52 Creative Tips to “Supercharge” the School Musical

Building Student and Community Support and Appreciation of Theater

Several “Tricks of the Trade” that Have Worked for the Upper St. Clair High School Spring Musical in Pittsburgh, PA. Adaptation of my 1992 article published in PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association.

GOALS OF THE BLOG: Food for Thought!
  1. Brainstorm “tried and true” techniques that build support for the school musical.
  2. Share shortcuts for adding pizzazz to your PR – better ways to market your show.
  3. Generate discussion and collaborate on ideas… everything from student recruitment to ticket sales.
INTRODUCTION: Let’s examine “WHO and WHY” before “HOW and WHAT”

Multiple-choice question (choose your best guess):

Primarily, for what group of people do you sponsor a musical production?

A) Music students already enrolled in the choral and instrumental classes (and if you have them, drama/dance courses), who are more qualified and deserve the musical as a “reward” for their hard work and loyalty to the Fine Arts program.

Supercharge 1 dancers2B) A small core of the most talented students from the music program, probably those who have studied voice, drama, instruments and/or movement privately outside the school, participated in Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera (CLO) Mini Stars, CLO Academy, or other local professional-caliber performing arts school, amateur theater, dance studios, etc. – the “cream of the crop” – many of whom will continue in theater or music as a career, but will achieve a higher degree of professionalism in performance, and thereby help the musical gain prestige and respect – not a “typical high school show!”

C) The general student body of non-music majors, e.g. a “class play,” which may help to draw some of them into the music program in the future (recruitment), while placing no emphasis on it for the students currently enrolled in music classes since they already have public venues for their self-expression.

D) Members of the community (parents, past drama alumni, amateur performers) alongside the students to share their more advanced skills and provide a higher level of performance and “taste” of realism, while filling the more difficult parts on stage, in the pit, and backstage – in short, building a support base community members by direct participation

E) All of the above with some limitation in using adults as actors

PHILOSOPHY: Sharing a Few Ground Rules for Improving Your Productions
  • Nonlinear problem solving – There are no “right” answers in this business, only ideas.
  • “One size does not fit all!”
  • No one uses “all of this” at one time.
  • Supercharge 1 levels1Focus on your needs and prioritize.
  • Take slow “baby-steps” towards trying a few new things every year, and discard any that do not work!
  • Maintain (and share) YOUR secrets.

Two approaches that drive Upper St. Clair musicals: “bigger is better” and “throw out the rule book!”

SUPER TIPS: Creativity, Marketing, and Professionalism

The following 52 ideas are submitted for your consideration (and adaptation), under the categories of:

