My colleagues and I attended some district-wide professional development this past spring where we discussed the uniqueness of the adolescent learner. In discussing the emotional characteristics of this age group, we read that students revert most easily to the emotional state where they "spend" the most time. In other words, a student who is frequently angry becomes angered more readily. Conversely, those who tend to be happy a lot of the time slip into that emotion with more ease.
So how can we apply this to the band room? How many of you have attended rehearsals where the kids were just so focused that is was hard to believe they were actually middle schoolers? What about rehearsals that were bordering on chaotic? If students experience an organized, calm, structured environment when they enter your classroom each and every day, this becomes their "go-to" state of mind. It becomes easier for you, as the director, to recreate that mood at each rehearsal. On the other hand, if your classroom is frenetic and without structure, guess how your students will probably act?
Here are some suggestions to set the right mood:
1. Have everything, and I mean everything, organized before the students arrive for class. Find shortcuts for time-consuming tasks such as distributing music that translate to "down time" for kids.
2. Teach procedures. (How should students enter the room? How and where do they assemble their instruments? Where do cases go?, etc.) Think about everything that happens during class, determine the proper routine and rehearse it with your students just as carefully as you would rehearse a piece of music.
3. Don't talk over your students. Proceed with instruction only when they are quiet and attentive. Make "calm and focused" the preferred emotional state in your room.
4. Be specific when you provide feedback. When students understand that you know how to help them suceed, they will be motivated to listen.
If all this sounds a little controlling, it is. But it's not about controlling the student. It's about controlling the educational environment in which your students learn. There's a big difference. In fact, when the environment of your classroom contains structure, your students will actually experience more freedom to learn. Structure will give them the safety net to take educational risks, explore new ideas and grow more securely and successfully in their knowledge and skills.
As you begin to prepare for the coming school year, consider more than just the curriculum, method books and literature that you will use to instruct your students. Spend some time thinking about the mood you want to set in your band room, and prepare for it just as intently as you would anything else. Be deliberate in your instruction as it relates to your classroom environment. I promise that it will pay off!