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Return to Music Resources - Helping Teachers, Administrators, Students

By Dr. James Weaver and Team on June 08, 2021 music directors & adjudicators article Print

What does music look like as we move into 2021-2022? The Return to Music Project wants to make the lives of music educators easier moving forward as we advocate for our programs, plan for the upcoming school year, and try to keep the music alive in our schools across the nation.

The Return to Music Project will be broken down into different content areas and released in three phases during the course of the next 6 months. 

Phase I will focus on: Scheduling, Recruitment, RetentionAdvocacy, Performances and Evaluating Your Students

Phase II will focus on: Student Social Emotional Learning (SEL), Teacher Well Being, Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) Opportunities for Music Education this Summer and Fall, Learning Acceleration, Curriculum Adjustments, Summer Opportunities, General Music Education, Secondary Ensemble Considerations, Student Teachers, School Owned Equipment and Uniforms, Cleaning Guidelines, Student Eligibility, State Association Changes, and Reporting Differences

Phase III will focus on: Walking Back into the Classroom

Other Resources: Music Teacher Thank You Video, NFHS Music YouTube Channel


We encourage you to share this information far and wide around your state. The more music educators that can get their hands on these resources, the better.  

Preparing to return, you must begin your year as organized as possible. How was the rehearsal room left? Is it a time capsule from 3/13/20 or were things moved around? If you expect to accomplish this during your scheduled teacher work days just prior to the beginning of school, you are already behind! Teacher in-service days are generally filled with meetings, workshops, and orientations for new staff, new procedures, and an attempt to understand post-pandemic education. In order to have everything in place by the first bell, you are going to have to work prior to in-service until everything is ready. Start sooner than later!

One of the first issues to tackle is that many things will be different. Everyone will need support and ways to talk through the changes and work together. It will be important to identify student leaders in your program, if student leaders exist, you should discuss potential changes to gain their support. This will serve to facilitate next steps with the other returning students. If not, take it a step at a time and know that staff and students alike will be excited and nervous to be back in school and it may feel different than the pre-pandemic feel. Discuss prior collaborations that existed in the performing arts department and identify what can return and what might need to be tweaked.




Student Well-Being: Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Music Education

In order for SEL education and tools to be effectively used in music education the use must be intentional, embedded into the musical process and product, and sustained. Musical social emotional learning must be a collaborative effort with students, never something done to students. To capitalize on the transformative potential of the music classroom, focus must be put on helping students in these key areas:

Better understand their identity and how that informs their beliefs, mindsets, and decisions.

Facilitate a sense of belonging in the music classroom where students and educators feel safe taking risks and being vulnerable.

Amplifying student voices so they are experiencing agency and affecting meaningful change in their classrooms, schools, and community.

Click here to learn more about why SEL is so important, its connection to music education, and tools and resources for embedding SEL into your classroom!


Music Teacher Well-Being

No matter the circumstances--distance, hybrid, in-person--music teachers have had a challenging year. The stress and uncertainty of the pandemic make a “summer recharge” more important than ever. Teachers may find it helpful to reflect on and assess their personal wellness, so consider how to start the 2021-2022 school year on the best foot. Wellness or wellbeing is multi-faceted: it encompasses physical, emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions. Wellness includes one’s work and home lives. Therefore, taking stock of one’s well-being is complex work.

While every educator is different, recent work on music teacher wellness suggests a few important principles:

Music teachers are “professional carers” and this caring work can take a mental toll

Drawing boundaries and delegating is important for ensuring teachers’ preferred work-life balance

A healthy “social network” of connections to helpful colleagues goes a long way toward establishing professional wellness

Blog article – Music Teaching and Learning during Covid-19 and Beyond - by Mara E. Culp and Rachel Roberts

Additional resources and bibliography here: https://smte.us/aspas/music-teacher-health-and-wellness/


Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) Opportunities for Rebuilding and Growing Music Education in Fall, 2021

As we move forward into planning for next school year, music educators and their administrators will be reviewing student enrollments for music programs and making determinations regarding staffing. Often, music ed staffing, particularly in the secondary space, is based on student enrollments in music courses. Across the nation, as students did not have access to ensemble-based learning experiences due to the pandemic, we are seeing a decline in student enrollment in ensemble classes for Fall, 2021. If this is the case for your school district or school, share with your administrators that ESSER Funds, the stimulus dollars coming from the federal government to support the reopening of schools and the managing of education through the pandemic, can be used to keep educators employed, including music educators. This is explicitly stated in “fundable activity 15” of the law and is a main emphasis of the new administration. Guidance released by the US Department of Education stated that these funds should be used to keep teachers employed.