  • Encouragement of Larger Numbers of Student Participants (#1-11)
  • Student Leadership and Enrichment Activities (#12-20)
  • Involvement of the Parents and Community (#21-28)
  • Professionalism and Quality Productions (#29-34)
  • Real Promotion of the Show (#35-52)
  1. Supercharge 1 levels3Select a show that allows for large numbers in the cast (e.g. Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof, etc.). Many schools select a maximum of 30-40 cast members, which can severely limit the size and scope of the production as well as the audience. In a few scenes, try to stage bigger groups (up to 100-150).
  2. Larger casts place greater demands on the staging director. Be creative in your blocking. Use the middle and side aisles, and build multi-level sets. (A two story set can support upwards of 150 singers for the “Iowa Stubborn” selection in Music Man! A second floor loft would be perfect for Oklahoma!)
  3. Bring the dramatic action on stage closer to the audience by constructing runways, pit ramps or other stage extensions. This also allows for staging a larger cast.
  4. A simpler solution to open up the space and add levels might be to construct a dozen large crates or benches. A low budget production could camouflage band risers.
  5. Supercharge 4 set projection31Adapt several of the song lyrics in the show for adding large choruses. (“Eloquence” from Hello Dolly, for example, can be expanded to have the entire cast enter and interact with the leads.)
  6. For even more color, choreograph these “encores” with a small ensemble of skilled dancers.
  7. Feel free to have the chorus sing several of the leads’ solo selections during the curtain calls.
  8. Be daring! Display your school’s (full size) marching band parading down the aisles for one scene in Music Man! Or use students in the 6th-8th Grade Chorus to sing “Food Glorious Food” in the opening scene of Oliver!
  9. Actively recruit students to try-out for the musical. Secure help from other school staff. For example, ask the football coach to mention the auditions to his players. Nothing will be more flashy (as well as hysterical) than a chorus line of football stars on the front thrust in Hello Dolly!
  10. Do not place limitations on student participation in the spring musical. Some school programs require the prerequisite of enrollment in choral or instrumental classes. The best recruitment of “outside” students to the Music Department may be their involvement and brief “taste” of a musical.
  11. Supercharge 4 south pacific scene1Offer pre-audition rehearsals on the required music, and/or simplify the try-out procedure as much as possible as to not “scare away” less confident students. Since the musical is geared for the entire student body (some of whom do not sing or act on a regular basis), make the try-outs a positive experience for all! Give the students a choice of songs and/or readings, as well as specifics on how to take an audition.
  12. Adopt an active and expanded Student Staff. The goal of quality education is to encourage students towards self-realization. In other words, the show should be “student run” – although selected, taught, and guided by adults. For example, once the scene changes have been rehearsed, the Student Stage Manager should actually call the cues.
  13. Persuade students who plan to major in communications, TV/radio, or theatre to join the student staff. Also, “get the word out” to other students who are not singers or instrumentalists that you have openings for carpenters (set construction), artists (painting), writers (publicity), seamstresses (costumes), etc.
  14. Develop comprehensive job descriptions for each student leadership position: Student Director, Producer, Rehearsal Assistant, Stage Manager, Crew Head, etc. Assign an adult sponsor for overall supervision of each area.
  15. Hold weekly student staff meetings, with student department reports, idea brainstorming, problem solving, and discussions on group morale. Get the students actively involved in the day-to-day operations of publicity, ticket sales, production schedules, etc.
  16. Supercharge 1 dancers3At all practices, Rehearsal Assistants should be placed at every exit (stage left, stage right, pit left, pit right, etc.), and should maintain script cues and warnings in order to call the actors and direct placement of props and sets.
  17. Present a leadership or motivational workshop for the entire company or the student staff alone. Two to three hour sessions are available on time management, teamwork, communications, personal initiative and leadership. Excellent clinicians in this area include Bill Galvin, Michael Kumer, Tim Lautzenheiser, etc.
  18. Announce a weekly S.M.I.L.E. award (“students most interested in leading effectively”) or other special recognition to spotlight extra achievement of individuals in the musical company. Display the winners (photograph and biographical information) on a public bulletin board.
  19. Reward the student cast and crews by sponsoring an all-night (“lock-in”) company party at the school or local restaurant after the final performance. This could turn out to be real incentive for future participation in the shows – a dance, late-night banquet, awards ceremony, swim party, bowling tournament, or a combination of all of these activities. Parents also appreciate a well chaperoned final celebration, instead of (in some cases) totally unsupervised house-to-house parties sponsored by individual students.
  20. Provide other perks for students. Plan field-trips around the community. Advertise the show by singing several selections at a local Women’s Club meeting or Rotary Club breakfast. Take the leads to the local TV/radio talk show, providing an audience for that thirty second “plug” of your show on the airwaves. Or sponsor an in-school theater production clinic (e.g. a make-up application session, underwritten by a local cosmetic firm).
  21. Try to fill your adult staff positions with school staff: shop, art, and English teachers, etc. Who is more knowledgeable and supportive of the students? You can encourage the integration of drama subjects in their curricula: scenery painting (art), costume design (home economics), set construction (wood shop), publicity (journalism/English), etc.
  22. Supercharge 3 costume angels1Establish a parent volunteer grouptheatre angels—to support the students in working on the production crews (costumes, painting, set construction, etc.). Grant the Angels special privileges (early ticket pre-sale) and “Honorary Thespian” status.
  23. Have the Angels man your box office to offer the public regular and varied hours for ticket sales.
  24. Utilize parents to set-up and supervise study halls for those long staging rehearsals. Set aside one room for absolute quiet and a separate waiting area for group study and socialization.
