How to Write An Effective Choir Handbook – Everything you need to know!

 

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

 

You may believe a choir handbook is a tedious booklet filled with information that nobody looks at, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. If we understand WHY it is important, it will provide our program with more support from our many stakeholders.

 

Who do we write the choir handbook 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:

First, 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

Next, our students – by knowing exactly what is expected of them, our students gain a clear path toward success

Third, their parents  – by sharing the choir handbook with parents of our choir members, they can take an active role in ensuring their child’s success

Fourth, 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

Finally, 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 choir syllabus vs a choir handbook: What is the difference?

A syllabus is an outline of a course subject.

handbook is a type of reference work, a book capable of being conveniently carried as a 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 choir handbook presents the foundation of our class. While course content can be an important aspect of a choir handbook, it’s primary focus should be providing the nuts and bolts.

What should I include in my choir handbook?

A choir handbook represents you and your expectations for your class. As I begin my 25th year at the same high school, my choir 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. Additionally, this year, I am also teaching a middle school choir; this is the first time in over 20 years that I’ve been working outside of the high school. This is a time for me to make a brand new middle school choir handbook; of course, I will be using the same choir handbook outline.

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

 

Here are the non-negotiable sections that I believe should be in every choir handbook:

1. A personalized introduction

2. The best way to reach us

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 choir 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 choir handbook and it’s purpose. A simple, personalized message will make a detailed choir handbook feel more welcoming and set the tone for the class atmosphere.

Here is an example of my personalized introduction for a recent school year:

This choir 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 choir handbook provides the nuts and bolts that create the structure in which I can foster a positive learning environment.  I will explain this choir handbook in class, and your parents should read it as well. To students and parents, if there are any specific issues or concerns regarding the expectations listed in this choir 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 receive a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


Free Downloadable copy of my Choir Handbook


2. The best way to reach us

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.

-I prefer that parents who are upset respond via email. As a result, I will first have the time to process their complaint before responding. Next, I can decide whether it requires me to respond via email or by phone. I will likely be responding to the parent when they are no longer in the heat of their emotion. Now, I will not be caught off guard, and as a result, will respond in a professional and empathetic manner.


Behavioral Redirection Form


3. A Choir Handbook Table of Contents

We often overlook this, but why should students and parents search through 10 pages+ of information to see what they are seeking is even included?

Here is a simple table of contents that I provide in one of my recent choir 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 you require 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, you must clearly write it in the choir 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 choir handbook as it clearly explains the specific behaviors that are expected in rehearsal. I’ve linked greater detail below for how to create an effective discipline plan. Here are the essential elements that I believe you include in your choir handbook.

  1. What you generally expect within a daily rehearsal
  2. Why we have Guidelines and Behavioral Re-directions. 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 choir handbook are the same ones that are posted in the front of the classroom. They must be clear, concise, and positively worded.
  4. The Re-directions are there to redirect students when they aren’t following the Guidelines

6. Specific Core Procedures that impact rehearsal

We do not need to list all procedures, but we should include the procedures that affect the flow of a rehearsal. 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 choir handbook should have a clear breakdown of the grading process. I do not intended to explain how to create an effective grading plan in this blog post, 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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Rehearsals/Participation

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 choir handbook, you will get a better feel for how I explain each category.


How to Self-Assess their Way toward Rehearsal Success


Performance/Assessments 

You should list the types of assessments as well as the grading scale. I would count required concerts under this category. Make sure to clearly state the penalty for missing the concert, 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. I also suggest having an alternate concert assignment for unique circumstances; with this assignment you may or may not decide to include a penalty.

 

By downloading a free copy of my choir 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

Make sure you write down exactly what you expect 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. As I mentioned earlier, 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 choir handbook where you can modify for your ensemble, and gain additional resources to help you personalize, click here.

Final Words about the Choir Handbook

The choir handbook is a culmination of your vision. You must have a clear vision and have done the prep work in order to have an effective handbook. This includes knowing how to choose the right guidelines, behavioral re-directions, procedures, and routines. All of this prep work leads to a great choir handbook, but then it comes time to implement these core choir values into the live classroom.

My online course first teaches you how to create and compile all of this information, as it aligns with your core values. Then it shows you how to put it into a choir handbook. Finally, it teaches you how to introduce your classroom management plan, positively reinforcement it and redirect behaviors in real time.

If you are interested it a hand-on course that guides you every step of the way, please take my course: Choir Crash Course: The 1st Days of Choir (and beyond) Prep