Congratulations! Opening a new school is a fantastic opportunity to start fresh and create the ideal music program for the community you’re about to serve. Take a moment to appreciate the path you’ve traveled to reach this milestone but don’t celebrate too long because there’s work to be done!
A majority of the plans for the new school’s buildings have likely been in place for a while, but it’s important to find out what decisions you can still impact. If the music room building is still in the planning stages, inquire about wide doors for moving instruments, extra storage space, stage access, dropped ceiling tiles for sound dampening or exposed ceiling for a livelier sound. If the building is already under construction, ask if your room will be painted to match the school’s color scheme or if you can choose a custom color that you won’t mind looking at every day. Even if all decisions are made, you can still be a part of the purchasing process.
Most school districts have a purchase list for new schools, but that doesn’t mean the list can’t benefit from a modern revision. For instance, my school’s purchase list included three upright pianos and two electric keyboards. In my wildest scenarios, I couldn’t justify needing five keyboard instruments distributed between the classroom and stage. I could have stored the unused instruments in my closet, or I could negotiate for those funds to be used for things that I knew I would need on Day 1 of school, such as more instruments for the students.
On the topic of instruments, make sure the ones that are selected fit your curriculum’s needs. My elementary general music classroom was slated to receive three roto toms. As cool as roto toms were in the 1980s, they are breakable and require students to use drumsticks, an occupational hazard for me and kindergarteners! Instead of buying the roto toms, I used the money to buy stage equipment like microphones, risers, lights and chairs — things you will need for your first concert. Don’t just make sure this equipment was purchased but define which items belong to your music program and which ones belong to the general population. There’s nothing worse than discovering that your microphone is locked in the lunch duty closet right before your concert.
Stay in close contact with the front office and head custodian about when packages should be arriving and where they are stored on campus. For security purposes, packages should be locked in closets because many people have access to the building and alarms won’t be installed until all construction is completed. With that being said, use the power of smiles, food and favors to ensure that your items end up in the closet closest to your classroom. Open your packages immediately to check that the correct items were sent and that they are undamaged. In case of breakage, you should have plenty of time for the item to be replaced before the school year begins.
Themes and decorations aside, design your classroom to fit your school’s largest class size. That data may not be available yet, but we all agree that the more floor space available for students to create music, the better.
Utilize vertical storage with tall shelving, cabinets and lockers. Before you hang musical posters, use as much of your wall space for practical storage for ukuleles, guitars, boomwhackers, frame drums and any other daily-use items that students will need easy access to.
Your classroom may come with bulletin boards. Depending on your needs, removing the bulletin boards and using that real estate for storage could give you the room you need to squeeze more chairs into the room.
The complex topic of school culture can be addressed by the music teacher with a succinct school song. Do you know the school song from your prior school? Does your current school have a song?
My first school had the school song’s lyrics framed on the wall, but we never sang it because I didn’t know the accompaniment. Frankly, I was waiting for someone to want to hear it before I worried about it. I realized the flaw in my logic when I opened a new school, and it became apparent that I needed to be the biggest advocate for what the school song means and how often we sing it.
I partnered with the principal to discuss the school’s mission statement so that there was agreement across the board about our school values. For those who don’t like to write songs, here is a simple formula to follow:
Choose how often students will sing the school song, but I encourage you to have it ready for the first assembly so that students can see it is a pivotal part of attending your school.
Make a great first impression with the community by volunteering to perform a solo at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for your new school. Whether you play “The Star-Spangled Banner” while the flag is being raised, sing the school song or even just rip a solo over some sweet changes, show your coworkers and community your skillset. If you don’t have a chance to teach a large group of students the school song before the first assembly, bring a small group of students together to learn a chant, cadence or chorale that can be used as the standard for your program. Consider scheduling a daytime performance of your first concert so that students can see what your program is all about.
The first year at a new school will feel like the longest year ever. Take note of which events the students and community responded to the most during the school year, and mark those down as your new traditions. The smallest event may have had the largest impact on morale. Singing the school song at the right time or playing the fight song for other school organizations could become the new staple that students look forward to every year. And don’t underestimate the power of matching shirts!
It’s easy to feel undeserving of a new program at a new school. Instead, reflect on what the administration saw in you during the interview process. You were able to show traits that the administration considered useful and essential to the success of their new school. Part of that success will be your commitment to spread school culture through the school song, traditions and your overall presence. Go forward and be a beacon of your musical community!