Saturday, December 17, 2016

Working with parents in your choral music classroom Part 2



Working with Parents in your Choral Music Classroom, Part 2:

Parent Volunteers are an invaluable resource in our music classrooms.  In part 1 of this series, I wrote about how to get started.

In part 2, I am going to write specifically about three characters I’ve encountered along the way and how I carefully dealt with the difficulties that arose so that I could utilize the incredible gifts they were willing to share with my students.

The key ingredient parent volunteers bring is passion, and they often have many things to teach us. 

We only have to be willing to learn…

…and we have to be assertive and set boundaries.

Mama Rose from Gypsy





The ultimate stage mom…

I’ve encountered several stage moms during my 25 years teaching choral music and musical theater.

Their children are the most talented of the group (in their view…and sometimes in mine.)

They usually come to us with lots of experience and many talents.

One of the parents wanted to pick our musicals around her child.  Another parent wanted to co-teach my musical theater class.

So, I let them.

…because I knew they brought lots to the table that would help my students.

I was also fully aware that I needed to be assertive enough to carefully set the boundaries when they were needed.

It isn’t always easy to do, but the outcome is worth it.

These involved parents have edited music, altered keys to songs, built sets, helped students prepare auditions, prepared videos, organized chorus shirt sales and so much more.   One of the parents actually coordinated other parents to sew 65 pink dresses and hats for a song from one of our shows. 

Does it come with difficulty? 

Yes. 

As educators, we have to learn to be politely assertive when the time requires it.  Just like we do with our students, we have to be respectful when we need to have the tough conversation, and we must respect the free time they are offering to help enhance the work we are doing.   




If you haven’t watched the episode listed in the link above, you should do it.  It’s hilarious. 

I suppose Cam is similar to “Mama Rose”. 

My “Cam” hid his talents from me during his son’s 6th grade year. 

However, I vaguely remember that he came to the first musical rehearsal of the year and sat in a prominent position in the room. 

He just watched. 

At that time, I didn’t know him at all, but I didn’t respond in any way to his presence other than to say hello and introduce myself.  I didn’t feel threatened by his being there. 

But…

That was my way of setting a boundary. 

After that, I didn’t see him again for months.

Then, about one week before the show, when the stage director I had hired was struggling to come up with some costumes, Cam went home and whipped them up.  She gave him permission, and he seized on it!   When he brought the costumes in the next day, I was astounded.  They looked totally professional in every way. 

The next day was “tech” rehearsal.  The sound person was struggling with an issue with microphones, and Cam stepped right in and fixed the issue.

I pulled Cam aside and said, “What is your background and why have been holding back?”

He was nervous to cross boundaries…probably based on the way I carefully set them with my physical response on the first day of musical rehearsals. 

At that point, I decided to empower him.  He had awesome skill sets that I did not have, and the experience we can give the students through his expertise combined with mine is an amazing one.

Fast forward one year later…

I had a new stage director. 

She was young…and quite territorial. 

Since I’d empowered Cam the previous year, he was ready to share his talents.  I was grateful, but she was not. 

Tough and very tense situation…

I did a lot of listening and gentle guiding for both of them.

In the end, my stage director relented and let Cam do some costume work, and she loved the result.  When she was overwhelmed and uninspired with the staging of a couple of songs, she ended up handing the songs over to him, and he did a magnificent job bringing them to life. 

She was not happy to admit it, but she gave him “props” in the end.  I don’t think they will be life long friends, but that isn’t what is important. 

The essential piece of the puzzle is the experience the students were able to have on the night of the show.



Over the years, I’ve invited choral conductors into my classroom to teach my students.  Middle school students aren’t always open to new ideas, so this can be a tricky situation.

One of my parent volunteers in recent years is a choral conductor at a local church in our community.  I had heard wonderful things about her teaching, but because of past experience, I was nervous to ask her to come into my classroom to teach my students on a day when I was going to be absent even though she’d willingly volunteered.

I prepared the students the day before…

“There is more than one way to teach singing to children.  My way is one way.  There are many other ways that are great.  Whatever you are taught by the volunteer tomorrow, even if you think it’s opposite of what I’ve taught, do it and give it everything you’ve got.”

I’ve said that many times before to my students when I’d hired folks to come in, and it didn’t matter.

Fast forward to the day I return to my classroom…

I didn’t get a single complaint from a student when I allowed this parent volunteer to teach.

In fact, I think they might have thought I should go and take lessons from her!

…which is super.

I just had to be willing to let go and receive the help.

I was.  My students learned.  It was good for everyone.

As teachers, we can’t do everything.  We have certain gifts.  When we combine those gifts with the gifts of other people who are passionate about helping their children and who have enormous talent, the students gain experiences they will always remember.

And isn’t that what it is all about?  

Click here to read part 3!



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