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Learning from Our Mentors: Philosophies in Practice

Rohit Kolluri
The Ohio State University
What makes a good teacher a great teacher? Is it their personal experience, teaching environment, mentors, students, or family? These questions piqued my interest and I set out to create a study on how local master teachers develop their attitudes and beliefs. I developed an interview protocol to learn more about their philosophies and experiences. Following a pilot process, I interviewed nine band directors from Central Ohio. Each was asked about their mentors, life experiences with teaching, connections with students, and other factors that have impacted their teaching philosophies. The primary goal of this interview series was to identify common themes in their approach to teaching.

Common Mentors

Future teachers can learn how to hone their philosophies by observing individuals around them throughout their career. These could be both positive and negative experiences. A few directors in the study stated that a future teacher could learn what not to be like from their own negative learning experiences, and actively build positive relationships with their own students and create a strong sense of community. Some directors commented that students could be a driving force as well. The more talented students push them to do their best while the lesser performing students keep them determined.
Many of the teachers had common music mentors who influenced their philosophies. Several directors categorized these mentors into three categories – 1) band directors they had worked with, 2) college mentors, and 3) family members.
Most teachers interviewed cited their high school directors as influential mentors. For example, Brian Stevens’ (retired Dublin Jerome) most influential mentor was his high school band director, Don Jenkins. Many directors interviewed for the study referred to George Edge as a common role model and high school band director. Other common mentors of the directors interviewed were from college - Craig Kirchoff (formerly of Ohio State University and the University of Minnesota) and Jim Swearingen (formerly of Capital University).
Mentorship does not necessarily have to be instilled by music mentors. Teachers could receive mentorship from other teachers outside of music since the love for teaching could be instilled by mentors who are musicians, non-musicians, and family members.

In Practice: Delivering Instruction

All teachers in my interview series recommended a personalized/ tailored approach to delivering instruction to guide their students through their music education journey. One of the common strategies was to be as organized and as precise as possible. The more concise the instructions are, the better the students’ comprehension. The common theme gathered is that teachers should balance serious didactics with light and fun dialogue. It is important for the students to observe passion and excitement from band directors. Some teachers expressed that one way to have fun and have students (or mentees) learn properly is to create fun analogies. Overall, there are many effective strategies to use when delivering instruction to students, but ultimately, the process needs to be enjoyable for both the students and the teacher.

Connecting with Students

One of a teacher’s main goals should be for students to engage with the material. When students comprehend the material, they can independently work through it and develop their own methods for success. Students must be involved and taught to become independent problem solvers since this is a critical skill for music students. “This process allows students to learn to become their own teachers” (Jeremy Bradstreet, Director, Dublin Coffman HS). Students must learn to understand their impact and cultivate their desire to learn and work towards a common goal. One of the cardinal ambitions of a teacher should be to create and build a rapport with students. This excites the students to contribute to the overall growth and improvement of the band program. “This relationship is symbiotic”, said Todd Fessler (Director, Upper Arlington HS). A common goal should be to create a safe place for learning in a comfortable environment. Another objective of many directors is for students to instill life-long passion for music, high school and beyond.
To be effective, teachers must show passion and build relationships beyond the instructional material. Teachers’ personal efforts should be demonstrably equal to or more than their passion for teaching since these are palpable characteristics. “The passion for making music comes forward when creating music,” stated Jeremy Kozman (Director, Hilliard Darby HS).
“The passion for making music comes forward when creating music”
Jeremy Kozman, Director, Hilliard Darby HS
A culminating question I presented to all teachers was, “If your current self could teach something to your first-year professional-life self, what would it be?”. For several directors, part of the answer was to have patience with the process of developing and implementing their ideas. Young professionals should remember that growing into the profession is a process, and this takes time. Concerns that may emerge in your first months or years of teaching may fade with experience and expertise. A reflective teacher should embrace imperfection and seek improvement, as perfectionism will drive frustration. A teacher needs to understand the power of words with their students. “Band directors ultimately are in the people business” (Shawn Malone, Director, Hilliard Davidson HS). When relationships are built first, a positive learning environment is established for students to learn, and everything else will fall into place. Teachers can learn much from other professionals, especially non-music ones and family members. This interview series with high school directors gave me many insights into our profession. I ultimately learned that every teacher takes a unique approach to delivering instruction. There is no single approach to teaching, and as such, there is no single philosophy.
“Band directors ultimately are in the people business”
Shawn Malone, Director, Hilliard Davidson HS
Teachers Interviewed: Brian Stevens, Retired Band Director- Dublin Jerome HS Jochen McEvoy, Band Director- Fort Hayes HS Todd Fessler, Band Director- Upper Arlington HS Kolin Redman, Assistant Band Director- Upper Arlington HS Sara Loney, Band Director- Westerville North HS Jeremy Kozman, Band Director- Hilliard Darby HS Jeremy Bradstreet, Band Director- Dublin Coffman HS Shawn Malone, Band Director- Hilliard Davidson HS Rob Cebriak, Band Director- Gahanna Lincoln HS Mark Sturm, Band Director- Franklin Heights HS Advisor of Study: David M. Hedgecoth, PhD
Rohit Kolluri is a rising third-year music education and marketing dual degree student at The Ohio State University. He is originally from Dublin, OH and his main instrument is the clarinet. He is passionate about both performance and education along with business. He hopes to combine all passions in his career.