Dr. Frank Tracz

Choosing And Developing Student Leaders

Aug 2019

It is that time of year where the weather is changing, contests are around the corner, repair and request lists are being made, and it is time to choose leadership for your band for the Fall!! The better planning and preparation, the better the band experience for all will be. Here is a quick outline of the “Leadership Selection” process.

Start by asking the following:

a. Why do you need student leaders?

b. Who will these student leaders be?

c. What will they do?

d. Where will they do it?

e. How should they do it?

Lots of questions that can and must be asked and answered by you – the Director. Think about the above questions and design a complete picture of what your leadership team, purpose, philosophy and technique will look like. Once you have these answers, you can design a program that benefits you, the student leaders, and the band. Remember, there is more to leadership than a title and a t-shirt. The purpose and the process are crucial!


You need to set expectations and goals for the program and for the leadership team. You know what you want/need based on many entities and influences. ALWAYS keep in mind that this is MUSIC EDUCATION, and YOU are responsible for their educational and musical experiences. Construct and design your leadership program based on your needs. It is acceptable and encouraged to “borrow” from other teachers and programs; however, one size does not fit all. This is a tailored program that you must construct. And be sure to establish a hierarchy of authority; we all answer to someone, and you need to set that order.


How will this leadership program help the program and assist you? What do you need to move the entire program and team forward? What are the outcomes and benefits for you, the students, and the band? Lots of questions that only you can answer. Take the time to look at the past, evaluate the present, then dream and build for the future.


All success in our lives is built and dependent upon a plan and a system in which to achieve it. Design a leadership system that is compatible with you and your needs. Establish the titles and job descriptions of each and every position within the system and acquire all necessary tools and resources to assist with the work going forward.


Students will buy into the process if their voice is included – have an election process by which the sections/students in the band decide who their leaders should be. Set the requirements and expectations of each leader and make these known to the band. Now, you have set the guidelines, and they will search for the right persons. Once a group of students has been “elected” by the band, set up an interview/audition with each student. It does take time. Time spent wisely now choosing the right people will save you hours and heartaches next fall when you hit that Thursday evening rehearsal in the mist and cold that will challenge us all. If you require your Drum Majors and Head Section Leaders to write a one-page essay on “Why they are the person to lead,” you will quickly find out who is ready for this challenge and opportunity.


It is crucial that you teach and train these leaders to do the task assigned and give them all the tools they need to lead their peers to a better place as a section and band: hold sessions about leadership and motivation, rules of the band, and so forth. A pizza and soda meeting designed to make them feel special and important goes a long way in establishing the importance and validity of these student leaders among their peers. There are numerous DVDs, YOUTUBE videos, experts, and so on that can help you get the leadership lessons across. Educator and motivational speaker “Dr. Tim” and all his materials comes to mind... not to mention Conn-Selmer Institute (CSI) and the CSI clinician faculty.


“Support in action” is my favorite phrase here. Watch them, guide them, but let them fail and succeed. Learning takes place when a measurable change of behavior occurs. Give them a chance to lead, while you wait in the background, ready to guide and assist. I suggest weekly and or monthly meetings: they can be as short as 15 minutes to discuss “tell me how it’s going and this is what I’ve noticed,” or a once a month gathering again at the local pizza parlor back room. I am sure your boosters can take care of the bill. Require the students to keep a journal and develop a plan for their sectionals and rehearsals. Writing things down tends to have a lasting effect on memory. Finally, be there! They need you, you need them, you are the adult expert here.


Have a system of feedback and evaluations, whether they be monthly, weekly, or after each performance. Send each leader an evaluation sheet, either on paper or electronically, to assess the sections, the assistant leaders, and individual growth. Honest feedback is crucial for success and growth of the band and the young person. If there is a student leader struggling, call them in and have a discussion on what you see, what you can do to help, and suggest ways for the individual to improve and become more effective. Social media kudos goes a long way in supporting and encouraging the leadership.


We all need support, encouragement, and someone to tell us we are doing well. You need to be that person for your student leaders. Set up a system of rewards: t-shirts for all leaders at camp, special patch or shoulder braid for student leaders on their uniforms, special meetings for the leadership team five minutes before the rehearsal begins informing them of the “plan” for the day, special awards at the year-end award ceremony, the list is endless based upon your creativity. Public acknowledgement goes a long way in encouraging and supporting present leaders as well as setting up future leadership teams. Share the glory – we all want to make a difference.


In all my years of teaching, I have realized that it is not the final performance that matters, it is the process to get there that makes the difference in our lives. The process is anywhere from one week, one month, one year, 5 years, and so on until we reach an entire life span and career. This attitude is very helpful to the student leader as well as you in your mission as a music educator. Work to manage the times we live in. It is different now. Always keep the goals of the student and music education forefront. The trophy will collect dust and be discarded by the next Director; however, the process and memories will last much longer.


It makes all the sense in the world to look back and evaluate what you have done and accomplished over the past year/season. Have a final gathering of staff and leaders to discuss the experience. Take notes, learn, adjust, change, adapt, and even throw some things out!! Make it better for the next round and keep that freshness and newness in your teaching and the program itself. The most powerful evaluation is the one I give myself based on what I saw, heard and experienced. If I as a leader improve – so does my band!!

Enjoy the process and change some lives!!

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Dr. Frank Tracz

Director of Bands

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