Hacks for Music Teachers – Part 2

More Tips, Tricks, & Techniques to Help You Organize

As you can see, it has been awhile since I shared a blog-post. It looks like I went on vacation and skipped the entire month of July!

Well, truth be told, familiar to many of my band director friends, we are hitting the streets with a plethora of summer clinics, rehearsals, and camps to prepare for and usher in the season of parades, halftime shows, pre-games, festivals, competitions, etc., and although I am officially “retired,” I chose to re-up as “admin” to the “Pride of Upper St. Clair” – the marching band of the school from which I left in 2013. Serving as announcer for now more than 37 years, I decided to “put the pedal to the metal” and join the “band leadership team” to discover the joy of watching our ensemble “hatch” their new shows from scratch, re-awaken and build on their technique, inspire and grow their membership, and focus on “practice-practice-practice” and “making music!” I just finished a grueling week of those 12-14 hour band camp days spent in close partnership with 100+ of my favorite high school musicians.

Fantastic? Yes. Exhausting? Absolutely! It reminds me of 30-years-worth of nonstop days and nights of leading the annual spring musical as director/producer, including missing meals, dragging myself home to re-acquaint myself with my wife (who went through this, too), and dropping into bed. I have always said, quoting Ernie Zeliniski in his book How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free, it is important to find PURPOSE, structure, and community in retirement… but this hectic pace of frenzied activity at times tests my endurance. And, it feels a little like I never left teaching….

Therefore, I thought it would be appropriate to share some “advice from the experts” in terms of organizational tools and quick fixes or “hacks.” (See Part 1 on this topic.) This is only a gourmet “taste” of their ideas to simplify your life, work, and teaching. You should do yourself a favor and take more time to research the websites below for a complete explanation of their recommendations. We appreciate their generosity and willingness to be “free and open” to permit us to repeat their ideas in this forum.

Easy Time Savers for Instrumental Teachers

Photo and article excerpt by Wendy Higdon

To get started with a “bang,” let’s visit Wendy Higdon’s “On and Off the Podium” website here, or the NAfME “Music in a Minuet” blog site which reprinted her Clever Music Teacher Hacks That Will Make Your Year Amazing – Getting Ahead of the Time Crunch.

  • “Use rubber pencil grips as inexpensive thumb rest cushions on clarinets by cutting them in thirds. (see photo)
  • Pink erasers work well as emergency rock stops for your cello and bass players
  • Purchase golf pencils on the cheap to keep in the classroom so that forgetting a pencil never becomes an excuse. Kids won’t love using these short, little pencils, so they are less likely to walk away at the end of class.
  • Three ring binders with sheet protectors help students keep organized and also cut down on lost music. If you want to be super-organized, add a pencil pouch and tab dividers in the binder.
  • Strips of velcro on the carpeting work well as guides to where chairs should go and allow your students to quickly and easily straighten up the rows. (see photo)
  • Print a sign with important information that your students frequently need (music store phone number, website addresses, etc.) and have them take a picture with their phone so they won’t have to ask you in the future. Do the same for important dates, locker combinations or anything else that is easily forgotten.
  • Locker mirrors can be purchased cheaply during school supply sales. Buy a class set and use them to check embouchure and more!
  • Did a clarinet or sax player forget their ligature? Or worse. . . it got stepped on and now it is as flat as a pancake! Use a rubber band to hold the reed on the mouthpiece until the student can get a new one.
  • Does your baton get buried under all your conductor scores? Use a binder clip on the side of your music stand, and it will always be handy! (see photo)
  • Do your beginning flute players have trouble remembering which keys the fingers of their left hand go on? Use “Avery Dot” stickers to mark the keys. You can do the same with clarinet pinky keys. Color code the keys on the right and left hand to assist students in learning their alternate fingerings. (see photo)”

There are a lot more “why didn’t I think of that” time management hints throughout the article. Also, be sure to check out her interesting Microsoft Word and Excel templates to use for your seating and locker assignments.

Band Directors Collaborate!

