Archive for the 'Schools and Teaching' Category

Rehearsal and Ensemble

New learnings from this year:

  1. Any group of people can become a class.  All that’s required is a lecturer, a topic, and a roster.  The group doesn’t even need to assemble for the class to work.
  2. Classes are useful for measuring individual performance and for enforcing individual accountability to standards written for individuals.
  3. A group of people becomes an ensemble only when the individuals in the group subordinate their own needs and desires to those of the group.
  4. The only way people will forgo the pursuit of individual goals for the benefit of the group is if there is safety for the individual within the group environment.  Individuals must know that they will not be lost or rejected if they risk themselves for the group.  It’s counter-intuitive, but the group has to protect the individual so that the individual can risk himself or herself for the group.
  5. Creating, protecting, and maintaining a safe environment where an ensemble can emerge is the first and most important task of the group’s leader.  The leader must identify, confront, and if necessary remove individuals whose behavior is divisive.
  6. Leaders model and enable safe environments by risking the rejection of the group and surviving over and over again.  There is no safety in a group where the leader uses his position to protect himself.
  7. Ensemble does not just happen.  It is an accomplishment that goes against our natural impulses.  It must be modeled, it must be taught, it must be built, and it must be celebrated when it is achieved.
  8. The leader / director is the chief risk-taker in the group and has the most to lose if the group fails to create a safe environment and become an ensemble.
  9. Rehearsal is the privilege, joy, and reward of ensembles.
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Mr. Davis Presents the Seniors

From the 2009 WHS Spring Chorus Concert.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "Mr. Davis Presents the Seniors", posted with vodpod

Food court lessons

chickfila0007

Here’s the scene:  food court in a mall, choir director with 25 hungry high school kids on a field trip.  Everyone has choices about where and what to eat.  Represented at my table were Taco Bell, Sbarro, Saku Japan (my pick), Chick-Fli-A, and few others.

We’re wrapping up the meal when an employee from Chick-Fil-A approaches the student with the Chick-Fil-A meal and offers her a refill on her drink.  As she is leaving with the cup, I make a comment to the kids about going beyond people’s expectations in service and product, and how important it is to get people’s attention by doing what no one else will do (namely, not hiding behind your counter, waiting to be asked for a refill).

Get this:  the Chick-Fil-A lady overhears me, stops, and comes back to our table to ask the rest of us if she can refill our drinks as well.  

My kids are stunned.  I’m giddy.

After the refills were distributed, we talked at length about what just happened, and drew out these lessons:

  1. Forgiveness is a powerful tool in customer relations.  In a real sense, the employee forgave us for not picking her store in the first place, treating us as if we had picked her, as if we were already her customers.  She did not exercise her “right” to deny us the service.
  2. Can you say “leverage?”  Giving away a refill that costs maybe 10¢ in product in a way that will likely produce hundreds of dollars in future sales is “leverage,” class.  That’s L-E-V-E-R-A-G-E, and yes, you’ll be tested on your grasp of this concept for the rest of your life.
  3. Doing flows from being.  Chick-Fil-A is not in the chicken business.  This employee understands that Chick-Fil-A is in the customer-acquisition-and-retention business.  The predicate in Chick-fil-A’s mission statement is a verb of being: “To be America’s best quick-service restaurant at winning and keeping customers.”  This woman wasn’t sleeping through her Chick-Fil-A training classes.
  4. Doing the right thing is more important than getting credit (or a grade) for doing the right thing.  I pointed out to the kids that they were now drinking free Chick-Fil-A product from cups that advertised for Chick-Fil-A’s competition.  Chick-Fil-A had every “right” to get credit for outstanding service, but this employee was more interested in actually providing the service than in getting the credit.  
  5. Advertising (or advocacy) is good, but doing the right thing by people is much more effective at changing minds.

It’s not exactly easy to impress high schoolers, but this Chick-Fil-A associate had the undivided attention of some saucer-eyed kids with a lifetime of purchasing power ahead of them.  

(If Chick-Fil-A’s paying attention, look up the manager at the Hamilton Place Mall’s food court during Friday’s lunch hour.  It’s promotion time for the blonde who gets it.)

Also, if you’re a CFA fan, you’ll love this.

Advocacy, or Why Choir? (part 2)

Advocacy bugs me.  Marketing doesn’t bug me, packaging doesn’t bug me, but advocacy bugs me.

This past week I accompanied 3 of my students to the annual Tennessee Music Educators Association (TMEA) conference in Nashville.  The students qualified to sing in the All-State Honors Choir, and got to sing under the baton of Anton Armstrong of St. Olaf’s College and Peter Bagley from the University of Connecticut.  They worked very hard and deserved the recognition and honor of being selected, as well as the priveledge of working with 2 masters of the choral craft.

And the payoff for their hard work was to be the final concert in front of their parents and chorus teachers, bursting with pride.  It was a wonderful, magical moment.

Right up until the advocacy part.

Before each choir’s performance, the emcee made it a point to advocate for music education, often in strident, combative terms:  “If your school board even hints at cutting music programs in your communities at home, I hope you’ll stand with me and by God make your voices heard!  Yeah!”  Obligatory applause, and even an “Amen!” here and there.

