Saturday, June 4, 2016

Music First Software

The past few years I knew that I was suffering from burn out (this past school year being the worst of it) and I have been trying to find ways to combat it from many different angles. One angle that I was presented with came from one of my mentors. He suggested that I "hold my students more accountable." In this context he meant musically but he was right about this in many areas of my program. This fit right into a personal project of mine to make my gradebook more rigorous while still maintaining my own ideals about music education while being honest and realistic about how to do all of this while being far too busy with way way too many students for one person.

I came across an ad in one of our music education publications about Music First software. I had been interested in Smart Music because I really love the idea of managing student playing tests online but the cost was prohibitive. Music First was intriguing to me because not only the lower cost but all of different content in the product.

I will say that I have in NO way maxed out all the potential that my classroom and Music First can have together but what I will say is that I implemented something new this year and it worked and it made us better and it was easier for me! All I used Music First for this year was a little bit of Noteflight (which my students had before and now all of our software is in one place), recording playing test (either sections of music or the Rhythm & Scale Chunks by Richard Canter), or writing prompts (like post concert evals). Note: I highly recommend you check out Richard's book. Its really great to give you the 'what to test' for your ensembles. 

And just using it for that made a world of difference. Grading the playing tests was so easy because everything was right in one place on the website in one format. It was easy for the students to access on their smart phone or tablet or a tablet that I provide (and it works on chrome books and ipads).

I felt like my students received the grade that they should but more importantly I saw so many students really and truly improve this year. With 60-80 students in a class this has been a great way for me to reach students one on one just listening to them play and then be able to provide feedback through comments with everything easily set up on the website.

The online webinars are great and I was able to figure out everything and I don't think I'm that tech savy. I'm looking forward to adding in more elements of the website into my classroom next year.

I'm going to take an online course this summer from Music First Academy and I'm looking forward to adding 1-2 more things that we can do next year.

To read an interview that I did for Music First's website check it out here and you can look around their website for more info. I have found their staff and tech support to be amazing. The site is new and continuing to improve. We have a great facebook community and the online content that is being constantly shared and uploaded for teachers to use (built in lessons etc) is fabulous.

Music First Interview with Julie Bounds from Santa Teresa HS (aka the Thrifty Band Director)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Percussion Room Remodel

This past year I have been doing a lot of overhaul when it comes to my percussion section and program. We have hired many new staff members, changed how we have set up the program, added summer workshops and a percussion only class next year for students grades 10-12 and purchased new equipment.

But storage is ALWAYS a problem when it comes to percussion. Not just having enough room for everything but finding ways to store all of the stuff so it doesn't get damaged and so you can find it when you need it. My percussion program director, Greg Messa, not only is a great teacher but also has a studio space to do equipment repairs and even builds things as needed.

So Greg and I went "fixer upper" home remodel show style on our percussion room at the end of the school year. I didn't take any pictures of the before but let's just say it was a disaster. In fact with our staff turn over the big problem has been that we keep loosing items or thinking we don't own stuff because we simply can't keep it all organized and accessible.

Greg built this shelf out of wood he already had. The bottom area we have our stands sorted by all the different kinds. We decided more slots were better with tom stands, cymbal stands, snare stands, etc. all sorted. The top section is cymbal and practice pad storage. We like also having the ability to store misc. drums above this cabinet. To the right of this shelf is where we are going to try to hang additional shelving to store mallets and sticks (like in hanging baskets) to things can easily be seen and sorted by kind. 

This is on the adjacent wall to the stand cabinet. It was shelving we already had from a hardware store. The idea for us (and we plan on continuing to improve this) is that everything is visible and accessible. 

I am just excited to see this much floor space in the room. We have misc items over here but we have room to store our drum set as necessary. Maybe add some additional storage. Its just amazing to us that all of this stuff was in this room before but you could hardly walk in it at all.

We also have a newer Wenger percussion cabinet that is in the band room that we have all of our auxiliary percussion equipment. Moving the cymbals out of the cabinet has really helped and now its not so heavy to so we can move it around the band room a little more easily. Its still a work in progress. 

If you have pictures of percussion spaces you have organized please share with us!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Much ado about festivals

'Tis the season for festival attendance. Yesterday I took the two Santa Teresa Jazz Bands and jazz combos to the Santa Cruz Jazz Festival in Aptos, CA. The festival just celebrated its 30th birthday and is put by a board of directors whose focus is hosting the two day/two concert event. As festival host myself, I really appreciate the work that this team puts in for this non competitive festival. It might not be perfect but nothing is...we teach kids after all.

