Why should we take the time to write a choir handbook?


A handbook may seem like a tedious booklet of information that nobody looks at, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. If we understand WHY it is important, our choral program will be better supported and more effectively run.


Who is the choir handbook written for?

The handbook is a guide for all stakeholders to understand what is expected and how students can be successful within our class. Choir stakeholders are more than just our students. Here is a short list of stakeholders:

the teacher – by writing down exactly what we want others to understand about our program, we gain clarity in how we run our program and what is really important

our students – by knowing exactly what is expected of them, they have a clear opportunity to be successful

their parents  – by providing this document to parents, they can take an active role for ensuring their child’s success

other teachers in our department/school – by putting in writing specific information about our class expectations, other teachers in our department and within our school are more likely to support our program and share similar student expectations.

our administrators – by clearly writing out our realistic expectations and allowing them to approve what we write, they will have a greater ability to understand and support our program

A syllabus vs a handbook: What is the difference?

A syllabus is an outline of a course subject.

handbook is a type of reference work, or other collection of instructions, that is intended to provide ready reference.

A syllabus is directly related to coursework and contains the bare minimum of necessary information outside of required content. A handbook may include a syllabus while also containing information about many other important aspects of a class.


The bottom line: a handbook presents the foundation of the class. While course content can be an important aspect of a handbook, a useful handbook provides all of the nuts and bolts of a class.

What should be included in my choir handbook?

A handbook represents you and your expectations for your class. As I begin my 22nd year at the same high school, my handbook has changed over the years; it always accommodates the changes in my vision while also providing more and more clarity in aspects of my program that I believe could lead to a better result. I revisit my handbook each and every summer.

Most effective choir handbooks contain several specific essential section. I’m going to address these important, universal sections.


Here are non-negotiables that I believe should be in every choir handbook:

1. A personalized introduction

2. Best way to be reached

3. A Table of Contents

4. All important dates

5. Behavioral Expectations 

6. Specific Core Procedures that impact rehearsal

7. Grading Policy

8. Specific Concert Requirements


If you believe additional categories will help stakeholders to better understand your class expectations and what it takes to be a successful student, I recommend adding them in. In one of my handbooks, for example, I have an additional section for evening rehearsals, rotating lessons, and additional performing opportunities.

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1. A personalized introduction

An opening introduction shares a bit about our vision along with an explanation of the handbook and it’s purpose. A simple, personalized message will make a detailed handbook feel more welcoming and set the tone for the class atmosphere.

Here is an example of my personalized introduction for the 2018-2019 school year:

This handbook is a detailed explanation of the requirements for this course. In essence, it is a contract between Mr. Paltrowitz, the students, the officers, and the parents.  I hope that together we can create an unforgettable experience musically, educationally, and socially.  The handbook provides the nuts and bolts that create the structure in which such an environment can be fostered.  This handbook will be explained in class, and should be read by parents as well. To students and parents, if there are any specific issues or concerns regarding the expectations listed in this handbook, please do not hesitate to contact me.  I will always listen to your concerns and do my best to accommodate your needs. If every student tries his/her very best to meet our expectations, not only will they be rewarded academically, they will be rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Free Downloadable copy of my Choir Handbook

2. Best way to be reached

This is simply the way you prefer to be contacted. In my situation, I prefer parents email me and then let me know of a convenient time when I can call them back. There are a few important reasons why:

-A phone call can interrupt a class or a prep period.

-Listening to voicemails can be time-consuming.  Emails take far less time to read and are usually more direct.

-When parents are upset, it’s best to receive their concerns in writing. This will likely result in me responding via phone when they are no longer in the heat of their emotions, and will allow me to be best prepared to respond in a professional and empathetic manner.

Consequence/Redirection Form

3. A Table of Contents

This is often overlooked, but why should students and parents search through 10 pages+ of information to see if the information they are seeking is even included?

