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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Administrator Music Teachers Love

A year ago I interviewed my administrators about the kinds of qualities they view as important to being a successful music teacher. But what qualities do good administrators have that make them successful leaders for music teachers? After years of working with mediocre administrators, supporting some friends who worked with horrific ones, and now working with one of the best administrators I've ever come across in my career, I've nailed down a few key traits that I think are important to music teachers for administrators to have.

The points below are in no particular order, and they are all strictly my own personal opinion. Obviously different teachers with different personalities will work better with certain types of administrators, but I tried to think about those qualities that are most universally-important to successfully leading music teachers within a school or a music or arts department.

If you have a good administrator that you appreciate, when is the last time you told them? If you ever have the opportunity to contribute to hiring an administrator, what will you look for? And if you've had to work with some particularly bad administrators, what will you look for in an administrator when you're looking for a new job? Most importantly, if you're considering going into administration, I hope you'll reflect on how you can be the best possible administrator for music teachers!

1. Strong Leadership

As much as we, as teachers, may think we don't want to be told what to do, in my experience good leadership requires a certain decisiveness and control. Of course administrators need to be able to back up their decisions and opinions with insight and experience, but there needs to be clear leadership for any organization to run successfully or nothing will ever get done, and we need a clear direction and vision to work cohesively. The beauty of working under strong leadership is it takes so much of the guess work and stress of decision making off of our shoulders!

Part of successful strong leadership, however, involves responsibility and ethics as well. A strong leader without ethics is an evil dictator. A strong leader without responsibility to their commitments is a lazy tyrant. To be a good administrator, strong leadership must go hand-in-hand with a commitment to all the responsibilities that come with the job and a strong sense of ethics.

2. Genuine Support

Music teachers are always underappreciated and often are an island, the lone music teacher in their building or even their district. We need to feel genuinely supported and cared for by our administrators! One of the most basic ways to show support for music teachers it to attend our concerts and events (and pay attention during the program). Even better are those who offer to help in practical ways, whether it's setting up/ tearing down equipment, managing students back stage, or helping with crowd control in the audience.

Beyond that basic level, though, great administrators listen to and address our concerns. So often within schools- elementary schools in particular- homeroom teachers' concerns are prioritized over music teachers'. Showing genuine care for our concerns, and demonstrating that with action, will go a long way! Even better: an administrator who has good enough interpersonal skills to show genuine interest and concern for us as people and not just workers.

Support doesn't always have to mean agreeing with everything we say and do. But when a good administrator sees areas for improvement, they will offer constructive feedback, give us direction for how to improve, and provide the resources we need to address those areas. And the feedback should be based on accurate insight, not baseless personal opinion- they need to know what they're talking about before telling us how to improve!

3. Good Teacher

Good leadership skills alone will not get you anywhere as an administrator if you aren't a great teacher yourself. To be able to give feedback to teachers, make good decisions for the school/ department, and support music teachers, you need to know what a great music teacher looks like and have experience doing that yourself. I don't think you have to have been a music teacher specifically to be a great administrator and mentor for music teachers, but experience in the arts will give a lot of insight because music teaching is different in many ways from other subject areas!

All too often, the great teachers who are passionate about children are, for obvious reasons, the ones who stay in the classroom, while the ones who don't have as much of a heart for students are the ones who end up in administrative positions. Great administrators are the ones who still have a heart for students- they will be able to keep their priorities in the right place even when they're surrounded by adults, and they'll be a better mentor for teachers.

4. Seek Input

It will be rare for an administrator to be a former music teacher, so there are going to be areas of music teaching with which administrators are unfamiliar. It's possible to still be a great administrator for music teachers, though, by seeking out input from teachers. We certainly don't want to be explaining everything to our administrators, but great administrators are willing to admit they don't know everything and ask for advice!

It's also important for us to feel heard and included in decisions- seeking out teachers' input, including us music teachers, regularly in meetings, individual conversations, or even emails before making major decisions that affect our jobs is so important. We will be a lot more likely to be invested in new initiatives and willing to go along with changes in policy if we feel genuinely included in the decision-making process. Similarly, great administrators also foster collaboration among teachers. As music teachers in particular, we crave opportunities to collaborate and contribute to conversations with colleagues!

5. Advocate

As music teachers we constantly have to justify our programs and promote the importance of our classes to students, parents, and colleagues. It is so important to have an administrator who advocates for the importance of our program and curriculum to higher-up administrators and politicians, parents, and our non-music colleagues! Promoting our performances and events, sharing the great things that are happening in our classrooms, and talking about the importance of music in the lives of our students is a key element to successful leadership of music teachers and programs.

6. Promote Teacher Agency

Teaching is an art, and so is music- there is no way to standardize or script music teaching! Music teachers need administrators who understand that good music teaching will come in many different forms, and will be able to foster great teaching regardless of the form that may take. A lot of that comes down to giving teachers agency- give us direction, hold us accountable to high standards, and then give us control over how we make that happen. Yes, we need strong leadership, mentorship, and vision, but we also need to feel like we have agency over our classroom. No teacher wants to be micro-managed!

Besides giving us agency in our own classrooms, great administrators will also draw on the strengths we have and foster teacher leadership. Music teachers are often very good at managing schedules and organizing events because we do it so much in our jobs. Many of us are good at managing large groups of students, public speaking, or organizing community volunteers. I'm not saying music teachers should have more tasks assigned to their already busy jobs, but great administrators give music teachers (especially the veteran teachers) opportunities to take on responsibility and leadership in areas they enjoy and are passionate about. We will feel more like we're working alongside instead of under our administrators.

What do you think of this list? Are there things you don't agree with or think are not important? Traits that I missed? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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