How to be a Nice Pest!

Lafe Cook • April 2024MAC Corner • April 8, 2024

Be an Unapologetic Advocate!

As a director of a music program, it can often feel like you show up each morning with an excitement for teaching and connecting kids with music, only to end up in a series of daily “battles.”

One of the most deflating of these battles is the simple justification for your program’s needs… and in some cases its very existence! And, at the risk of sounding a bit “Dooms Day”-like, 2024 may make budget discussions additionally challenging. A recent article in Fortune Magazine states the pandemic-era revenue surge fueled by federal spending and inflation is now is receding, and in some states even reversing into negative numbers.

So how do you make sure music education is a priority for your school and district?

As music teachers we are extraordinarily aware of the transformational impact a quality music education and participation in a music program has on students. 

But are you sharing this information with others in your school community? The evidence has always been there; music kids are often at the top of their class, have higher GPAs, lower discipline referral rates, and better attendance rates than other students in the school. Use these and other metrics to advance your cause!

Do not be afraid to connect student academic success to participation in YOUR music program!

-What is the average GPA of the kids in your band?

-How many of your orchestra students are in the top 25% of their class?

-How many of your seniors have a 30 or higher on their ACT?

-What is the graduation rate of instrumental music students across a 4-year period? (often 100%)

-What is the combined college scholarship offer amount for the seniors in your program? At my school it is not uncommon for the band seniors, who represent about 15% of the entire senior class, to hold more than 60% of the entire class’s scholarship offers! 

-How many band and orchestra kids are National Merit Finalists/Semi-Finalists, Presidential Scholars, etc.?

When it comes to asking for the necessary resources to not only maintain, but advance the quality of your program, approach every conversation with the following mind set. 

You were hired to provide the best possible music program for your school and its students!  

When you interviewed for your job, it is likely someone said “we want you to give us the best possible program our school can have!”

Therefore, it’s completely appropriate that you ask for the things to help you achieve the goal you were hired to achieve!

Being an unapologetic and aggressive advocate is not saying you should be combative. But I do believe it is usually a positive to be viewed as a dogged advocate for your kids and their experience by the people in your school and district. Be a respectful and consistent advocate, let everyone know you are fighting for your kids and then, (and this is important) when some administrator says “okay, we’ve heard you,” you should back off! 

Talk about your program’s needs through the lens of the student experience.

People will forgive you for most things and you can survive many tense situations with both parents and school administrators, if you can articulate how all your decisions are made with the student experience in mind. 

Articulated through this lens some might still question your decisions, but they are less likely to question your motives!

The need for additional music staff resonates better if your request isn’t framed as “I just can’t do it all and I need help.” Instead, articulate your request as “these students will get an even more meaningful music education if we can reduce the student/teacher ratio” or “we have the opportunity to hire a specialist to produce an even higher degree of student excellence.”

It is easier to advocate for your program if it provides access to a great experience for ALL students in your school. 

In the national music education community, there is a growing perception that ensemble music is elitist and only excels in affluent demographics. Now, we can all think of MANY examples of great school bands and orchestras in communities that don’t fit that description, but you must continually look for any barriers to participation, real or perceived, that might exist. These perceived barriers take many forms including band is too expensive, and band takes up too much time. When structuring your school program’s budget and any expenses attached, be aware of your community’s financial realities. Combat the fear of time commitment sharing students with athletic teams and working to facilitate music participation with AP, IB and other academic programs.

These strategies and talking points help you be an unapologetic advocate for your kids and your program. Now go forth and spread the good word about what involvement in school music does for ALL students!!!

Lafe Cook has been a high school band director for thirty-three years and is in his twenty-seventh year as the director of the Dobyns-Bennett Band Program in Kingsport, Tennessee. 

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!