Rethinking The Systems

445432_marching_brassbandI have spent much of last week and this week with one of the high school band directors thoroughly analyzing our marching fundamentals for the high school band. Though this really doesn’t apply directly to what I do during the school day as a middle school band director, the process we have been through to rethink our entire marching system can be applied to a lot of things that I will do in the classroom this year.

I think it can also be applied to your world as well.

The Process
So what exactly have we done to make these changes? Here’s a basic outline. At the end, I’ll show how it will apply to my routine, and see if we can find some ways to apply it to yours as well.

  1. Consider the system
    The first step was to remind ourselves what exactly we did last year. It’s never been written down, so we had to ask the drum majors and some of the upperclassmen how we did some of the commands and all that. We also had to get their help in reminding us what each command sounded like and what each command told the students to look like.
  2. Analyze the system
    After we knew what we were dealing with, we began to consider where some changes might need to happen. In doing so, we realized that some of what we were doing was fine, but other things were not fine. Either they were useless or outdated or any number of other things.
  3. Streamline the system
    One of my favorite things to tell you to do is eliminate distractions. This applies to organizational life, but it also can apply to rethinking any system. So we have commands that are no longer used in contemporary marching bands. They have been in military band drills for nearly a century, but they are not practical for what we do. So we need to just toss them out of the way. Some we will teach and others we will completely avoid teaching.
  4. Redesign the system
    We came up with some changes to implement in the way certain commands are executed. We need to fundamentally change others. Nothing was sacred. In fact, we changed almost the entire way that we march simply because older students will feel like they already know everything if they are too similar. So we’re doing a marching fundamentals overhaul.
  5. Rethink the system
    Here is where we look over our new system and try to figure out why we are doing everything that we’re doing. If something is unnecessary or superfluous, we got rid of it again here. This step is ongoing. In fact, we started teaching it to some students Tuesday morning and went to Chili’s Tuesday night. He sat there with a pen and wrote some notes of things to change on a napkin as we were eating and talking.
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So how does this all apply to me?
I think it may be obvious by now, but let’s look at how I am inspired by tonight’s conversation to overhaul some of what I’m doing as far as my teaching goes next year. I’ve done a preliminary trial of the first four steps on this blog before.

  1. Consider the system
    What did I do last year? What will I have to change because I am teaching a different grade-level? Obviously I won’t spend as much time teaching how to hold instruments since my students this year have already learned that. Some other things are similarly unrelated to the class. So after I take those out of the equation, I am left with a basic structure of what I am doing this year.
  2. Analyze the system
    Obviously, I have outlined a few changes that need to occur next year. Beyond that, I have been thinking and pondering throughout the summer on some other changes. I’ll write more about these later.
  3. Streamline the system
    The primary change as far as streamlining goes is that I am drastically reducing email and other informational intake. This will free me up to really focus on the task at hand instead of getting distracted by useless and unnecessary things.
  4. Redesign the system
    Yesterday, I mentioned the possibility of buying SmartMusic next year. This will completely change things in that I can assign more playing tests and may even be able to eliminate practice records entirely. If each student is assigned 1 playing assignment a week, and is responsible for making sure they get them done either before school, during school, or after school, then things should run very smoothly. I can send them out during class one at a time. If the grade is unacceptable, they will be required to play it again to raise their grade. That one tool alone will revolutionize the way we work. It frees the other band director up to work on a sectional while individual students are playing for a grade and the rest of the students are working in class. All of this means we get more work done in less time, and I get to go home and have a real life!
  5. Rethink the system
    Again, this is constant and ongoing. Why am I doing this one task? Is it productive, or is there a more productive/less time-draining way for me to do it? If I can change it to make it more efficient and still have adequate results, why am I doing it this way.

So how are some ways that you can see this being applied to your classroom teaching routine?

About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

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