Thomas C. Dougherty
Director of Bands, Jensen Beach High School
2010 Martin County School District Teacher of the Year
FBA District 13 Chairman

Rule #1 – It's all about the kids (and their PARENTS!)

There are, in my opinion, 3 factors that work together to create an environment for successful band programs:

  1. A dedicated, passionate director (that's YOU!)
  2. A supportive group of administrators (and bookkeeper and custodial staff) :-)
    and . . .
  3. A carefully organized AND loyal group of parent/guardians.

It is not necessary to have all 3 of the above, but it sure does make things easier!  Yes, you can still have a successful program with only one of these factors…. but if you are 'lucky' enough to have more than one, you are well on your way!

Why is parent support so important?

The relationship between a director and their band parents is ALMOST as vital as the relationship between a director and their students.  The relationship is a delicate one . . . some parents provide 'challenging' experiences for directors, but others give of their time in a positive manner and perform some of the most essential duties needed for a successful program. 

When I began my teaching career, a 'seasoned' director told me that "10% of your band parents will end up doing 100% of the work".  I told myself, NO WAY! How could that be possible?  After ten years of teaching high school, I have come to realize a few truths:

  • Not all of the parents/guardians will dedicate their time, efforts, energy, money to your program…I don't believe that the percentage is as low as 10%, but it certainly is not 100%.
  • Remember . . . all of your students are in band for a multitude of reasons (i.e. they truly love music, they have friends in the program, they want to go on trips, they were forced to be there by their parents, etc.) . . . . . the same goes for the parents.

BUT . . . If you can show the parents, convince them, and EDUCATE them on the importance of the role that they share collectively, you can BOOST their participation, efforts, and excitement for your program!

Where do I start?

Rule #1 – It's ALL about the kids!  It has to be.  That has to be one of the pinnacle pieces of your professional mission statement.  For me, it's all about the sense of 'family' that we foster within our program.  That sense of 'family' is created FOR the kids.

Once you have established this sense of family or feelings of safety/security within your program, your students should show increased excitement and willingness to work for YOU and their peers - and so will their parents :-).  If you can create a 'Band Family Triangle' of Director/Student/Parent, you are well on your way to fostering a successful relationship with band parents.

What are some SPECIFICS to consider?

Communication – As with anything in life, communication is key.  If you want your band parents to help/volunteer/assist, you need to communicate that with them!  My communication starts in the summer with a mailing to every band member and their parent/guardian about the upcoming year.  During the year, I actively use CHARMS, the Remind app, hold monthly parent meetings, send a 'Weekly Update', and I also send emails, voicemails, and text messages with information as needed. 

My 'Weekly Update' is sent out every Monday and contains important reminders and deadlines, fundraising information, volunteer needs, and schedules for the next two weeks of rehearsals/performances.  Some would say that I put the information out there in TOO MANY ways, but I beg to differ and feel that if I put it out to them in so many different mediums, they have to get it at least once!

Decision-Making – In my opinion, it is absolutely important that you allow parents the opportunities to make certain decisions within the parent organization. For me, fundraisers are one of the things that I mostly defer to them.  If they are going to be the ones doing all of the work, why shouldn't they get a say in which fundraisers we host?  Sure, I put in my $0.02 when we discuss the fundraisers and I have the ultimate say, but allowing them the opportunity to consider which ones they want to invest in is important to me.  If they believe in it, they are more likely to contribute to its success! 

On the flip side, it is extremely important that you let the parents know what they will NOT be able to decide . . . things like, which marching events we travel to, what we program for the concert, who sits first chair, etc.  We discuss this very concept at our first parent meeting of the year and at our 'New Parent Meeting' in May (see below).  I make sure that this information comes directly from the booster president, in their own words, and not from me . . . it is far more powerful when the parents hear it from another parent.

Delegation and Clearly Defined Roles – If you have a parent/booster organization, its important to have clearly defined roles for your officers AND for non-officers.  If they don't know what you need their help with, how can they help?

For me, it's important to know that my executive parent board delegates responsibility.  If I need something, I generally contact my booster president.  They take the lead and contact someone else, who can accomplish the task and before I know it, its done  . . . usually J Just as we, as educators, need to delegate tasks to our students, we need the parents to do the same.  One person should not be doing EVERYTHING for you and the program.  If this is happening, one of two things is about to happen:

  1. That person will become completely burned out and not help anymore.
  2. Everyone else will become frustrated that they cannot help; they will feel underappreciated, undervalued, and will not be willing to help in the future.

With successful delegation within your parent organization, you should see an increased sense of pride amongst the parents who are able to help and assist with tasks.  Some parents are very generous of their time and will chaperone every possible event.  Other parents are not able to chaperone because of their work commitments, but they may still want to help!  With delegation, you can send dresses home to them that need to be repaired, have them decorate your auditorium for concerts, have them enter information into an excel file for you, have them contact fundraising companies on their own time to setup kickoff events, and hundreds of other things!   Delegate. Delegate. Delegate.

Another thing that I have noticed in my career so far, is that just when it seems like a parent cannot get any better in their 'role', the next person to fill in their shoes, picks up the torch and pushes forward!  Each year, ALL of my parent leaders roles have continued to impress me with their ability to handle their 'job' more efficiently than the person before!  In almost all cases, senior parents are willing to help new parents transition into leadership roles and they sit with them and share notes on what they had done throughout the year.   I attribute this to the quality of parents that we have in our program but also to the sense of pride and responsibility that they feel for the organization . . . they love it so much, that they are willing to work so hard for it. It's really an AWESOME thing!

Coming next month: Part 2: Establish a parent organization that works for YOU

  • Meeting New Parents
  • Showing Appreciation