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Understanding Administrators

Douglas C. Orzolek | December 2010

    Most music educators realize  that their work includes being an advocate for music education on behalf of their students. While skillful music educators can help students to learn about music, this takes place only if schools have music programs. Arts advocacy in most schools is ongoing. It is simply part of the job.

Politics and Influencing Others

     There are a few simple things to remember about advocacy. Advocacy is about politics, and politics is the act of influencing others. Although influence can be practiced in a variety of ways, for music educators it should begin by developing relationships with school decision makers – the administration staff and important teachers.
     Many music educators unfortunately talk about the distance they sense between themselves and the decision makers at their school. This could be the result of the actual physical distance between the music department and the principal’s office as well as different philosophical views or a lack of interest in or understanding of the arts on the part of decision makers. No matter which, I suggest that music educators accept some of the blame and begin thinking about ways to reduce that distance and improve their relationships with important school staff members.
     Although these relationships can be complicated, it seems that the message about successful relationships boils down to good communication; and good communication is simply the result of good listening and learning about the other person. First, if music educators learned more about the decision makers at their schools and take an interest in them, stronger relationships might develop. These decision makers might even take more interest in the school’s music programs, too. It is important to take the first step.
     Most music educators know too little about the sources of information and innovative ideas used by decision makers and should learn more about these sources to recognize new trends in education. Among the many organizations dedicated to the field of education, I selected several groups here to discuss on the basis of their potential to influence music education.

Educational Organizations

     The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development is an international, nonprofit, nonpartisan education association. It provides professional development in curriculum and supervision, and it supports activities to provide educational equity for all students. A.S.C.D. has 165,000 members, including superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education and school board members. This organization promotes sharing ideas about the improvement of education. It has become one of the driving forces in the education world.
     One of the best publications about education, Education Leadership is published by A.S.C.D.; each month the magazine focuses on one important issue facing the profession. Some of the recent topics were on assessment, students ages 10-12, and reviewing teachers. The authors of the articles are well known in the field of education. Music educators should at least look over the table of contents (listed on the website) each month to see if there are any articles of interest. Educational Lead­ership is cited by many as the journal for educators. (
     The Education Commission of the States is a national organization de­voted to facilitating the exchange of information, ideas, and experiences of education leaders to improve public education. It disseminates information about trends and innovations in state education policy. (
The National Association of Ele­mentary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals focus on providing solutions to problems and provide a weekly newsletter, “Principal’s Up-date,” that covers topics from junk food in school cafeterias to class sizes and literacy. ( and
     The National Association of State Boards of Education has an affiliate in nearly every state and recently focused on early childhood problems, civic learning, high school redesign, and special education. Several years ago the group developed a report, “The Complete Curriculum” that advocates music education, available at www.
     The National School Boards As­sociation represents 95,000 school board members who govern 14,722 local school districts for 45 million public school students – approximately 90% of students in the nation. Its website maintains a database of policies developed across the country and includes research studies and surveys. It also has an interesting listing of national and state school laws.
     The Partnership for 21st Century Skills advocates combining core subjects, which includes the arts, with other areas of critical thinking and problem solving. In a short period of time, P21 has become important in the world of education and will provide directors with insights into the administrative mind and current developments. (

Some Suggestions and Advice
     There is a lot of information to be considered from each of these organizations. A starting point might be the  ECS website because it has the most recent and comprehensive listing of problems in education. I suggest that music educators bookmark these websites and monitor them on a regular basis. It only takes a few minutes to scan the pages and decide if the content is worthwhile to review in-depth later.
     Keep in mind that nearly every national organization has an affiliate in every state and that links are often available from national sites. These local organizations will include their  thoughts on positions on state-related matters. Directors who favor print materials should subscribe to Educa­tional Leadership, and there are certainly many other journals and magazines (some available on line) that may be of interest as well. The New York Times offers a link to education-related topics on its home page.
     To become greater advocates for school music programs directors should first understand what decision makers read and discuss with their colleagues in education. It will soon become clear that music education is part of a a much broader world of education.