  25. Because of the large cast size, post hall monitors (parents) to assist during the night performances of the show (first aid, distribution of props, overall supervision, etc.).
  26. Hold sign-ups for the Angels during Open House or work through local PTA.
  27. On Saturdays, sponsor staff “cover dish” luncheons to give everyone the chance to interact socially.
  28. Invite a popular school administrator, public official, local actor, or other celebrity to narrate or assist in the show (e.g. the voice in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying).
  29. Set out to achieve the illusion of realism in the scenery. Utilize a large student and adult crew of carpenters and build substantial backdrops, wagons, and book pieces to support your larger cast.
  30. Supercharge 1 levels5Rent professional set drawings from theatrical houses (e.g. New Wilmington, PA firm Sceno Graphics).
  31. Ask for help from local professional theater companies (hand-me-down sets, props, or just advice).
  32. Always seek professionalism from the students on the stage. Are all of the actors consistently in character? Adolescents have short attention spans, and as a large chorus, must be coached in displaying real enthusiasm, self-discipline, and accurate characterizations one hundred percent of the time! Nothing is worse than an inanimate or lackluster chorus, talking on or backstage, or other noises that detract from the dramatic action portrayed by the leads.
  33. Be imaginative with special effects! Melt a witch (Wizard of Oz) using a trap door and smoke effects. Exaggerate their sizes—a ten foot Fruma Sarah in Fiddler on the Roof can be created by putting your lightest girl on the shoulders of an athletic boy; use a ladder on wheels to present a 14 foot giant (Ghost of Xmas Present) in Scrooge—all hidden by the costume.
  34. Supercharge 4 melting witchSet a fast pace for the show. Avoid those periods of inertia, especially the Act II “doldrums!” Always execute smooth set changes and transitions. Never give the audience time to talk or lose their concentration.
  35. Use theater P.R. firms (e.g. Package Publicity in New York) to buy official logos, posters, buttons and publicity packets.
  36. Design an official show t-shirt and button. Announce musical t-shirt days and give out random cash prizes to students who remember to wear their t-shirt and serve as a walking billboard!
  37. Sponsor a musical trivia contest. Create a crossword puzzle and publish it in the PTA newsletter.
  38. Type-set and distribute a special musical issue of the school newspaper (e.g. an “Anatevka Times” for Fiddler on the Roof) in order to devote space on the background of the play, local historical “splash-backs” in the time period of the musical, and a picture album of the cast and crews.
  39. Insert a theater flyer in the school district or PTA newsletter mailed home to residents. Print informative articles about the play (Hammerstein anecdotes for South Pacific or Oklahoma, etc.)
  40. Sponsor an elementary school art contest (e.g. draw your Little Orphan Annie).
  41. Supercharge 4 special effect smokeDevelop a partnership with your local merchants. Print pizza box advertisements, restaurant place mats, etc. Place messages on mall marquees, store magnetic signs, and in employee newsletters. In exchange for local business help in promoting your show, sponsor a special “employee discount” on tickets.
  42. Make clever P.A. announcements using the leads and adaptations of the script.
  43. Plan a pre-sale ticket lottery to determine the order students in the cast and crews can go to the box office to purchase their reserve seat admissions. This generates excitement and actually helps to sell additional tickets!
  44. Sponsor a school staff appreciation breakfast (donuts and coffee) thanking everyone for their support of the musical. At the breakfast, pass out ticket vouchers (two complimentary tickets) to the teachers.
  45. Help formulate creative school cafeteria menus using musical themes (e.g. “Wicked Witch” stew, “Jiggerbug Juice,” and “Toto’s Favorite Burgers”).
  46. Supercharge 4 makeup bloody mary1Schedule an in-school theatre education assembly for younger students. Give a short synopsis of the musical and demonstrate several scene changes, technical effects and lighting, application of character make-up, and several dances or songs from the current show (make sure you retain the rights to do a segment of the musical!).
  47. After the final dress rehearsal, sponsor a picture taking session for the parents. Actors can pose in costume and in front of the finished sets. The taking of photographs or audio/visual recording during the show is illegal!
  48. Construct an attractive hall display of cast and crew photographs, “Music In Our Schools Month” materials, etc. Always include a photographic history of the evolution of sets in construction, and the student names in the company.
  49. Designate one performance as children’s night. Offer it one hour earlier (on a school night), and provide a special discount for children ages 12 and under, as well as backstage tours of the scenery, spotlights, soundboard, costume room, autographs from the leads, etc.
  50. Dedicate each performance of the show to a special adult contributor to the school music and theatre program. Invite the Supercharge 4 special effect flyinghonored guest to the pre-show cast meeting, and send him/her several free tickets. Announce the dedication on the P.A. before the Overture, and post it on the hall display in the auditorium lobby.
  51. Find a P.R. “hook” – something that might interest the media – such as sponsoring Annie “dog auditions” or twins casted in dual roles. Send a new press release to the media every two weeks.
  52. Print the musical performance dates on the computerized student report cards and school district payroll checks. Use inter-office mail to send personal invitations to all of the teachers. Be sure to list the names of the cast – teachers will be interested in coming up to see their former students.
SUMMARY: Concepts to Consider—BUILD is the Operative Word!
  • Involvement of greater numbers of students and parents will build audiences and community support.
  • Presentation of a quality production with student leadership and supplemental activities will build student enthusiasm and appreciation of the inherent “value” of theatre in school.
  • Finding the confidence to take risks and build on your own creativity—go ahead and adapt the score, script, set designs and staging to utilize your schools’ resources.
  • The allocation of ample time in publicity and promotional activities will build community awareness, attendance and EXCITEMENT in support of the show!
SAMPLE RESOURCES: Companies, Books, Sites

