Motivation for your Monday

Mondays can be tough.  They can be tough for students and teachers alike.  A couple of years ago, I was trying to come up with some different weekly activities to use on a regular basis in my classroom to enhance our rehearsal time.  I decided I needed something for Monday to get us going for the week with our music, and I called it “Motivation for your Monday.”  I would share articles, videos, or quotes with the students on Monday to try and get them pumped up for rehearsal.

After a few weeks, I was running out of ideas and I honestly felt like the whole idea had fallen flat.  I decided to drop it.

Several months later, students began asking about it.  “What happened to our Motivational Mondays?”  “When is our next Monday motivation?”  I decided to poll the classes to see if anyone really cared, and it turned out they did.  They were enthusiastic in their response!  They wanted it back.

So it’s back.  And I am finding it a lot easier to come up with activities, and so far it’s going pretty well.  They aren’t all huge successes, but this week I had a pretty great one.  I decided to give them a short writing exercise in which they answered two questions:

What motivates you in life?  What motivates you in Chorus class?

I was really surprised and impressed at the answers I got.  I found myself very encouraged by their words and it helped me get to know each student a little better.  The responses were really well thought out.  Here are just a few excerpts:

“What motivates me in Chorus is the freedom it offers.  Other classes are fun, but the work involved isn’t usually as relaxing or fulfilling as singing in Chorus.  While in other classes you must be constantly evaluating what you say, in Chorus you are free to sing out loud without fear of discrimination.  This class has a higher percentage of positive, accepting people than my other classes.”

“I am motivated in Chorus by other people’s enthusiasm.  I am a people pleaser so if people expect me to sing strong and work hard, I will.  Enthusiasm is contagious, and it motivates me to work.”

“Learning new music motivates me.  It motivates me to be better and practice more.  Also, having such an excited teacher makes me want to learn more.”

My motivation in Chorus class stems from me simply wanting to better myself, as well as [it being] an outlet for me.  Music speaks for me when I cannot find the words to say.”

Teachers, try asking your students what motivates them.  You might be surprised at what you’ll learn, and you might find some new ways to encourage them in the classroom.

I plan on keeping several of these responses.  Just another reminder that our music classes are valuable places that allow our students to be authentic, creative, and collaborative.

Change it Up

I like change.  Not major changes, but small changes that break up the monotony of the day.  I can get in to ruts much too easily, so small changes, assuming they are positive changes, can be rejuvenating for me.  Because of this, I am always looking for ways to change it up as I teach Chorus on block scheduling.

Recently, I have been reading about various ways of standing singers in the choral ensemble.  The goal behind the various standing arrangements are, of course, to enhance the sound and the ability of the singers to hear one another within the ensemble.  I am always moving my students around to try and achieve a better blend and balance, so from day one I tell students to be prepared to move more than once throughout the semester.  And let’s be honest: I teach high school.  I’m not always moving you for the sake of blend.  Sometimes I am moving you because you just won’t quit babbling to your best friend.  Stop talking and sing!  But of course, I’m sure I’m the only high school teacher that deals with this, right?  Ok, I digress.

My classroom has risers built in, which makes it really unique.

My empty classroom after last year's spring concert.

My empty classroom after last year’s spring concert.

I am really thankful for a such a great space.  However, I have realized that because I’ve gotten so used to looking at the same setup each day, I have forgotten that there are better ways for the Chorus to stand in rehearsal.  While the students are somewhat angled at a slight curve, their sound is still focused only at me.  The sopranos rarely hear much volume from the altos.  They need to be in more of a semi-circle, which means breaking away from our riser setup.

And that’s just what I did this week.  After reading of some new ideas for standing arrangements, I realized this is just what I needed.  I got the students off of the risers and facing one another in new arrangements.  I started with my Advanced group.  They were perfectly willing to try it, and once we had our new arrangement, we started singing through one of our pieces.  The looks on their faces told me this was just the change we needed.  We were all (myself included) amazed at what a drastic change this move had brought about.  The students were able to hear so much more, therefore allowing them to create a much more beautiful blend and balance.

The beginnings of a new setup in rehearsal for one of the smaller ensembles.

The beginnings of a new setup in rehearsal for one of the smaller ensembles.

Another perk?  It forces the students to be much closer in proximity to me, which means I can more easily see if they have their cell phones out.  They have acknowledged that this discourages them from texting in class.  Score.

What sort of arrangement do you use in your classroom?  I am continuing to try out new arrangements within our semi-circle.  How creative are you with your classroom setup?

5 Ingredients for a Great Start to the School Year

Are you looking for an article full of teacher gripes, frustrations, if-only’s, and reminders as to why so many are burnt out?

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Well, this post is not for you.  I’m about to disgust you with all sorts of warm fuzzies, because my year has had a fantastic start.  The kind of start you dream about as a college student on the verge of graduating and embarking on your new career as a teacher.  I’m about to brag on some really special students and share with you how supportive my administration is.  Hard to believe?  I know!  I’ve got my coffee and I am ready to share it all.

