by Lisa O. Williams
What in the world does a middle school principal have to say about the importance of band in a Title I school? For starters, I was a member of my middle school and high school concert bands, high school jazz band, high school and college marching band, and I have been married to a high school band director for thirty years! I am passionate about the role of education in serving the whole child, particularly ensuring the availability of music education. My passion has been fueled as I have witnessed countless classroom teachers’ lessons and rehearsals, concerts, adjudicated evaluations, marching band competitions, solo and ensemble events, music festivals, state music association conferences, college and university concerts, and master classes. I know first-hand the tremendous advantage students gain when are members of an instrumental music program. Principals often lack an understanding of the relationship between accountability, school climate, and student involvement in band; or they are unable to leverage the benefits to adequately off-set the barriers related to scheduling, recruiting, and funding band programs.
Teachers and students in Title I school across the nation surely benefit from additional federal dollars, greater instructional support, and supplemental resources. In addition to these “perks,” Title I schools have additional accountability requirements to document strategies and outcomes for increased student achievement and overall school improvement. In particular, Title I schools are expected to plan, implement, monitor, and measure student achievement outcomes relative to literacy, mathematics, and family engagement annually in addition to other accountability requirements of local and state governing agencies.
With the passing of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, Congress established legislation that established federal mandates and funding for elementary and secondary education in the United States. Schools serving significant populations of students from low-income families qualify for additional funding and accountability established in Title I of ESEA. The Act, reauthorized every 5 years, signed in 2002 by President George W. Bush, became known as the “No Child Left Behind Act,(NCLB)” (2002) creating increased accountability for schools to meet the criteria to measure “Adequate Yearly Progress.” In 2015, ESEA underwent its last reauthorization under President Barack Obama’s leadership, and is now referred to as the “Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).” (White House Report: The Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015) The overarching purpose of ESEA, NCLB, and ESSA is to provide mandates and funding to compensate for gaps in achievement between students from low-income families and those who are not. In both ESEA and NCLB, the criteria were based on literacy and mathematics achievement, but ESSA, when fully implemented, will allow for focus on other content areas.
CLIMATE, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND THE BAND
In the era of accountability, what role does instrumental music play in ensuring students from low-income families, attending Title I schools, demonstrate academic achievement and close gaps when compared to other students? As the principal of a school, the most significant responsibility one has is to create a climate that is conducive for ALL learners to thrive. Many children do not enter school each day with an academic mindset . . . even the most gifted don’t always wake up in the mornings thinking first about the fun they will have in an academic classroom. Instead, they are likely to look forward to band class, where they have a sense of belonging and where learning is actively engaging. Students need something to connect with in their school climate, and they crave relationships.
In the 2003 position paper, This We Believe, the National Middle School Association (NMSA) set forth a philosophy about adolescent needs and conditions of successful schools, asserting that it is critical for adolescents to have the very best programs and practices a school can offer. The document is a revision of the original paper, published in 1982. In the paper, the association established a list of characteristics of effective middle schools which includes: 1) Active Learning (teachers and students engaged in active, purposeful learning), 2) Challenging Curriculum (curriculum that is exploratory integrative, and relevant, 3) School Environment (environment that is inviting, safe, inclusive, and supportive of all), and 4) Organizational Structure (structure that fosters purposeful learning and meaningful relationships). When middle schools are responsive to the developmental needs of students, they provide many ongoing opportunities for adolescents to target the development of healthy minds for personal growth. They also establish programs to target areas of students’ lives that inhibit learning in order to develop healthy coping skills (National Middle School Association, 2003).
Successful principals understand that student achievement is impacted by multiple variables, including readiness to learn, experiences, and support systems. Principals also recognize the impact of the teacher who provides engaging, active and purposeful learning within a challenging curriculum. Wise principals harness the power of band programs due to their potential to positively shape school climate by fostering purposeful learning and meaningful relationships among students and between students and teachers. When school principals recognize the value of involving students in the band program, student and family engagement increases, school climate is positively impacted, and accountability measures improve. School climate improves when stakeholders have the opportunity to engage in programs that create a sense of inclusion, achievement, and belonging for all members. Band does just that. When a child meets the challenge of playing his or her instrument, school climate is positively impacted, one student at a time. When a child plays with an ensemble and feels the rush of accomplishment and pride at the sound of applause following a performance, school climate is positively impacted, one student group at a time. Motivation moves beyond extrinsic to intrinsic with such experiences. When students realize as individuals they matter to something bigger than themselves, they have greater potential to care about other aspects of their school, including academics. This is when accountability becomes a shared responsibility and a positive component to school climate.
