Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Going Solo is NOT for the Brave! The Brave Collaborate

By Mark T. Burke

As musicians we know how easy it is to work alone.  We often spend many hours working on our craft, by ourselves. It can become easy to think "wow....I am a really great musician" at home, or in the practice room, alone.

Business owners have often relied on the "go it alone" attitude...survival of the brave and fit comes at the price of isolation.  The "keep your plans to yourself" approach to business assured others would not be exposed to trade secrets. 

Schools often foster teaching staff that develop the "I am an island" mentality. In a classroom, teacher's rule, they take on their tasks in isolation with few outside resources. 

While these belief structures have endured, times have changed. Over the past few years, my many mentors, gurus within their domains, have taught me....Going solo is not for the brave!  The brave COLLABORATE.  Guts and determination are needed to collaborate with others. Doing so opens us and organizations up to critique, outside input that often seems contrary to our own path, a path often considered a "path of least resistance."  When we collaborate, we interact with personalities outside our own close circle of contacts. Collaboration means counting on someone you may not know all that well, assuming the risk of doing so takes a brave person and a brave organization.

Collaboration has become the word of the 2010's in my opinion. Organizations have had an awaking since the economic downturn. People, businesses and schools are looking for ways to do more with less. People are looking for ways to connect.  Businesses are looking for efficiencies and schools are looking for ways to improve.

Over the last few weeks, I have had some wonderful opportunities to collaborate.  Last week, I presented at the PA Region IV Band festival held in Bloomsburg PA.  70+ Music Teachers attended, with most of them attending my session.  While my topic centered around the benefits of the viaAcademies program, the truly powerful outcome was the real opportunities to collaborate with teachers. What impressed me most were the number of teachers who spoke to me about how our program, at a time of severe budget cuts could help them add value to their music curriculum, connect them more rigidly with the initiatives of their school (through online learning) and increase the number of students they reach (ie....more ROI for the $'s spent by the school).  These are BRAVE teachers. They get "it", they aren't pulling back into a life of seclusion, feeling bravery will be on their side.  I am here to tell you, the brave have learned how to fight for their programs in a totally different way.  They are considering the value of outside partnerships with organizations, online learning, supplemental learning tools, professional development, curriculum building, personal learning networks and on and on....Notice, I did not say anything about fighting to keep the new music budget at the same level, justifying the uniform cleaning bill or ensuring administrators understand the power of new color guard flags.

I read regularly about the power of collaboration.  This post from an eLearning site I belong to discusses how educational content developers can benefit from collaboration. (5 Ways to Be An eLearning Winner).

I also recently visited Mr. Tom West at the PA Leadership Charter School, an online and hybrid school in PA.  Tom works as a teacher in the Performance Arts Center at PALCS as well as teaches at viaAcademies.  Recognizing the alignment of our organization's missions, it makes sense that we look for ways to work together.  What are those ways?  We don't know. But, being brave, we will find out. 

So how can music teachers become brave seekers of solutions? Here's how.

1.)  Seek new ways to add value to your program, even if they cost money.  Don't look at the same undertakings your program is currently focused on.  Administrators and communities become numb to the "same old, same old."  This is not to say traditions should be pushed aside.  Keep them, but innovate, get the attention of your listeners who may be expecting the same story...awaken them! Be brave! Start a new music class around GarageBand or Mixcraft. Roll out online courses, help your school get involved in online course offerings.  What about producing a music podcast for the school webpage.....the options are endless.

2.)  Seek business partners. Don't be afraid to admit that the music industry is an industry that makes money.  Too often, music teachers speak about the music industry poorly.  Sales reps get bad press, music stores never provide the right level of service, etc. That negative message finds its way into the community and quickly separates music teachers from local musical resources.  We should be building those relationships, not tearing them down.  Look for unique services and products and find ways to get them into the hands of your kids.  Work with the vendors to help you do that.

3.)  Learn more about your school's total educational system. When I talk to music teachers, I often find I know more about their school's educational options than they do.  As music teachers, do you know if your school offers online courses? If your school does offer online courses, are you taking part in delivering online music courses? Why not?  Is online learning just for Algebra, Health and Biology?  Be brave. Explore ways to get music into the mix of online offerings at your school.

4.)  Serve the community musically, not just the kids signed up for band, choir and orchestra.  80% of student aren't signed up for these groups.  So..........do we see an opportunity here? 80% of the students in our schools are "free lancers." While it is tempting to feel brave teaching the musically self identified students, it's much braver to go out and walk with the 80% who haven't made an ensemble choice.  While we know we need money, resources and time to teach the 20%, imagine the impact of increasing our musical impact across the 80%.  Would dollars and time and resources have more impact?  For sure they would.  Sometimes we have to be brave enough to explore new worlds.

Collaborate....Be brave!  

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