Monday, January 25, 2016


The Most Important Thing | Pics from the Classroom

The Most Important Thing You've Never Been Taught
by John Heavner

Band directing is a challenging profession. One could think of few other fields in which such a breadth of training and experience is required. We've all spent thousands of hours in private practice time, ensemble rehearsals and performances. We've learned to play many instruments, and continually hone our ability to teach them. We study balance, blend, intonation. We write marching shows; we manage budgets. We prepare students for competitions. March in August heat. Buy music. Attend inservices. Select music. Dream. Scheme. Fret.

Yet despite the importance of this giant collective (and necessary) skill set we must have as BDs, it is, at best, only half of what is required for program success. Many aspects of a dynamic band program are influenced less by the director's technical/organizational skills than by his/her "soft skills". For example, community support, student participation levels and even the daily classroom rehearsal environment are measures of success just as important as the most recent contest rating. And when students walk away from a program, it is generally not the lack of the director's technical or musical skills that motivates them to do so. More often, it is related to the director's manner of being. Think about it; have you ever known technically competent, intelligent people that exasperated those around them? We all have! It is not unusual for leaders in any field to have excellent organizational and technical skills, yet fail as leader. In contrast, think of the best leader you've ever worked for. How did you feel when you worked with them? You very likely felt accepted and validated in their presence. Trust and tolerance was high between you as well as with other team members. Stress was low just as energy and productivity were high. Sound familiar as well?

This intangible quality of leadership has been the subject of much research. One important study published in Harvard Business Review Online in 2001 involved research data from the fields of neurology and psychology, as well as interviews with hundreds of industry leaders. The results were compelling:

"We discovered that emotional intelligence is carried through an organization like electricity through wires. To be more specific, the leader's mood is quite literally contagious, spreading quickly and inexorably throughout the business. If a leader's mood and accompanying behaviors are indeed such potent drivers of business success, then a leader's premier task -- we would even say his primal task -- is emotional leadership."

Emotional leadership. America's corporations seek and nurture it, and although they don't articulate it, your students want it. To whatever extent we want successful programs, we must accept what is becoming increasingly obvious to industry:

The most effective leader is one whose heart and brain work together.

Emotional competence (EC, for short) is one phrase that has been used to describe a skill set that is the biggest single contributor to success in leadership. Yet for all its importance, we have no curriculum for it in schools, and very few of us have been formally taught its precepts. The good news is, like any other skill set, its component skills can be acquired.

So how do we get there? How do we create organizations characterized by high levels of EC? It starts with the director. The trust, validation, tolerance and other positive characteristics present in thebest organizations flow from you, the leader. They cannot be artificially emplaced; they simply flow you as a person. It is a part of who you are. You are in control of how much exists within you, and by extension, your band.

If you like to improve your own EC, a good start would be to ask yourself two questions on a regular basis:

"What do I feel right now? How am I being toward others?"

Self-awareness is the core emotional skill; it is the bedrock upon which higher emotional skills are based. Once you've raised your capacity for self-awareness significantly, you will be well positioned to acquire higher-order skills.

There are several practical things you can do to improve your self-awareness:

1) Keep the two questions on a 3x5 card in a pocket, and review them as often as possible
2) Install a phone app (Mindfulness Bell for iPhone is one) to encourage awareness
3) Journal
4) Use drive time to work as a time to "set" yourself emotionally
5) Create a screensaver on laptop/desktops with the two questions
6) Turn off all your media. Just be.

In these days of emphasis on cognitive processing (standardized test scores, higher education, etc.), emotional skills are rarely discussed; the skills that will ultimately contribute greatest to our students' future success are given little more than lip service. Despite its absence from our curriculum, improving one's emotional skills pays tremendous dividends, allowing us to realize a more vibrant potential that radiates outward to those around us. Communication flows freely; stress drops. Students feel valued. Trust and tolerance is high. Conflicts diminish. These are the conditions under which peak performance occurs and excellence flourishes.

Want to work smarter and be happier than you've ever been? Improve your emotional competence.

John Heavner

John Heavner is an emotional intelligence coach and a Master Resilience Trainer in the Arkansas Army National Guard.

Pictures from the Classroom

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