Reflecting on What We Do

This past week, we had several guests from Summit Middle School in Johnston and Lenox Community Schools to discuss our implementation of standards-based learning practices, our use of vertical teaching, and our beginning integration of Chromebooks into our curriculum. We pointed our visitors to our work-in-progress website that provides detailed information about all of the above pieces of our program, and then provided opportunities to observe it in action at our 8th and 9th grade building, as well as with our 6th & 7th grade counterparts across town. It was a great time for us to both celebrate and reflect on how we do what we do with our students, and I wanted to write a little bit about that process. My three biggest take-aways were:

  1. This was several years in the making. Curriculum review happened in the 2011-2012 school year. Vertical teaching started in fall of 2012. The district began experimenting with standards-based grading and reporting in the fall of 2013. We are currently in the process of fine-tuning our assessment process. It didn’t all just happen at once.

  2. This was the work of several different teams of people.

    • K-12 Music Teachers (General, Instrumental, and Vocal)

    • K-5 General Music

    • 5-12 Instrumental Music

      • 5th Grade Instrumental Music

      • 6-12 Instrumental Music North

      • 6-12 Instrumental Music South

    • 6-12 Vocal Music

    • 11-12 Music Fundamentals

    • 11-12 AP Music Theory

    • 10-12 Music Appreciation

  3. Try to implement only one thing at a time. Because our process occurred over several years with a wide variety of people, the preparation and implementation of the different pieces happened slowly. This was to the benefit of the teachers and the students as they adjusted to how our music classes changed.

As I thought more and more about the things that we are doing with our students and how they came to be, I kept coming back to the four guiding questions of a PLC:

  1. What do we want students to learn? These are our power standards, the skills and knowledge we want our students to have when leaving our part of the program.

  2. How will we know if they have learned? We will know through formative and summative assessments, the vast majority of which occur in individual and small-group lessons with expert teachers.

  3. How will we respond if they do not learn? This is where we are focusing are growth as a PLC this year. We will be implementing a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS).

  4. How will we respond if they already know it? This is an area we need to focus on. The logical next step in my mind are things like private lessons, honor bands, all-state preparation, or an accelerated assessment track. We need to think about this as a PLC and work to make it an intentional part of what we do.

Moral of the Story: If you are going to change one thing about what you do, decide what it is you want your students to know and be able to do when they leave your program. What skills do you want them to have moving forward? Feel free to steal from us. Use the new National Core Arts Standards. Look at what Scott Rush puts forward in his Habits series. Dig into David Vandewalker’s Foundations of Wind Band Clarity. There are a lot of resources out there!


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.