Working with Parents in your Choral Music Classroom Part 1

“Working with Parents in Your Music Classroom”

For most of the 25 years I’ve taught choral music and musical theater in public schools, my program has included between 300-350 middle school students.

In the beginning of my career, I never asked for help managing day to day tasks.

I was quietly overwhelmed.

One of me…300+ of them. 

Repeatedly, I asked my administrators to hire an assistant.  For a few years, the music department was fortunate enough to share a teacher and that really helped.  Then, the recession came, and the position was never replaced.

So, over time, I’ve learned how to cultivate and navigate the world of parent volunteers out of necessity, and their help is the main reason I am able to continue to maintain such a large program for this amount of time without burning out.  They truly are one of the greatest resources available to us.  They love their children, and they often want to be a part of what is happening in the department.

In the next few posts, you will meet a cast of characters.  I will not name them to protect the innocent.  J

There is Mama Rose from Gypsy, “Cam” from the television show Modern Family, Sybill from the 1970’s movie and a cast of other folks who share their time and talents in more ways than I can count in order to give me the opportunity to focus more of my energy on actually teaching the children choral music and musical theater.  For those parents, I am more grateful than I think they realize.

…but it isn’t always easy.  Then again, nothing that is really worth anything ever is.

So, let’s get to work.

Step One:

Define your comfort zone

This is your classroom….your program.  You get to create what you want.  You have to be assertive enough on this journey to help everyone stay in their lane while they help.

What does “parent help” look like for you?  Do you want a parent in your classroom daily during class?  Would you rather have parents who complete time-consuming tasks occasionally?  Are you looking for a booster club or some other highly structured organization that meets regularly and also helps raise money?

For my program, I decided to go the route of “occasional help”.  Most of my parents work full-time, and this approach really works well for me and for them.  They don’t have to commit a huge amount of time, yet they are still able to contribute.

Step Two:

Get Started

Right before the beginning of every year, our school has booths and stations set up in the gym for orientation.  Excited parents and their children come in to see which teachers they have for the school year, find supply lists and walk around the building to find their classes.   It is a high-traffic time of the year when people are rested and ready to commit to new things.

I always make sure to place a sign up sheet on one of the tables.  On the sign up sheet, I ask for help with three tasks, and I ask for the email addresses of the potential volunteers who are ready to jump in!

Task one:  Choral Librarian for the year
Task two:  Collect Money for Chorus Shirts (including specific dates)
Task three:  Create the parent email list.

Task one:  The start of school is overwhelming.  Getting the music folders loaded with music during the first week or so of school is a challenge.  Purging 90 music folders and re-stocking them can take hours as well.  When the students are in my room, I want to teach bell-to-bell.   I don’t like to take instructional time to have the students remove music and re-load. I used to get completely overwhelmed when it was time to re-stock the music folders for my students, so I created a position of “Choral Librarian”.  It is the biggest commitment any parent makes to me in terms of “parent help”.  I like to get that position filled early in the year.

Task two:  Each year, I have to purchase about 120 new chorus shirts for sixth graders and other students who are new to my program.  To avoid using instructional time, I ask the students to bring the money during homeroom time at the start of the day.  I get parent volunteers to be present and ready to collect during the five-day window of time.  I pick the parent coordinator from the names of the person or people who signed up on the form I mentioned above.  That person will organize and count all of the money and prepare it for me to deposit. 
Of the three tasks listed above, the most important is #3.  Each year, I have an email distribution list for my parents.  I use gmail.  I collect the email addresses from my syllabus, which is available for you right here.    When you take a look at it, you will see more space for parents to sign up to volunteer.  Once I have collected all of the student’s syllabi, I organize the volunteers who create the email list. The idea of contributing something like this in a flexible manner on their own time appeals to the parents of my students.  I usually use 6 parents to help divide up the work on the email list.  I create clear instructions on how to access the account, and how I want it set up, and I email it to them.  I usually have my email list set up by class period, and I ask the parents to include a heading like this:  “Parent of Jay Jones”.  This makes it very easy for me to find the parent whenever I need to communicate with them, and it also makes it easy for me to send mass emails to keep parents informed. 

Step 3:

Respect their time and avoid these pitfalls.

Parent volunteers are just that:  Parent VOLUNTEERS.   They do not work for us.   If we want to have success working together with them, we must be clear in our communication.   Set parameters about when you need things done, and give them lots of advanced notice.  If you have a new eager parent helper who takes 4 days to answer your emails, listen to that valuable piece of information.  It’s talking to you.   You are not going to change this parent volunteer and help her learn to answer emails more quickly, so let it go.  It’s a waste of energy that can go in other areas.   Move on from that parent or find a less extensive, less time sensitive task for that parent to complete if he/she really wants to volunteer in your classroom. 

In my next post about “Working with parents in your Music Classroom”, I am going to share some of the other ways I work with parents in my classroom, and talk about “Mama Rose” and “Cam” from Modern Family, and at the end of this series, I’ll write about ways to handle difficult parent conferences.

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