Transitioning to my current position as head director forced me to face a new realization: I would be working with an assistant. Recalling my own experiences as a Millennial Assistant, made me begin to ponder about the kind of head director I want to be.
There has been a lot of chatter in the media about Millennials, individuals who reached adulthood around the turn of the 21st century. Maybe because we grew up in an electronics-filled and socially-networked world, we seem to stand out as an anomaly to other generations.
In addition to my own experiences as a Millennial assistant, I reached out to other young assistant directors to help cross the generation gap between Millennial assistants and their head directors.
Millennial Assistant: “I learn waaaay more when I am allowed to make my own mistakes.”
This comment deeply resonated with me. My first year teaching, my head director at the time saw me bombing a rehearsal. Not wanting to see me fail or lose control of the classroom, he jumped up on the podium and took over. I was mortified. I immediately felt my authority was taken away and the students learned that I wasn’t really in charge. After the rehearsal when I calmed down and my face was no longer blotchy from bawling in the office, I explained to my head director that he HAD to let me fail. Luckily, my head director was an amazing person who wanted to help, not take over. He thought he was helping me, but realized after our conversation that he had hurt my learning process (as well as my ego…).
Millennial Assistant: “I would have loved more exposure to older repertoire. Help with great older pieces that aren’t as played nowadays.”
I’ve heard stories from older directors who would meet on Saturdays at the local music store and talk shop. These days, we don’t sit around at the music store rummaging through scores and drinking coffee, but young directors still want to talk shop and hear suggestions from seasoned band directors. Why do you think there are so many facebook groups dedicated to band directors or podcasts and youtube channels! We want to learn, but we just don’t know where all the cool kids hang out now.
Millennial Assistant: “I want to enjoy working with my head director. Let me get to know you outside of school. Let’s go grab some tacos and margaritas! Let me ask you a million questions about being a band director. Let me try out new ideas.”
Scale karate? Go for it. Objective sheets, never done it in the past, but let’s try it out. Millennials are known for being more enthusiastic about something they have created themselves. When we have the freedom to try out new things, you will see us in a new light. If it doesn’t work, oh well. If it does, then you have a new trick to add to your bag. My former head director was amazing about letting me try out new ideas with the program.
Millennial Assistant: “Don’t talk to me like I’m a kid, I know what I’m doing...most of the time.”
This comment made me laugh because it is so true! Assistants have degrees and they usually have some experience even when they are first year teachers. They know what they are doing (or what they are trying to do) so any discussion needs to be from a place of mutual understanding and respect. They are not another kid in your classroom, but your colleague.
Millennial Assistant: “I like being direct with problems and shortcomings- radical candor so to speak.”
If you haven’t checked out the podcast “Radical Candor” I suggest you go download it immediately. It’s truly eye opening.
Millennial Assistant: “We are expected to know a lot about technology...but not all of us are technologically savvy or know everything so help us learn and/or explore with us.”
There’s something about being a part of the Millennial Generation that makes everyone assume we are technological geniuses. Nope. We were the kids practicing in the band hall, not the kids learning binary and learning how to get past firewalls on the school internet. We are very willing to learn, but don’t assume we know how to do something related to technology. I, for example, still have no idea how to create formulas in excel and always have to watch a youtube video to figure how to do a mail merge…but I can create an amazing website for our program!
Millennial Assistant: “We care about FEEDBACK. Let us know how we’re doing teaching-wise, organization, working with students, etc. We don’t know if we are doing a good job or a bad job unless someone says something.”
Millennials are also known for being master collaborators. We like working with others and bouncing ideas back and forth. Talk with us and use us as your sounding board. I am starting to believe that band directors with shared offices seem to have more communication. When I joined a new program and had a separate office, I immediately felt cut off from my head director. I no longer felt like a team. No matter what the situation is, I think scheduling a weekly meeting with the directors is vital to keeping communication open.
Millennial Assistant: “A commitment of being in 1 or 2 rehearsals a week would be super valuable.”
Our podium ears are terrible. It’s a skill that we will spend forever trying to improve. Let us borrow your ears in rehearsals. This is also a great opportunity for head directors to write down suggestions and talk with us later (but remember that means you have to talk to us and be RADICALLY CANDID! Seriously, go download the podcast.)
Millennial Assistant: “[Show] us how to do things- and if you don’t want to give us complete responsibility then at least let us observe and/or assist so we’re not in the dark.”
One of the best things my former head director did was slowly hand over portions of the program. My first year, he let me run our festival. The second year he handed over the ENTIRE budget. The third year he allowed me to choose our fundraiser and control every aspect of it from scheduling pick-up dates to counting the money. I am so thankful now for that experience.
Millennial Assistant: “Let us take some of the smaller tasks off your hands. The only way we get better is to take the training wheels off and let us have the opportunity to succeed, learn, and/or fail.”
As a head director, I WISH I had an assistant to take some of the tasks off my hands. They all truly want to learn and be better at their jobs.
Every assistant that I talked to seemed to say the same thing: give us more to do and give us feedback. They are chomping at the bit trying to improve. I would like to end with my favorite quote from my time talking with these assistant band directors:
“The main point is we aren’t going to be assistants forever. We need to be prepared to step into the head director role and what a better way to prepare than learning from the best - our head director!”
I would like to thank the amazing group of people who spent their time talking with me. Your insights were truly inspirational. Thank you!