POVERTY, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND THE BAND
Most often, educators serving students and families in Title I schools express frustration over the challenges that exist for families living in poverty. To illustrate the point, the definition of poverty asserted in A Framework for Understanding Poverty is “the extent to which an individual does without resources.” (Payne, 1996) She identifies several resources, including but not limited to emotional resources, external (support systems) resources, and resources of role models. One can reason that these types of resources could be scarce among families living in poverty. Financial resources, the most obvious need that comes to mind when thinking of poverty in our country, place emotional and external resources in jeopardy for several reasons, often leading to factors that negatively influence role models within families. Regardless of a lack of resources, financial or otherwise, schools are accountable to students and to communities they serve. Inasmuch, it is necessary to establish programs and plans to provide for a lack of resources that may exist if schools are to be accountable to children and families.
So what does the band have to do with poverty and accountability? While schools are never to be expected to fully assume the role of parenting children, it is critical to accept the challenge of partnering with families to provide resources that might otherwise be scarce. After all, that is the original intent of the federal legislation in its attempt to close achievement gaps. Middle and high school instrumental music programs become resource-rich climates where children develop resiliency through internal and external resources. Students learn not only to control their emotions through their assimilation with a musical group, but also to express their emotions through music. Engaging in music classes and being a part of a musical ensemble allows students to develop an internal resource that might not otherwise develop if left solely to the family climates from which they come. The role that band programs play in creating support systems for its members is unparalleled by any other school organization. Students who become part of the band create relationships that they and their families rely on as a resource, often becoming closer than their own families. And, lastly, band students experience the nurturing relationships that develop from a knowledgeable, appropriate, caring adult. Daily, while learning the skill of playing an instrument, developing emotional stamina, and growing as a member of an organization, band students identify with a positive adult who demonstrates the skills necessary to become resilient, productive, and successful.
Band, then, becomes a critical component not only to a positive school climate, but also it provides a wealth of resources that are often lacking for students living in poverty. Band students build both internal and external resources during the process of learning their instruments and being a part of the organization. Their parents, and the school as a whole, also benefit from the band program. Even parents who lack resources can hardly resist visiting the school to see their children perform. Often, they even find ways to volunteer to support the program by chaperoning, measuring students for uniforms, working on props, filing music, or organizing a fund raiser! Being a part of the band becomes an avenue for students to feel a sense of belonging and for parents to actively engage in the school. This is when accountability becomes a shared responsibility among students, teachers, and parents; and it becomes a positive component to school climate.
THE PRINCIPAL AND THE BAND
Let’s face it, school principals are focused on accountability, however it is measured. Principals are accountable to students, parents, teachers, local boards, the media, and state departments. School principals are evaluated on their effectiveness as leaders of instructional programs, and individuals as well as their management of non-instructional duties. These duties and responsibilities include, among other criteria, academic achievement, the relationship the school has with the businesses and community, satisfaction feedback from stakeholders, adequate scheduling to meet varied needs of all students, and fiscal management. What better way to (at least partially) to meet the aforementioned duties and responsibilities than by developing, fostering, and celebrating fine arts programs in schools? The advantages of having as many students as possible enrolled and engaged in fine arts program are immeasurable. Below are three of the reasons Title I school band programs help principals meet accountability criteria:
High Expectations––Band directors teach pre-adolescents a brand new task; requiring them to manipulate foreign objects (instruments); while taking command of their posture, breathing, facial muscles, and even their brains; to produce a specific sound, with a specific tone, that matches others on like and unlike instruments, according to a specific rhythm and tempo. (And that is just the beginning!) Band directors engage each and every child, even those with unique and special needs and those who might not be able to do math at grade level or who might not yet be able to make inferences from words commensurate with grade level peers, yet they learn to play a musical instrument within an ensemble and contribute to the group and the school. Students develop the ability to transfer skills to other disciplines as well.