Often, administrators are worried about using federal dollars, which are limited in scope and duration, to fund staffing positions. In the case of a music educator whose program enrollment has declined, however, the funds can be used strategically to invest in the rebuilding of the program. Funding a music educator partially out of ESSER funding for a year, possibly two, will give the educator time to focus on rebuilding the program and the student enrollment. At the end of the time period, federal funds stop being used and the music educator can be fully funded with state/local funds based on the increase to “full staffing” student enrollment.

For more information:

NAfME ESSER toolkit


NAfME ESSER landing page

SBO Article by Bob Morrison and Marcia Neel: COVID-19 Relief Funding Available to Schools/Districts Includes Support for Music Education  

Be a Part of the Music Webinar


Learning Acceleration as we Rebuild Music Education Programs

As mentioned in the section on social emotional learning, our students will not learn until they feel safe, are valued, have a sense of belonging, and have been heard. Yet, there is a tremendous amount of discussion around what some refer to as “learning loss” and what strategies may need to be used to address this. Within the larger educational context, administrators may be removing students from our music classes in order to place them in remedial studies in the tested subject areas. Part of our work as music educators is to remind our administrators that students gain from being in music classes, too - from important social and emotional learning supports to building of school culture and community. How can you support your students who may need additional learning time in reading and math and continue to have them be part of your music program? Coming up with ideas to share with your administrators is important to helping all students maintain access to music classes and opportunities.

Within the music classrooms, has learning been lost? Instead of focusing on what students have not been able to do or accomplish in the last year, let’s focus on what they have done. They have learned how to continue making music in a variety of setting, and in using a variety of technologies. They have learned to listen to others and play along with them via headsets and earbuds. They may have had opportunities to create their own songs or arrange pieces for themselves and their classmates. As we return to in-person learning, how will we carry forward some of what we have all learned as musicians during the pandemic, and rebuild the skills of large ensemble playing that have been delayed or deferred?


Curriculum Adjustments and Classroom Procedures

As we prepare for the fall, most if not all of us are expecting to return to the classroom. Here are some general considerations regarding potential curricular adjustments and classroom procedures by content area for your consideration. Please remember to consult your local and state health guidance as well as your administration as you begin your planning.

NAfME Information on Music Education Guidance from States

Considerations for In-Person Music Education and Performing Arts Activities

“Together as One – One Nation” was designed in response to our extraordinary circumstances and as an opportunity for collaborative performance between any music program. This fully arranged, designed, and choreographed performance is available for FREE to any school and director seeking performance music through June 2022.

 Get Access to FREE Music


Summer Opportunities - Supporting All Learners

Summer provides the opportunity for school districts to place face-to-face learning models in music that transition students and teachers to a fall of live music education.  Think of it as our dress rehearsal. To help address gaps in learning that occurred during the pandemic, music teachers can take the opportunity to organize summer programs in order to bridge the gap as we work towards the fall. Some of the benefits of summer music learning is flexible scheduling (avoiding the issue of cohort mixing), focused instruction via an intensive summer program, and an easing into face-to-face learning protocols that will happen in the fall.

Band Leadership Program

So many opportunities were lost over the course of the pandemic for students to engage in leadership opportunities. As we approach marching band season, a challenge will be student leadership. The USA Drum Major and Band Leadership programs offer students the opportunity to refine basic skills, test and practice advanced material, and create lasting memories! These mini-courses are available, FREE of charge, to students looking to gain new skills in the novice category in preparation for summer camp and fall competition and are a part of the Varsity Performing Arts growing library of content. They represent a sampling of all there is to learn when you register for a USA summer camp.

FREE Student Leadership Videos and Courses


General Music Education

The NAfME Council for General Music Education created these linked tables to walk you through a variety of considerations for a variety of teaching modes. While we hope that all will be back in-person with our students, we realize that the pandemic or other emergencies may force us back into all online teaching. The Council has created these tables to provide considerations for a variety of teaching scenarios for the fall. Click each link below for printable PDF.






Here is a preview of what the charts look like:


Watch Videos on Mitigation Strategies for Wind Instruments, Choir, String, and Percussion



Secondary Ensemble Considerations

Depending on how your school and schedule will be structured, ensemble music educators will need to consider several areas of adjustment for Fall, 2021.

Highlights include: Course Offering Adjustments, Scheduling, Class Sizes, Performances, Individual Skills, Seating Charts, and More



Collegiates – Pre-Service Music Educators

Access, Safety, Security

Confirm and reinforce communication with local college/university Music Ed programs and Schools of Education. Prepare, distribute, and post district and building guidelines and procedures.

Field Experience Guidelines and Access

Live classroom experiences have been limited and as we move to fall 2021 there will be a variety of scenarios across the country. Pre service students and teachers alike must communicate to support each other to create the most positive of situations.

