My name is Kerry Evans, and I’m the band director at Madison Middle School in Richmond, Kentucky. I hold a couple of degrees from the music department at Eastern Kentucky University, which is also located in Richmond.
While attending school, I always had teachers tell me that to be successful in a band program you needed the support of your school and the support of the community around you. However, I’m not sure any of them really had a strategy to attain this. Well, maybe they did, and I was too focused on a koppraush étude to remember it. This is my ninth year teaching at my school. During that time I’ve learned a lot about building relationships within my school and my community, and I would like to share what has worked for me with you.
If I didn’t have good relationships with several people in my school, my program could not function. While it is important to have a strong working relationship with my principal, who I’ll discuss more later, I believe it is equally important to have a strong relationship with the guidance counselor and the bookkeeper. I think of them as the guardians of the schedule and the money. They also have the ear of the principal on a closer level than I am able to have. After them, I consider the office staff and the custodians. I cannot count how many times the office staff has kept me out of trouble by making sure I turned things in or posted my attendance for me. I am sure EKU told me at some point these were the most amazing people in a school, but I didn’t realize just how much until I started teaching.
My first year teaching, I had a difficult schedule, and I struggled greatly with certain students. I tried to change the classes I taught and move students around without much success. Looking back on it now, I am almost certain that the gate keepers were thinking, “Who is this guy?” At the very least, they probably questioned what I was trying to do because they were unsure if I had the students’ best interest as a priority.
As I moved into my second year of teaching, I tried to develop a relationship with the guidance counselor. I had a beginning band class with 90 students and no one willing to change the schedule or hire help. The entire year I spent time getting to know her on a personal level. I always asked about her kids and grandkids, and I never complained about the school or the schedule. We became good friends, and when the end of the year rolled around, she asked me to be part of the scheduling committee and to try to split up my beginning band classes. For me, that is when the light switched on! I had to start treating everyone as people and not their positions at school. I tried to get to know everyone on a personal level. When I ordered band t-shirts, I ordered t-shirts for them. Any time we had a concert, I invited them to attend. To recognize everyone for supporting me and the band program, I added a thank you in the programs, and I thanked them in public when they attended any of our concerts and events. Before I knew it, I had some of the greatest supporters of me, the band program, the band parents, and the school. To my surprise and gratitude, they even helped recruit for the band program.
While I glossed over the relationship with my principal earlier, I must stress how important it is because my principal is my boss. If I make my boss happy, he is more likely to allow me to do more with the band program. For example, our board of education asked my principal at the last minute to provide a student showcase at a board meeting. On the day of the meeting, he asked me if I could have the band play. Instead of complaining it was short notice, I got on the phone and called my jazz band students, asking them to play in exchange for pizza and sodas. Long story short, the next budget year I had jazz band as a class and $5000 extra to spend. Sometimes going the extra mile pays dividends.
To gain the support of the community you have to be involved! Parents must buy into what you are doing. To do that they need to see the students enjoying your class, and they have to see the students progressing. Offer to help your students before and after school, call home and praise them when they do something well; don’t just call when you have a problem. Take the kids out into the community to perform. I have played at Meijer for their grand opening and performed Christmas concerts for the shoppers. I have taken the bands to perform at local elderly homes, especially when students have family there. I’ve performed Halloween themed concerts with the kids dressed up in our downtown area. And don’t forget to invite the local newspaper out to see your performances; it’s always nice to have your kids in the newspaper or on their social media pages. When you make the students and the school look good, your community will always support you and be filled with local pride.
If you take anything away from this article, it’s this: build good, strong relationships within your school and within your community and your band program will blossom and grow. The effort is truly minimal when you measure it against the return.
About the Author
KERRY EVANS is currently in his 9th year as the director at Madison Middle School. Mr. Evans comes to Madison Middle from Eastern Kentucky University where he earned a BME and a MM. While at EKU, he was a horn student of Dr. Mick Sehmann and conducting student of Dr. Joe Allison, while serving as the Band Graduate Assistant. Bands under his direction consistently receive distinguished ratings at the KMEA large group assessment and Music in the Parks events. They were invited to perform at the 2011 UK Middle School Invitational, and the 2013 KMEA State Convention.Mr. Evans has been recognized as KMEA District 11 Middle School teacher of the year in 2009 and the University of Kentucky as “A teacher who made a difference” in 2011. In 2013, Mr. Evans was voted Madison County teacher of the year. Mr. Evans has also served as a guest conductor for the EKU Middle School Honor Band and the 6th Grade Fayette County Honor Band, Judged numerous KMEA Solo and Ensemble and Large Group events, and has served as KMEA District 11 president. He is a member of PHI MU ALPHA SINFONIA. Kerry resides in Richmond with his wife Kim.
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