Technology + Student + You = Win

Technology is here to stay. It is not going to go away, nor is it going to become less complex or invasive in the near future. Our students are going to continue to text just like past generations passed notes. They will continue to populate places like Facebook and Twitter like previous generations populated the shopping malls and drive-ins of the past. Instead of lamenting that change in our students, why not use their interests to our advantage?

So much of what our students are interested in right now revolves around communication and sharing of ideas. That those ideas often do not include band is immaterial – if we can even enter in to their awareness outside of class-time increases our odds of retention many times over. Students have more going on than any previous generation, and the things they spend their time with will become the things they are good at. If you want band to be a “sticky” activity for them, you will have to dive into their arena.

Below are three spheres of influence that exist within each band program the world over. We’ll explore some more cutting-edge social media tools (Facebook, Twitter), other more conventional electronic communication methods (website, e-mail), as well as the original social media – public interaction.

As you will see, the spheres of influence overlap in several places. The effect of these methods of communication varies depending on the audience you are talking to. To this end, it is in your best interests to utilize as many of these services as you are able to. The wider the net you cast, the more fish you shall catch.

Your students

Facebook: This is the leisure activity of the moment for many of your band students. Take advantage of the access this allows you into their awareness. Start a Fan Page – they are incredibly easy to set up, and your profile is completely protected from any cross-contamination. Use this page as a point of communication for your program, much as you would your band website. Keep your information brief – headlines and short items – post links to longer-form information hosted on the band website. This will let Facebook’s default content organization keep your space neat and easy to follow. [link]

Twitter: Where Facebook is a virtual dorm-room for many students, Twitter is the conversations you overhear in the dining hall and student lounges. This is a great way to instantly broadcast contest results, important announcements, or any other information that large groups of people would benefit from knowing. It’s also possible to update your Facebook and Twitter accounts simultaneously using services like Selective Twitter or Ping.fm – saves you valuable time and energy. [link]

Mass text message: With parent approval (as many of them are footing a .10 charge for each of these texts) this can be a boon to you and your program. Our students are often organizationally challenged, so anything we can do to help keep them on-track both helps the band and helps the students. Between game-day reminders(Departure @ 3:00 in uniform – report to band hall @ 2:15) to mental ticklers on school trips (Remember to check in with your chaperone @ 4:00 in the food court) these notices can save many headaches and confusion. There are sites that can manage these for you, but the best suite of tools I have come across is the CHARMS Office Assistant – it’s an absolutely top-notch product.

Mass e-mail: Similar to mass-texting, but without the 140-160 character limit. CHARMS also has this feature built-in, and we have experienced great success in weekly mass e-mails to the entire band program. The number of confused or uninformed phone calls dropped to almost none once we started using this technology. Especially with busy parents who spend their first 30 minutes at work catching up on e-mail, a Monday-morning-reminder-e-mail about the contest that coming Saturday will stick much more than the calendar mailed in August.

Online calendar: Calendars are the life-blood of a band program, and truly are worth their weight in gold. Many families post the band calendar on the fridge in August, only to have it covered in other calendars, permission forms, quizzes, papers, and other bric-a-brac by the beginning of September. A shared, online calendar is wonderful because it is always there and always available. In addition, many newer smartphones (iPhone, Android, Palm Pre) are equipped to automatically sync these shared calendars – instantly updating your band parents to changes or alterations to the schedule. We have had great success with Google Calendar – it has a clean interface and is easy to update. It also allows several e-mail addresses to have “read/write” access, so that events can be updated by the first available director or band booster if needed.

Your band boosters

Website: This is a vital component to your band program. In terms of technology, this item will reach the highest percentage of your population hands down. It doesn’t need to be extravagant, flashy, or even terribly pretty – but it should do two things very, very well: Provide accurate information and direct questions to the proper parties. Announcements, calendars, director bios (with e-mail and phone numbers), any other content you want to host – it all should be contained within a clean interface and easily accessible to your students and parents.

Don’t have the time? Find a band booster who has a background in web design to help you out. If that fails, look to a WYSIWYG (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get) page creator to help get the site off the ground, and delegate content management to a booster or student-worker. A great company that we have experienced success with isSquarespace hosting – hands down the easiest website creator I have ever used, and even rudimentary word-processing skills fit the bill for content management.

Mass e-mail: Monday-morning reminders are the saving grace of many a parent. With the considerable stress that so many families are under, sometimes that little mental jog in their inbox is the difference between attending and forgetting.

Mass phone call: Many schools employ these pre-recorded messages to alert families of weather-related closures, or other immediate-notification information. These 30 second sound-bites can be an invaluable tool to inform and remind families of upcoming events or important need-to-know information. This past year, a football game was postponed due to severe weather after the band had arrived on-site. As the buses pulled out of the parking lot, I was able to record a message and send it to every parent’s cell phone before the band was even back on the highway. A truly, truly useful service – also included in the CHARMS Office Assistant suite.

Your community

Website: Similar to your interaction with your boosters, the website is your public face to your community. Accurate and timely news items, accurate contact information, and links to everything else you have – make sure all these things are easily discoverable on your site.

Vimeo/YouTube: Students love to see themselves perform. Parents love to see their students perform. Grandparents and extended families LOVE to see their students perform. When you are able to, post video of the student’s performances – the return on this investment will be tenfold. Be aware of copyright restrictions (Mr. Video has been known to send DMCA Take-Down notices for posted videos), but post what you can when you can. My school’s videos total over 1200+ views in the past year – in a school of 1500 students, that’s a good amount of attention.

Of the two services, Vimeo’s product is the better resolution – but the market penetration for YouTube might suit your needs better.

Newspaper: Newspaper is the oldest form of second-hand (non face-to-face) social media in existence. Anything positive that happens in your band program should be sent via the appropriate channels to your local paper. Contest results, concert notices, fundraiser information, drum major selections – your community will buy in to what you are doing when they can put a face and a name on the students doing it. Lobby for yourself, because not many others will.

Football/Basketball games: Perform at as many school-related sporting events as your schedule and program allow. Band, in its current form, was created in part to support the other activities in the school – so support them as much as you are able. If all you can do for the soccer-team-regional-tournament-send-off rally is send the battery section to play cadences, send them. Having someone there is often more important than what they do.

Community Functions: Similarly to supporting the school, put your students in front of the community as much as possible. Parades, county fairs, grand openings – even if it’s a small ensemble or partial group your presence will be noted and appreciated. The more your community sees the band program investing in it, the more it will invest in the band.

Cory Meals

Cory Meals is a drill designer whose work has been performed across the southwestern United States. Working with renowned drill designer Mitch Rogers, Cory has created successful visual productions for bands of all sizes, types, and ability levels. Samples of his drill can be found at his website: http://www.corymeals.com/

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