Student Teaching Guidelines and Access

Student teaching/internship and school-based observations are an exciting time full of learning for all involved. Due to the ongoing pandemic, student teaching and classroom observations may look different than in previous years. First and foremost, there must be clear and consistent communication between the host K-12 teacher, the university supervisor, and the university students.

Click here to read more about K-12 Host Teachers, University Supervisors, University Students/Interns, Digital Access, Collegiates as Resources, CNAFME Chapters and More!



School Owned Equipment and Uniforms

Consideration must be taken with the return of school owned items at the end of the year.  Though in person teaching may be in place, it is still not appropriate to have instruments handed to you by a student. Consider having the students clean out the case of personal items such as pencils, reeds, etc. scrub mouthpieces with soapy water, and then read the serial number to you to make sure it matches the check-out information. When things check out, have the student put their instrument in its case, and deliver it to a designated location (all the basses in a row as an example).

Based on current guidelines, it is recommended that the following items are placed in a designated area for the recommended amount of time prior to being handled or that they undergo proper cleaning procedures:



Music Stands

Music Folders


Instrument distribution for the start of the school year and/or over the summer to allow individual student practice or participation in summer camps and clinics

Retail Rentals  - To work with your local music retailer on best practices for rentals

School Owned Instruments - When distributing school owned instruments to students, follow similar procedures to how instruments were collected at the end of the school year to ensure student safety.  In advance of distributing instruments, determine what students need instruments and go through the instruments to make sure they are in good working order.   Assign instruments to students based on your school/ district procedure.

Common practice in many music classrooms is for a teacher to handle a student’s instrument. This is done for tuning, demonstration, storage, and a large variety of other reasons. Teachers handling student instruments during class should use care to ensure proper protocol to avoid risk of exposure.  Although this care is mainly aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19, it is good practice moving away from the pandemic as well.

Consider how you will handle student instruments safely as we move away from the pandemic. What best practices have you learned that you will maintain? If your school district is still following heightened cleaning protocols and guidelines, you can consult CDC guidance or your local public health guidance for suggestions and tips. Additional guidance can be found here:

Cleaning Guidelines:

ASTA: Instrument Cleaning Tips

NFHS-NAMM-NAfME: Instrument  Cleaning Guidelines  

PAS: Managing Percussion Protocols 


Student Eligibility

Since March 2020, many State Associations and MEAs have adjusted student eligibility rules and policies to help with student participation during the pandemic. It is vitally important for teachers to read all emails, website announcements and informational documents that State associations share in the future. Missing important eligibility rule communications could end up hurting your students and school activity programs. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your State associations, never assume!


State Association Changes

Every state is different in what is required to be academically eligible. If your state association implemented a COVID variance for eligibility requirements, be sure to know when those variances will end.

Grade Point Average

Number of courses passed in previous semester

Passing grades at the end of the prior week

In any case it is important to know if there have been any modifications to these requirements. Especially if the school was virtual during the spring semester and now in-person during the fall. Do not let the students suffer because the teacher did not know the requirements.


Reporting Differences

Questions to ask the building administrator should include:

What happens with pass / fail courses from grading changes?

How do we handle transfers if they came from a virtual school and our school was always in-person?

Did the district grading policy change during the pandemic, thus creating a different level of eligibility?




Phase I:


This is your time to be an advocate for your program! Ask to be at the table, in planning meetings, and in schedule discussions to ensure your music program is considered and maintained! The schedule the admin team tentatively creates now will change before the fall so make sure you are part of every conversation. Be a listener, consider all scenarios, but also be an advocate. Think outside the box and work WITH your admin team on solutions that impact your program. This is your opportunity to continue building a collaborative relationship with your admin team and they will appreciate an open minded, problem-solver approach. While you need to defend your program, don’t get defensive!

Want to learn more about School Schedule Changes, Talking to your Administrator, Being a Part of the Conversation, Counselors Office, Pull Out Lessons, and Summer Camps?

Communication with Administrators (Video)

Download the FREE graphic to share



One of the most significant challenges teachers face during the pandemic is recruiting and retaining students. Health requirements have presented inconveniences and even impossible roadblocks for students to find the same satisfaction in rehearsing and performing that they may have had under normal circumstances. Teachers will need to go above and beyond normal recruitment practices to reach out to potential students. This may include working with feeder schools, private teachers, mass mailing campaigns, referrals, etc.

8 Recruiting Ideas for Transitioning Students (Elementary to Middle; Middle to High School; High School to College)



Equally important is retaining students already in the program. Careful attention will need to be paid to make sure current members feel part of the organization, that their presence is valued, and that ongoing participation is something important for their own well-being.

Click here to see the S.M.A.R.T Approach to Retention in detail

Watch All 5 Videos on the S.M.A.R.T Approach to Retention (Success Video is Below)

 Click here for more FREE Retention Materials, Resource Links, Video Examples of Retention Ideas, and much more!

