Friday, December 9, 2016

Working with Parents in your Choral Music Classroom

“Working with Parents in Your Music Classroom”

For most of the 25 years I’ve taught choral music and musical theater in public schools, my program has included between 300-350 middle school students.

In the beginning of my career, I never asked for help managing day to day tasks.

I was quietly overwhelmed.

One of me…300+ of them. 

Repeatedly, I asked my administrators to hire an assistant.  For a few years, the music department was fortunate enough to share a teacher and that really helped.  Then, the recession came, and the position was never replaced.

So, over time, I’ve learned how to cultivate and navigate the world of parent volunteers out of necessity, and their help is the main reason I am able to continue to maintain such a large program for this amount of time without burning out.  They truly are one of the greatest resources available to us.  They love their children, and they often want to be a part of what is happening in the department.

In the next few posts, you will meet a cast of characters.  I will not name them to protect the innocent.  J

There is Mama Rose from Gypsy, “Cam” from the television show Modern Family, Sybill from the 1970’s movie and a cast of other folks who share their time and talents in more ways than I can count in order to give me the opportunity to focus more of my energy on actually teaching the children choral music and musical theater.  For those parents, I am more grateful than I think they realize.

…but it isn’t always easy.  Then again, nothing that is really worth anything ever is.

So, let’s get to work.




Step One:

Define your comfort zone

This is your classroom….your program.  You get to create what you want.  You have to be assertive enough on this journey to help everyone stay in their lane while they help.

What does “parent help” look like for you?  Do you want a parent in your classroom daily during class?  Would you rather have parents who complete time-consuming tasks occasionally?  Are you looking for a booster club or some other highly structured organization that meets regularly and also helps raise money?

For my program, I decided to go the route of “occasional help”.  Most of my parents work full-time, and this approach really works well for me and for them.  They don’t have to commit a huge amount of time, yet they are still able to contribute.

Step Two:

Get Started

Right before the beginning of every year, our school has booths and stations set up in the gym for orientation.  Excited parents and their children come in to see which teachers they have for the school year, find supply lists and walk around the building to find their classes.   It is a high-traffic time of the year when people are rested and ready to commit to new things.

I always make sure to place a sign up sheet on one of the tables.  On the sign up sheet, I ask for help with three tasks, and I ask for the email addresses of the potential volunteers who are ready to jump in!

Task one:  Choral Librarian for the year
Task two:  Collect Money for Chorus Shirts (including specific dates)
Task three:  Create the parent email list.


Task one:  The start of school is overwhelming.  Getting the music folders loaded with music during the first week or so of school is a challenge.  Purging 90 music folders and re-stocking them can take hours as well.  When the students are in my room, I want to teach bell-to-bell.   I don’t like to take instructional time to have the students remove music and re-load. I used to get completely overwhelmed when it was time to re-stock the music folders for my students, so I created a position of “Choral Librarian”.  It is the biggest commitment any parent makes to me in terms of “parent help”.  I like to get that position filled early in the year.

Task two:  Each year, I have to purchase about 120 new chorus shirts for sixth graders and other students who are new to my program.  To avoid using instructional time, I ask the students to bring the money during homeroom time at the start of the day.  I get parent volunteers to be present and ready to collect during the five-day window of time.  I pick the parent coordinator from the names of the person or people who signed up on the form I mentioned above.  That person will organize and count all of the money and prepare it for me to deposit. 
  
Of the three tasks listed above, the most important is #3.  Each year, I have an email distribution list for my parents.  I use gmail.  I collect the email addresses from my syllabus, which is available for you right here.    When you take a look at it, you will see more space for parents to sign up to volunteer.  Once I have collected all of the student’s syllabi, I organize the volunteers who create the email list. The idea of contributing something like this in a flexible manner on their own time appeals to the parents of my students.  I usually use 6 parents to help divide up the work on the email list.  I create clear instructions on how to access the account, and how I want it set up, and I email it to them.  I usually have my email list set up by class period, and I ask the parents to include a heading like this:  “Parent of Jay Jones”.  This makes it very easy for me to find the parent whenever I need to communicate with them, and it also makes it easy for me to send mass emails to keep parents informed. 

Step 3:

Respect their time and avoid these pitfalls.

Parent volunteers are just that:  Parent VOLUNTEERS.   They do not work for us.   If we want to have success working together with them, we must be clear in our communication.   Set parameters about when you need things done, and give them lots of advanced notice.  If you have a new eager parent helper who takes 4 days to answer your emails, listen to that valuable piece of information.  It’s talking to you.   You are not going to change this parent volunteer and help her learn to answer emails more quickly, so let it go.  It’s a waste of energy that can go in other areas.   Move on from that parent or find a less extensive, less time sensitive task for that parent to complete if he/she really wants to volunteer in your classroom. 


