From the InspireChoir Team

Integrating Leadership Traits in Choral Rehearsals

While students may be able to come up with their own individual or programmatic goals, it is important for us as choral leaders to instill and develop purposeful leadership skills for our students.  Over the next few posts, we will explore these skills and discuss ways how leadership can be integrated into student officer positions and within the choral rehearsal.

Al-Jammal (2015) identified twenty-one leadership traits essential for developing leadership within students.  Today, we will focus on six of the first seven, the exception being creating a vision, which was discussed in a previous post.  They are:

  • Ability to Enable, Encourage, and Empower Others
  • Being Humble and Teachable
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Courage
  • Creating a Vision
  • Decision Making
  • Diversity Awareness

The ability to enable, encourage, and empower others is so very easy for us as choral directors.  We are truly set up for success with through our classroom structure and environment; however, we must capitalize on it through positive, specific, and targeted feedback.  This can be done in many ways, through unsolicited compliments, getting to know student interests outside of the choral classroom, or even through random acts of kindness such as handwritten notes of thanks or encouragement put inside students’ folder slots.  Each student has a positive potential in what they do and it is our responsibility to find it in them, whether it’s through their musical talents or by making connections with them outside of the choral community.  If we model this important skill for our students, they in turn may reciprocate to friends and those within the choir, thus empowering further growth and leadership.

Being humble and teachable is an incredibly powerful skill in the classroom.  When you make a mistake, do you own up to it?  If so, you are showing your students humility and encouraging them to take more risks in the classroom.  Every mistake that they (or you) make is a teaching moment.  Whether you capitalize on it is up to you.  Being vulnerable, in turn, models teachability.  It is hard to be teachable and students must decide if they are open to growth.  This growth centers on trust and security.  If students feel safe with the teacher and the environment, the growth mindset can occur.

We will further discuss conflict management in another post, but this may be one of the most necessary, yet difficult skills to teach in the classroom.  We are fortunate to have a subject where emotional connection can supplement our learning environment and product so well, but it comes at a price.  Students may be empowered to share opinions, musical tastes, and give feedback, but disagreements can occur in the classroom.  This, combined with bullying within our schools, leaves us a slippery slope.  Research in this area identifies key points in teaching this skill with students:

  • Identify a common ground within the issue and use that as the foundation for resolution
  • Understanding why conflicts occur: through differences in opinion, values, and goals, or because they receive inaccurate information.
  • Finding positives in conflicts – can be positive and lead to better understanding of and response to issues.
  • Problem solving must be addressed or it can lead to greater distrust and discord.
  • This can be taught through teaching listening, communication, self-discipline, critical thinking, creative thinking, and personal responsibility.

In officer meetings, look for opportunities to role-play to develop healthy responses such as: recognize and respond to the things that matter to another person, stay calm, be non-defensive, display respectful reactions, have readiness to forgive and forget, seek compromise and avoid punishing, hold a belief that facing conflict is the best thing for both sides

Courage is developed throughout the year through opportunities for students to shine.  To teach courage means to be courageous ourselves.  Do we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone by trying new warm-ups, literature, or techniques?  Do we seek feedback from others to improve?  Are we honest with our colleagues and our students?  Do we hold ourselves to the highest levels of accountability?

Being courageous will, in turn, help our students be more courageous.  In the choral rehearsal, courage can be developed through solo or small group performance opportunities, mock auditions, completing voice testing in front of the class, and even through non-musical skills such as providing positive and constructive feedback.

Decision making can be facilitated at the individual, small group, and large group levels. Self-assessments are commonly used by choral directors for students to evaluate their own progress and guide future growth.  Instruments such as rubrics, recordings, and post-concert evaluations can provide wonderful opportunities for reflection.  With choir officers, decision making skills can be used throughout the year in reflecting on progress, determining new or adjusting courses of action, and creating new ideas.  Begin by slowly giving students small tasks and expand their leadership and influence as they become more skilled at decision making.  In the choral rehearsal, directors can push students to evaluate current progress on literature or rehearsal efficiency, identify pros and cons, create new rehearsal plans, and set students in motion for self-directed learning.  This pedagogical technique can empower students and further enhance musicianship and buy-in.

Finally, diversity awareness can be one of the cornerstones of the choral ensemble, as it truly can be a reflection of society.  Our choirs are comprised of students many different ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, family environments, sexual orientations, and more.  Does our rehearsal space encourage diversity or shy away from it?  Do students feel safe to express themselves?  Directors should engage in conversation about “real world” issues as they arise through the text, meaning, or translation of music, and do so organically as situations arise.

Over the next two posts, we will explore ways to integrate the other leadership traits in the choral rehearsal.  Until then, make it count!