Perhaps I am doing everything differently this year.  Perhaps I’m finally getting the hang of this teaching thing after several years of practice.  Perhaps my administration has made it all happen for me.  Actually, I think God is good and has orchestrated it all for me.  I am so thankful!  I can sum up my excitement by listing the five ingredients that I think have made for a fantastic start to the school year.

1.  Enthusiastic Students.  On the first day of school, we had an abbreviated schedule in which the classes were very short so that students could attend a series of informative sessions to prepare them for the school year.  With the small amount of time we had, the idea was that we could introduce the syllabus and other typical “first day of school” items.  I, however, wanted to hear what I had to work with for the year.  I wanted the students to start singing right away.  I was prepared to hear some moaning and groaning as my returning students would probably want to socialize with friends they had not seen all summer, or hesitation from the new students as they were unsure of their new surroundings.  I am happy (and a little shocked) to say that none of those things happened.  Students were on their feet right away, following me in every new warm-up I introduced.  My Advanced students actually cheered when I told them to stand for warm-ups.  They cheered.  I thought I would cry on the spot.  All of my students – and I mean all of my students – wanted to be there.  Which leads me to item number two…

2.  A supportive administration.  Most people are under the assumption that all of the performing arts students are there because they really want to be.  I wish that were the case.  It’s amazing how many students choose Chorus with the belief that they will sit in a chair and chat with their friends for a full year.  There are also a lot of students that can’t manage to pick an elective they want and so they are offered Chorus even if they don’t really want it.  The poor attitudes that these students bring in to the class can become a poison.  They can steal their classmates’ enthusiasm as well as mine.  They will disrupt rehearsals over and over with very little concern for the consequences.  I’ve had so many of these students that I can typically spot them as they enter the room on the first day.  This year I am happy to say that I haven’t found those students yet.  My administrators have made a conscious effort to only place students in my class who truly want to be there.  The curriculum office staff has gone above and beyond to ensure that I have all of the kids I recruited and that they are in the appropriate course.  They have spent countless hours working on this for me, and it has made a tremendous difference in my classroom.  Even my returning students have commented on what a different atmosphere there is, and how much they are enjoying the enthusiasm that everyone shares.  I am suddenly teaching a classroom full of students that are engaged and anxious to hear all that I have to share with them.  It’s a fantastic way to spend the day!

This year, I am teaching three Chorus classes: Beginner’s, Intermediate, and Advanced.  It is wonderful to have three levels in which to place students so that they can be most successful.  I am so grateful that my administration has backed me on this plan.  On top of all of this, my principal is incredibly kind and is always looking for ways to encourage the faculty and give praise where it’s due.  Yes, life is good.

3.  Organization.  I am more organized this year than I have ever been.  Organization is not my forte, but this year I have found a system that works.  Instead of running back and forth to my office all day, I keep everything in a small desk at the front of the classroom.  It is on wheels so I can easily move it during rehearsal, and it has a cover that locks so that nothing disappears when outside groups use my room in the afternoons and evenings.  The best part has been my baskets.

organization

I realize that organization comes easily to some, and so maybe right now you are shaking your head at me over how sad it is that something so simple is so new to me.  I can’t blame you.  Still, I’m excited about it.  Each class has their own basket and in each basket are hanging folders full of flyers, make-up assignments, extra copies of music, rosters, and completed assignments.  Everything is in one place, and even the students caught on quickly to my system and so they know where to find everything without asking me.  The best part?  There are absolutely no stacks of papers or music on my piano.  It’s a blessed miracle.

4.  An exciting fall concert theme.  I don’t typically give our fall concerts a theme, but this year I had an idea.  What if all of our concert music was written by composers who are still alive?  Composers that we could e-mail or even Skype with questions about the music?  I pitched the idea to my students and they went crazy.  I couldn’t believe how much they loved the idea.  It made choosing music a little more difficult as I had to do plenty of research, but I have found myself in love with my song choices.  This certainly makes for some fun rehearsals.  Plus, the educational opportunities are endless.  Students are seeing that quality choral music is being written right now, and that music history is still being made.  Names like Bach and Mendelssohn are important, and we will study those guys later in the year, but let’s also look at what’s happening right now, all around us.  Names like Eric Whitacre and Rosephayne Powell are now well known among my students, and I could not be prouder.

5.  My own positive attitude.  Some days this comes easier than others.  This is the one I will have to work at once January arrives.  For now, I try to start each day with a little quiet time in prayer to God as I sip my coffee.  That’s my chance to get my head on straight for the day.  I often drink out of a mug that is decorated with words from Psalm 46:10:  “Be still and know that I am God.”  God has placed me where I am today.  And when I am quiet, I can remind myself how stinkin’ awesome it is that I am a high school choral director.  It’s the job I wanted back in high school as I watched my own choral director share his expertise and love of music with me.  I have an amazing opportunity to give students a creative outlet while also introducing them to music from cultures and time periods that they are learning about in their other classes.  I can be a bright spot in their day when everything is going wrong for a student.  I can build meaningful relationships with students who desperately need them, showing them I care and that I believe in them.  I can sing as often as I like throughout the day.  I can be creative and innovative and immediately see the results.  My job is challenging and tiring, but at the end of the day, I know I love it.

Here’s to a great new school year.  I hope I can write a post in May with as many smiles as I am today.