Download the FREE graphic to share

Make retention a priority - there are many fun and unique ways to do this, like below:



Efforts to support the music program may take many forms. Some are internal like personal interactions with faculty and administrators. Every interaction is an advocacy opportunity, a chance to share the benefits the music program provides to students, showcase student highlights and achievements.

  1. Engage Music Boosters
  2. Supports Attend All School Board Meetings
  3. Monitor the School Budget Process
  4. Have Your Messages Ready (examples provided)
    Program Safety
    Connection to Social Emotional Learning  (Video Example)
    Articulating Value
  5. Unique Pandemic Funding



COVID-19 Relief Funding Includes Support for Music Education

ESSER Funding Toolkit

ESSER Workshop

Quick Link Resources

Every state has a state music education association. Many have an arts education advocacy group. Connect with these organizations in your state for information and resources that will help support music education in communities.

The Arts Are Education campaign has been developed by the same groups that created the Arts Education is Essential campaign last year. The groups involved in the creation include the Nation Dance Education OrganizationNational Association for Music EducationNational Art Education AssociationEducational Theatre AssociationYoung Audiences Arts for LearningEducation Commission of the States with support provided by NAMMArts Ed NJ and Quadrant Research.

Learn more at: https://www.artsareeducation.org/about

Information on state education agency arts education specialists

Campaign to protect arts education and engage parents in the school budget process. With campaign tools and supporting materials making the case for making arts education programs safe, the link between social emotional learning and arts education, the value of arts education and how to monitor the school budget process available online or via a mobile app.

Learn more at: http://artsednow.org


Click to See More Advocacy ResourcesSteps You Can Take, Funding Resources, Ideas on How to Use Funds, Links, Articles, Resources, Handouts and Videos

How to Advocate for Performing Arts Programs in you School District: Protect Arts Ed Now

How to Monitor the School Budget Process

The 2020 CARES Act and 2021 CRRSA Act (What these acts entail and how to use the funding they provide)

Title IV, Part A Block Grant (Explaining the Every Student Succeeds Act, examples of funding and what it supports)



State Association Sponsored Schedules 

Every state association will approach state-sanctioned festival assessments differently, and it is important to carefully follow state association leadership to find out their current plans. Because information can be fluid during these unprecedented and unpredictable times, state associations need to do their best to communicate early and often with teachers.


State Prescribed Music Lists

Investigate changes made in state required literature lists to see if there are any covid-clause rules allowing to perform/compete at a level lower than previously required.


Regional Festival Schedules

Regional events can provide students and their teachers with unique opportunities to share their hard work and experience the hard work of students and teachers from other schools.


College and University On-Campus Visit Performances

There is great value in visiting college or university campuses to work with clinicians and experience unique performance venues.


In-School Performances

Audiences allowed: If local safety guidelines allow for live attendance at events, teachers should encourage audience attendance at their performances.

Streaming: Teachers may consider continuing the practice of streaming concerts even after social distancing standards are loosened. 


Curricular Travel Opportunities

Curricular travel has been a cornerstone of music programs for many years. Not only are they a great recruitment tool, they give students opportunities to expand their knowledge and broaden their worldview.


Community Requested Performances

Teachers should seek out and accept offers to perform in the community not only as a way of providing a service to the community, but also to bring much needed attention to their programs.


Together As One - Free & Exclusive Music Program 

This fully arranged, designed, and choreographed performance is available for FREE to any school and director seeking performance music through June 2022.


Click to see more about all of the performance opportunities listed above

Teacher Preparation for State Association and MEA Music Events Post-Pandemic (with Craig Manteuffel and Dr. John Taylor, Kansas)


Evaluating Your Students

Realign Expectations (Read More)

Directors must first look at the earliest scheduled performances (football game, marching band, spirit assemblies, concerts) and find literature that is appropriate for technique and range to make the students sound the best they possibly can and this means meeting your students where they are not where they “should” be based on the past.  

“Should be” is not something to consider when rebuilding programs. One strategy for assessing the performance level of the ensemble is to create a reading folder. Begin with what you would generally program as the end goal and then fill the folder with several levels of music ready to read (from too easy to more difficult). It’s an excellent way to gauge a starting point.


7 Alternatives to Teaching Another Music Appreciation Course (Download PDF)

Bucket Drumming, Music Technology, Modern Music, Musical Fitness, Music History, Guitar/Ukulele Class, Music Business


Other Resources

THANK YOU to Music Educators (Read the Press Release)

Artists from across the scope of music and songwriting have come together in collaboration with the National Music Council (NMC) and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to thank music educators and administrators for their continuing perseverance during these challenging times.


NFHS Music YouTube Channel

This ever growing list of helpful videos features subject experts sharing about advocacy, budgeting, recruitment, scheduling and much more.