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Retirement = Reflection + Renewal + Altruism

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

Attention all wordsmiths! Here’s a new word to add to your vocabulary: eleemosynary, an adjective that means generous, benevolent, charitable, gratuitous, or philanthropic.

Also, according to dictionary.com, the first definition of reflection is “the act of reflecting, as in casting back a light or heat, mirroring, or giving back or showing an image; the state of being reflected in this way.”

Assimilating both of these concepts, simply put, retirement is a time for both reflection and giving back.

on-green-1362995Do you remember as a kid lying down on your grass and looking up to the clouds imagining that you see animals or faces or Medieval dragons? Did you relax and let your thoughts wander to make up stories or scenarios to “play” in your mind? What new ideas or visions came to mind? This process of daydreaming or brainstorming can be the perfect vehicle for a little self-reflection, a calm moment to refresh your outlook, reconcile your feelings, review and revise personal goals, and basically re-energize your passions!

For once in your life, you don’t have to accept the demanding “hustle and bustle” of a very stressful workday schedule. Now you have more of life’s most precious commodity – TIME!

This new freedom gives you the chance to spend some time with your family, friends, acquaintances, even former coworkers when they have breaks. I hate to admit it that, as a full-time music teacher, I could not give you the names of my neighbors on my street, and now that I walk dogs daily, I have become much more “neighborly” and make every effort getting to know them.

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Of course, one of the most important directions you can go is to revisit your “creativity roots,” the reason you got involved in music and music education in the first place. One of your first priorities when you retire from full-time employment in music education should be to pull that instrument out of the closet, brush it off, warm up on it a little, and begin restarting your regime of training those chops (or vocal skills) once more. Go out and join a community band, orchestra, or choir (subject of a future blog).

Seize the day (as they say) and embrace opportunities for volunteering, possibly going back to the school and offering your professional services on a “very” part-time basis. Perhaps a local music program could use your expertise in setting up new technology, playing the piano, helping conduct large ensembles or coaching sectionals or chamber groups, organizing or chaperoning music trips, repairing instruments, composing or arranging music for the ensembles, or assisting on the rehearsals or designing the field show for the marching band, dance team, or drum line.

