My posts have not been as frequent as I would have liked, however I am also not a fan of content for the sake of content. I will try to make these updates happen on a more regular basis with the goal of having a new post on education each month.
As this summer comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the state of the program I have been tasked with building. In music education, there are varying levels on how you can track your progress year by year. For myself, I choose to observe it through various "-ing" descriptors.
1. Year One - Surviving
Yes, in your first year at any new institution, you are most likely going to be in a state of surviving. You are watched closely, observed often, students are making judgments on your abilities, colleagues are evaluating you. In my first year ever in higher education I felt like I was dropped in the middle of the ocean without a life preserver and told, "swim that direction." It was possibly the biggest challenge I faced as a professional at the time. What came from this was a new-found respect for the music education field and I was able to find my own personal style of teaching. Having this past experience and after successfully building a private lessons studio, I felt up to the task of program building on a full departmental scale at Coffeyville. My first year presented all new types of challenges, particularly with regard to various areas outside of the classroom. When you inherit a small program but are still expected to perform on the level of a full music department, a certain degree of innovation and improvisation need to be put in place.
To survive my first year, I needed three things: a good athletic band, a concert group of ANY kind, and a solid first year of enrollment. I accomplished each through enacting an open participation policy. ANYONE regardless of grade level or experience was allowed to participate in our public events. A number of high school students began playing with the basketball band on a regular basis, and I even had a few track and field athletes learn to bang on a drum for football season. The open participation policy also led to a very interesting discovery. One student happened to be a very talented guitar player, leading to a switch in the direction of the pep band. Rather than writing music traditionally, I began arranging the music with a more unison style (all instruments play the same line) with the rhythm section playing as a quasi rock ensemble. This would become the birth of the CCC Sound Machine, and would also help me to expand our music list even further. Finally, the pep band's new direction led to the creation of the jazz program, and a stand alone spring concert that to this day is still one of the best programs I have ever had the privilege of being a part of. The word was out, a new direction at the college was in place. Student interest increased, and I was now ready to move forward to the next phase.
2. Year Two - Building
Having already established the jazz program as a focal point of the concert hall, and creating a pep band the students all enjoy being a part of, the next step was to start building through aggressive recruitment and enrollment. My second year at CCC was one of the most satisfying and rewarding years I have ever had in my entire professional life. The most rewarding were the relationships built with the high school students. A colleague of mine approached me after the high school's spring concert where I was recognized and said (in jest), "must be nice to feel appreciated!" You couldn't force the smile off of my face that week.
However, the year was not without its challenges. Program building is two-fold: you have to recruit, and you must retain those students you do. Retention can be a a tricky area. To make it easy to understand, think of it on a much smaller scale: If you were to ask a group of band members, "why did you join band," the answers might be very similar to one another. However, if you were to ask those same students, "why are you still in it?" you might be amazed at the various answers you get. The point is there is no specific solution to retention, and is one of the most common areas of concern for every institution of higher learning. While taking losses from year to year may at times not be avoidable, ensuring those losses are not falling on you as the educator is. I started to do more outside of the regular schedule my second year to ensure student satisfaction with the program. This included a trip to the state music convention at no cost to the students. Regardless of the small number of losses I had, enrollment in the program going out of my second year was up over 200% from when I first arrived. This means year three is...
3. Year Three - Growing
By your third year at an institution, you have established yourself among your peers and colleagues, and students have come to know you. While the year has not officially begun, part of me feels like the old adage "if it isn't broken..." should apply here. Course materials are already created and written, the pep bands are established, concert bands now have complete instrumentation, and new prospective student lists are already piling up. Changes and audibles will of course happen, but I am going into this year with a newly found confidence in the fine arts program's direction with each student in the program being brought in by me personally. Year three may prove to be an emotional roller coaster as well. Community colleges are teaching institutions for the community, intended on giving people a jump start on their higher education without the stress of how they will afford it. For programs requiring student participation such as band, you are in a never ending state of rebuilding because of it being a two year institution. To put it bluntly, I may have a hard time in the next years seeing students graduate. This must be how parents feel when their kids leave the nest...
I am looking forward to this year. A colleague of mine once told me that you really don't see the fruits of your labor until year four or five. I am happy to say that while there is still a lot of room to grow, I feel a step ahead in that department. This means that by year four, after surviving, building, and growing, you should at that point be thriving.
I will be updating the website soon with new information on this year's projects and more concert dates added to the calendar. As always, if you have any questions or comments you can always email me. If you are a prospective student and want to introduce yourself to me and get more information about the music and fine arts programs here, please let me know. Here's to a fun and exciting year!