Music: It Takes A Department

One thing I notice as I speak with other music teachers is an overall lack of departmental collaboration and cooperation. Music teachers tend to work in isolation and hold on tightly to what they have built. But in the long haul this approach is unhealthy and limits what you can accomplish for the sake of all the students in the department. I'm the first to admit I didn't always think this way, but after adopting a departmental approach I will never go back.

Here are a few things I've learned over the years:

-Give at least one all-department performance each year.

-Instead of making tee shirts for your ensemble, consider creating music spirit wear for the whole department.

-Expand your parent-booster organization to include parents from band, orchestra, and choir. Band directors, I'm talking to you.

-If you and your colleague(s) don't have a similar philosophy of music education, you need to work harder to understand one another. That, or someone needs to go (maybe it's you).

-The level of excellence in your particular area will be limited until all areas are flourishing. You may not believe that, but it's true. A rising tide lifts all boats.

Working together as a true department isn't easy. But it's better for the students, the community, and ultimately for you personally, trust me. Reach out, take the first step, think different, and be patient. The dividends will come, you'll see.

8 responses
Right on Brian - This post should be made into a memo and sent to all music teachers who work as an island - and that's way too many. I don't know of any other professional discipline that has less communication between its members as a whole. Heck, even auto mechanics share information. I felt so estranged and alone inside academia that I decided to search out alternatives...

There weren't many, but I managed to locate a few like-minded and entrepreneurial colleagues and started a 'private practice' for music education. 20 years later with a core of 5 partners and a team of 10-15 associates, we have a thriving local business (the Dallas School of Music) and an incredible global opportunity online at

None of this would have been possible without a large degree of open discussion and true team work amongst my colleagues. I hope we can set a successful model so that future educators at least have the option of private practice or academia. Until then, perhaps more music educators will collaborate within academia and elevate the profession to ever greater heights.

By the nature of what we do, it's easy to work in isolation. The performing arts rooms are tucked away in a corner of the school behind the stage and we rarely see other adults. Even in the districts I've worked in with large, successful music programs still operate as a band program, choral program, etc. rather than a full department.

We had a K-12 music booster organization at my first job because the district was so small that combining all was the only way to get decent numbers for support.

Another common trend is when one of the performing ensemble teachers has "built an empire" that sucks up all of the available resources. At my last school, it was the theater program. Empire building is almost always ego driven, even if that ego says "it's for the kids."

I've seen far to many full department music boosters organizations where the very active band students and parents did most of the fund raising. The problem came when it was time to divide the money earned. Equal amounts were distributed to both band & choir. The choir teacher not needing the money had to invent ways to spend the money. He had all the latest computers, electric pianos, etc. while the band never had enough money.
The point of raising funds is to meet the needs of the students, not to divide money equally. It's up to the teachers to provide vision and guidance. 

Agreed Brian! Our 'new' department is kickin'. Community proceeds strategy. We've also adopted ways to support each other besides funds. Whoever has enough funds to go around?? You need to think outside of the box. We also share many students so that possibly makes it easier?
Absolutely. It takes trust, and all teachers must go outside their comfort zones to establish and earn it. 

I can't imagine why this would be a problem for us band directors (sarcasm intended). After all, many universities have a "band building" and "band department" which is separate from vocal, strings, and even music education. Why are the band and music education buildings and departments separated? Perhaps we are teaching the way we've been taught?
That's for sure.