Photo and article excerpt by Mike Doll

The middle school band directors in South Carolina got together and created a brainstorming session to share teaching tips and strategies with each other in order to improve their music programs. According to Mike Doll, editor of one of the blog posts Band Directors Talk Shop, “After the success of the first meeting, we decided to continue this on a regular basis, and we now do this 2-3 times a year for the past 10 years. These ‘best practices’ gatherings have been very informative, and we always walk away with several new ideas to try in our classrooms.”

Here are several ingenious ideas from their “toolkit” of Tricks of the Trade – Five Organizational Tips.

1. Music sorter stick
“One of our directors shared a neat way to sort music back into score order without multiple piles of different parts scattered around them on the floor. If you go online and search for Plastic Sort All, you will find the tool they use for this trick.”

“The director then used a label maker and created labels for each instrument in score order and attached them to the sorter in place of the letters and numbers on the end. “

2. Lines/tape on the floor for easy chair placement
“One director, with a tile floor, mentioned they would check with their maintenance folks and find out when the wax would be stripped from the floor. At that point, they would tie a string to their director stand and measure the distance to the first row. They would then attach a sharpie to the other end of the string and use it like a compass to draw arcs on the floor. Once the floor was waxed, the lines never came up. Gaffers tape also works on carpeted floors. At the end of each class, the director would have everyone look down to make sure the front chair legs were on the arc. Clean neat rows in seconds at the end of each period.”

5. SMART Band Student.

“Quick and clean set of expectations for your band students. A SMART band student is one who is:

  • Silent
  • Marks Mistakes
  • Attentive
  • Respectful
  • Team Player”

The article’s “Tip #4” on Band Binders is reminiscent of what I had applied to my grades 5-8 string program. My wife utilizes something similar for her online music lessons. Rookie or new teachers, especially, check it out!

In addition, you should peruse their website for an inspiring collection of articles on a host of other topics:

Band Room Hacks

Photo from Google’s Search of “Band Room Hacks on Pinterest” by Julia Arenas

How timely and appropriate! I stumbled on this Pinterest site, Band Room Hacks, a collection by Julia Arenas, and since I did not get advance permission to reprint her library of images, I will invite you to go explore them for yourself. At a quick glance, I see she has assembled from music colleagues a lot of excellent storage solutions as well as music teaching tools that may inspire you to modify/add your own new time-saving shortcuts.

Time and Task Management on Steroids

We round off our organizational hacks for music teachers with the brilliance of Ashley Danyew, and excerpts from her blog post 9 Time-Saving Tools and Tactics for Busy Music Teachers and Directors.

Although productivity experts like Stephen Covey in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and the originators of the aforementioned (in Part 1) Priority Management System (a favorite of mine) may be most helpful, we can all learn from Ashley as she sums things up with these tips on supercharging ourselves in planning for a good start to the school year. (You’ll have to visit her post to get the full gist of what to do!)

  1. Put all your to-do’s in one place.
  2. Track your time.
  3. Batch related tasks.
  4. Limit social media.
  5. Divide your work-day into time blocks.
  6. Set aside time to send and respond to emails.
  7. Close documents and browser tabs you are not currently using.
  8. Go into meetings with an agenda or outline.
  9. Make templates.

I particularly love this introduction to her article:

“One thing I hear over and over from church musicians and music educators (well, everyone, really) is that there never seems to be enough time to get it all done.”

Time to teach
Time to rehearse
Time to write
Time to practice
Time to be with family
Time to be a good friend
Time to read
Time to exercise
Time to learn

“We’re always looking for new ways to be more productive, get more done in the little time we seem to have, and save time in places where, like money, we might be overspending. Am I right?”

“That’s one of my favorite ways to think about time – as money. It’s a commodity. We all have the same number of hours in the day – it’s how we spend them that makes the difference.”

Where (and how) do you want to spend your time? What’s important to you?

“Once you can answer this question, you’ll be motivated to make it happen – to take control of how you’re spending your time and look for ways to save it, where you can.”

9 Time-Saving Tools & Tactics for Busy Music Teachers and Directors
by Ashley Danyew

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Have a great school year!

PKF

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