Santa Teresa HS Jazz Band 2 working with clinician John Bremis

Santa Teresa (my program) attends a lot of festivals. We go to marching band competitions, jazz band and concert band festivals with all of our groups. We host CMEA festivals and Music in the Parks Festivals. Even with all of that one of my students asked me a few weeks ago 'Why are we going?'

No matter how many years you teach and how many festivals you go to make sure that you answer that question, for yourself and for your students...because it is an important one. It will help you determine your philosophy, your rehearsal process, how you handle the adjudication & scoring process and what festivals you choose to attend.

My friend and colleague who has been teaching for 30+ years was reflecting this morning on social media about the festival process and his personal festival attendance. It made for some great dialogue on the topic. For each director you have to decide what is best for you and your program. Here's what he said:

CONTROVERSIAL OBSERVATION OF THE DAY: As you can probably tell, I don't care about festival ratings anymore, jazz, band, or orchestral. It's about the art and about the music making to the best of your ability. The walls are covered with certificates and plaques from over 33+ years. That's nice but honestly, big expensive deal. I sincerely encourage my younger music education colleagues (and many veterans as well) to take ratings at face value and with a small grain of salt. We take our groups to festival for the opinions of (mostly) accomplished colleagues, and that's what we get, a wide variety of opinions, WHICH IS WHAT WE WANT FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES. Take the information and make it a teaching moment for our students after the festival. They will be better because of that, and not for that Unanimous Superior plaque or certificate on the wall. Discussion?

Here's what I know for me. I was "raised" by my middle school band director, who to this day (for me) is my gold standard, to perform often-both in concerts and in festivals. So I will say that I think that both are equally important and have a valuable place in the program. For example, we ended our 6th grade year with an elementary school tour. We attended jazz festivals throughout the spring and concert band 1-2 concert band festivals as well. We had clinicians. We prepared our music in a conscientious and determined manner as we approached festival. We reflected. We planned. We were ready. And when it was over, we listened, we discussed, we got better, and we moved on.

I was also raised in a middle school program who became accustomed to unanimous superior and superior ratings and first place trophies at competitive jazz festivals.

I was also a part of a high school band program that didn't see that same level of success.

I have been apart of both.

You could say "well just perform concerts and skip the festivals". And to that I say "sure" but wait. At a festival you do or can get a pretty big bang for you buck (look its the return of the thrifty band director). If you take your students for a full day festival they will get to perform, receive feedback, have a clinic, attend clinics (I try to pick festivals that have these clinics or workshops by pros), concerts, and other groups performances. These workshops and seeing students "better" than me was key to my growth and development as a young musician.

My principal said something to me recently (about something else) that has resonated with me "sometimes the social piece is just as important". And he is right. I know for myself and for many of my students those bus rides, trips to festivals (and all that comes with that) are just as important.

I attend festivals with my groups because I think those things are very important for young musicians. But the journey to band festival to me as also just as important. Its the fire that is lit a little bit under both myself in the students, knowing that the event is coming. Its the opportunity to focus on the rubric-which honestly is just good musicianship. The focus on tone quality, balance, blend, accuracy, phrasing, musical shape and more. We make recordings and adjudicate ourselves. Its journey we are on, together. When its all over we can take a step back and see how far we have come.

But you have to set this all up for your students and how you do this will come back to your philosophy behind festival attendance. I constantly remind my students that we ultimately can not control the opinions that others have of us. Sometimes we great and clear adjudication and sometimes we don't. How we handle the don't situations is also entirely up to us and can also be a valuable learning experience. There have been times in which after listening to a recording I wanted to yell at my friend and say "You gave them a 'Superior' are you kidding me? Were you there? Were you listening? I would have given them a 'Good'" There are times in which hearing the truth of where my ensembles were at, no matter what anyone says, brought me to tears because the quality was so low and I felt like I didn't event know where to start....but you wipe away the tears, listen to what is being said and try your hardest to set your ego aside, pick yourself up and take the right steps forward.

Developing a band program doesn't happen over night. Neither does learning how to be a band director. Part of the journey of learning for me as an educator has been attending festivals. I get to hear how other people would coach my students. I hear things that I didn't hear before. I receive strategies to improve the things I am not strong at teaching yet. I make friends who can come out and work with my groups and expand on what I'm trying to learn to do. You watch other directors and learn from them. You hear great music to take back to your program.

Going back to what my friend said on facebook "Take the information and make it a teaching moment for our students after the festival. They will be better because of that, and not for that Unanimous Superior plaque or certificate on the wall." 