In my next post about “Working with parents in your Music Classroom”, I am going to share some of the other ways I work with parents in my classroom, and talk about “Mama Rose” and “Cam” from Modern Family, and at the end of this series, I’ll write about ways to handle difficult parent conferences.


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December S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Giveaway


It's the season of giving!

I am giving away the S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners!

You can enter from Friday, December 9th through Monday, December 12th at midnight.  I'll announce the winner on my blog on the morning of 12/13.  Then, on 12/13 and 12/14, I'm marking down my entire store by 20%!

Teacher used...Teacher approved!  Here is the latest endorsement of the program that we received yesterday!



Read more reviews here and here!

Please tell all of your peers!
a Rafflecopter giveaway



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Monday, October 10, 2016

"How to" Guide for S-Cubed users

Quick Reference Guide to using S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program

What is in the Complete Bundle?

*27 lessons that include everything you need to teach S-Cubed Level ONE.  This includes video examples of me teaching the program, video teaching tips for each lesson, and step by step daily guide.
*”Sight Singing Examples ONLY” is included.  You can use it if you’d like to hand the examples to your students.  It’s good for people who don’t have a Promethean Board.  It is easy to copy.


What is in the MEGA Bundle?

*All of Level ONE and all of Level TWO.  This includes video examples of me teaching the program, video teaching tips for each lesson, and step by step daily guide.
*”Sight Singing Examples ONLY” is included.  You can use it if you’d like to hand the examples to your students.  It’s good for people who don’t have a Promethean Board.  It is easy to copy.

How long will it take to teach the Complete Bundle?

*Everyone’s teaching situation is different.  I see my students daily for 50 minutes.  It takes me 27 weeks to teach it.  I teach S-Cubed about 4 times weekly on average.  We take about 10-15 minutes per day.

How long will it take to teach Level TWO?

*It will take about 18 weeks if you see them daily and follow the procedure listed above.

Can I get a synopsis of what is in each lesson?

*I have spent many hours creating the Product Descriptions on Teachers Pay Teachers.  This will be the best place for you to get a general idea of what is coming in each lesson.   Start here.  Inside the description, you will find more hyperlinks that will take you on a Lesson tour starting with Lesson 1 and progressing through the entire program.
I have also included these three links that are intended to inform you a bit more on how to use this program:


What is Music Prodigy and do I have to use it with S-Cubed?

Music Prodigy is a computer/app based program that allows students to practice and teachers to assess their students.  I tried the program for one year with my 340 middle school students, and I liked it so much that I decided to supplement S-Cubed by creating homework examples specifically for Music Prodigy.  When you purchase the “Add on”, you and your students gain access to the homework examples.  In S-Cubed, your students begin actually sight singing during Lesson 4.  There is one homework example for each example that is included in S-Cubed.  I wrote them to complement what we worked on that day in class.  I intend for teachers to assign the complementary homework example on the day the material was covered in class.  It will take most children no more than 5 or 10 minutes to complete.

I used S-Cubed for many years without Music Prodigy, and my students were successful.  However, Music Prodigy has simplified individual assessment for me significantly. 

Here is a link that includes a bit more information about Music Prodigy.


Thank you so much for your purchase!  Best of luck as you work through the program!


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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Jimmy...A lesson in what really matters.

People say that teachers have an indelible impact on the lives of the students they teach.

Well...So often during my 25 year career in public school choral music education, it has been the other way around.

...Like the time one of my most talented boys opted to leave the school where I teach to attend the district Arts school.  I said to him, "I can't believe I am losing you!  What am I going to do?"  He replied, "There will be another student next year who you will be excited about, and you will enjoy developing their special talents."

It hadn't even occurred to me.  12 years of wisdom compared to my fifty-....(um...I can't write it...but I've lived a really long time), and he was able to awaken me to a new perspective.

Change is definite, and we have to look for the silver lining.  That's what he taught me that day.

But Jimmy...he's another story.  ...One of the most epic stories of my 25 years of teaching public school choral music.


That's Jimmy.  I taught him10 years ago.  

Shortly after Jimmy was born as healthy as could be, he became ill. The illness impacted his body in such a way that he cannot control his movement much at all.  

...And Jimmy absolutely adored singing.  

Logistically, he wasn't able to enunciate very well at all.  I usually was not able to understand him when he spoke, but the students who'd grown up with Jimmy helped me.  Getting a lot of air into his lungs was quite difficult, but he did his best.  Most of the time, when Jimmy sang, he was able to produce pitch.  Most of the time, it was in tune.  

