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This Choral Director’s New Year’s Resolutions for 2019

So many of us make New Year’s Resolutions in our personal lives, but do we set them as choral directors? 

Our December break presents us with the opportunity to re-evaluate ourselves as the captain of our choral ship; now that we have a better sense of our ensemble’s dynamic, we can effectively make changes to improve the flow of our program.

Generally speaking, most resolutions fail because:

  1. We don’t put them in writing
  2. We set too many of them
  3. We don’t have a plan to accomplish our goals

With this is mind, I’ve put in writing 3 resolutions (or re-directions) along with a basic plan for attaining these goals.

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Here are my 3 Choral Resolutions or “Re-directions” for 2019:

1. I will use self-assessment forms more as a motivator than as an assessment tool

As many of you know, I’m a huge proponent of incorporating self-assessment into any choral program. We use self-assessment forms at the midpoint and end of each marking quarter, and I take the time to explain each element on the form before students evaluate themselves.

I use a self-evaluation assessment for our weekly rotating voice classes (small group classes or sectionals). Every week, I see my students in groups of 10 or less for 40 minutes. At the lesson, as the students stand around the piano, it is my expectation that they demonstrate proper body alignment while singing, hold up their sheet music/aural training sheet/sight-singing exercises when needed, and consistently make markings where appropriate.

While I’ve been diligent about having the students evaluate themselves at the midpoint and the end of each marking quarter, I have not been consistently reminding the students of these expectations in relation to the self-assessment forms.

So, for example, I might say, “Everyone, please hold up your music.” That solution works in the moment, but it doesn’t motivate my students to self-correct over the longhaul.

What I would like to do instead is say, “If you are planning on checking off  ‘All of the time’ on your next self-assessment evaluation, you need to be holding up your music ‘All of the time’. Those of you who are not holding it up right now, please make a note of that and also notice the students around you who have successfully developed this habit.

That same concept applies to body alignment and making proper markings in their music. Instead of telling them to do it in the moment, or pointing out that they aren’t doing it, I need to utilize the self-assessment rubric as the conversation starter in order to empower them to make different choices; I can also, in turn, point out the moments when everyone is meeting the highest expectation on the rubric. I’m also going to require my students to have a copy of each self-assessment rubric in their binders to look at whenever necessary.

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Let your students uncover it’s meaning AS THEY SING and empower them toward sharing a universal message.

This same concept will apply within my daily rehearsal. I currently hand out the self-assessment participation rubric every 5 weeks (when progress reports are due and at the end of each marking quarter); my current approach uses the self-assessment to evaluate past performance. If the students have a copy of the self-assessment in their choir binder, and I use it as a talking point daily, I believe it could become self-motivating.  I will more frequently explain what “all of the time” means versus “most of the time” and “some of the time”, as these behaviors are occurring in class; I may ask students to recognize what they are doing at any given moment.

I really do believe students want to be the best versions of themselves;  it’s our job to find tools to motivate them to improve. The tangibility of a self-assessment rubric is really useful and it’s even more useful when we connect it daily. “Everyone, please remember that ‘All of the Time’ means you are sitting up on the edge of your chair ‘all of the time’ when singing. If you continue to catch yourself leaning back and self-correct, you are on the right track, which is ‘most of the time’. If you need me to remind you to sit up, that would describe your proper body alignment as ‘some of the time’.”

In summary, I will frequently refer to the specific evaluative aspects on the self-assessments as a way to positively acknowledge student choices and give them more frequent awareness of their choices.

2. I will actively work to de-clutter my work space

I have always struggled mightily to sort and file. Things remain on my desk for months until I usually give up at some point and place everything into my rather large circular file.

The truth is that organization doesn’t come naturally to me AND I haven’t made much of an effort to improve. Another truth I’ve been unwilling to admit is that it does impact the effectiveness of my teaching. If I spend twenty minutes searching my computer for a file, that’s time I could’ve spent working on something to better my program.

The main issue is my lack of daily effort toward this task that allows the papers to pile up or files to be misplaced; I haven’t take the time to figure out what I do/don’t need and there always appears to be something else that needs to be done.

I noticed that someone posted in the I’m A Choir Director Facebook Group a photo of their messy desk; dozens of choral directors responded with comments about how messy their desks are. While I could empathize, I didn’t take comfort in seeing this as a common issue; I instead felt bad for all of us who are struggling. I see my wife’s email inbox at 0 while I have 1000+ emails that I may or may not have read still sitting there.

My resolution will be making the effort to spend 5 minutes per day to de-clutter, clear, and sort my desk and/or other flat surfaces in my office, along with organizing computerized files. Five minutes of organizing-mindfulness is an attainable goal.

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3. I will stop complaining

I will work hard to stop complaining about things that I believe to be wrong, especially when eating my lunch in the teacher’s room. If I want my choir to be energetic, upbeat, and excited, I need to fill myself with positive thoughts and positive energy. Like everyone else, there are always things brewing in the workplace; the reality is that there are also amazingly positive things going on as well. Where I choose to focus my energy is up to me. It’s my choice and it’s time I FINALLY take ownership of it.

Now that I’ve shared my choir resolutions, what are yours? Please consider joining the Choral Clarity Facebook Group and share your resolutions with other choral directors who aspire to be impactful as well!

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