James Manwaring conducting - blog

How to stay productive and proactive as a music teacher

There really is no job quite like it and I absolutely love being a music teacher. The role comes with plenty of ups and downs, and there is always something to do or get done. My approach is always to aim to stay positive, but in the process, I embrace my own weaknesses and the reality that I cannot get everything done. Staying productive and proactive can be tough, so I wanted to share some of the ways that I keep going.

People often say to me “I don’t know how you do it”. As a music teacher, I often move from the rehearsal room to the classroom, one minute on piano and the next on PowerPoint. Concert one night, parents evening the next and let's not even get started with Christmas carols. My instant response is that I keep going because I love it, but there is slightly more to it than that. Staying productive for me is always about having something to focus on, and I find that the students like this too. This focus can be something linked to curriculum, but also something outside of the classroom. When I am working on something that is going to benefit my students, I find that I want to be productive. They see me working hard and that means they will join me. We are then “all in it together” and lots can be achieved. 

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Having said all that staying productive does not mean “being busy”. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I hate the word busy! It is such a dull word! My life is full and exciting, tough, and demanding, but in the end hugely rewarding. But staying productive mustn’t ever turn into being tired, run down and stressed out. It is one thing to work hard and give students your best. But if you try to keep that up all the time you will burn out. So staying productive also involves consciously stopping. Productivity will grow out of a place where you are relaxed, recharged, and revived. I think I stay productive not just because I enjoy my job, but because I enjoy my family, my dog walks and my trips to the opera.

Productivity is also about working smart and finding ways of making the job easier. Using tools such as Focus on Sound mean that I don’t have to recreate resources, lessons, and tests. I can use the wonderful dictionary to help students explore key terms and concepts. I can set lessons that are engaging and interactive and I can even assess them at the end. I can stay productive because I am not generating resources that are already there and ready to go. The good news is that this is also the case for students.

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Being proactive is definitely a music teacher quality. We are always thinking ahead, getting ahead, and planning ahead. We will have annual events in our minds, as well as the coursework deadlines and the exam season. To be proactive is to control a situation rather than just responding to a situation. I stay proactive by considering the year ahead, working out what I want to achieve and why I want to achieve. Planning is key, with the aim of nothing happening by chance. I have learnt over the years that if I don’t map out the term, it will fly past and I will inevitably drop the ball and mess something up. 

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Of course, you can’t plan for everything, covid taught us that. But you can at least try! Being proactive is an action and a decision. You need to think about changes that might need to take place and then put things in to place to bring about change. I love that I can use Soundtrap to set assignments. This is a great way of being proactive and planning lessons and homework. I also find that cloud-based technology helps us to plan out our curriculum around tasks and knowledge. Focus on Sound lessons can be created ahead of time and then be sent to students for completion. 

When situations arise that aren’t ideal we do need to think in a proactive way. At the moment we have a general decline in the number of students taking music GCSE & A-Level. I hope that I am proactive in my approach, and I make sure that at the start of the year I think ahead. I am always looking at my year 9 students to identify who might be a suitable GCSE candidate. In-fact I hope that my curriculum means that all students can opt for a music pathway should they wish to. We do need to be proactive and make sure that when options are chosen, we are not rushing and panicking to sign up students. Thinking ahead gives us time to tackle the issues strategically.

In essence we stay productive when we have a vision, and we remain proactive through an awareness of where we are at and where we want to go. It isn’t always easy to get ahead of the game, and we won’t get everything right. Take time for you and remember that you won’t get everything right. And where possible, stay positive. Positivity will often make you more productive and more proactive. 

James Manwaring

About James Manwaring

James is the Director of Music for the Windsor Learning Partnership Multi-academy Trust. He has held the post of Head of Music at The Windsor Boy's School for over 15 years. James is currently the President-Elect of the Music Teachers Association.