Student Retention & Johann the Orchestra Rat Rides Again

Today I was super inspired by a post made by @thecandidchoraldirector  She was talking about the school year starting up again and it made me go through my own thoughts as I have about one month left until school (we start really late).

I especially loved the picture associated with her post and how the choir room looked like a party room with a big banner that said “Break a Leg.”  And I hope she doesn’t mind, but I am definitely going to steal that and I think I will have my room all decked out at the beginning of the school year with encouraging posters, signs, and a huge banner that says “Break a Peg.”

I believe strongly in the power of the space in which you occupy.  My room, the orchestra room, must be a safe haven for my students and a place in which they feel they belong.  One huge component to successful retention is Social Identity.

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Social Identity is basically a persons identity based upon those with whom he/she associates.  Here are a few things I will be keeping in mind regarding social identity as I complete my next school year:

  1. Home is Where the Heart Is – I will never forget the first time that a student walked into my room and took off her shoes.  Or the first time that a student accidentally called me “Mom.”  Oh, or one of my favorites, when a student strode into the orchestra room first thing in the morning on the first day of school and pronounced, “I’m HOME!”  This is the kind of comfort we want our students to experience in our “realm.”  We want these kinds of responses to us and our room.  So that the students feel so at home in your group that their identity transforms from “student” into “musician,” or “violinist,” or my favorite: “orch dork!”  You will find that attrition becomes obsolete the more your students identify with your class, your room, and the culture you have created.
  2. Synergetic Learning – This is a huge part of Critical Pedagogy, but also of social identity.  I found an article tonight that actually speaks to a Synergetic Classroom (Click HERE to learn more) but the most important thing is that each and every student is important and valuable to you and to the class.  That learning, understanding, mistakes, and teaching go both ways.  The student may be the teacher at times and the teacher may be the learner.  The best example I have of this is a student who played viola because his mom made him.  He did not enjoy it and did not feel welcome in orchestra the first year I had him.  But soon, we discovered that he had an incredible knack for fixing things.  We started to have him fix EVERYTHING in the room!  Whenever anything would break, we’d call him in.  Then, when I would need special modifications, I would ask him to help.  Soon, he was going on our trips, eating lunch in my room, and he has now been in my class for FOUR years!  He brought a unique ability to my class even if it wasn’t his musical ability on viola (BTW, we switched him to bass and he loves it!  He’s even in one of my super advanced classes for next year!!!).  My point is, however, that I was not the only one providing some kind of expertise.  This importance within our group brought him closer to us and solidified his identity as an “orchdork!”
  3. Be the In Group – Okay, this is always a bit controversial, but the truth is that another essential component of social identity is that there is an “in-group” as well as an “out-group.”  We all remember middle school and how desperate we were to be in the in-group, right?  Well, you don’t have to be the best group, but you do want to be cool and exciting to your students, and you definitely do not want to be the “out-group!”  Here are a few tips to make your ensemble more cool
  • Branding – Create a really cool brand for your group (ours is the really cool heartbeat logo pictured below and is beloved by my students and even the kids in the middle and elementary schools that feed us).  Put this on EVERYTHING!  Your letters home, your murals, your t-shirts (Yes, every year!), your facebook page, and even your music stands.  This past year, one of my uber dedicated students took red christmas lights and maneuvered our logo in lights for our winter concert.  It was seriously amazing!

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  • Johann the Orchestra Rat – Yes, we have an orchestra rat (don’t worry, he’s not a real rat!)… It’s weird but it’s also niche.  And the students LOVE him!  He even made it into the school yearbook because he is so beloved. He even has his own facebook page.  And he seriously shows up EVERYWHERE in the orchestra room (in people’s cases, in the locker room) and our middle schoolers even brought in another rat and called him “Johann Jr.”  It makes a huge difference!
  • Rap the Reputation!  Talk your students up to everyone around you so that the kids and teachers in your pyramid respect and look up to your students.  This cannot be underestimated!  And then, tell your students how much you have been bragging on them!
  • PRAISE THEM – Send their pictures to the yearbook, the school newspaper, the website, and everywhere.  Make sure it is clear that you are proud of them, and they WILL become proud of themselves!

Well, even though I could talk about these things FOREVER… I suppose I will go feed my pets now.  Thanks for listening tonight and enjoy the picture below of our beloved rat!

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