What does it mean to be an effective advocate for music education? More importantly, how can a person become a powerful force in their community or school with the end goal of supporting music education? The answer to the first question is straightforward: being a music education advocate means playing any kind of role that delivers better music programs to school children and young adults.
Young minds absorb information and impressions at a rapid rate. Everyone can benefit from learning about music, experimenting with instruments and even delving into the realm of voice training and formal instrument lessons. For those who want to become advocates for this vital area of learning, it's necessary to give up the notion that music is for the select few. Music, and music education, is for everyone. An advocate's primary role is to deliver that message and help boost the profile of music in schools and communities.
How to Become an Advocate
Understanding what an advocate does is one thing. Becoming an effective one is another. What, exactly, does it take to lead in this kind of advocacy? For starters, understand that you needn't be a music instructor or even a school administrator to take up the cause. In numerous school districts and cities around the country, and around the world, parents and others who recognize the importance of music education are learning to lead the way.
If you are one of those who hears the call and wants to begin on a solid footing, here's a shortlist of the key strategies many of today's most effective music advocates use to get the message out:
Build your network: The basis of your success as a music advocate is your network. Don't worry if you have no one in it right now, but make a commitment to build it up slowly and methodically. It might take a few months before you have a few dozen names and emails of decision-makers like administrators, teachers, band leaders, helpful parents, local officials and media representatives. The point is to keep punching away at it and you'll eventually have enough names to help you take on any advocacy task with ease.
Set clearly defined priorities: Make a detailed list of your priorities as an advocate. Are you going to specialize in getting more teachers hired, getting a new program funded, financing band instruments for students, or something else? If you have multiple priorities, put them on your list with detailed sub-headings so you can keep your goals in order.
Hone your message: Practice the classic "elevator speech" for the purpose of explaining what music education is important to anyone who'll listen. Be doubly effective by preparing one-, two-, and three-minute versions of the speech. That way, when a key person asks, you'll be ready to deliver the goods and hold their attention at just the right time.
Design various approaches: Have multiple tools in your arsenal. Don't rely on one-to-one advocacy on the phone or in person. That's a great start, but try to develop a few different small-group presentations you can give on a moment's notice. Likewise, always have your network contact list nearby in case you need a word of advice or want to bring someone "into the loop" on a particular project you're working on. It's also wise to put up posters and event announcements in public places and online when you're not out and about.
Memorize the "BASE" benefits of music education: As an advocate, you should have a "mental note-card" with the four key advantages of music education. They're easy to remember because they spell the word "base." The letters stand for "brain, academic, social and economic." Those are the four areas where music can help anyone who studies it, whether as an instrumentalist, singer or academic student. Much scientific research has demonstrated that music study helps the human brain learn in a more efficient way. That's the "B" of BASE.
Additionally, music students tend to do better in all their academic studies when they take music lessons. Academic is the "A" of BASE. The "S" refers to the keen social skills that youngsters can develop when they study music, play an instrument or take part in a band. Finally, "E" points to the economic benefits from a more well-rounded education and the obvious lifelong financial benefits that go along with them.
Always have materials to distribute: Never be at a loss for written materials. When people express an interest in what you do or what you have to say about music education, be at the ready. Consider having a few one-page handouts, a list of helpful websites, some longer written pieces and a few booklet-length items for key people who ask for more information.
At Prodigies, we have an Ambassador Program that helps support the Prodigies community and allows our members to earn money teaching, promoting or selling Prodigies Music Curriculum. You can learn more about it HERE.
Keep an Eye On Your Budget
Being a music education advocate can be a rewarding, self-affirming experience, whether you take it on as a sometime or full-time task. Current advocates advise newcomers to the cause to pay attention to expenses. When you're doing something you love and doing it in your spare time, it's easy to let a dollar here and there slip through the cracks.
That's why it's essential to keep a detailed listing of everything you spend. In most cases, your work as a community advocate for music education will be tax-deductible. Of course, you'll need to check with your own accountant to make sure, but written records of what you spend are vitally important. This will make your life much easier at tax time and help you plan for upcoming months.
What are some of the supplies that music advocates might need: Here's a brief, representative listing:
- Presentation materials like whiteboards and markers
- Slide projectors for larger group events
- Printed materials about the value of music education, including booklets, pamphlets, info-graphic cards and refrigerator magnets
- Charts and posters about various phases of music learning for teachers, parents and groups you speak to
- Audio equipment like speakers, microphones and amplifiers
Hone Your Craft
As you develop your advocacy skills, build up your networking list of contacts and sharpen your presentation abilities, you should ask a few key people for constructive feedback. Have a friend, fellow educator or a school administrator you know watch you deliver a presentation and tell you how you did. This kind of honest critique is a sure way to improve your skills as you move along in your journey of advocating for music education. The better you become, the more effective you'll be at bringing attention to this all-important topic.