It was weird.  It was annoying.  It made me want to go out and cut a music program somewhere just because. 

I understand that TMEA is at its core an advocacy group, and that the primary mission of TMEA is to advance and protect music education’s place and role in public schooling.  But must we turn a beautiful music concert into a pep rally for music ed?  Can’t we just let the concert make the point for us?  Can’t we just celebrate the kids and their work?

There will always be school boards that consider cutting music programs in times of financial crisis and stress, but no parent will stand up and take a bullet for a music program because of anyone’s advocacy.  

The best strategy to ensure that music programs survive is not noise and preaching.  The best strategy to ensure that music programs survive is to have awesome music programs everywhere, music programs that provide tangible value to their communities, value that extends beyond the benefit of the participants.  Who are the people in your community other than the parents of your currently enrolled students that would notice or care if your music program was nixed?

What kind of music program would your community fight for?  

Maybe advocacy is just easier than taking a hard look at what we’re producing and re-vamping the product so that people will willingly throw themselves between our programs and budget-cutting school boards.  Maybe it just makes us feel like we’ve done something when for the most part all we’ve done is preach to the choir and irritate the heathen unconvinced.

Maybe I need to redesign the chorus program at West High…

On Conferences and Jubilees

I’m in Nashville for the rest of the week, attending the Tennessee Music Educator’s Association annual conference in conjunction with the All-State band and chorus clinics.  Ostensibly I’m “chaperoning” 3 of my kids who made All-State choir this year, but that’s akin to holding my yard accountable for growing grass.  They get a cursory check-in from me just so I can confirm they’re still alive and the lawn’s not on fire.

Last year this conference saved my sanity–I was in the throes of my first semester teaching high school chorus and not certain I’d survive the experience.  Getting away from the choir room and hanging out with fellow chorus teachers (many of whom were my classmates at UT back in the day) was so helpful and so refreshing.  It refilled my hope-bucket!

It reminds me of many, many Arts Conferences at Willow Creek that kept me in the game during my worship pastor days, so much so that I have to wonder if the main value of these conferences isn’t the content so much as the environment.  Being away from what’s “normal,” whether it’s schedule- or duty-wise or simply being in a different city, may be all it takes to reset the system back to hopeful joy in the “normal” flow of life.  

It’s a sabbath, a jubilee for people who don’t normally do sabbaths or jubilees.

I miss my normal, but am still so glad to be here.  Let some other people do the teaching for two days.  Let someone else lead the worship at Powell Church on Sunday.

I will simply rest and receive.

Until Monday….

Smartboard Attendance–shutting it down

Thanks to all who commented and were so enthusiastic about my little smartboard experiment (Post 1, Post 2, Post 3, and Post 4).  It was so gratifying to see others get some use out of my little brainstorm-turned-spreadsheet.

I did think it only fair to let everyone know that I’m not using it anymore.  The system just didn’t do what I needed it to do, namely, 1) enforce my tardy policy and 2) free me up to do other things, like teaching.

At its core, the problem was this:  this technology was not sufficient to enforce procedure, which, really, is the point.  The attendance tap was supposed to be the last in a sequence of entering-the-room tasks before taking one’s seat:

  1. come in,
  2. dispose of gum/food/weapons/drugs, etc.,
  3. drop backpacks,
  4. get music folder,
  5. tap in,
  6. take seat. 

It NEVER went that way. 

The students invariably took this sequence: 

  1. tap in,
  2. leave room to talk in the hallway with loser boyfriend/girlfriend until the bell rings,
  3. drop backpacks,
  4. get music folder,
  5. take seat, dispose of gum/food, etc. only when called out by me,
  6. stare in shocked disbelief at the smartboard showing their status returned to “Absent” because of their post-tap excursion to the hallway. 

At no point when using the smartboard to track attendance did I have a class-full of seated students when the bell rang.  I still had to yell, “Let’s go!  In your seat, you little…!”

The kids enjoyed using the smartboard so much that they would race each other to tap in ALL the names they could.  Some of this was innocent excitement and some of it was malicious system-manipulation (“But, Mr. Davis, Buffy just called me from the parking lot and asked me to tap her in because she’s here on time…”).  I found myself having to spend my time policing the tapping procedure, more time than I would have spent simply policing the attending procedure.

At the end of the day, the most effective attendance-taking method was my presence at the podium, refusing admission to students without a front-office-issued tardy pass who were not in their seats when the bell rang .  One day of that, and we did fine thereafter.

Teaching-lesson #273:  The teacher must enforce the policy.  Never push policy enforcement onto a system or onto a student helper.  It’s worth it to take the time to give the policy teeth, preferrably your teeth.

Oklahoma Preview

This was just too good to not post on both this blog and West High Choir Guy.  Today was our first choreography rehearsal for Oklahoma! and here’s what the kids were able to get done on the “Farmer Dance:”

(or click here to see it on Google Video)

Our daughter (we “adopted” her as part of an “adopt-a-college student” program at our former church) Michal Lynn is doing the choreography for the show and has got the kids working really hard already.  Isn’t this exciting?

I can’t wait to see this show!  We open Thursday, October 9.


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