Back to School: What Great Teams Can Learn From Musicians

Illustration by Kate Moore

Illustration by Kate Moore

Welcome to the second installment of our three-part back-to-school series. Follow along as we help you orchestrate your best-ever school year!

“...music thrived the most when groups were involved. People lose sight of that — that community makes the world run.” 
— Questlove

A single string of notes or a solitary rhythm can convey a huge array of human emotion and energy. But get a group together and you multiply the range of expressive possibilities.  

A musical ensemble is a dynamic ecosystem whose performance depends on real-time collaborative communication. The best musical groups stay in sync because they’ve established patterns of clear and consistent communication between members. From the mundane aspects of organizing rehearsals, to subtly communicating a tempo change during performances, communication is at the heart of a high-functioning team. 

Sound familiar? Whether it’s within your classroom, your department, or your school, you need to be able to communicate openly and thoughtfully with your students and colleagues. The beginning of a new school year is a perfect time to tune up those communication skills and patterns! So what can we learn from great musical groups that we can apply to our experiences as educators? 

Know the Score

As educators, we have dozens of amazing tools we can use to enhance instruction. The problem? Everything is scattered. We have information stored away in our email, endless text threads, and buried in newsletters from our PLN. At this stage of the game, we know how to navigate this maze of information, but what if we could gather all of our school-related communications in a single space? 

Microsoft Teams is one option that can help get you in sync with your students and peers. Teams is a platform that can help streamline teaching and communication. Think of it as a shared score that keeps everyone playing in harmony. 

With Teams, you can: 

  • Use some of the most popular apps in education right inside the Teams environment, including Pear Deck, Quizlet, and Flipgrid. If a particular app will be used frequently by a group, you can add a designated tab to a channel just for that app, so users can get to it quickly. Read more about the Pear Deck integration with Teams here. 

  • Create, assign, collect, and give feedback on assignments.

  • Create sub-categories within a team to collaborate on special projects, or focused topics

  • Share notes and files between faculty members to collect and curate resources, collaborate and develop new documents, and share professional development materials.

Play Your Part

This is a basic rule for musicians, but it’s a helpful reminder: that playing your part is more than just following the notes; you need to bring your own perspective to the music. As educators, it’s important to remember that doing our jobs well entails much more than just “going through the motions.” Perhaps we’re assigning the right tasks to our students, or completing those continuing education credits, but just doing things correctly isn’t enough. Ask questions like: how should I play my part? Should I let my colleague take the lead here or is it my turn to shine? How can I complement the music my colleague is creating? Every aspect of our work is an opportunity to apply our human sensitivity and emotional awareness as a means of staying integrated with our peers and our students. 

Switch Chairs Often

In an ensemble, there is no single conductor. Rather, individuals must take the lead as the music dictates. In a jazz ensemble, musicians must be especially nimble in switching roles. Let’s apply that to the classroom: you may want to try physically swapping seats with a student or an assistant teacher in order to garner fresh insights. Looking at your room setup from the side or the back can help you identify opportunities to clear sight lines or cut the clutter. 

You can use Pear Deck with Microsoft Teams to help you with this, too! Knowing students can collaborate in a seamless environment means you can assign more collaborative projects, and you’ll be able to monitor how things are going in each group. Try launching and running a Pear Deck session from within Teams (Online and Desktop). There’s no need to direct students to a URL or join code. 

Figuratively, you can “switch chairs” by inviting others to take on leadership roles during class time or meetings. The result will likely change the dynamics of your group and make room for fresh perspectives. 

Pause for a Sound Check

Days, semesters, school years: they rush by, and it can be a challenge to survey your progress as a whole. Much like a musician might walk to the back of the performance hall to listen to the group play, you might want to step out of your role and survey your classroom or department. A sound check lets you look for things that need fixing or opportunities to improve. 

In a team setting, you might designate one of your colleagues to run a “sound check” for you. Ask them to pop in to observe your class, or pause during a meeting and give you direct feedback. Gather and share that feedback in a central location for professional learning and collaboration. Having a space where you and your colleagues can share information and discuss important issues and projects could mean fewer time-consuming meetings.

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A hallmark of great musical groups is their sense of connection, and how they watch and anticipate each other’s movements. That sense of anticipation can make communication feel natural and fluid. From sharing a score to playing your part, you can help your team strike that perfect chord this school year.

Here’s a little something we put together to get you pumped up for your first day back!

This week's blog post was written by Pear Deck VP of Marketing, Kate Beihl.

Kate Beihl