In addition, the “passage to retirement” allows a re-examination of ourselves and discovery of new interests, conceivably some non-music volunteer activities. Select a project or two that will help satisfy your need to help others and “wheelchair-1576246nurture your soul.” My personal favorite (besides retaining my “conductor chops” by directing a youth orchestra on Saturdays) is to serve as a volunteer escort at our local hospital. In addition to walking dogs several times a day, pushing wheelchairs several days a week is good physical exercise, but more importantly, it is a big help to the efficient and economical operation of any mid- to large-sized medical facility.

What’s that inspiring quote? “I thought I was poor because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” My wife and I get a lot of personal satisfaction helping people who are less fortunate than we are, especially those who are much more senior to us, and by now (after two years plus of retirement), I believe we are now nearly expert “wheelchair jockeys.” At the hospital, you meet many wonderful people, the majority of whom are undergoing a (hopefully temporary) life challenge… surgery, treatment, observation, rehabilitation, etc. It has to be said that we have found that “patients are the most patient,” and individuals with the most serious conditions are usually the most appreciative and display the sweetest dispositions. Of course, our favorite wheelchair trip is to the family birth center, where the majority of the time, we get to escort a mother with her new baby to the car.

pet-adoption-1360761
Other volunteer activities? Lists of needy programs are numerous (here are a few examples):
  • Walk dogs or care for pets at the local animal shelter
  • Serve in charitable fund-raising projects (man phones, etc.)
  • Offer to translate/interpret foreign languages
  • Assist food banks and meals-on-wheels agencies
  • Enlist as a “court appointed special advocate” for abused or neglected children
  • Work as a hospice volunteer
  • reading-with-grandmother-in-wheelchair-1432646Join Elder Helpers or other organizations to help needy seniors
  • Run a school club or activity (share your unique hobby)
  • Help maintain parks, trails, nature habitats, or recreation centers
  • Collate/file/sort/catalog libraries of sheet music or books
  • Host an international student
  • Become a youth director, mentor, or scout leader
  • Register new citizens to vote at citizenship ceremonies
  • Clean-up vacant lots, cemeteries, playgrounds, etc.
  • Apply office management and clerical skills to benefit nonprofit associations
  • Teach summer school or Fine/Performing Arts classes
  • Give guided tours or lectures as a “docent” at a local museum

people-listening-1239292

Check it out! Today, 3,281 volunteer opportunities in or near Pennsylvania were posted at: http://www.volunteermatch.org/search/?l=pennsylvania

Volunteer some of this new-found time that you have on your hands, and I promise, you will never regret it!

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Criteria for Selection of the “Ideal” Teacher Candidate

“A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.”    – Brad Henry

Standards and Benchmarks of Top-Rated Educators in Music and Other Academic Subjects

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The best way to prepare for a job interview is to become aware of how you will be judged in comparison with your peers. What are the standards (or behaviors or criteria) of outstanding teachers? For what are administrators looking to fill the vacancies and build/maintain a quality staff?

Interviews will sort out (and rank) the competencies, certifications, education levels, and overall experience of the candidates. Obviously, mastery of subject content and teaching methods will be evaluated. However, you may be surprised that significant focus will be placed on personality traits, social skills, and evidence of personal drive, reliability, versatility, vision, and habits of professionalism.

In short, you may be the best musician this side of the Mississippi, the “model lesson planner,” and can conduct Orff’s Carmina Burana or Shostakovich‘s Festive Overture blindfolded, but if you cannot inspire students, work with coworkers, and communicate effectively, your interview and chances for being hired are doomed from the start.

Adapted from David Berliner and William Tikunoff, “The California BTES: Overview of the Ethnographic Study,” effective teachers score high on…

  • Accepting
  • Adult involvement
  • Attending
  • Consistency of message
  • Conviviality
  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACooperation
  • Student engagement
  • Knowledge of subject
  • Monitoring learning
  • Optimism
  • Pacing
  • Promoting self-sufficiency
  • Spontaneity
  • Structuring

Effective teachers score low on…

  • Abruptness
  • Belittling
  • Student defiance
  • Counting hours or “clock punching”
  • Illogical statements
  • Mood swings
  • Oneness (treats whole group as “one”)
  • Recognition-seeking

In previous blogs (e.g. https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/the-meaning-of-pro/), I have defined the qualities of a “professional.” How many of these traits do you model?