When he sang with the choir, the light in his eyes was truly from heaven.  

He wasn't able to hold the music, so the students helped him.  The students were always aware of his needs even though he had a hard time making others aware of them.  They simply sensed it.  His presence brought out the best in my middle school students.  With my class sizes as large as 84, I wasn't always as aware as I should have been.    Seeing middle school children be so tuned into Jimmy was inspiring. 

Jimmy's parents were amazing.  They gently made me aware of the needs of their son, and we worked together to help give him the best experience he could have.

Fast forward to the state spring choral music adjudication...

Each year, I take all 300+ students each year.  I separate them into 4 groups, and we attend over 2 days.   I ordered the special bus for Jimmy and his para-professional to ride to the church.  His mother and I triple checked to make sure all was set, and the county office assured us that it was. 

The day arrives for the 6th grade choir to attend the adjudication.

Of course, I'm a total wreck...an open nerve...flitting around like a bat.  Taking 150 plus students off campus to get adjudicated, for most of whom it is the first time, is always stressful.  Each year, I plan this event to the "minute".  Traffic is rough in Atlanta, and if you miss your time, you mess up the schedule for all of the other choirs.   In the days before the event, I've given tons of instructions and created lots of structure to ensure we have the best opportunity to have a good experience.


By 8:45 AM, all of my students had reported to their chaperone, and all of the the buses had arrived.

...except Jimmy's.  

We were supposed to warm up at 9:30 AM, so time was tight.

I called the front office who, in turn, called transportation.  

They had messed up the order and took responsibility and said "We'll get someone there asap."

So, I left with 149 students, and left Jimmy at school with his Para-professional.

I arrive at the church with my students.  I complete registration. 

No Jimmy and no update.  No one is answering their phones.

"Time to go into the warm up room Mr. Duncan."  

Up walks Jimmy's father.  

I turn to the organizer, and I say, "We are missing a student who is on his way.  Can you move our time back and let someone else go in our slot?"  

Surrounded by other nervous choir directors, none of whom wants to go early, she graciously says, "OK...but you'll have to go in the 10 AM slot.  That school isn't here yet, and I'll figure out what to do once they arrive."

I take my 150 students, and we sit and watch other groups.  Many of my parents had gotten off work to see their children sing at 9:30, and they needed to return to their jobs.

The pressure is building.

The para-professional calls my cell and says, "Still no bus", and there is still no update on when the bus will arrive for Jimmy from the transportation department.

Time ticks by.  My students are getting restless.  The parents who've come to watch are getting irritated.  "What time will you sing?  I thought it was at 9:30?"  

I answer, "We are waiting on a student."

I'm sure they are thinking..."Just one?  Was he late for school?  You have 150 children in this choir.  Why does his voice matter?"

The organizer comes back and says, "You'll be going to the warm up room in 5 minutes."

Jimmy's father has been watching my struggle.

He walks over to me again, but this time, he speaks.  He says, "Mr. Duncan...Do you know what time Jimmy woke up this morning?"  

I answered, "No.  What time?"

He said, "3:30 AM.  He was so excited to be a part of this event today.  He loves singing more than anything in the world."

I felt my tears welling up.

I said, "Thank you."

I went to the organizer and said, "I have no idea when we will get to sing today.  We are still waiting on my student."  

"Where is he?  Is he a soloist?  Why can't you go forward without him?"

"I can't.  I won't.  So, do what you have to do with the schedule.  If we don't get to sing for the judges today, we will stay all day, wait for everyone to be done and stand up there and sing once everyone is gone."

My phone rings.  They are on there way!  Hallelujah!

15 minutes tick by, and they arrive.  Jimmy wheels in with his para and all of the other teachers and organizers see.  

It all made sense for them in that moment...or maybe it didn't.  

I don't care.   I know I did what was right in that moment.

I had to trust my heart, let things happen and let go of what I couldn't control.  

Jimmy needed to sing with us.  I needed to see him sing with us. His parents needed to see him sing with us.  The kids needed him to sing with us.

...Not because he is the star tenor...not because he is singular reason we do or do not get a superior rating...but because he loves to sing.

That's all.

...and watching the joy on Jimmy's face as he sang that day is etched in my mind.

Here is Jimmy on the day he graduated high school:




I often tell the students that for me, making beautiful choral music together is one of the most spiritual experiences I have as a human being.   That day was one of the most difficult and magical ones of my career.

He impacted me far more than I could ever had impacted him.




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