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8 Steps to Retain Choir Students between Schools, Grades, & Teachers

When students are transitioning from middle school to high school or switching from a 9th-10th grade teacher into an 11th-12th grade teacher, there are specific retention issues that commonly arise. These issues are added on top of the usual retention issues that occur when one teacher is in charge of an entire program.

Some typical reasons for choir drop-off between schools, grades and teachers are:

– student is specifically connected to their current teacher and can’t see choir any other way

– student has a poor relationship with current teacher and thinks the new teacher will not be any different

– student fears the differences between their current scenario and a new scenario

– student feels unwanted by new teacher

– student thinks they will be “found out” by the new teacher for their weak singing voice

– student hears rumors that the new teacher is more strict or demanding

– student slips through the cracks through scheduling issues and misinformation


*Please note, there are several other issues mentioned in 12 Tips to Keep Them from Dropping Choir! that relate to why students choose not to continue with the same teacher.

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Assessing the differences between choral programs

Before we can be effective in retaining students who are moving between programs and teachers, we must understand the changes occurring from the students’ vantage point.

In my school district, there are two middle schools that feed into my high school. I am the only high school choral director and there is one middle school teacher who teaches the 7th-8th graders at both middle schools. In each middle school, the 7th-8th grade chorus meets after school or before school 2 to 3 times per week, whereas at the high school, choir is a scheduled daily class within the school day. Additionally, the high school choral program has rotating sectional lessons/voice classes, where students are pulled out of other classes.

In my scenario, here are the differences from the vantage point of a middle school student who is considering taking choir in the high school:

  1. they will be in a new school (after 4 years of the same school)
  2. they will have a new teacher (after 2 years of the same teacher)
  3. they will be in a new classroom (after 2-4 years of the same classroom)
  4. they will be rehearsing during the school day as opposed to after school or before school
  5. they will have to choose choir over other electives (choir didn’t conflict with instrumental music or art, and there are added music electives like guitar, and drama )
  6. they will have choir every day as opposed to 2-3 times a week
  7. they will be required to attend weekly sectional lessons/voice classes, being pulled out of other classes to attend.

These additional issues exist on top of the regular retention issues.

While my scenario is specific to my school district, every school district has specific issues that need to be highlighted, and then addressed. The first step is to recognize the difference between middle school and high school and/or the differences between the current teacher and second teacher within the same school.

The obvious but not always available first step

Before sharing the 8 steps, I want to mention there is truly no substitute for making the time to visit our future students in their current choir environment. This is not listed as one of the 8 steps simply because it might not be possible for every teacher to do so. If this is possible (between your teaching schedule and the current teacher’s willingness to give up valuable rehearsal time), I highly recommend rehearsing the chorus and also leading a discussion about their future choir. The style in which you run this rehearsal and the way in which their future program is discussed should help them to envision themselves continuing. Within the discussion, I’d get them excited, debunk myths about high school, and problem-solve potential scheduling issues that are likely to come up.

Here are the 8 Steps to Retain Choir Students between Schools, Grades, & Teachers:

1. Create a google spreadsheet that is shared between the current and future teachers.

I highly recommend google because of it’s ease between multiple email accounts/users, and it’s ability to go back in time. If you prefer excel or a different means, that is fine too. The concept of a shared platform means both teachers have equal access to it and can see what each other are writing.

Listed below is a free downloadable spreadsheet that I use:

2.  On the spreadsheet, list all students who are currently enrolled in the program

If you are coordinating with a middle school teacher, have them add all students who are currently enrolled in their chorus. This simple spreadsheet linked here, if used as a google sheet, will allow for multiple teachers to have access. This could even allow situations where multiple schools or choirs feed into one high school. This also works well when two teachers in the same school are working together.

3. List any additional pertinent information in separate columns

I suggest having a column to list gender and current grade. If students are coming from multiple schools, you may wish to have a separate sheet for each school, or add an additional column for the different schools.

4. Have a “continuing (yes/no)” column

This is the point in which we must seek out any accessible information for next year. In my district, student schedules are already made for next year. I am able to receive an updated roster of my choir for the following year and fill out whether each student is signed up to continue. It’s important that we think of this process as a continuation, rather than an initial sign-up for our class; while we should always welcome newcomers, our expectation should be keeping the students who are currently enrolled in previous schools, in previous grades, and previous teachers..

5. Have a REASON column and find out WHY every student is not continuing

If we know why each student is choosing not to continue, we can begin to recognize patterns. This can help us to understand what is really going on, and provide feedback that can help get them back into our program. Are they all signed up for the same elective? Did they all decide they wanted an extra lunch period?

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6. Have a column that lists “WHO” you’ve spoken with regarding each situation

On the spreadsheet, list the person who provided the reason why the student isn’t continuing? Did you speak with the student, their parent, their guidance counselor, or someone else? This written information allows for more awareness of what efforts, possibly between multiple teachers, have been made to understand each student’s reason for choosing not to continue.

7. Based on the “REASON” column and the “WHO” column, you may choose to reach an additional stakeholder

If you and the previous teacher believe a student has been misguided, or if this student is really a perfect fit for continuing, a follow-up with a parent, or with the student could be really helpful. The more you reach out, the better of a chance the student will decide to continue. As commonly stated in the world of sales, “you have to earn your NOs”. Remember that if you are acting in what you believe is their best interest, you are providing a great service to them. Until your potential customers say NO, you should be selling them on why you believe they should continue.

8. Rinse and Repeat

Periodically check an updated enrollment list to see if new students have been added, or dropped. If students (or parents) have verbally stated that they intended on joining, continue to follow up with them until they appear on an updated roster.

Final Words

If we become aware of every student and their story, we will see our enrollment increase short-term and this could also fix potential retention issues in the future. If the reasoning for not continuing is consistent between a large number of students, that one issue can be addressed.

If you want a head start on the process, feel free to download the simple spreadsheet that I use. I recommend opening it in google sheets, which allows for multiple teachers to input information on the same working sheet.

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