Reducing Short Term Conflicts through Long Term Solutions


The Band Directors Group on Facebook has been a great way to "crowd-source" solutions to many challenges. Due to the fact that we all understand how conflict can wear us down, our members are quick to offer up ideas that bring relief to the immediate problem. In the larger picture though it's important to consider (a) how we got into the predicament and (b) what we can do to systemically alter our own approach so that we are actually addressing the cause of the problem moving forward.

My concern is that too many teachers are resistant to looking in the mirror and making fundamental changes to the structure of their programs and/or the way they teach. This can result in a constant mode of "putting out fires" that can almost seem normal after many years.

It's not normal, and let me just say it: You need to do better. You can do better.

The first step is to stop thinking that you:

  • Have the worst luck in the world
  • Have the worst parents
  • Have the least-capable administrators
  • Have the least motivated students

...and realize that the only person who can really fix your situation is you. If it seems you are always in the midst of one problem or another, chances are you are not spending enough time in creating and implementing long-term solutions.

Let's take a look at some problems along with some possible short-term and long-term solutions. CHALLENGE: Resist the temptation to say "yeah, but you don't my situation...." and remember that the only person who can implement successful change is you.

Problem: "I only have one (or zero) tuba/bassoon/horn/bass clarinet in my band, what are some strategies for fixing balance issues?"

Short-Term Solution:

  • Changing the physical setup
  • Re-scoring the music
  • Altering dynamics
  • Choosing non-exposed repertoire

Long-Term Solution:

  • Making a commitment to start and/or switch more _______ players.
  • Choose repertoire that engages that instrument and validates the students' critical role in the ensemble.
  • Purchase more of said instrument and/or keep current inventory in great shape so students do not feel punished for picking a high-need instrument.
  • Create a hand-out that discusses the importance of balanced instrumentation and helps students to understand what is needed in order for the ensemble to have a productive experience.
  • Publicly recognize students who have switched instruments.

Problem: "I have a student who JUST informed me that he will not be at our concert on Tuesday night due to a basketball game! How should I handle this?"

Short-Term Solution:

  • Meet with the coach
  • Speak with parents
  • Talk to your administrators

Long-Term Solution:

  • Work with coaches and administrators to create and implement a published conflict strategy that is endorsed by all parties, presented in writing to all families.
  • Issue a form that is signed and returned by each student and a parent, acknowledging that they understand the policy.
  • Update curriculum to include rationale for credit assigned to co-curricular performances and the criteria for make-up assignments. Performances are not activities.
  • Communicate upcoming performances often and well in advance.
  • Set a deadline for conflicts to be considered and/or make up assignments to be submitted.

Problem: "I have a booster president that is out of control and has been in place for five years. I feel like I can't even have a say in how money is spent or what they will support. What should I do?"

Short-Term Solution:

  • Meet with booster president, express your concerns.
  • Consider asking president to step down if compromise cannot be reached.

Long-Term Solution:

  • Create (or revise) by-laws which clearly state how monetary decisions are to be made.
  • Implement an elections process so the group experiences a healthy rotation of leadership.
  • Attend every booster meeting and find time to communicate regularly with the president in order to maintain a trusting and productive relationship.

In each of these cases, the long-term solution involves a lot of work and frankly I think that is why many teachers continuously move from one problem to the next throughout their careers.  In the long run you will effectively reduce (or even eliminate) recurring problems by implementing true, systemic change. Every time I experience a conflict of some sort, my mind immediately starts dealing with how to solve it in the near-term...that's natural and necessary. But after the conflict has passed I spend some time thinking about what is lacking in the structure of my program or my teaching that allowed the conflict to manifest itself. Over the years this has greatly reduced conflicts, improved my teaching, and ultimately made our program a much happier place.

The long term solution almost always includes putting something in writing, whether it is a change in curriculum, policy, by-laws, etc. Think about your most recent problem. If I asked you to show me what you had in writing, would you be able to hand me anything, and would it hold water? Is it endorsed by your administration? Put everything in writing, and get it endorsed.

Teaching music is busy, so much so that we rarely find the time to think about the bigger picture. There is rarely an immediate benefit to a long-term solution, which makes it easy to put it off. Reviewing your plan for smoke-detector maintenence is questionable while the house is actually burning down...I get that. Still, make sure to regularly carve out time for the formulation of long-term solutions. You're going to be in this profession for a long time, so eventually the postive changes you initiate are going to catch up to you. As David Chilton said, "The best time to plant an oak tree is twenty years ago. The next best time is right now."

Start planting.....