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Making Investments Where They Count

Thomas Palmatier • InServiceSeptember 2021 • September 6, 2021

Don’t pay attention to what people say is important to them. Look at where they put their resources to see where their real priorities are.” – Lieutenant General (USA Retired) Michael D. Rochelle

At the time I heard him say these words, he was Colonel Rochelle and he was my boss. His words stuck with me and allowed me to more accurately deduce what leaders and organizations truly valued. It also served as a guide to me to ensure my allocation of resources (time, people, money) matched my rhetoric.

I am an active guest teacher, the new term for a “sub,” and am able to teach in a wide variety of schools and I receive all of the correspondence the regular teachers get. Despite a healthy number of “teacher days” on the calendar, I have learned there are almost no resources devoted to really improving the effectiveness of most teachers, and especially those in the performing arts.

When Mike Lawson, editor and publisher of SBO Magazine, first asked me to write a monthly column called “InService,” I think he envisioned more reflections on my nearly four decades in uniform than I have offered in this platform. More often I have tried to highlight a variety of ideas (hopefully) relevant to band and orchestra teachers on their “front lines.” However, I see a strong correlation between something I experienced during my Army career and what is happening in schools.

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the American people and Congress decided the Army would transition from being draft-based to an all-volunteer force. Luckily, the leaders who had come out of Vietnam saw a need for a completely reimagined organization based on quality, not quantity. They recognized what made the Army different from its sister services is it measured its power in people, not the number of aircraft or ships. And so, they developed a program to invest in people that was unprecedented among the world’s militaries.

At every stage of a Soldier’s career (and note the capitalization of “Soldier” to indicate their primary importance), they would attend a school to prepare them for the next phase in their career. Out of a 20-to-25-year career, one could expect to spend about five years in some type of schooling. After entering the Army as either an enlisted or officer Soldier, one would complete rigorous training common to all specialties followed by a specialized school in their specialty, such as the Army School of Music. About every 3-6 years there would be another school required to be eligible for promotion and assignment to jobs of greater responsibility. The capstones are graduate level programs such as the Army War College which awards a Master of Strategic Studies (I am a graduate) and the Sergeant Major’s Academy.

Corporate America has learned the value of investing in its employees. Google approaches employee learning as a right regardless of role, tenure or level. It is also considered a company-wide responsibility to enforce, rather than an obligation that falls solely on a learning and development team’s shoulders. Or perhaps one could attend the Disney Institute or Apple University 

Compare those programs to the norm for most music educators. Yes, nearly all licensing bodies require accumulation of “PD” hours and/or graduate credit. However, when someone transitions from being an assistant to a director of bands/orchestras, are they given training in leadership, counseling/coaching, human resources management, budgeting, and strategic planning? How about when moving between high school and middle school? Are they sent to study the very different teaching techniques required? When appointed a department chair or fine arts administrator, how are they equipped to succeed in those important positions?

I recently presented at the Colorado Bandmasters Association Convention (I am a life member of this great group of teachers) and my topic was “Mentorship is Not Just for New Directors.” I discussed that most mentorship programs were aimed at new music educators when in fact, the professional enrichment needs of mid-career music educators was perhaps even greater. The more attendees talked about this, the more it was revealed how many mid-career educators feel ill-prepared to excel at their jobs and may not know where to go for help, particularly if they are a one-person department in a remote community.

Back to the Army for a moment. As the demands of long-running conflicts around the world and a shrinking force accumulated there were pressures to reduce the time Soldiers spend away in training. “Distance learning” replaced in-person instruction and mandatory courses were frequently waived. Additionally, extra required subjects were added to deal with topics such as sexual harassment, suicide prevention, and the gender integration of combat arms units, to name just a few. If this sounds familiar to teachers attending “PD” days that address lots of topics but rarely “how to be a better teacher,” the parallels do exist. Let me be very clear, this is in no way a criticism of those important added programs, but rather an acknowledgment that unless teacher development resources and time are increased, every topic added must displace something else. Many Army leaders are calling for a return to investing more in the education of people but just as in our schools, budget and policy decisions are usually made at higher levels.

So, to the “alphabet soup” of professional associations, music industry partners, school districts, state departments of education, and institutes of higher learning; if you say people, and especially students and educators are your highest priority, does your investment of resources match your rhetoric?

In the June 2021 issue of SBO I described what the Conn-Selmer Division of Education is doing to meet these needs (https://sbomagazine.com/back-to-a-better-normal/ ). In a future SBO article, I hope to describe what the Colorado Bandmasters Association is working on to serve its members.

Col. (Ret.) Thomas Palmatier

Next month I will take a look at musical life for us and our students after graduation.

Colonel (Ret.) Thomas Palmatier was the leader and commander of The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” the largest military music unit in the United States and was the senior musician in the U.S. Armed Forces. He now dedicates his efforts to music education and to maximizing the success of arts organizations as a clinician, guest conductor, and consultant. He is an active clinician, guest conductor, and consultant on organizational structures and leadership around the world. His academic credentials include a Doctor of Music degree (honorary) from the State University of New York, a Master of Strategic Studies degree from the U.S. Army War College, a Master of Fine Arts degree in Music Education from Truman State University, and a Bachelor of Music Education degree from the State University of New York at Potsdam’s Crane School of Music.  He can be contacted at thomaspalmatier.com.com

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