by Bill Ackerman

An often-overlooked subject in band methods classes is that of establishing relationships between teachers and the district office and/or school board. School boards and administrators have four primary responsibilities: 1) staffing; 2) curriculum development; 3) scheduling; and 4) funding. All of these areas are interrelated and critical to the success of a band program, and if any one of them is weak, then a program will not grow or reach its potential. Therefore, it becomes imperative to have good working relationships with those who make decisions regarding these responsibilities. These relationships need to be established early on. Waiting until a problem or crisis arises is too late.

Many times band directors get so enmeshed in their programs that they fail to see or understand the importance of establishing such relationships. This can lead to potential problems, which could be avoided if these relationships are well established and nurtured. In most cases, the degree of success in obtaining support for a program is determined by how well a person understands the “chain of responsibility”; that is, learning who is responsible for what. Call it “jumping through hoops”, “pushing the right buttons”, “pulling strings”, “going through the proper channels” or whatever; it is a fact of life, which one must understand.

Good relationships with the district office and school board begin by establishing good lines of communication. This line of communication begins with the school principal and moves up to the district arts coordinator (if your district is far-sighted enough to have one), possibly to various assistant superintendents, to the superintendent, and finally to the school board, usually through the board chair. Skipping any of the steps in this line of communication is probably not a wise idea. Going directly to the school board, for example, without first going to the principal and superintendent will probably create a problem, if one doesn’t already exist. The school principal can have as much or more to do with the success of a band program as the band director and should be regularly consulted and advised.

The school and district administrations and the school board must be kept informed (i.e. “educated”) about what is taking place in the band program. Many school board members are not educators, and the only thing they know about band is what they have seen at football games, assuming they paid attention to the half-time show! However, they must be made to feel that they are a part of the process and take some ownership in the program. The band director has to become the primary source for information.

Many times an administrator will say, “You’re the band director. You know more about that than I. You handle it.” That’s fine, as long as you tell the administrator what you’re going to do and why. Your goal is to help that person learn more about the band program and its operation.

Get to know each school and district administrator and each board member on a personal level. Attend school board meetings and functions whenever possible and make it a point to speak to every board member, if for no other reason to let them know you were there. Learn proper protocol for board meetings and follow it. Don’t earn the reputation of being a complainer. When discussing matters of interest, keep the conversation positive and focus on the needs of students, not those of the teacher or program. Administrators and board members are interested in what is best for students. Use such occasions not just to make friends but as opportunities to inform and educate.

Send separate personal invitations for band functions to every administrator and board member. Invite them into your classes, rehearsals, booster club meetings, performances, in-service conferences, and even out-of-town trips. Remember, however, that board members have heavy agendas and every other school interest group is vying for their attention. Sending invitations at least lets them know what’s going on, even if they cannot attend every function. When they attend a function, introduce and acknowledge them as a “friend of the band”, thank them for their support, and give them a chance to speak if they wish. Send a note of thanks for any function they attend.

Establishing good working relationships with administrators and school boards does not happen overnight and does require some time and effort on the part of the director. However, this will result in a broader base of support for the band, particularly among the decision makers. While they may not agree with you on every issue, you will have at least established trust and provided them with some factual knowledge to help them make educated decisions.

By the way, it also doesn’t hurt to make friends with the school secretary, the custodial staff, the athletic staff, the lunchroom staff, and the person who runs the copy machine! But…that’s another article.