By Fran Kick

How do kids today (a.k.a. the Millennial Generation) perceive and understand leadership? Much of it may depend on how they experience leadership during high school – especially via organizations like band. Improving the performance product while nurturing the leadership process requires that we work with students, rather than just do things for students or to students. How are you teaching the future leaders in your program, and ultimately in our world, to KICK IT IN and TAKE THE LEAD?

Born after 1980, kids today have a somewhat different and sometimes similar view about what it takes to make things happen. While that may seem to be obvious, what today’s kids have experienced and the times in which they are experiencing it are vastly different. Today’s teens and their younger brothers and sisters will comprise the largest single generation the world has ever seen. Millennials and their impact upon the world demands that we, as teachers and directors, develop our own abilities to lead them as well as to nurture their abilities to lead themselves and others.

Most directors do a good job at leading students but need to focus more on nurturing leadership in others. It’s not entirely our own fault as we tend to lead others as we have been led. That can be good or bad depending on who influenced you as you were growing up. It’s important that we don’t assume today’s kids will be like the kids before them (i.e. Xers), or even worse, assume they’ll be like us when we were kids. If we don’t address the differences that challenge this generation, we will miss some important opportunities in teaching them, leading them, and nurturing their growth as effective leaders.

“Millennials and their impact upon the world demands that we, as teachers and directors, develop our own abilities to lead them as well as to nurture their abilities to lead themselves and others.”

There’s a new generation of leaders growing up in our midst. We see them at rehearsals, on our high school campuses, and in our own backyards. What if, historically speaking, they are destined to be the next “greatest generation?” Could current events force them to be the international equivalent to America’s original founding fathers? 9/11 was unquestionably a defining date for every currently living generation. If historically compared to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Black Tuesday, John Brown’s raid/execution, and the Boston Tea Party, where does that put today’s kids? Each of these historical events came unexpectedly and fundamentally changed the way the world operated. Each of these defining events became generational markers with multi-generational significance. Catalysts of societal change catch us off guard by suddenly knocking the wind out of one historical era and triggering the next.

The biggest problem with leading kids rather than teaching them to lead is that they’ll always depend on someone else for direction. Sure, in the short-term it might be easy to do things for them (or have it done for them via a large staff of outside consultants, etc…). It might even result in a more immediate and even higher level of excellence. But what about in the future? If we’re always pulling the proverbial strings for students so they can achieve a higher level of quality here and now, what happens when we’re not pulling the strings? When a large staff of outside consultants isn’t there to make them great or fix everything? How will kids learn to do it on their own, especially when what they’ve learned is that there will always be someone there to do it for them? That’s what happens when we do too much for kids or to kids versus with kids. I bet you’ve seen the parenting implications of this in your band. We all know the students who have had parents always taking care of everything and now can’t do things for themselves.

“The more we do for kids and to kids, the less they’ll do on their own.”

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting that outside high quality consultants, instructors, and teachers are ruining the leadership development of students today in band! There’s no question that bringing the student-teacher ratio down does improve the level of education. Exposing kids to expertise and additional resources designed to enhance their performance creates a powerful opportunity–bringing kids in touch with “how to make it better, what they can do to improve, here’s another approach to take,” and all the other lessons to be learned.

The key, however, is to create the conditions where we’re doing things with students rather than doing things for students (or even worse to students). Consider how private lesson teachers coach and mentor during a lesson versus just drill and kill. They observe, help the student become more aware, offer guidance, provide feedback, bring additional resources specific to the student’s needs, model, interact with and play along, constantly nurturing the students to do it on their own. Now consider the instructional dynamic when mentoring a new student teacher. All the same approaches apply plus an additional goal of teaching the student teacher how to teach. By keeping this dual private lesson/student teaching focus in mind, we can bring more students into the leadership process as well as improve the product of performance.

Some additional tips to try:

  • Bring kids in on it. Whenever possible allow students to know the “what and how” we’ll be working on in rehearsal. Share plans, goals and objectives in advance.
  • Operationally and logistically let kids do whatever they can do to help set things up, make things happen, and clean things up.
  • Set up some student leader sessions so you can help them have a jump-start on their parts as well as the 2nd and 3rd parts for their instrument.
  • Show student leaders how to run a sectional. Offer some step-by-step approaches, share some rehearsal strategies, and role-play in advance with them so you can mentor their early efforts.
  • Plan to have consultants, instructors, and teachers “fl oat” during sectional time so that you can observe and off er feedback later one-on-one to each student leader.
  • Check-off each student leader on their part first (and the 2nd and 3rd parts for their instrument) so that they can then check off members of their section.
  • Wrap up each rehearsal with a reflective summary as to what went well, what still needs work, and what’s up for the next rehearsal.
  • Set up some debriefing time with student leaders so they can also share with you what went well, what still needs work, what they need help on.

Sometimes out of expediency, we strive to improve the performance product while sacrificing the leadership process. While this might increase some short-term gains here and now, there are long-term consequences. We need kids who understand both the process and the product. We need to help kids figure things out, set things up, make things happen, clean things up, and learn throughout the process. Not just in rehearsal, but in life. Let’s lead a future generation and teach them to lead in the future because they might just have to change the world – or at least clean it up.