Friday, July 5, 2013

The Benefits of Clinicians

Watching a clinician at work
is like seeing a skilled surgeon
in action. It's awesome.
The term "clinic" is so appropriate to band for what it is. You bring in an expert to diagnose the
problems your band is having, prescribe solutions, and set your band on the path to healthy playing and ensemble skills. Kids love working with a guest conductor, but I think I gain as least as much out of it as the students do (if not more). It's hard to believe that anyone out there would not bring in guests to work with their band, but I assume that happens because almost every time I go to a convention there is at least one session on the benefits of clinicians. People compliment the job I'm doing pretty regularly, but even so I feel like I owe so much of that success to the expert teachers that we bring in to work with the students. For me, the more clinicians the better. And when you find a good clinician, your band will experience explosive growth in just one rehearsal! So why does it work that way? What are the benefits to you and your students? And if you've never used a clinician, how do you find one?

The Benefits for Students

Hopefully your classroom management is good enough that you can have productive rehearsals. Whether it is or not, your kids will always give their best for a guest teacher. Tell them ahead of time that you expect them to be respectful, to learn as much as possible and to give this person their very best effort. It's been my experience that they will. This, my friends, one half of the magical equation that makes these clinics such a powerful experience.

Sometimes a clinician might use the exact same tactic you did to teach a concept, but because 100% of the band is engaged, and because they want to impress the outsider, this time it will work.

Each time I've brought in a clinicians (except for once that I can think of) the band has made giant leaps forward, accomplishing in an hour or two what might have taken a month on my own. Good clinicians have a way of identifying the root of the issue and attacking it, then applying those lessons to the music, or marching show if that's what you're working on. As a result the students learn an incredible amount and make big progress, which you can then reinforce and build on in the following weeks.

For undisciplined bands, they learn another valuable lesson. They learn how good they can be when they are on task and following instructions. I have yet to see a clinician who did not address classroom management issues with my band. While my classroom management is okay, my bands are not silent for an entire rehearsal. That's something I'm still working on. But I've seen very undisciplined bands gradually turn around and become cooperative after hearing it from outsiders that their behavior is way below average and that they are killing the band with that kind of attitude. That message, and the demonstration of how good they can be, is a powerful lesson for teenagers.

The Benefits for You

I always see new strategies when I watch a guest work with the band. Over the next week I'll find myself using those strategies again with that group for reinforcement, or with other classes that didn't get the clinic (like beginners, for example).

It also really helps me ear. Clinicians will hear things that you're not hearing, but once they point it out and fix it, you'll notice the difference. Learning to listen for certain problems and learning new ways to address those problems is fantastic for your teaching.

I'm almost always surprised by what my band is capable of. While I expect them to reach great heights, I find myself in shock when I actually see it happening. Seeing the students reach new levels along with seeing great teaching in action really gets me charged up. I go into the rest of my day and the rest of the week just pumped to teach and to push the students toward excellence.

Finding a Clinician

Most directors I've met are happy to work with your band so long as it fits in their schedule. Veteran directors as well as retired directors are always glad to help you and your students.

If you've been in your current position for a year or more then you might already know the landscape of which directors have a solid reputation. If not, you can find active directors by looking at your region contest results and seeing which bands performed really well. We're very fortunate at our location as we have a number of Honor Band Directors and Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame members within a couple of hours of us.

Make sure that you negotiate a fee as well. Each school district is different. We pay our clinicians $200, which includes gas money, but I'm sure it's more or less in some places. Check with your administrators and make sure you discuss it ahead of time with the clinician so that they don't leave feeling cheated.

No money for clinicians? Do some digging and you might be able to find some help. Most of the clinicians that I brought in my first year came in for free. They used a district vehicle so they didn't spend their own gas money. But they were also friends or mentors. There was only one clinician we paid for, and that was with the help o the Boosters.

One really exciting resource, though, is offered here in Texas by Phi Beta Mu. They actually have a list of members who will volunteer their time to work with your band! You can learn more about that at their website:

Well I know all good directors understand the importance of clinicians, but if you haven't used one before I hope that you'll now consider using as many as you can get! With as young as I am, I can use all the help I can get. One a month would not be too many! In one conversation I had with a local legend, she noted that her mentor was in her band hall once a week when she was getting her program going. For guys like me who are in rural areas, that's not practical, but wouldn't it be nice!

Thank you for reading the blog, and until next time, good luck and take care!

Musically yours,
Mr. Cooper

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