Let’s face it — we live in an instant-gratification society. If you have spent any time recently in the classroom or around young people, the alarmingly accelerated rate of technological growth, combined with students being surrounded by tech at their fingertips every moment of every day, has led to a situation where anything that has a long-term period of growth and development seems outdated, unattainable or at worst, undesirable by many young (and old) people today.
So how do we counteract this in our classrooms? What are the tools we need to help our programs flourish? Where do we start?
As strange as it may sound, I’m obsessed with sales. Let me rephrase that — I’m obsessed with the art of selling.
I know, I know … I’m a music teacher. Why in the world would I care about selling? The truth is we are all in sales, whether we want to admit it or not.
My favorite salesman, Zig Ziglar, once said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
Let’s look at the second half of that quote: “…if you will just help other people get what they want.”
I think about this often because our community, specifically the parents of these wonderful children who will someday join our music programs, want the best for their child. They want to see them mature into respectful, hard-working, dedicated young people who will go out into the world and have the tools needed to be successful. These traits, along with a myriad of others, are the qualities that are taught by music educators around the world every day!
Just make a short list of the things you teach in your classroom: dependability, responsibility, respect, encouragement, leadership, teamwork, how to grow from disappointment, how to win, how to lose, punctuality, dedication. The list goes on and on.
As a parent of four children, I can tell you that every parent I know would eagerly ask, “Where do I line up to assure that my kids learn these things?!” The answer is YOUR music program. So, that settles it — what parents really want can be found in your program.
The flip side constitutes what you want as a music educator. It’s fair to say that we want successful programs that explore and enjoy beautiful music together. We want to impact the lives of those around us and perpetuate the building of great humans through music for years to come. Now that is a noble cause.
Now for the salesman part. Who will sell all these amazing qualities that your program has to offer to the community?
It must and shall be YOU!
There is no one who cares more about the program and the students within it than you! There is no one who knows and sees the daily transformation in lives like you do! There is no one who is willing to dedicate the insane hours and time away from their family toward this cause like you already do!
So, you might argue that you’re not a salesperson. I get it. I’m not saying that you should cold call everyone in your district trying to get their children in band. That would be weird and nuts. Don’t ever do that.
What I find to be effective, however, is to put your current students out there and display their many talents as often as possible. Do you have a student who is an offensive linesman on the football team and marches trombone (naturally) at halftime? Include pictures of him on social media and in your band promo material. Do you have students who do amazing things academically as well as being great music students? Make a big deal about them at your next concert or event. Address the concerns of your community by finding students who are being successful in those areas of concern within your program and give them a voice.
Like many other schools, we at Forney High School are contending with the strong push from our legislature to fund and fill classrooms with career and technical education (CTE) students. Now I have nothing against CTE, but I am standing strong in my belief that students should not miss out on music education in exchange for CTE programs.
With that in mind, I went to the head of our CTE department for the school district and had an open conversation about my desire to champion students who are excelling in multiple programs. My main talking point focused on my senior drum major who is an amazing leader, flute player, powerlifter and advanced welder! Wow! Let’s show off her amazing talents AND how incredible our school district, administrators and her parents are for helping her along this very diverse pathway. These are the stories we need to tell (and sell!).
Each year, we do a giant (and ridiculous) series of concert performances just before the December break in which all the students in the band program (6th through 12th grade) perform a holiday concert back to back to back. It’s a wild night, but it gives me the golden opportunity to emcee the event and talk directly to the parents about the scientific evidence regarding the many benefits of music education. It’s a scientific fact that students enrolled in music education programs have a leg up on their peers socially, emotionally and academically. Let’s tell the world, starting with the parents!
I utilize the Texas Music Educators website for advocacy materials year after year — it’s an incredible resource.
I’ll be the first to admit that being in sales is a tough business fraught with challenges, obstacles, lots of maybes, even more nos, and defeats, but I would be remiss if I didn’t circle back to the challenge that opened our conversation today. We are working against an instant-gratification society that we all live in. There will undoubtedly be tough times and disappointments in our lives in sales. There will be times when it would be so much easier to take that 9-to-5 job. There are plenty of other professions that don’t depend on constant fundraising, legislators passing this or that law, the new fad in school schedules, and who knows what’s next! Yet, I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes by the great Teddy Roosevelt regarding the tenacity and determination needed to push through not only tough times, but downright hurtful words from others:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
We as music educators already KNOW what amazing benefits our programs have in store for our students. Choose to “dare greatly” as their advocate and take on the challenges that lie ahead with the intent to change hearts and lives through the transformative power of music!