In last month’s blog post, How to Establish Classroom Routines and Why, we discussed the importance of establishing consistent routines and policies in the classroom. Clear expectations save time, help teachers to earn the trust of students, parents, and administrators, and lay the foundation for a successful music program.
Now, we’re offering you some inspiration: several management routines with a track record of success! We reached out to Judy Houdeshel, a music teacher with over 45 years of experience, for suggestions. The following routines and organizational techniques come directly from her experience teaching middle school band.
Addressing a deluge of questions and concerns at the start of each class period will take up excessive amounts of your limited rehearsal time. Instead, keep the lines of communication open—and make sure students understand that their feedback is important and valuable—by setting up an easily accessible station with several large tablets of sticky notes and pencils. Unless an issue absolutely cannot wait, students should write it down and place the note in a designated spot, such as on your office door. For sensitive issues, they can write “email me” and provide an email address (or another means of contact).
After each rehearsal, be sure to read and address the requests as quickly as your schedule allows. As you complete each request, place the note in the trash or on your desk for a reminder later.
Color Code Papers
Folders full of white papers are a disaster zone for disorganized students! Instead, use different colors for each handout. Then, rather than asking students to get out a certain worksheet or permission slip, you can simply instruct them to “find the blue paper.” Color coding is an easy and efficient way to get everyone on the same page, both literally and figuratively.
Make Sure Documents Are Dated
At the top of each document, type “Sent home on” followed by the date that you give it to students. This way, parents will know if they aren’t getting information in a timely manner. If you happen to send something home with a student at a later date, cross out the original date and write in the new one with your signature. Tell students that you are doing this to give them a sense of urgency and allow parents to hold them accountable for being responsible in a timely way.
In Your Classroom, Have a Place for Everything
At the start of the year, explain each of the stations—supplies, lost and found, and so on—to students. Make sure to have a station for extra music and lesson books and include a sign-out sheet so that you can keep track of who is taking what. For instruments in need of repair, set up a “fix-it” station with a set of forms to fill out so that you or the person responsible for fixing instruments has all the relevant information (name of student, instrument, and an explanation of the problem).
Keep Track of Absences, Lateness, and Behavioral Issues
A simple way to keep track of these data is to laminate and date a month’s worth of copies of your seating chart for each group. Then, you can use different colored dry erase markers to put dots beside students’ names (blue for absent, green for late, and red for a behavioral issue, for example), creating an easy visual record without having to write out notes. Let students know that you’re keeping track! When it comes time to address problematic behavior, you’ll be able to reference the specific number of times that a student was absent, late, or acted out. Erase charts and start over at the end of each month.
Utilize Your Whiteboard
The whiteboard at the front of your classroom is a powerful tool for nonverbal communication and can be an effective time-saver when used to its full potential. Write the agenda or goals for each day on the board before students enter the classroom and train them to read it so that they can prepare for rehearsal independently.
It’s a good idea to use bulletin board strips with magnets glued to the back for easy visual organization that you can quickly change. To help students—especially those with reading or processing issues—make sense of all the information on your board, consider color coding certain categories of information. These categories may include important dates, music that will be part of the day’s rehearsal, and any changes.
To engage students and create an opportunity for classroom participation, let them take turns writing “Words of Wisdom” quotes for their peers to see. You can even create a game—and ensure that students are retaining key information—by having them close their eyes and answer questions about what’s written on the board.
Make “Pass Out” Folders
Handing out music from the director’s stand wastes time and invites boredom and havoc. Instead, label “pass out” folders for each instrument or vocal part. Load the folders with new music and let students remove their parts, then pass them through their respective sections. Then, the last person in each section has the important job of returning the folder to a designated place, such as a milk crate.
After all the music is handed out, do a spot check. Ask students to hold up each piece of music, and direct those who are missing a title to get it from the crate. Keep their interest by adding humor and varying your instructions (“Stand up and show me (name of song) upside down!”) Have students write their names lightly in pencil on their parts to avoid future mix-ups.
Have a Small Container for Found Instrument Parts
Over the course of the year, custodians, students, and others who spend time in your classroom will find all kinds of unidentifiable instrument parts (ligatures, screws, valve caps, and so on). Having a box or basket for all these small widgets will save them from being vacuumed up or thrown away.
Create Performance Folders for Competitions
If you’re going to a competition or festival, make a beautiful set of brand-new folders for use at the last rehearsal and the event itself. Only the music used at the event may be in these folders, and it must be in performance order. Demand it!
After your last rehearsal, collect all the folders and put them in the crate which the director is responsible for getting to the performance. The night before the competition, take time to write little notes of encouragement (“You’ll be great!” “Don’t forget to breathe.” “Play with heart and mind!” “This moment is special—just do your best!”) on tiny sticky notes and stick one or two on the inside pocket flaps of each folder. When the students open their folders, they’ll be met with an instant hug and boost of confidence to help combat their nerves.
Use “Sign Language”
Come up with a few “sign language” signs that you and your students can use to communicate without words. Keep signs simple but clear.
Let Students In on Your Repertoire Selection Process
Knowing the “why” goes a long way! Teach students how you select music and explain why you chose each title they are learning and performing. Once they understand the process, they may even come up with ideas of their own!
Judy shared, “So many of my choices were recommended to me by kids who explored on the J.W. Pepper website. The latest one was a fifth-grade trumpet player who recommended the music of Heather Hoefle to me this past year. Good stuff for this age group!”
Teach Practical Skills
Teaching practical skills will both save time and help students develop independence. Spend a rehearsal at the beginning of the year showing them how to raise and lower music stands, load stand carts, and stack music chairs. You can even have students tighten loose stands (make sure to keep the necessary tool in a magnetic box stuck to the whiteboard so that they can access it without asking you). Make sure drummers know how to move and carry drums and keep the auxiliary percussion organized.
We hope that this list of time-tested routines and techniques helps you to create an effective strategy for your classroom! If you decide to implement any of them this year or have additional suggestions for your fellow teachers, let us know in the comments—we’d love to hear from you.