  • Succeeded in and continues to embrace “higher education”
  • Updates self with “constant education” and retooling
  • Seeks change and finding better ways of doing something
  • Like lawyers/doctors, “practices” the job; uses different techniques for different situations
  • Accepts criticism (always trying to self-improve)
  • Proposes new things “for the good of the order”
  • interview-1238367Can seemingly work unlimited hours (24 hours a day, 7 days per week)
  • Is salaried (does not think in terms of hourly compensation, nor expects pay for everything)
  • Is responsible for self and many others
  • Allows others to reap benefits and credits for something he/she does
  • Has obligations for communications, attending meetings, and fulfilling deadlines
  • Values accountability, teamwork, compromise, group goals, vision, support, creativity, perseverance, honesty/integrity, fairness, and timeliness/promptness
  • Accepts and models a corporate standard of behavior and appearance

It is worth reading “Weigh In: What Makes a Great Teacher” by Jacqueline Heinze in the Winter 2011 issue of Administr@tor Magazine (see http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3755567). Among the numerous responses were these notable quotes:

  • “A great teacher must be resilient.”
  • “Great teachers are instructional leaders and curriculum designers.”
  • “Great teachers love what they do and perceive teaching as their calling.”
  • “Great teachers are empathetic and engaged.”

Also check out these websites for additional insight on the characteristics of a exemplary educator:

students-1460768Since the process of teacher selection in the public schools involves recruitment, screening, hiring, placement, induction, and evaluation, it is advisable for prospects to know the assessment practices already in place. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Pennsylvania has adopted The Framework for Teaching as the overarching vision for effective instruction in the Commonwealth.

The Framework for Teaching is written by Charlotte Danielson, an internationally-recognized expert in the area of teacher effectiveness specializing in the design of teacher evaluation systems that, while ensuring teacher quality, also promote professional learning.

The introduction to The Framework of Instruction Evaluation Instrument 2013 states its purpose:

“The Framework for Teaching identifies those aspects of a teacher’s responsibilities that have been documented through empirical studies and theoretical research as promoting improved student learning. While the Framework is not the only possible description of practice, these responsibilities seek to define what teachers should know and be able to do in the exercise of their profession.” – Charlotte Danielson

The model focuses the complex activity of teaching by defining four domains of teaching responsibility:

  1. Planning and Preparation
  2. Classroom Environment
  3. Instruction
  4. Professional Responsibilities

The domains can be further broken down into…

danielsons_image_dom1-4

Domain 1: Planning and Preparation

  • 1a Demonstrating Knowledge of Content & Pedagogy
  • 1b Demonstrating Knowledge of Students
  • 1c Setting Instructional Objectives
  • 1d Demonstrating Knowledge of Resources
  • 1e Designing Coherent Instruction
  • 1f Designing Student Assessments

Domain 2: Classroom Environment

  • 2a Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport
  • 2b Establishing a Culture for Learning
  • 2c Managing Classroom Procedures
  • 2d Managing Student Behavior
  • 2e Organizing Physical Space

Domain 3: Instruction

  • 3a Communicating with Students
  • 3b Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques
  • 3c Engaging Students in Learning
  • 3d Using Assessment in Instruction
  • 3e Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness

inside-a-class-room-school-1435436Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities

  • 4a Reflecting on Teaching
  • 4b Maintaining Accurate Records
  • 4c Communicating with Families
  • 4d Participating in a Professional Community
  • 4e Growing and Developing Professionally
  • 4f Showing Professionalism

Many Pennsylvania districts assess their professional staff and verify their teacher’s professional growth via rubrics or other evaluative tools, as well as the collection of artifacts that support these domains. Archives of these “best practices” would be assembled in portfolios for the principal’s year-end review (samples printed in blue below are possible artifacts for music educators in particular):

