This is the statement made by Katie Hahn during a public meeting of the Board of Education for School District 564, Thief River Falls, on Feb. 26, 2018.)
This weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Minnesota Music Educator’s Association’s mid-winter clinic in the cities. While there, I attended a number of sessions that included ideas I can immediately start using in my classroom. Of all the new techniques and ideas that I learned, these old standards are the ones that stuck with me the most.
1. I teach more than music, and
2. Culture and trust are responsible for success
I am going to start with talking about my first point. I teach more than music. I teach life skills, and teach my kids to balance between their academics, activities, and athletics. I truly feel that our district does a good job with helping our students recognize the importance of this balance, and that is hugely in part to the leadership in our activities department. I cannot think of another band director in the area who can honestly say that their activities director works as hard as Mike does to ensure that EVERY activity and EVERY athletic team has a voice. I also cannot think of another activities director who, even when met with challenges that I cannot imagine, still works with integrity on making sure that the department still functions as it should, including making sure that the next year’s schedules are set so that in the event that he leaves, the new person has one less hurdle to be successful while learning the ropes of a new position.
So, when I say that I teach more than music, I say that I also teach that sometimes you need to stand up for what’s right, even when it’s unpopular. Mike embodies that as our activities director. We do NOT want a person in this position who will bend to the whim of parents who are unhappy with a coach, nor do we want a person in this position who will bend to the whim of the coaches! We want someone in this position who will look at the big picture of not only each program, but how each of those programs fit together in the jigsaw puzzle that is student life.
Mike does this, and it will be a huge detriment to our district if he leaves. My humble opinion is that I am so fortunate to have worked with an activities director (as well as building leadership) who understands the importance of building these life skills and foundation before worrying about a win-loss record, contest ratings, or sheer numbers.
This brings us to my second point.
What makes a school work? Culture. How do you build culture?
Trust. Culture cannot be built when there is a lack of trust.
Culture cannot change if the powers that be do not allow for the change and trust in the process. When I started here nine years ago, the culture was in trouble. The kids were great; the job
was great. The culture was terrible. Through the years, and through a lot of hard work by coaches, fellow staff members, members of the administration, and our activities director, that culture changed. What was the cause? Why, of all the years for the culture to change, did it happen when it did? We finally had the right mix of people to trust each other and help make it happen. From the football coach who insisted his team attend and watch other sporting events because “no one does it better,” to the principal and associate principal who refused to give up on someone in whom they saw potential, all the elements were there. The ingredient that was missing in this recipe for success was connection. Sports and activities are the connection in a community, and without that connection between the events at school and the extra-curricular activities, culture gets lost in the “crowd.” Without connections and trust, we are left with the inability to function – much like what happens when you have to ask permission to do basic elements
of your job.
I am going to take a moment now and be real with you. Right now, I give thanks every day for my building leadership and my activities director for their trust in my abilities. However, I wonder some days, what would happen if that trust was gone?
Would I be able to make decisions that were best for my program as a whole if I did not have that trust? Would I be able to stand my ground when a parent had an issue with whether their child played a solo in the concert? What if this parent were a school board member? Would I have to fear for my job if they didn’t get a solo? The only way for a person to do their job well is to know their leadership has trust in their ability to do the job well. For years, I know that lSD 564 has prided itself in hiring the best fit for each job; if that is the case, then I wonder why there was such a large lack of trust in someone who has
demonstrated for years an ability to balance the big picture of the activities department. And, why would that lack of trust lead to an activities director’s belief that he would do better to resign? I ask, what happened to the process in this situation? And, how are we going to work as a district to rebuild the trust and culture that we have worked so hard to build in the first place?