Everyday Advocacy

What have you done to advocate for your music program today?
This question feels strange as I write it. I have been in my current position for 23 years. My program feels established and supported by both my school district and community. As I think about my school year beginning to wind down, advocacy is not necessarily my primary focus. However, if I really ponder it, none of my current support and warm feelings of program successes happened overnight. In fact, my job looks and feels very different than it did when I first walked into my classroom all those years ago. 

In August 2001, I walked into a large, empty room. Only six tables and 30 maroon chairs were stacked like small leaning columns. There was no piano, guitars, keyboards, classroom percussion, amps, ukuleles, or anything to make the space feel like music had ever been made in it. Those items did not come in overnight; they had to be found, fundraised for, and sometimes begged for. Trust had to be formed between the new young teacher and her new students, the parents, and the school board and community. The right colleagues had to jump on board. So how did we get here? And more importantly, how do we stay here?

Everyday Advocacy Efforts
Building support for your classroom happens every day in the little things you do. It starts with your most important clientele: your students. Happy students who are excited to make music will always be your greatest asset. Having an advocacy army of happy students who are ready to go home and talk about how much more fun music class would be if they had a better bass amp takes a vision for what a total music program looks like. How available are you to your students? Is your classroom a welcoming safe place for students to hang out and jam in at lunch or after school, or do you, understandably, need a little self-battery recharging time on certain days? How many ensembles does your school offer, and can everyone find at least one where they can belong? What do general music courses offer students to make non-traditional ensemble musicians feel just as at home in the music department as your most committed chorus or band members? Creating a culture where the music rooms are alive with opportunities is vital to your advocacy army, leaving them ready to spread the good news of your music program to all who will listen.

The school I first walked into in 2001 had no extra music in the halls or after school. Kids did not ask to leave lunch to go jam with the band director, and no one was trying, sometimes in vain, to teach new dances to the chorus teachers. There was no culture of community. Students do not talk fondly and build excitement for non-events. Something needs to be alive and happening to build a second home for anyone who wants to belong in the music rooms.

New Ensembles That May Have A New Look
It has been reported that nearly 80% of high school students do not participate in traditional bands, orchestras, and choirs. Reaching these remaining students is a great way to build your advocacy army. In 2001, students who wandered into my school’s music hallway were questioned why they were there and told they didn’t belong because they were not signed up for band or chorus. Today, they are much more likely to be handed a cowbell or tambourine and told to join the garage band-like atmosphere that pops up every day at lunch. 

These scenarios are not just found during non-instructional music-making times. Incorporating modern band units in elementary and middle school music classes and offering modern band courses in our high schools is an effective and growing tool in building advocacy armies across the nation. Modern band classes incorporate contemporary music genres such as rock, pop, hip-hop, and electronic music, which are highly relevant and appealing to today’s youth. By teaching music styles students enjoy and connect with, modern band classes can increase student engagement and participation in music education and reach a broader audience. 

Gather Evidence
Once you have happy and engaged students creating, performing, and loving music, you need to document it! Use social media to your advantage. Videos of classes singing while strumming the ukulele or a rock band accompanying the 8th-grade choir during their spring pops concert not only are fun to watch, but they show the passion these students have to perform and build musical communities with others. It proves how students can still come together to create something meaningful with others in an ever-shrinking, isolating world ruled by technology. It is hands-on and real, and people still love to see that. 

Make sure everyone in the video is wearing an official music department t-shirt and you have miniature walking billboards to advertise your music department’s pride. Even better, take a few of those performing members on a tour to the local elementary schools and show your future students how much fun they have ahead of them making music! 

This is how we will continue down our current path and create everyday advocacy. It is just an everyday part of what we do now.  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

MusicWill.org

Rebecca Sensor is a middle school chorus and classroom music teacher in DuBois, PA. 

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