This week Kathryn and Theresa talked to Mandy Hollingshead, an international band teacher. Mandy has taught in the Middle East, Hong Kong, and Beijing. Prior to teaching internationally, Mandy was a band director in Canada. One thing Mandy has tried to incorporate in all of her schools is having students help with concert planning.   

When Mandy began teaching, she was used to a traditional ensemble experience, where the teacher always directed, and the students always followed. However, one of Mandy’s first international schools was more progressive and encouraged student involvement. Initially, this was a challenge! In time, Mandy worked with students to accumulate their ownership in the concert planning process.

It’s a Process

Mandy began by asking students what music they were interested in playing. She would choose some of the performance repertoire and students would choose the rest. Usually, the students were more motivated to practice the pieces they had chosen. Eventually, Mandy gave more and more control to the students. 

When teaching in Beijing, concert preparation became an entire unit as students took over many of the responsibilities. Students could choose the repertoire (though Mandy had the final say because of budget and music ordering restrictions). Some students were in charge of publicity, creating posters to advertise the concert. Other students handled food, organizing who would bring food and coordinating getting plates and napkins from the cafeteria. A group of students would research each piece to create background notes, while another group created digital slides to use instead of a paper program. Concerts were all bilingual, so Mandy had students serve as emcees in both languages. Students even worked as stage managers, which was tricky for Mandy to relinquish control of, given the importance of that role! 

Students took control of the entire performance, taking ownership and discovering skills they didn’t know they had. The performances weren’t always perfect, and there were times students let their groups down. These were important lessons for everyone to learn. 

As Mandy worked to put systems in place for students to take ownership of concert planning, she found she was learning this process as much as the students were. She discovered she could let go, and the performance would still be successful. Mandy learned from the process each time, which helped when teaching the next group of students. 

“In putting the systems in place, they were being put in place as much for me as for the students. It’s teaching myself that I can let go, and it can still be successful.”  

Benefits to the Students

Mandy found that by giving her students ownership of concert preparations, they became more engaged. The students realized that many of the skills they gained were valuable in other parts of their lives. Students could learn and practice “soft skills” such as organization, teamwork, and time management, that many companies look for in their employees. Sometimes Mandy would guide students towards specific roles in the planning project, because she saw something in them the students may not recognize. This nudge helped students know Mandy believed in them and that she was there to support them. 

Mandy’s Advice to Teachers

Mandy suggests teachers start by giving students a choice in the music. Find out what music they are interested in, talk about where to find music, and discuss the parameters to use when looking for pieces. In her classes, Mandy would start by having students search on the J.W. Pepper website and suggest pieces they were interested in playing with a few sentences describing why. Other students would read the descriptions, listen to the pieces, and vote for their favorites. She recommends sharing at the concert that the students chose the music! Parents and administrators will appreciate hearing that. For the next step, have students serve as emcees for the concert. Then, have students write the scripts. Continue adding small things each year. 

Be sure to check out the full interview to learn more about Mandy’s teaching and how she gives students ownership during performances: A Performance Planned By Students

Connect with Mandy and learn more: 

Interested in reading more about student ownership in performances? Check out this interview:

Listen to the full interview on your favorite podcast platform, or here on Anchor!

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