Have you ever been stuck in teaching rut? If we’re honest, we probably all have. Wondering what’s next. Maybe our ensemble or music classroom is stale and lacking direction. We seem to be teaching the same material, in the same way, and getting the same results…boring!
How do we get out of this rut? Set audacious goals!
In order to grow we have to set goals. But it is often how we set the goals, and not the goals themselves, that determine the outcome. Too often we limit ourselves by setting small goals. We limit ourselves by assuming there are obstacles in our way.
However, in order to be successful we need to change our mindset. Think about the big picture, and focus on the goals rather than the barriers.
In other words, set high expectations.
Many of our students are limited by the low expectations of the adults around them. Their growth is limited, not because of their internal abilities, but because of external assumptions. Studies have found that students earn the grades their teachers predict they will earn. In other words, teacher expectations match student success. Our students need us, as educators, to believe they can succeed.
So, how can goal setting help us here?
Start with a completely ridiculous goal. One that you think cannot be achieved. Why not give it a go? Is there a piece a music that you always wanted to perform? A style? How about sight reading skills?
Think big! Where do you want your ensemble to be in five years? Do you want to be the best music program in the area? Or to perform at a state or regional conference? The key is to think big, and not worry about how to get there. Yet, at least. A little optimism can go a long way.
Let’s look at an example. We all have the goal to give great performances. But an audacious goal might be for a high school orchestra to perform Beethoven’s 5th Symphony with the same passion and precision as the Berlin Philharmonic. Wouldn’t that be exciting?
Now, I know you might be thinking that such a goal would be impossible to achieve……which means you’ve already begun to discover obstacles and limit your success. Instead, think about all the ways in which it can work. José Antonio Abreu, the founder of El Sistema, had an audacious goal, and you should hear that orchestra today play Beethoven.
So it all boils down to this: The music educator must set high goals and expectations for themselves and their students in order to truly grow.
Here are examples of goals I’ve set for the Boston Children’s Chorus:
All of our students will have basic music literacy, which includes being able to read music.
All students in our program should develop the skill of reading and understanding music. Even if a student has never been exposed to music, they can learn to read at an amazing level in just one year. While this may seem unobtainable, or even unrealistic, keep in mind that the higher your goals are set, even if they aren’t achieved, the more students will succeed. So to achieve this goal, we work in small steps. If a student isn’t getting the concept, I change my methods. But the bottom line is that there is the expectation they will achieve this goal.
Singers will learn to be independent musicians. (And people.)
Our program’s structure not only teaches singers to be musicians, but encourages students to think and act independently. For example, everything from classroom management to learning a piece of music is an opportunity for students to take ownership of the choir. I remind students that the choir is theirs, and I am just here to help facilitate their work. I select section leaders based on the students’ recommendations, and they have their own internal elections for presidents that set the year’s social agenda. The singers independently organize rehearsals, fundraisers, and volunteer events. Students are also taught, and expected, to talk about the choir and their experiences to donors and even the media. Singers that are invested in the choir want to achieve more, and they develop skills that will help them achieve far beyond the chorus.
The Boston Children’s Chorus will become a cultural icon in the city.
Yep, it’s a biggie. Boston has seemingly countless high-quality arts programs. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t space for the BCC. Due to wonderful staff, an active board, and generous donors, our potential is only limited by ourselves. So we’ve decided to meet this goal by combining intensive music education with the strength of the cultural and ethnic diversity of the Boston area. We are trying to reach this goal in a variety of ways. For example, we are producing more recordings and videos. We collaborate with other arts organizations. We commission original works. And above all, we aim to give high-level, engaging performances that provoke thoughtful discussions.
Remember, the higher the goal, the further we are stretched. You may not completely achieve your goal, but you will likely travel farther than you ever thought possible. Set audacious goals, create a vision for where you want to be, and believe that you can get there. Teach with big expectations and you will end up with big results.
So, what are your goals? Share them in the comments section!