kids holding instruments

Why Measuring the Health and Impact of Your Music Program is Crucial

If you’re a music educator reading this, we don’t have to tell you how difficult sustaining a music education program is. The day-to-day dramas, challenges, and duties of the classroom usually demand the most energy and attention on behalf of an educator. But zoom way out from your momentary fixations and the main goal of sharing the magic of music with your students in ways that measurably improves their lives comes into focus. A crucial part of a music educator’s success has to do with the health and sustainability of their unique program. Invest in keeping your program strong, vibrant, and accountable, and you’ll have the best chance of making a positive impact on your students. But focus only on the short-term goals and daily demands within your program, and your program inevitably won’t be able to meet its full potential. 

In this article, we’re highlighting the importance of measuring performance and health within your program not just when it’s convenient, but frequently and in ways that grow the effectiveness of your program in a meaningful way. In an odd way, younger teachers who haven’t formed strong habits in their programs will inevitably have an easier time with some of the information talked about here. With years of experience often comes narrower views of the “right” or “wrong” way to do things in education, so to get an honest look at what’s going on in your classroom, you’ll have to take a good look at how and why you do things through an honest lens. In addition to talking about the benefits of measuring the performance of your program, we’ll also provide actionable advice and tips for how to do it.

You vs the world

Educators often feel like their individual efforts and impact get negated or drowned out by a myriad of external factors––the unique culture in their school, the American education system’s limitations, what’s happening in the lives of their students. These factors often make it difficult for music educators to make an honest accounting of what they’re doing right in their programs and what needs to change. 

One of the most important parts of this process is changing the narrative of “you vs the world” to one that’s more honest and positive. Yes, overnight you won’t be able to change something like a student’s challenging socio-economic status or the lack of funding for music in your school, but you can take a good look at your own strengths and weaknesses in an effort to be better. Improving your program requires looking for areas of improvement, and inevitably, these changes have to begin with you.

How music educators and program leaders can measure their own performance

  • Send out questionnaires to your staff, students, and parents in some cases. Allow them to comment on your performance and their experience within your program anonymously
  • Meet with staff regularly to openly talk about strengths and weaknesses in your classroom
  • Build year-to-year data reports measuring the performance of your students. Don’t assume that winning awards or doing well at band competitions translates to health within your program. Multiple tools and methods should be used for this.

kids holding instrument with teacher

Healthy music programs can’t happen without happy and listened-to staff

Some music educators and program directors see major problems with their staff and believe issues like fatigue, discontent, and a lack of communication have nothing to do with them. But the truth is that leading a program effectively requires being accountable for how the entire show runs, whether it’s you working with students or a member of your staff. Your staff’s problems aren’t just theirs, but are yours and your students’ as well. 

Measuring not only the performance of your staff but also their happiness is crucial for a healthy, thriving music program. This means taking the time to check in with your team regularly and in a meaningful way.

How to check in with your staff:

  • Allow your staff to give you feedback in person or anonymously 
  • Make time to sit in on teaching sessions with your staff regularly and schedule follow-up meetings afterword
  • Listen to your staff in every way possible and take their feedback and ideas seriously

The power of new ideas

Building accountability into your music program isn’t just about identifying and fixing problems. It’s also a powerful opportunity to add new energy and ideas into your program. If you can construct a thriving, communicative relationship with your staff, you’ll have the benefit of working in an atmosphere that favors innovation over tired habits. As educators, we sometimes feel like we know the whole story about what goes on in our classrooms, but we really don’t. Being open to new ways of looking at things and different methods of teaching requires not only a collaborative spirit between you and your staff, but also a culture of openness and freedom to share observations honestly. 

Instead of hoping your staff will teach, think, and act just like you, you’ll have access to more ideas and energy from those who work with you if you let them be the best versions of themselves that they can be. On behalf of an educator, this demands skills like listening and openness, as well as character traits such as humility and a willingness to experiment.

student playing violin with teacher

When to measure performance

According to the arts education blog Elevated Arts Ed, when structural changes within music happen within music programs, meaningful reflection is crucial in weathering changes and making meaningful improvements. But while big shifts in a music program demand a willingness to observe, change, and improve, making an effort to measure the health and impact of a program during less dramatic times in the life-cycle of a program is just as important. In other words, if you wait for sweeping changes or disaster to hit your program to take an unflinching look at yourself and your staff, you’re already too late.

Here are some good times to actively measure the performance of your music program:

  • At the start and end of the school year 
  • During a time of important change within your program
  • At predetermined times you schedule throughout the year: Monthly, Bi-monthly, etc. 
  • After important performances and competitions

What to do with what you learn

Reflecting on your program’s strengths and weaknesses won’t help much if you aren’t willing to make changes and put what you learn into practice. We should note that getting honest feedback about your performance might be a real challenge, especially if you disagree with what you learn. According to theUniversity of Michigan’s Center For Research on Learning and Teaching, honest and meaningful self reflection is crucial for educators who want to develop and improve their unique teaching styles. They recommend journaling as a way to process feedback and suggestions on paper. 

What you learn will inevitably be tied to your job performance, but the insights you glean shouldn’t stop there. By listening to the ideas that come from your staff, students, and parents, you’ll have access to new ways of seeing the way your program functions, ideas that could translate into meaningful improvements. For extra help navigating the feedback and ideas you receive, books and extended guides>written by music experts can be a big help. Your willingness to listen, learn, and try new things will be a priceless asset for your program whether you’re embarking on your first year of teaching or have been at it for decades.

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