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What To Do When They Break The Rules….

Our Choir culture stems from both how we prepare AND how we instill the fabric of our desired ideals. When we prepare our Guidelines and Consequences but do not properly enforce them, our best 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 defend on behalf of every student who does the right thing day after day.


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We negatively impact our best students by doing any of the following things:

1) We create unclear, unenforceable guidelines (such as Be Respectful)

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 is 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.

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Whether we have been teaching for 30 years or this is our very first year of teaching, we must begin each year rethinking both our preparation and the execution of our choir culture. Even if our program basically runs itself, these fundamental laws need 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 consequences must be properly prepared and accounted for prior to the first rehearsal; once we have written and internalized this information, we need to properly disseminate it to our ensemble.


The Consequence Assignment  – all you need to give when they choose to break our rules (guidelines)


RESPECTING the CHOIR CULTURE

When students choose to not follow our guidelines, the foundation for our Choir Culture must be defended: 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 and defend 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 chose not to 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 infraction will maintain the choir culture, and in turn, keep the students who were abiding by the guidelines, happy.

Just as there are clear guidelines for creating rules (or guidelines), there are also guidelines for creating and reinforcing consequences.


“Be Respectful” Is a Bad Rehearsal Rule


The 5 guidelines for Creating & Reinforcing Consequences:

Prior to creating consequences, which should be the same for all guideline misdemeanors, we must ensure that our guidelines, are fully enforceable. 

1. Consequences 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 punishment. When the elite have different guidelines than the others, we disrespect our students’ culture, as it is no longer there to protect them.  


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2. Consequences need to escalate in nature and begin with a WARNING

A warning should allow us to not fear giving out a consequence. Nothing happens to any student with a WARNING; we are simply acknowledging that their behavioral choice did not meet the guidelines that have been set for their benefit.


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3. Consequences need 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. Since the behavior is not subjective and the guidelines are clear, our delivery of the consequence must be factual. We must address every guideline.


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4. Consequences need to fit in with what we are willing to do

Make sure the aren’t punishing ourselves the with consequences we’ve created. Detention for them is detention for us too. If we don’t want to stay, it will be much harder to give out consequences and to give out consequences without emotions.


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5. Students need to start with a clean slate every day

We need to greet all choir members with a smile every day, and understand everyone is equal and free of any crimes as they enter the room.  The escalation of consequences happens throughout one rehearsal and resets every day.

I have created a free digital download entitled RESPECT through REINFORCEMENTthat gives examples and explanations of several styles of escalating consequences that will work in most rehearsal settings. When you join my mailing list, you will immediately be sent a copy.


The Consequence Assignment  – all you need to give when they choose to break our rules (guidelines)


Reinforcing positive behaviors frequently prevent the need for giving Consequences:

Consequences must be taught and reinforced at the first rehearsal, even if the rehearsal is abbreviated. 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 behavior. 


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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.


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By | 2018-09-04T21:49:52+00:00 September 1st, 2018|Cultivating Choir Culture, First Rehearsals|

About the Author:

Adam Paltrowitz is a master educator, composer, conductor, and clinician. During his 20-year tenure as the Director of Choral Activities at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School in New York, his groups have toured throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. He also has pioneered a philosophy that every student is a soloist. Adam's choral program has also gained great acclaim for the cultivation of eight student-run a-cappella ensembles; some of these ensembles have performed on national and local television programs. His compositions and arrangements have been performed by choirs around the world. Adam earned his B.S. in music education from New York University, M.A. in vocal pedagogy from Columbia University - Teacher's College, and Ed.M. choral conducting from Columbia University - Teacher's College. ​Adam resides in Manhattan with his wife, Blair Goldberg, a professional Broadway actress, and their daughter, Lyla.

One Comment

  1. Norma Whisenhunt September 4, 2017 at 11:06 am - Reply

    Please continue writing your articles, I personally benefit from each of them. Thank you!

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