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Palen Music Center Quick Note

Monday, November 11, 2013


Palen Music Center is dedicated to helping children experience excellence, personal growth, and joy through involvement in music. We carry out this mission by supporting area band directors through weekly service, support, educational programs, and quality products. This weekly Quick Note newsletter strives to highlight topics that are immediately helpful in the classroom. Comments, suggestions, ideas, and articles are always welcome.


Looking for help on a particular topic? Be sure to check out our Quick Note Catalog of back issues!

Why Taking Choir Kept Me From Becoming Valedictorian

The TED talk featured in this article discusses GPA, fine arts scheduling, and why enrollment in the arts kept him from becoming his school's valedictorian. This 12-minute video is DEFINITELY worth the time to watch!! Thank you to Dan Altis at Republic High School for recommending it!

Plan for Success by John Bell

Since retiring from public school teaching, I’ve had the great pleasure of teaching in a variety of roles for three universities. At each of these institutions, I have taught secondary instrumental methods courses and supervised student teaching. I am truthfully in awe of the requirements today’s students are expected to meet to become a member of the teaching profession. Teacher Work Samples ALONE, completed during student teaching assignments, often resemble major research projects! (For those of us who are ‘veteran’ teachers, most of these requirements are shall we say a bit more intense than what we experienced!)

To better prepare students enrolled in secondary instrumental methods courses, and I constantly emphasize two words PLANNING & PREPARATION. It’s true most of us don’t really want to be bothered, but both planning and preparation are vital to successful teaching and rehearsing! If you’ve ever attended one of Tony Maiello’s clinics on rehearsal techniques, you KNOW both are vital components of his rehearsal process.

Thanks to the principal in the building where I started my career, I became aware of the pragmatic nature of effective planning. No educational jargon, just ‘stuff’ that was applicable to what I wanted to accomplish as a band director. In the following I would like to share a process I believe is particularly useful for those new to the profession.

During my first year of teaching, the district in which I taught was going through a curriculum update. As a new teacher I felt completely at a loss regarding what suggestions I should be making for my particular level and area of music instruction. Fortunately, the first part of the process for all teachers in my building was to complete a curriculum log for the entire year. (This was in addition to a daily planning guide.) This curriculum log laid the groundwork for designing a working, rational curriculum.

I am confident I’m not alone when I report I was a bit overwhelmed during my first year of teaching. There were actually more things to do than stand in front of the groups with which I worked and ‘teach’ them! All of these things went in to my curriculum log for the year. At the end of the year, it was very revealing to look back over everything that had happened. My curriculum log provided an opportunity to reflect on things that worked and those that needed more thought.

By the beginning of my second year I felt much more confident, not only because I had a year of experience in the classroom, but also because now I had something concrete on which to base decisions. As that second year flew by, I could concentrate on expanding and adjusting things I knew would be successful, and I could avoid those pitfalls of my first year.

I’m sure this information is very familiar to veteran teachers, but my attempt is to prompt those of you who are new to the profession to really take the time to reflect on the past year. Learn from your successes, but also learn from your mistakes! In fact, you may learn more by seeing what to avoid, in others and in your own practices.

Even if you are a veteran teacher, I encourage you, for at least one year, to complete a curriculum log. Plans may go astray, but with the information you collect with a log of your activities for the year, you will have a tool to review what tasks were actually accomplished, not just planned. By the way I now have a drawer FULL of rehearsal plans, including specific rehearsal timings for each work. For several years, after every rehearsal I’ve just dropped them in a drawer. If/when I return to the same work with a different ensemble well, you get the idea!

John Bell currently serves as a road representative for Palen Music Center at our Liberty, MO location. He recently retired as Director of Bands and Music Department Lead Teacher at Park Hill South High School, and also taught at Park Hill HS and William Chrisman HS. He holds degrees from Central Missouri State University (now UCM) and the University of Illinois with postgraduate work toward the DMA in Conducting at The University of Iowa. John is a recipient of the John Philip Sousa Legion of Honor. He is active as an adjudicator and clinician throughout the Midwest, serves as Director of Bands and Orchestra at Northwest Missouri State University, and is the co-conductor of the Northwinds Symphonic Band. You can contact him by email at [email protected].

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