By: Fran Kick

At Music for All, one of our core values is leadership, and we continuously strive to lead through positive action—committed to serving others for the greater good of society. While we may be a catalyst that believes every child across America deserves access and opportunity to participate in active music-making within their scholastic environment, we also recognize that we are not the only catalyst. Parents and teachers ultimately influence leadership development in their children and students beyond measure. Perhaps even more than they might realize. After all, home is a child’s first and most important classroom. And a child’s first teacher will always be their parents.

 Parents play a major role in developing and nurturing the leadership potential in their children. Setting expectations, positive reinforcement, and allowing kids to face challenges as well as consequences all help to build strong leadership characteristics. Cultivating early leadership qualities in children is important for the following reasons:

  • We know leadership is a learned skill that requires practice, which can be done both in home and in school environments.
  • Leadership development boosts self-confidence and encourages students to become self-motivated learners.
  • It helps students understand the importance of collaboration and teamwork while developing social skills such as communication and relationship building.
  • Sometimes we lead and sometimes we follow. Taking turns and sharing with others is an important lesson we all learn early on in life.
  • Leadership skills provide the ability to have more self-control and make things happen.
  • Leadership also gives students opportunities for developing personal responsibility.

Teachers, coaches, youth group leaders, and directors build on the early parental cultivation and nurturing of leadership. They do this by engaging students in active learning opportunities that expand leadership development in broader and more diverse situations. A teacher has the potential to expand a student’s awareness so that they understand leadership and followership work together. Learning that:

  • Leadership is NOT just about having a title or a position.
  • Leadership is NOT just about being in charge of other people.
  • Leadership is NOT simply telling others what to do and when to do it.
  • Followership is NOT a person but a role.
  • Followership is NOT simply subservient to leadership.
  • Followership is NOT just about being told what to do and when to do it.

The dynamic interaction between leadership and followership is much more than titles, positions, telling, or being told. Leadership requires courage, collaboration with others, and the ability to inspire others with our positive example, passion, and vision. Followership requires a willingness to pay attention, the courage to respond appropriately, and to get more involved in what’s going on. Ultimately, leaders must work in tandem with followers, and followers in concert with leaders, to be successful. Many times, it creates a type of symbiotic relationship like the one between sea anemones and clownfish (remember the movie Finding Nemo), sea turtles and yellow tang fish, bees and flowers, egret birds or barbel fish and the hippopotamus. Just like in nature, there is a close mutualistic relationship between leaders and followers that becomes reciprocal and interdependent.

 So, what can parents and teachers do to help nurture better leadership as well as smarter, exemplary, and courageous followership?

  1. Show respect and appreciation for early-sign leadership attempts you see in students teaching, coaching, helping, and leading. Acknowledge whenever your son or daughter steps up to help out. Suggest students share what they know and/or can do with other younger students. Perhaps in a peer-mentoring, peer-tutoring, or private lesson situation.
  2. Promote collaboration and team building opportunities that help foster a sense of community among students. Bring a performance out into the community or into area elementary schools and daycare centers, senior living and assisted living communities.
  3. Support student-led initiatives such as leadership clubs, community youth volunteering organizations, or youth leadership programs which bring together all kinds of kids with different backgrounds who can learn from each other’s experiences.
  4. Encourage tapping into existing organizations and experiences where music students can collaborate and make a difference such as within Tri-M® Chapters or NAfME Collegiate Chapters. Imagine putting together a Super Saxophone Sectional Day with every saxophone student musician in your school district. College students can mentor high school students, high school students can mentor middle school students, and everyone comes together for a final concert performance with a massive saxophone quartet for parents!
  5. Set the example as parents and teachers working together. Volunteer on your PTA/PTO projects, offer to help with the music booster fundraising event, and attend parent-teacher conferences. When students see parents and teachers working together, there’s an implied active transport in setting the example and leveraging influence collaboratively. We have all heard the proverb “it takes a village.” Being the change you want to see in the world is an important example parents and teachers can demonstrate in the lives of children and students.

There’s an old Tagalog saying: “Ang mga halaga ay nahuli na hindi itinuro” that translates to: “values are caught not just taught.” Tagalog is a Central Philippine Austronesian language spoken as the native language by the ethnic Tagalog people, who today still make up a quarter of the population of the Philippines. In other words, values cannot simply be “taught” in the classroom, but rather they must also be “caught” from others. Students “catch” values by seeing people actually practicing them in life rather than simply “teaching” them from a lesson. Role modeling is a significantly more-effective way to inspire, nurture, and help students internalize important values. After all, actions speak louder than words.

At the Music for All Summer Symposium, we want to bring to life the core values and leadership competencies we strive to instill in students. Everyone on staff with Music for All, on the faculty who teach, and the many SWAG volunteers who work with us all week, realize their influence in living what we teach. Walking the talk. Practicing what we preach. Beyond that, we also intentionally measure the impact of our work across seven student leadership competencies:

Attitude & Motivation



Relationships & Responsibility


Starting in 2018, McREL International, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, private, nonpartisan education research organization, was contracted by Music for All to serve as a third-party developer of our Summer Symposium Survey. The purpose of the survey was to capture participant reaction, level of satisfaction, and knowledge gained from their experience at the Symposium. The results from among the 1,499 students and 335 directors/educators who attended Symposium included a Student Leadership Competency Assessment. It found students self-reported “significant growth in their leadership competencies and knowledge gained” from before to after participating in the Summer Symposium.

In 2022, the Student Leadership Competency Assessment survey was replicated by Music for All collecting data June 29 – August 9, 2022 with a response rate of 20% completing the survey.

We believe it’s important to provide students with a safe “challenge by choice” space to explore their leadership skills and take risks. During the Leadership Weekend—and throughout the entire Summer Symposium weeklong experience—we involve ALL students in experiential and active-learning activities such as team building, problem-solving, and communication initiatives.

BTWFYI: A Harvard study showed that when students are involved in ‘active learning’ they learn more than they think. All of the intentional active-learning activities that we create have the take-home potential to build stronger leadership skills as well as smarter followership awareness—inspiring leaders and followers to work together.

Music for All is here to create an opportunity to help parents and teachers nurture their children’s and their student’s leadership development. Together, we can create a culture of leaders who are passionate about making a difference and inspiring others to do the same. Leadership is a skill that can be taught, cultivated, and nurtured. It starts with parents and teachers who have the courage to empower their children and their students to develop their own leadership potential.

We invite you to join us on our quest to build better leadership and more courageous followership within our bands, our schools, our communities, and our world. Promote and encourage your students to consider attending the Leadership Weekend at Ball State University. Even if your son or daughter doesn’t stay for the entire week of Symposium—due to time and/or financial realities—your band will experience the active transport of positive energy, enthusiasm, awareness, leadership strategies and skills that will resonate all year long in your program.


Chaleff, Ira (2009) The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To & For Our Leaders. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. ISBN 978-1-60509-273-7

Chaleff, Ira (2015) Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told to Do is Wrong. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. ISBN 978-1-62656-427-5

Deslauriers, L., McCarty, L. S., Miller, K., Callaghan, K., & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(39), 19251-19257.

Medhous, Elisa (2004) Raising Everyday Heroes: Parenting Children to be Self-Reliant. Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-1-58270-096-0

Medhous, Elisa (2004) Raising Children Who Think for Themselves. Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-1-58270-047-2