You do need to make it a teaching moment or I think its honestly a waste of time and money because it is not given an important emphasis-when it is an important event. But I do think that there is something to be said, a sense of pride, about having a wall of Unanimous Superior plaques on the walls and a certificate recognizing the experience. (I won't say trophies because, I hate trophies, I hate storing them, organizing them, just give me a less expensive nice plaque I can hang flat on the wall or store much much easier). When I came to my job there were ZERO Unanimous Superior plaques around the room. There was not history of success. I know when I walk into my junior high band room I feel an extreme sense of pride to see the pictures and awards that I was apart of earning. And so I will keep celebrating the hard work and dedication that came from the journey to the Unanimous Superior. 

And just because you get one once, at least for me, doesn't really make it any easier the next year with a group of different kids. More than anything, I'm getting better at coaching them to the LEVEL of receiving that honor. My students and program are rising more and more to the LEVEL that receives superior ratings. But again, its about the road to the festival and where the next musical journey will take you.

Jazz Combo "Wombo Combo" 

Myself and Brendan-ST Alumni & recent addition to our teaching staff. He is coaching jazz saxophone, jazz combo & has even helped out with Jazz Band 1 a little bit! 

Myself & Shawn Williams. Shawn joined our team last year and is assisting with coaching all aspects of the jazz program. This includes being the lead coach and director for the jazz combos. Coaching jazz trumpet sectionals and assisting with leading Jazz Band 2.  

Monday, March 14, 2016

Taking Steps Forward

I clearly have had a lapse in posting on this blog. That's a true statement. If I could summarize where I have been or what I have been doing I would state that I have simply been a busy high school band director for a vibrant and growing program in the San Jose Bay Area.

The other part of that story is that I have become the victim of something that happens to many many people in this profession and causes many to leave (including many people who have specifically had MY job) and that guessed it.... B U R N O U T!

It took me a while to recognize it and I think that recognizing the problem, like "they" say, is the first step in solving the problem. I have been having work/life balance problems my whole career but as my life is continuing to move forward and I'm continuing to "adult" (and advance in age), having a better work/life balance is critical. I'm also NOT getting any younger (I'm 35) and this is my 13th year of teaching, so I have been at this awhile.

It hit me in January in the middle of a challenging time I was having with my some of my students. I just found myself saying it out loud to a friend "I'm just burned out" and I'm not in a good place. And that's exactly what I am. Except I'm in a better place about it now....I am taking steps forward.

"Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place." -Google

Now here's some things that are true. I'm exhausted. I can't tell you how many times I have caught myself saying "I'm getting too old for this." Now I know that I'm not "old" and that I have a "long way to go" but hey I need to start slowing down none the less! I'll be old soon enough.

Is this excessive and or prolonged stress? Yes. I have been stressed for all 13 years I have been teaching with very short times where I'm probably not stressed. But ever since April of last year things haven't been "stable" in my program and so it has been a prolonged stress.

Now here's something important. I have NOT lost my interest or motivation that led me here. And that's because I'm still VERY inspired by the music and I'm VERY inspired to make music with these awesome students.

So I'm going into "band director recovery" of sorts. I'm working on trying to force myself to come home. To ask others for more help. To organize my booster club budget to fund positions for people to help me. I'm trying to make a calendar for next year that gives me time off.  A schedule that allows me to do something else or play music somewhere else. I'm going to band director camp this summer and I'm trying to Love Myself and honor my personal time more.

Because I don't want to be burned out. I also really like my job. Teaching and band directing have a high burnout rate. I know that I'm not going to teach high school or be at this school forever but I do know that there is a chance as a I get farther along in my career that if I am going to do something different in this profession or professionally. These might be some of the last years at my current job and I do want to make the most of it. I just can't keep running at the pace I'm running at now.

I'm not sure how this story will end or when it will get better but I will keep you posted. I do know that burnout is different for each person. Its finally happening to me. My band program has continued to grow and expand. I have been on a variety of volunteer boards for various music organizations and running or working at summer camps (or both). With my growing program at ST and some transitions there its just been a lot on my plate, especially when there is only one band director at my school for the size of the program that we have.

So for my therapy for burnout today I will list the things that I am doing TODAY to take better care of myself.
#1-I slept in.
#2-Easy lesson plans
#3-Done by 3pm
#4-Afternoon workout
#5-Packed all meals today/Dinner in the crockpot
#6-Time to color in my coloring books, listen to music etc.
#7-Watch House of Cards/hang out at home

Are you over scheduled like me? Overworked? Pick a few things that you can do this week for self care. Find a few ways to take better care of yourself each week.