Our Choir culture stems from both how we prepare AND how we instill the fabric of our desired ideals. When we prepare our Guidelines but do not properly enforce them, all of our students will be negatively impacted.
How are we negatively impacting our best students? It’s quite simple. We set guidelines in order to create a positive and effective learning environment. Our decided culture exists simply to give every student an equal opportunity to learn, to keep them safe, and to create a positive learning environment. The rehearsal culture is for them, not for us. Any guideline that was important enough to create is one that we must enforce on behalf of every student who does the right thing day after day.
We negatively impact our best students by doing any of the following things:
2) We set clear guidelines but we don’t enforce them.
3) We set clear guidelines but we don’t enforce them every day, or the same way for every student.
4) We set clear guidelines but we let things slide until we finally blow up out of frustration.
Instead of creating comfort, consistency and safety for our students, we become a ticking time bomb that even our best students are forced to observe on any given day: “When is our director going to blow?” Without an enforced rehearsal culture, it’s only a matter of time before any rehearsal gets out of hand. Why is it that some rehearsals might appear as if everyone is having fun while other days the students appear out of control?
THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Perhaps some of our students are acting the same way both days but our temperament is different.
As a result, we play along with their silliness one day and snap at them the next day.
Whether we have been teaching for 30 years or this is our very first year of teaching, we must begin each year re-thinking both our preparation and the execution of our choir culture. Even if our program basically runs itself, classroom culture needs to be posted, taught, explained, and reinforced to begin every year. The reinforcement of proper behavior needs to continue throughout the year.
Preparation AND Execution for Cultivating Class Culture:
How we prepare and what we prepare prior to the first rehearsal sets the tone for how our ensemble is going to run.
My blog post, “BE RESPECTFUL is a BAD REHEARSAL RULE”, discusses how to prepare the proper rehearsal guidelines in order to lay the groundwork for a positive rehearsal environment. This blog is focused on how we, as the director, mentally prepare ourselves to properly enforce our rehearsal guidelines.
All guidelines and re-directions must be properly prepared prior to the first rehearsal; once we have written and internalized this information, we need to properly disseminate it to our ensemble.
RESPECTING the CHOIR CULTURE
When students do not follow our guidelines, the foundation for our Choir Culture, we must make a clear effort to re-direct and re-train these students: we must enforce our healthy and enabling guidelines.
If we don’t properly enforce choir culture, we disrespect every student who abides by the culture and expects to be protected and supported. Our best students choose to follow our guidelines and expect us to protect their opportunity.
Let’s use an example:
A student calls out when we ask the ensemble a question:
WHO and WHAT is affected?
Well, assuming this behavior is not an appropriate behavior within our choir culture and we have created a guideline that doesn’t permit calling out:
1) Every student other than the outlier is deprived of the opportunity to process the posed question and to be able to formulate his/her own thoughts; the majority of students will mentally shut down when an answer is given, and in most cases, no more thought regarding the question will take place.
2) Every student has lost the opportunity to choose whether they wish to raise their hand and potentially answer the question.
3) Even the students who would not have chosen to raise their hand could have been called upon by us, the teacher.
We had created a clear, easy-to-follow guideline which most students had chosen to follow. One student did not follow the guideline and as a result impacted the entire ensemble. We are disrespecting all of our guideline-abiding students if we ignore this one student’s choice. We must politely acknowledge the outlying student who made this choice, give them a WARNING without any frustration or anger, and move right along with our rehearsal. Our choice to deal with a guideline outlier will maintain the choir culture, and in turn, keep the students who were abiding by the guidelines, content.
Just as there are clear guidelines for creating guidelines, there are also guidelines for re-directing and reinforcing behavior.
The 5 guidelines for Creating & Reinforcing Behavioral Re-direction:
Prior to creating a Behavioral Re-direction Plan, we must ensure that our chosen guidelines are able to be fully enforced.
1. Guidelines and Behavioral Re-direction need to apply equally to everyone.
It may be difficult sometimes when our “favorite” student calls out, but all students need to receive the same acknowledgment of their misguided behavior. We cannot have different guidelines for different students, as this will send a mixed message and a lack of cultural clarity.
2. Behavioral Re-direction needs to escalate but begin with a WARNING every day.
A firm but warm WARNING simply acknowledges that their behavioral choice did not meet the guidelines that have been set for their benefit. Every day, they start with a clean slate. We should greet all choir members with a smile every day and give everyone the opportunity to properly follow our guidelines for each and every rehearsal.
How to Train the Student’s That Can’t Sight-Sing – a simple system
3. Behavioral Re-direction needs to be given without any anger.
If our guidelines are clearly articulated, there should be a clear moment when we can recognize that a specific guideline has not been followed. The incorrect behavior is not subjective because each guidelines is clear; as a result, our delivery of the re-direction should also be matter-of-fact.
4. Behavioral Re-directions must be intended to help improve behavior.
Detention without an element of intended re-direction is merely a punishment, not a re-direction. Our re-directions should be created with a clear intent to help students to more effectively follow our guidelines, as it will improve that student’s experience, as well as the experience of all students in our ensemble.
5. Behavioral Re-directions must not feel like a punishment to us.
Detention for them is detention for us too. Keeping students through recess means we are staying with them through recess. If we aren’t truly at peace with staying after school or through recess, we are likely going to find ways to avoid following through on defending our guidelines. Furthermore, should we wish to follow through, we may get angry because we are being punished for their poor behavior.
Reinforcing positive behaviors frequently prevent the need for future behavioral re-direction:
As we engage the class with music and other first day activities, we must find ways to positively recognize appropriate behavioral choices of our students; the more positive reinforcement we give for observing the guidelines, “thank you for raising your hand, thank you for following directions, etc”, the less likely students will choose to exhibit outlying behaviors.
How to Re-Direct Students Who are Exhibiting Poor Behavior
I have found the most successful approach to re-directing poor behavior is with a simple Behavioral Re-Direction Form that students would fill out every time they fail to observe guidelines more than once in a given rehearsal.
The first time they don’t observe a specific guideline they will receive a WARNING. The warning is intended to make them aware that their behavioral choice was not within the accepted classroom norm.
The second time in the same rehearsal, they are given the Behavioral Re-Direction Form, where they must check off the specific guidelines on the top of the form that they did not follow and then sign and date the bottom of the paper.
The third time in the same rehearsal, they receive the same form and must complete the prior two steps along with writing out each guideline that they did not follow. Next, they are asked to explain how they will go about making better behavioral choices for future classes.
The fourth time in the same rehearsal, they are asked to take the form home and get their parent’s signature on the bottom of the form. (Another approach would be collecting their form, scanning it in, and emailing it to the parents to sign. With this approach, we are contacting the parent).
The fifth time in the same rehearsal, they will fill out the form and it will be sent along with a referral to administration.
The sheet I created is adaptable to any situation, which is why I have it available as an editable Word Document.
Respect is a Two-Way Street
We must train students to observe our culture through repetition and positive reinforcement.
If we consistently reinforce our guidelines, hold every student equally accountable, and start every student with a clean slate every day, all students will feel respected because we will be keeping them safe and providing a positive rehearsal environment where everyone has an equal opportunity to learn.