by Kirt Mosier.
Published in Orchestra America, April 2018.
When we consider being a teacher in any capacity, there is no denying that we must be a leader and a manager of people. Without organizational and relational skills, we find ourselves with a mind full of musical knowledge but no one with whom to share it.
Before tackling leadership and management techniques we must consider our philosophy. My philosophy of teaching is the following: “I teach excellence and the dedication it takes to be excellent – music is the discipline that I use to teach these concepts”. Looking at this simple philosophy, we see music is listed as a “discipline.” Music is relegated to a “discipline” because we are developing young minds to systematically approach, problem solve, collaborate, interpret, and hone physical skills. All of these are great life skills. Surely the byproduct of teaching these important concepts will be great music! When we operate out of this philosophy base, we never run the risk of making the subject matter more important than the subjects themselves.
Practical Leadership and Management Techniques
1. A.D.M. – Advanced Decision Making: Early in my career, I realized I was reacting to situations and becoming angry at times. This reactionary mode does not serve students well and does not lead to a healthy environment. If we as leaders realize that along the way we are going to be disrespected, misrepresented, challenged and so forth, we make the decisions about how we respond BEFORE these events occur. In a time of reflective thought without emotions clouding our judgment, we make quality decisions before events occur. This is a great way of maintaining a professional response and demeanor throughout all of the challenges that teaching a complex skill will require. During down time, I have a great time dreaming up wild scenarios and how best to respond to them.
2. Be The Same Person In Every Circle Of Your Life: If I keep the same demeanor in every situation, I will garner the respect of students, parents, and administration. If the principal or a parent walks into the room and I completely change my approach with the students, I might just be a poser!
3. Vertical Leadership (Sway): Vertical leadership (also called sway) is to show leadership to those above you in the leadership chain when mistakes may have been made. A classic scenario of this concept can be seen in this example: An angry parent goes over your head and contacts the principal. The principal steps in and has a conference with you and the parent. An example of vertical leadership in this instance could be that once the issue is resolved, go back to your principal and suggest having the principal encourage the parent to meet first with you, the teacher, before having a meeting with the principal. This saves the principal time and helps the principal show the teacher’s leadership position is valued in the problem solving hierarchy.
4. Mood Consistency: Keeping a consistently even and pleasant mood is one of the most important professional behaviors we can model. When students do not have to worry what kind of mood their educator is in, their minds are free to learn in a fun, relaxing environment.
5. Transparency: Be transparent with all of your leadership decisions. Chair placements, group placement, and competition among students all require difficult leadership decisions. Communicate your processes and let the students know you are doing your best to be honest and fair in all decisions.
6. Healthy Tension of Expectation: Always create an atmosphere of expectation that we can be better than we are today. This expectation must be kept within reasonable limits. If we approach a group with expectations that are far too high or unrealistic, discouragement, humiliation, and tension become the standard feelings across the ensemble.
7. Acknowledge Your Mistakes: If the piece is in ¾ and I accidentally conduct in four, it is a great opportunity to stop, tell them what I did, make a joke, enjoy the imperfection and move on. Acting like something didn’t happen could throw you right back into the poser category!
8. A Work In Progress: Don’t forget all students are a work in progress trying to figure themselves out and decide how they will live their life. Give them room,
don’t shut difficult student’s out, and continually work to smooth their rough edges.
9. Avoid Using Confrontation: Confronting difficult students about their behavior in front of an ensemble ratchets up tension and puts you in a win/lose situation.
10. Don’t Avoid Confrontational Students: I thought it would be somewhat humorous to follow up the previous point with this one to show there must be balance in confrontation. If an student is directly challenging you and the class atmosphere in front of the ensemble, you can not avoid it, or you will lose the trust and respect of the ensemble. The best solution is to ask to speak with the student out of earshot of the group. Don’t hesitate to let the school’s discipline system work for you if it comes to this level of disciplinary action.
11. Be a Pacemaster: The best rehearsals will have short concise directions every time the music stops. Be careful to allow the general playing and pacing of the class to continue so that students enjoy the learning process. Try to limit your instructions from 5-10 seconds and then get back to the effort of music making.
12. Feelings Count: Long after your students have graduated, they will most remember how you made them feel. Your professionalism, demeanor, humor, and approach will help define the joy of music for all you teach. Your leadership extends well beyond the notes and you will create lifelong musicians from the spark of inspiration that students had when they met YOU, their master teacher.