Recruitment and Retention can be a full-time, year-long job in and of itself. But sometimes (maybe lots of times), we're so busy preparing, scheduling, emailing, teaching, and everything else that we don't quite do as much recruiting and retaining as we should. Now, the end of the year is nearing and you need ideas fast. Well, here are 22 of my favorite ways to get kids excited about joining and staying in your programs!
1. Student Recruitment Videos
A fun end-of-the-year group project is having students design and shoot their own recruitment videos for your program. Have students first write out what they enjoy about the program and why they think someone should join, then have them shoot their own (school-appropriate) videos using their own devices or devices checked out by the school, if needed. If your school has a student-led news or video announcements, see if they'll show some of your recruitment videos! You can also play the videos for beginner classes or during a performance if you have access to a projector.
2. Q&A Hype Sessions
Have upperclassmen or advanced students visit your beginning classes for student Q&As and have the advanced students hype up your program to get the beginning students excited about joining an advanced ensemble. You can write out questions ahead of time or just open it up to allow beginning students to ask their own questions. If they need a little help getting started, I usually ask questions like, "What advice would you give to a beginning student who might be interested in joining an advanced ensemble?" or "Why do you think a beginning student should want to join an advanced ensemble?"
3. Show the Stats
I did this my very first year teaching and it was a huge hit with families and administrators. At the end of the year, I gave every singer in my choir a short questionnaire about their experiences in choir that year. Statements like, "I made at least 1 new friend in choir," "I plan to continue singing after I graduate," and "Being in choir helped me do better in music class," Once you have the data, make a poster with the statistics and post it outside your classroom for students, parents, and administrators to see!
I have some great no-prep end-of-the-year surveys for band, orchestra, and choir on my TPT. I like to keep the surveys anonymous so that students feel they can answer honestly.
4. Feeder Tours
Lots of BOC programs do this, and if your program isn't, I highly recommend considering it. Team up with your other BOC teachers, bring your intermediate or advanced ensembles and tour to every school that feeds into your school. Talk about your program and wow them with a great performance!
5. Ease Financial Anxieties
Many families are hesitant to get their child excited about Band or Orchestra because they're worried that they can't afford the instruments or lessons. If you are in a position to donate, give scholarships, or have instruments at school that students can use, make sure you let families know that and remove that financial barrier.
6. Post Photos Outside Your Classroom
Advertise to any passing students (or adults) that your program is FUN with photos of your students performing and having fun in class. This also lets passing students visualize what being in your class might be like if they were to join.
7. Perform for the Whole School
If the only performances you program happen in the afternoons and evenings for parents, you're missing a big opportunity to show potential students (and administrators!) how fun and influential your programs are. Perform at least a single song for an assembly or school event each year, if you can.
8. Get Out of Your Classroom
Maybe you're an introvert, I get it. Maybe you're swamped with work. If you can, try, at least some of the time, to get out of your classroom and into the halls before school, during passing periods, during lunch, or after school. Say hi to current and former students, meet potential students, crack jokes, have fun! Students will be more likely to sign up for your classes if they already feel a connection with you.
9. Be a Part of the School Community
Similar to #8, the idea here is to get visibility and make connections with your students. Kids love seeing their music teacher playing basketball at staff basket ball games, or leading a school competition. Maybe don't chaperone a school dance, though...
10. Two Words: Tee Shirts
Kids love to feel like they belong to something special, and tee shirts are a great way for kids to show off something they're passionate about. Plus, you now have dozens of walking advertisements for your program! I like to change the design every year and I let my students vote on the color. Younger siblings like to show up wearing their older sibling's choir shirt from previous years, too!
11. Bring a Friend to Class Day
This one can be a little harder to pull off because of scheduling and, well, friends need to be in their own classes. If you are able to make this work, I recommend coordinating with study hall or home room teachers or see if friends can join your class before or after lunch – whatever least disrupts students' schedules. The idea here is to allow potential students to experience your class with the comfort of already knowing someone in your class.
12. Host a Karaoke Party
This could be available before, during, or after lunch, or it could be an after-school activity. Similar to Bring a Friend to Class Day, the idea here is to open your classroom to potential students and allow them to have a lot of fun with their friends.
13. Instrument Petting Zoo
Team up with the Band or Orchestra teacher and host an instrument petting zoo, an event where prospective students can hold and even try playing the instruments in your class – just make sure you disinfect the mouth pieces after each trial! With our current pandemic situation, this may not be feasible, but in a regular school year, this is a lot of fun and a great way for students to visualize being in your class!
14. Field Trips
Field trips can be a ton of work to coordinate, but if you have an annual field trip that students know is a tradition for your class, it can be a fun incentive to draw more students to your class. Every year, I take my students to a Young People's Concert at our local symphony, where they perform both classical pieces and music from video games and movies. It's a huge hit and something we all look forward to. Having parent chaperones is also a good way to connect with your supportive families!
15. Talk About Next Year
Talk candidly about your plans and goals for next year, and let your students know that you're excited about what they can accomplish. Let me say that again, be excited! If your students feel you're indifferent about whether or not they stay in your program, it can make them feel like you wouldn't even notice if they left. Include your students in your plans.
16. Email Families
At the end of the year, send an email or two home to families thanking them for their support during the school year and informing them of what they can expect next year. If their student is eligible for an advanced ensemble, celebrate that with the student's family and let them know what that means to them and your program.
17. Create Class Goals
The end of the year is a time of reflection, so take some time to reflect with the whole class on what went well, what they accomplished, and what you could work on next year. Again, this allows students to visualize being in your class next year and gives them something to work toward and be excited about.
18. Create Student Goals
Similar to whole-class goals, you can also give students the opportunity to write down what they personally accomplished this year and what they would like to accomplish next year. This is a more personal experience and allows students to take pride in what they bring to the ensemble.
19. Class Retreat
Class retreats are all about building community and are normally done earlier in the school year. But if you haven't done a class retreat by the end of the year, it might be better late than never. Make this a tradition, so that students can look forward to it again next year. It's a great time to make new friends and strengthen old friendships. Class retreats can involve singing, skits, scavenger hunts, team building games, goal planning, movies, karaoke – whatever will build a sense of community and get your students excited about making music.
20. End-of-the-Year Celebration
Food, karaoke, movie, games – whatever you want! Celebrate and have fun!
I always do my celebrations as a potluck and have students bring a single packaged food to share (chips, cookies, veggie platter, etc) and I always make sure to bring allergy-friendly foods so everyone has something they can eat. Many schools have a no-home-cooked-food policy, so be sure to remind your students that the food must be packaged from a store.
21. Invite Alumni to Perform a Song
One tradition I loved when I was a student teacher, and one I've tried to adopt, is choosing a song that you program every year or a song that many students know for one reason or another, and invite alumni to sing with your choir at the last performance. For us, it was Seasons of Love and it's a real tear-jerker every year. It's so much fun to see older students and siblings return to perform with your current ensembles. And you might finally have enough tenors or basses!
22. Remind Them You Want Them There
It's so simple that it can be easily forgotten, but just reminding students that you enjoy having them in class and you hope they come back can do wonders for your retention, especially for those quieter students who may not know if they are being recognized. Let them know they are valued and and the ensemble is made better by their contributions.
What are your favorite recruitment and retention strategies? Let me know in the comments! You can get my End of the Year Reflections for Band, Orchestra, and Choir here!
My name is Nick Dolan, and I'm an elementary music teacher and choir director. I'm here to talk about teaching music!