Here is a simple table of contents that I have in one of my recent handbooks:

A)General Questions/Expectations of Behavior
B)Grading Policy
    1. Participation (30%)
    2. Lessons (30%)
    3. Performance/Assessment (30%)
    4. Homework – Smartmusic (10%) 
C)Additional Questions

Free Downloadable copy of my Choir Handbook

4. All important dates

List every important date that is required for the class. Concerts, dress rehearsals, events, all-county, festival, tour. I would recommend finding a way to differentiate varied types of dates. Here’s an example:

-REQUIRED dates such as mandatory concerts/dress rehearsals. These are the dates that are non-negotiable. If a student must be there, this must clearly be written in the handbook.

-OPTIONAL dates like social activities, tour dates, etc. These are dates that are important to your program, but they are not a course requirement.

-SELECTIVE dates like being selected into All-County, All-State, etc. These are dates where should they be chosen, they must be available.

5. Behavioral Expectations

This is essential to any choral handbook as it clearly explains the specific behaviors that are expected in rehearsal.  Greater detail is linked below for how to create an effective discipline plan. Here are the essential elements that I believe should be included in a handbook.

  1. A general understanding of what is expected within a daily rehearsal
  2. Why we have Guidelines (or Rules) and Re-directions (or Consequences). Please remember that the Guidelines and Re-directions are not there for us; they are there to give every student an equal opportunity to effectively participate and learn.
  3. The Guidelines in our handbook are the same ones that are posted in the front of the classroom. They must be clear, concise, and worded positively.
  4. The Re-directions are there to redirect students when they aren’t following the Guidelines

6. Specific Core Procedures that impact rehearsal

Not all procedures need to be listed, but the procedures that effect the flow of a rehearsal should be included in our handbook. These procedures are the ones that parents and outside stakeholders should also know. Some examples are:

  1. What if I’m too sick to sing?
  2. What if I’m unprepared?
  3. What if I have to go to the bathroom/nurse?
  4. What if I’m late?

How to Eliminate Any and All Rehearsal Distractions

7. Grading Policy

A handbook should have a clear grading breakdown of categories, and then provided details for each category. This blog post is not intended to explain how to create an effective grading plan, but it’s still important to think about setting students up for success. Success should feel attainable. Every teacher will have a different grading structure with varying categories. I’ve listed a simple breakdown below as a means for demonstration:

Here is an example of a typical breakdown for choir:

Rehearsals/Participation –    50%

Performance/Assessment –   30%

Homework – 20%


Below, I give a brief description of two categories, but you can see far more detail by downloading a free copy of my handbook.

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The clearer you are, the better your rehearsals will run. Do you deduct points for students who are late, unprepared, or have their cell phones out? If so, what is the deduction? Do they fill out a self-assessment weekly, monthly or quarterly of their participation? If they do, include the exact things they will be assessing?


By downloading a free copy of my handbook, you will get a better feel for how I explain each category.

How to Self-Assess their Way toward Rehearsal Success


The types of assessments should be listed and as well as the grading scale. If your concert is a requirement, it should be noted there. The penalty for missing the concert should be clearly stated, but it should be reasonable, as you must be able to back it up. Imagine your best student in the entire choir misses the concert because their parents planned a vacation and didn’t look at the calendar. You must find a way to penalize, but not destroy students.

By downloading a free copy of my handbook, you will get a better feel for how I explain each category.

Self-Assessment Bundle self-assess their way toward rehearsal success – download now!

8. Specific Concert Requirements

It is important you write down exactly what is expected for the concert. Some things to consider:

-arrival time

-attire & anything that may need to be purchased (specific shoes, for example)

-if students must stay for the entire concert

-expectations/grading of the students*

*grading needs to include what happens when a student misses the concert. I suggest creating an alternative concert assignment and/or a fair penalty; the penalty must be supported by administration and one you feel comfortable about giving out.

Alternative Concert Assignment – assignment for students who miss the concert

If you are interested in getting an downloadable version of my handbook where you can modify for your ensemble, and gain additional resources to help you personalize, click here.