PLEASE NOTE: This page contains suggestions for music educators who engage with families and community members regarding advocacy. A parallel page exists with suggestions for family and community members who want to actively support music education in the schools.
Most parents and guardians simply want what is best for their kids. Typically, for most, this means having an excellent music class in which to enroll their children. They want to know that their child is challenged, growing musically, and having fun in the process. In fact, the most effective advocacy tool is a high-quality, engaging curriculum.
Good music learning opportunities inspire. They not only inspire students; they also inspire parents and community members. As such, music study in schools has a resource that is rare among academic disciplines: adults who are willing to give their time and energy in support.
As a music educator, take advantage of any opportunity to communicate how knowledge, skill, and affect are uniquely combined in music learning as you share curriculum with parents and community.
Parents and family members can serve as partners in the work that surrounds the curriculum and be a supportive voice for the teacher as academic decisions are made. Keep in mind that the role of the parent is to engage in enrichment activities and to support special projects or extracurricular areas in which more adult assistance is needed.
Family Members as Partners
Engaging Families: There are many aspects of curricular design, use of concert performances, and communication options that will keep teachers in touch with the families of their students.
- Consider that concerts and large musical events like festivals, field trips, and fundraising gatherings are advocacy events, too, and can be used to share valuable information. Concert receptions are effective ways to encourage social engagement between families.
- Incorporate Comprehensive Musicianship through Performance (CMP) and standards-based learning into the music curriculum. Share information on how the curriculum is structured with parents in a variety of settings. For instance, concerts can be seen as mass parent-teacher conferences.
- Keep parents apprised of what is in the curriculum through sharing portfolios, student work, unit studies, project work, etc. and through concerts.
- Stay well informed current education issues and music research with families – and share with families.
- Use various methods of communication: newsletters, websites, email lists, district publications, social media and online communication tools, concert stage, etc.
- Get to know students’ families and their backgrounds. Ask students if members of their families sing or play an instrument and invite them to join in certain rehearsals/concerts, visit to teach about specific interests in music, assist with tuning and other performance preparations, as well as take part in other roles they can play in the music education of their children.
- Encourage family members to stay on as volunteers even after their students have graduated.
- Music support groups are important for fundraising and concert support, but these groups can also be an invaluable source of partners for an advocacy effort. It should be noted that these groups can assist with funding for the extra-curricular components, but curriculum and the classroom must be supported by district and school budgets. School district responsibilities should include, but not be limited to, instruments, pianos/keyboards, classroom furniture, sheet music purchases, computers, facilities, school membership fees, and miscellaneous classroom supplies.
Music Support Groups: Engage families in the organization of a music support group. These collaborations are important for fundraising and concert support, but they can also provide an invaluable connection in an advocacy effort.
- Develop a mission statement. A strong mission statement that ties to the mission of the district makes music advocacy easier.
- An umbrella music booster group that includes family members connected to band, choir, orchestra, and general music is best. Specific curricular areas can meet after general meetings to deal with the details of trips, fundraisers, etc., but the most effective group is built around the unifying subject of music.
- Consider operating with a board structure. Look for parent officers that have vision and are able to see the big picture for all kids, not just their own children. The board should include representatives from all areas and age groups.
- Operate by committee. Organize all functions within a committee structure that reports back to the board. Parents have varying amounts of time to dedicate to the organization, so it helps to provide different levels of opportunities to contribute. Some parents like the organizational aspect of coordinating an event. Others are more than happy to be worker bees and help at a fundraiser.
- Encourage music families to set up an advocacy committee as part of the music support group. Committee members should stay aware of any school board or administrative decisions that may affect student music learning offerings. If an issue arises, be ready to help parents take the lead when talking with administrators. Always remember, parents have a powerful voice when speaking with decision makers because they will not be seen as defending their job.
- Attend all meetings. While this is a great opportunity to collaborate with parents, remember that you as the educator are responsible for the vision and direction of the curriculum. When necessary, you may have to explain or clarify the educational outcomes and goals being pursued in the classroom.
- Develop by-laws and secure tax exempt status for receiving charitable gifts as soon as possible. Often there is a parent with accounting or legal background that can assist with this.
Community is About Many Relationships: Community can include school community, colleagues, community leaders, business leaders, students, experts, and government leaders.
- Stay in touch with music alumni. Share their successes with colleagues, administration, school board, alumni, and the community through a newsletter or regular email blast, and invite them back to the classroom/stage/audience to perform with students and share their musical experiences.
- Communicate with your colleagues. Talk to your fellow music teachers, guidance counselors, administration, and other educators in your school. If you establish a personal relationship with your fellow faculty members, challenges with scheduling, curriculum, and student progress can be more easily resolved. Always put student needs at the center of communication. Share what you are doing in the music classroom and how it relates to other studies in your school.
- Communicate with your students. Be clear about your curriculum design and engage them in making classroom decisions. Keep the study student-centered. Suggest that students can get involved in student music groups/governing bodies like Tri-M or Student Council. Encourage student-to-student mentorships, student conductors, peer collaboration, speaking, and writing. Encourage them to represent music study and interests in the community and on various school committees.
- Invite school-board members and building/district administrators to concerts. Find ways for them to actively participate, such as emceeing a district-wide concert or providing narration for a piece, for example.
- Reach out to community leaders, musicians, media, professional music organizations, and others who might learn from their participation or contribute to a segment of class study, join in a concert setting, or give support for special project grant writing.
- Get to know the culture of the community. How is music education perceived? How does music appear in the fabric of the community? Plan to connect curriculum in the music classroom to the history and interests of the community at large. Find ways to bring the music classroom out into the community for festivals, historical events, concerts, and other educationally valuable opportunities.
- Invite community ensembles to collaborate in school performances and create field trip experiences that involve attending community and professional ensembles.
- Invite service groups and senior groups to school performances or bring small and large ensembles to perform at local senior centers.
- Volunteer to be on school and district committees. Connect with other decision makers, listen to their perspectives, keep abreast of new ideas within the school culture so plans can be made for involvement in change.
- Become involved in professional organizations (WMEA, WMEA Advocacy Committee, NAfME, etc.).
- Check out community resources for grants to bring artists into the classroom or to perform in select theaters. Many area businesses, service organizations, and even your school district may have grants or at least a grant writer. Parents often work at businesses that will match funds or fully fund a concert or special project.
- Become familiar with local and state government officials. Keep them apprised of great music curriculum and functions happening in their districts and regions. They will be helpful when laws and rules come up that will affect your students and their education.
Music educators have the opportunity to embed advocacy in their teaching through what they do in the music classroom and how they share students’ learning with families and the community at large. Remember that advocacy is more than an add-on or something separate from what music educators do day-to-day. Whereas teachers of other disciplines may only get a chance to speak with families of their students at conferences, music educators have concerts and other performances in which to reach families and the wider community. Families can help with advocacy too, in particular, by taking part in music support groups. Building connections in many directions within the community and beyond benefits the students you serve and makes a wider impact too!