From the InspireChoir Team

Inspired Student Leadership Traits, Part 2

Welcome back – we hope that the comments from our last post serve as a valid starting point for developing leadership within your choirs.  This week, we focus on the next seven leadership traits, offering tips for integration into the choral rehearsal.  They are:

  • Effective Communication
  • Integrity & Honesty
  • Making a Difference
  • Money Management
  • Passion & Motivation
  • Prioritizing Tasks
  • Problem Solving

Effective communication may be one of the most essential, yet challenging, aspects of choral leadership. The challenge lies in how we teach this skill to our students with so much to do within the choral rehearsal.  One option is to begin by utilizing student stretches to prep the body for singing.  After you model this approach, students (even those who are not appointed/elected leaders) can implement this approach easily.  This simple task helps students to wet their feet a little before jumping into more serious and complex tasks.  Once students feel comfortable with the posture/focus portion of warm-uos, the director might choose to incorporate diction and vowel exercises for student leaders.  Such exercises can include consonant echoes, production of “Singlish” (not English) vowel shapes, and the basic fundamentals of musicianship (i.e., phrase shaping, contour, and word stresses).  Regardless of the method chosen, communication skills must target speaking, writing, listening, attenting, asking questions, encouraging, paraphrasing, summarizing, building relationships, giving/receiving feedback, speaking up for self, assertiveness, negotiating, and compromise, to name a few  Strive to incorporate opportunities within the rehearsal to meet these leadership needs.

Students feel empowered when they see that their work or leadership is making a difference.  In general, students are eager to please and want to better the world through their actions, not just words.  Bethel described making a difference through the following essential qualities: having a mission, being a big thinker, being a change master, displaying sensitivity, taking risks, having skill at making decisions, using power wisely, communicating with others, building teams, and being both courageous and committed.  To implement/demonstrate these skills, directors must teach planning, assessing, team building, decision making, goal setting, and communication skills daily through their own leadership of students. As directors, we are the best reflection of our students and if we strive to create future leaders, we must model these traits ourselves.

Money Management is a tough one.  In this era of money MISmanagement, students are one of the last sets of people that we want handling money, but involving students in the process (or at least through a semi-transparent understanding) of how money is spent and where it goes can help to enable students to understand the behind-the-scenes work that goes on and where their fees, fundraising dollars, and concert admissions benefit them the most.  I have found that when I am most honest with students about fundraising and the profits’ uses, they tend to buy in and participate more.  On a slightly less intensive level, directors can create “banks” where points and other token economy rewards can go in hopes of “cashing in” for a prize/reward.  Regardless of the level of student involvement, money management allows students to practice making smart decisions and empowers them in a multitude of ways.

Levels of both passion and motivation in the choral ensemble drastically affect the overall performance of the ensemble.  Why are students in your choir?  Why do they like to sing?  What kind(s) of music bring them passion?  In this need-it-now, instant gratification society, it is paramount that we understand our students’ motivations for enrolling, performing, and expressing themselves in choir.  Don’t be afraid to have tough and meaningful conversations with students, even at the beginning levels.  You will be surprised to see and hear the passionate comments that will follow.  You, as the director, may have to model the way and share some of your own comments and experiences first to show vulnerability, but in time, students will do the same. Al-Jammar, et al. found that the most passionate workers are focused, stubborn, savvy, competitive, and steadfast – isn’t that the kind of singer we desire?  Passionate, focused, yet challenge the status quo?  When we, as educators, are passionate about our work and display it to kids, they truly become a reflection of us and do the same.

The strong need to prioritize tasks is not only important for choral directors as well.  One might think:  “they don’t have as much to do as I do,” but remember that students also lack the cognitive capacities and experience to handle what we do as adults.  One of my favorite prioritization tools uses Stephen Covey’s quadrants, evaluating both urgency and importance.  I encourage you to read his work if you get a chance.  In a nutshell, with our numerous tasks, are we utilizing time most efficiently by first dealing with needs that are both urgent and important?  It is very easy to respond to that most recent email, but would that 5 minutes be better used on that task that has been on the back burner for two weeks and is due by the end of the week?  We must find ways in the choral rehearsal to teach these students to our students.  Is that ending cutoff the most important thing or, instead, is finishing the piece and/or singing correct notes?  The rehearsal provides us numerous opportunities to make choices – are we making the ones that lead to the quickest, most efficient and effective outcome?  Our students depend on us to make the right choice.

Students are faced with numerous problems throughout their years in school, and problem solving skills that they situationally learn not only serve them well during their school years, but in their lives.  Al-Jammar describes problem solving opportunities as:

  • Changing one’s language about problem from negative to positive
  • Defining the problem or situation clearly and diagnosing it
  • Using critical thinking to approach the problem from several directions
  • Defining the ideal solution to the problem
  • Picking the best solution to solve the challenge
  • Preparing for the worst possible outcome and how to overcome it
  • Measuring progress
  • Taking complete responsibility for the decision
  • Setting a deadline for when things should be solved
  • Taking action and solving the problem

Regardless of the problem, situation, or timeline, it is our duty to allow students to fail.  Yes, I said it.  We have to let them fall and then encourage and enable them to determine, find, and/or create ways to overcome failure.  If we stop them from failing, they can never truly become problem solvers.  In choir, problem solving can be experienced through evaluative measures, through section leader/student leadership opportunities, in communicative settings, and many more.  Before you rescue a student, think – can this moment of weakness be reframed to inspire leadership, creativity, and problem solving?  Likely, it can.