impact learning and increase test scores. If they lead with their heart, they may already realize music is important in providing a well-rounded education for a child.

Have they been a principal before (or at this level)? Often a new principal is so overwhelmed they don’t have the time, knowledge, or desire to learn about your program.

Find the type of information you think will make the biggest impact on your principal. What types of advocacy materials are relevant and of interest to them? What is the best approach to take and the best time to take it when addressing issues? 

Next, what are you trying to accomplish? Can you find working examples in other schools or districts you can offer as a possible solution to your problem? Are you up on current educational issues? Do you know what Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds are? Can you build a case for requesting them to support your program? It’s critical you do your homework and bring some solutions to any problems you take to your administration.

Finally, here are some general thoughts and guidelines to ponder:

• Be professional. Do what you ask of your students; be on time, put in your best effort, have a good attitude, and get along with others.

• Be passionate about what you do but be aware of the big picture. It is not just about your needs. But you MUST be the cheerleader for your program and continue to address needs and concerns in a positive, professional way.

• Be patient and understanding. There are so many things a principal is responsible for. Don’t take it personally if your issue gets put on the back burner while the administration is dealing with more pressing issues. Be persistent, but professional.

• Be involved in other activities. A music director’s day is incredibly busy, and you likely don’t have time for “one more thing.”  However, volunteering for a committee, chaperoning a dance, and engaging socially with other staff members can show you are the team player administrators want.

Continually advocate for your program through a variety of means. Whether it be through emails, social media, other written communication, or in person, show how being involved in music has been proven to make students do better academically, resulting in the school and the district looking better, too!

Effective communication starts with building trust relationships and nurturing those on a regular basis. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. The grass is greener where you tend it!

Rick Ghinelli has been a band director, a campus assistant principal and principal, and a district director of performing and visual arts. He is currently an educational support manager for the Conn-Selmer Division of Education.

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