Domain 1: Planning

  • Assessment Tools
  • Lesson Plans
  • New Curriculum Innovations
  • Personal/Professional Goals
  • Music Repertoire/Program Lists
  • Subject Outlines

Domain 2: Classroom Environment

  • Audio-Visual Resources Including Recordings
  • Formal Observations
  • Informal Observations
  • PowerPoint Presentations
  • Sample Classroom Displays/Bulletin Boards

Domain 3: Instruction

  • Arrangements (Teacher Composed)
  • Conferences with Colleagues/PLCs/Teams
  • Meetings with Mentors/Curriculum Leaders/Principals
  • Printed Concert, Musical, Drama, or Recital Programs
  • pencils-1240400Sample Homework and Worksheets
  • Student Composed Music/Lyrics/Exercises
  • Warmup Drills and Style/History Handouts

Domain 4: Professionalism

  • Act 48 Clinics and Workshops
  • Congratulatory Notes from Parents/Staff
  • Grade Books and Attendance Records
  • Letters/Newsletters Sent Home
  • Minutes of Department Meetings
  • Professional Development Programs
  • Student Recommendations
  • Student Records

Individual school districts define their own “vision of a model teacher,” aligning the selection criteria with the goals of the school system and the needs of the individual schools. For example, Upper St. Clair School District (an Allegheny County public school system located in southwestern Pennsylvania, and where I worked 33 years as music educator and seven years as Performing Arts Curriculum Leader) adopted the following Assessment Criteria for Teacher Candidates (developed by Superintendent Dr. William Pope, Human Resource Director Ms. Jean Toner, and other staff). “In a nutshell,” these are what USC calls “core behaviors” or standards of personality traits, skills, and knowledge, and serve as categories for assessment of all job applicants during the interview process:

Instructional

  • Educational Philosophy
  • Knowledge/Experience
  • Classroom Management
  • Technology
  • Oral Expression
  • Written Communications

college-1241412Professional

  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Judgment
  • Problem Solving
  • Planning & Organizing
  • Innovation

Personal

  • Initiative
  • Dependability
  • Adaptability
  • Self-Insight and Development
  • Energy and Enthusiasm
  • Appearance

My next blog on this subject will provide examples of music teacher interview questions for each of the above criteria… suitable for individual practice or group mock interview sessions, and to assist in the formulation of stories/anecdotes that would support a candidate’s mastery of each standard. The importance of this preparation is explored in a previous blog: https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/08/02/when-it-comes-to-getting-a-job-s-is-for-successful-storytelling/.

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

When It Comes to Getting a Job, “S” is for Successful Storytelling!

Thoughts on Marketing Yourself and Sharing Personal Anecdotes at Employment Interviews for PCMEA and Prospective Music Teachers

This article was submitted for publication in PMEA News – the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association.

pmeaMany schools are implementing behavior-based interviews as the preferred method for screening and evaluating applicants. This approach seeks to highlight past performance, experiences, behaviors, knowledge, skills, and abilities that are job-related. Throughout this process, the concept of marketing oneself for employment consideration is based on two principal skill sets: branding yourself and storytelling. It is not about “bragging” or false modesty, although you cannot come on too strong or too weak at the interviews. However, it is everything about “getting noticed,” “making connections” with the interviewers, and demonstrating that you have “what it takes” and would be a “good fit” for their school district.

Not everybody is a good storyteller, but music educators are generally good performers. In preparation of their craft, musicians music-1237358routinely model their knowledge of music making – poise, professionalism, and self-confidence in front of an audience, critical thinking, problem solving and repetitive drill towards a smooth, well-organized, and well-practiced performance, and all of those essential concepts of form and analysis, rhythms, articulations, tempos, phrasing (breathing!), dynamic contrasts, interpretation, and expressiveness… many skills inherently needed in the storytelling.

questions-1151886According to Antigone Orfanos in “Interviewing Techniques: The Art of Storytelling” (http://therapycareers.about.com/od/JobHuntSkillsStrategies/a/Job-Interview-Techniques.htm), knowing the questions an interviewer may ask is much less important than mastering your storytelling skills. “Think of all of your past accomplishments. Try to create a list of the most important successes you have had in your career and personal life. These are the stories that you want to highlight when your employer meets with you. The most important successes are the ones that are most likely to make the biggest impression on a potential employer. Then, use metaphors, analogies, and humorous anecdotes to capture an employer’s attention.”

