Just as I put my hands down and they stopped singing, they turned to one another and started chatting, distracted and some disruptive. Some were whispering or talking as I was talking to give them the next feedback I had for them.
I will not talk over them. My vocal health matters too much to do that.
I felt discouraged. We'd wasted at least 10 minutes of our 75-minute rehearsal on these interruptions to the flow of a rehearsal, and I was tired. There had also been some typical teenage drama coming out earlier in rehearsal too, and I don't like feeling like a drill sergeant. I would way rather they learn how to self-manage and work with people they don't prefer, as in real life sometimes we do need to interact with people we don't prefer. But that won't just happen by chance.
So I decided to implement one of my favorite choral management techniques: a Choir Commitment that they write, agree to, and are held to.
My 7th-10th grade students did not disappoint, in fact, their wording was much deeper than I could've imagined or chosen myself.
The discussion that I guided as they came up with these guiding principles by which we would function in rehearsal together was the most important part of this commitment. If they don't know what it looks and sounds like for these to play out in a rehearsal space, how can they follow it? Clarity is key.
The word change from Respect to Honor occurred as a girl raised her hand to say, "Respect is something earned. What if someone is acting in a way that doesn't earn our respect? I think we should change the word to Honor. The Bible calls all to 'honor your father and mother.' There are kids in the world who have parents who do things that are not earning of respect, but they are still called by God to honor them. I think we should all honor each other even if someone does or says something that doesn't deserve respect."
"Wow." I agreed as I wrote in the additional edit, others nodding their heads as they thought about what she said.
There was a perfect teaching moment during the writing process too. When I wrote 'mistakes ar OK' on the board, I accidentally left off the "e." One girl, who can sometimes respond in an immature way, raised her hand and politely said, "Umm, Mrs. Orem, I think you made a mistake when you were writing."
"You're right, I did!" as I went to correct it. "Thank you for correcting my mistake in a respectful, kind way. I don't mind you calling out my mistakes or each others' at all, as long as you do it in a way that is honoring to the person who made the mistake. We all can keep learning."
We even had a conversation about changing voices in this context too, since that is a reason some do not give Maximum Effort -- fear of teasing when their voice does something they didn't want. It was SO good, and really shifted the atmosphere of the room from a space where there are things to hide or be embarrassed by to a sense of safety or transparency.
"Now that you have created this commitment, you can hold me to my word that I will follow it. Do I have your word?"
*Nods of heads, looking around at each other seriously.
"Good. I'm here to develop you musically, of course, but my calling is greater than that. I know I have a responsibility to develop your character and speak into your life spiritually as well. I will hold you to these principles you put up here today. I will do it with ultimate honor and kindness, but I care about each of you too much to allow you to break your commitment on my watch. I am here to help you develop the character to keep your word. Alright, take out 'Praise His Holy Name' from your folder. Let's do this!"
The most important part of choir rehearsal? It's the little things, the small moments where we get to shape minds and hearts and build character.
Like this and want to learn more? There's a training coming in New Teacher Support & Community about this very topic (and the replay will be available if you're reading this in the future). Come join us!