Scheduling Advantages––In a time when teacher allotments might not be as plentiful as they once were due to budget cuts, having a successful band program (as well as other fine arts programs) is an advantage to the schedule AND to the budget. It seems to be somewhat of a real-life math word problem in that a band director frequently manages a classroom that houses forty, fifty, maybe even sixty or more students at one time while another class can accommodate up to thirty-five. And, what about the students who are eager to learn more or engage in other ensembles? If the band director builds his or her program and is able to think outside the box, students can even spend time in “double band.” Double band potentially reduces class sizes in other disciplines.
Family and Community Engagement – With legislation in many states allowing for school choice, especially for schools located in high-poverty areas, principals are more sensitive to finding ways to create and maintain positive perceptions. Perceptions improve when individuals are actively engaged in successful, meaningful organizations associated with schools. When students are actively part of an organization that is a vital part of the school and the community, perceptions improve. Too often, people who are critical of schools are those who have not actually been a part of any program or activity related to the school. Band directors have such influence on school perception. It starts with the recruitment process, actively seeking students and families to be a part of the organization. Then, successful band programs keep students motivated and excited by having them perform often for their peers and local community events. Of course, there are other state and national performances that are important, but the greatest benefit is being the rock stars in the school’s community!
In summary, finding a way to support the establishment, development, and growth of the band program within a Title I school is critical to creating a successful school. As Roland Barth states in his book, Learning by Heart (Barth, 2001), school reform hinges on school culture. The climate of a school becomes the school’s culture which dictates, “the way we do things around here.” (2001, p.6) In schools where a significant number of students are engaged in band, learning is enriched. Relationships are sound. Expectations are high. Children develop emotional stamina. Students and families express feeling a sense of belonging in the school. Students share a common goal and work within a strong support system. Community members are engaged. School climate is positive. And the stakeholders know “this is the way we do things around here…,” the attitude is inclusive, positive, united. And that is how successful schools are accountable for the whole child, and how the band contributes to the process.
DR. LISA O. WILLIAMS has served as a Teacher, Assistant Principal, and Principal in the Cobb County School District, a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. Most recently, she has served as the principal of Barber Middle School in Acworth, Georgia before being assigned to the school district Human Resources Division as Performance Management Coordinator.
Williams earned a Bachelor of Science (1987) and a Master’s (1992) degree in Secondary English Education from Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama; her EdS in Educational Leadership from the State University of West Georgia (1998); and her PhD in Educational Leadership from the University of Southern Mississippi (2012). Williams has participated in the Georgia Department of Education Leadership Academy, the Kennesaw State University Leadership Academy, and the Harvard Principal’s Institute for School Improvement.
Williams is an active member in her community and served as a delegate team member to the All-America City Competition in 2010 where Acworth was selected as the All-America City. She was presented the 2013 GMEA Administrative Leadership Award for her support of music education. She and her husband, Greg, were named the 2015 Acworth Citizens of the Year for their commitment to the children and schools in the Acworth community where they live and work. Their son, Austin, is a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music where he studied trumpet performance with Michael Sachs. Austin is married to his high school sweetheart, Meredith Patterson Williams, and they reside in Houston, Texas where Austin is studying trumpet performance at Rice University.
This article explores the relationship between federally-legislated accountability measures from a broad perspective in the context of how school band programs impact positive outcome measures. The author holds strongly the belief that band should be an integral part of all Title I schools. The reasons cited relate to the benefits of student involvement in band on school climate and how accountability becomes a shared responsibility when students and families feel a sense of belonging. Also presented is rationale that supports the benefit of building positive relationships and emotional stamina, which are resources often lacking among students living in poverty. The article also shares three concise reasons for effective band programs in Title I schools.
The information in the article may serve as a viewpoint of the importance of music education not only to the individual development of children, but also to the measure of the school as a whole. The purpose of the article is to share one leader’s point of view for readers to gain insight that can be shared with others illustrating how supporting music education can impact student achievement, improve school climate, increase community involvement, and ultimately improve accountability results.
As published in the National Band Association Journal.