reading-statue-1528168It turns out that stories are a very powerful tool, as validated by Lily Zhang in “The Interview Technique You Should Be Using” (see https://www.themuse.com/advice/the-interview-technique-you-should-be-using#). Jennifer Aaker, professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, explains that “stories are up to 22 times more memorable than facts alone” and “we are wired to remember stories much more than data, facts, and figures.” Zhang expands on this. “Our brains are just more active when we’re listening to a story. In fact, if you can tell a good story, you can actually synchronize your listener’s brain with your own. You can literally share the experience with someone else. Talk about making a connection!”

Worth reading in depth, Zhang details in her article the steps towards better storytelling at interviews:

  1. Tell the punch line early.
  2. Give some context.
  3. Introduce the situation or challenge.
  4. Describe your specific actions.

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In “Interview Story Telling – Personal Branding Blog – Stand Out in Your Career” (http://www.personalbrandingblog.com/interview-story-telling/), Kevin Monahan predicts that you will be asked to “Share a time when…” or “Provide an example where…” which provides the perfect opportunity to tell a story. He recommends that stories need to have a beginning that sets the stage (provide the setting), action items (what did you do?), and final outcome (how did you achieve the goal or influence an outcome?). He shares, “During one interview session, I was asked what my first job was. I could have told them in five seconds that my first job was a paper route when I was ten years old. Instead, I told a story.” He narrated a more detailed explanation on getting to know his customers, learning their individual preferences, and developing a connection with each of them… leading to better service and greater business generated.

Monahan concludes, “The key… is to connect the story to a desired skill set needed for the position. By relating the stories and examples back to the core competencies of the job, I communicated an image instead of just providing answers to questions.”

An available self-assessment of your storytelling performance skills is available at http://www.storyarts.org/classroom/usestories/storyrubric.html. Using Heather Forest’s rubrics on her website “Storytelling in the Classroom,” you could make and lady-1580621then evaluate a video recording of a “mock interview,” asking yourself in front of a camera common questions like the following:

  1. What are your greatest personal strengths (and weaknesses)?
  2. What techniques would you use to motivate (or discipline) students?
  3. Describe your educational philosophy.
  4. How would you assess the learning in your classroom?
  5. Who had the greatest influence on you becoming a teacher and why?
  6. What are your career objectives?

During the panel discussion “Ready to Hire: Interview Strategies for Music Educators” at the 2013 PMEA Annual In-Service Conference in Erie, PA, colleagues Susan Basalik, J. Howard Baxter, Susan Metelsky, and moderator Scott Sheenan were generous in providing supplemental materials, including sample questions and other tips for excellent interview (and story) preparation. These handouts are still available online at http://www.uscsd.k12.pa.us/Page/6361.

One final thought comes from Beth Kuhel in “The Secret to a Successful Interview: Great Storytelling” in the April 17, 2014 online article of U.S. News and World Report. In a TED Talk, “Toy Story” movie co-writer Andrew Stanton says that “a great story comes from using what you know, capturing a truth from experiencing it, and from expressing values you feel deeply.” He suggests, “You allow the listener to make his own deductions about you from the story. That is, don’t come out and say you’re collaborative, adaptable or anything – you tell a story that convinces your listener you possess these traits.” Stanton concludes that a well-told tale grips, excites, and engrosses.

preschool-hands-on-activities-1565836In summary, it is important to apply your skill in storytelling to employment interviews. Provide thoughtful, professional, and firm answers in response to the interviewer’s questions. Back up your statements with specific examples. Share the outcome or solution to a specific problem. Summarize to emphasize your strengths. Make yourself “stand out” as you tell stories about the challenges and triumphs you faced in life. Interconnect and relate these anecdotes proving your skills and experiences to the needs, goals, and values of the institution, employer, and position for which you are applying.

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox