by Harry & Rosemary Wong
Special to the Gazette
January 1, 2009
Brand new teacher, Nile Wilson, started the orchestra program at a new high school. Today, four years later, she has a full varsity orchestra, beginner/intermediate, freshman, junior varsity orchestra and a cello choir. How did she do it? Organization with procedures for just about every classroom activity.
Click here to see the “Christmas Festival,” program performed by these students.
There’s a new, exciting, 4th edition of The First Days of School.
This enhanced edition has More Procedures, New Rubrics,Assessment, Professional Learning Teams, Online Enrichment, and an Amazing New DVD. Click here to see these and all the exciting additions and improvements.
Six remarkable professional educators are pictured on the cover of the new The First Days of School. One of these is Nile Wilson (third from left), an orchestra teacher in San Antonio.
Hired as the new Director of Orchestras for a brand-new high school, Nile started her very first day of school armed with a thick handbook of classroom procedures. So many changes with the new school were a little dizzying for everyone—teachers, students and parents alike. New school. New friends. New teachers. New procedures!
But if anyone could understand the difficulties inherent in change, it was Nile. “Change can be unsettling,” she says. “Even when it’s for the better!”
Is it possible to be too organized? Can a teacher have too many procedures? Nile Mendoza Wilson began to wonder during her first year of teaching in the United States.
A Life Filled With Music
Nile was born in Manila, Philippines. Life was not easy for her and her family, but music was always a high priority. She began taking violin lessons when she was ten years old. Nile recalls,
“I was one of the worst players because I refused to practice.”
She says, “To me, going to violin school was a social event. I couldn’t wait for the breaks to play with the other kids! There was even a point when I wanted to quit, but my grandmother insisted I continue.
“When I turned 14, I met Basilio Manalo, a pioneer of strings education in the Philippines, who took me under his wing. Life in the Philippines was difficult, so when Basilio offered to teach me for free, I knew not to take his kindness for granted. Finally I started to take violin seriously and my skills grew.
“I studied violin performance in college, but I burned out from the fierce competition. I switched to music education simply because it required fewer recitals. At the time I never dreamed that teaching music would become my passion.”
Nile graduated with a degree in music education from St. Scholastica’s College in Manila and went to work as a music educator at several prestigious private schools. She also continued performing as a professional orchestra musician.
An Online Chat Brings Romance
As a senior in college in the Philippines, she met Drew Wilson, a senior in college in the United States, in an Internet chat room. As their chats progressed into overseas visits, they fell in love. And in 2001, Nile immigrated to the United States to marry her long-time sweetheart. Talk about change! Good and bad. A new country. A new husband. Learning to drive. And rejection.
While Nile had been an accomplished musician and educator in her native Philippines, in the U.S. she found it difficult to find employment. Rejected from teaching, Nile resorted to odd jobs to fill the gaps.
Her break came after a successful audition for Old Dominion University won her a scholarship to attend its master’s program. Nile was an active member at ODU; she served as concertmaster of the symphony orchestra, was first violinist for the Diehn String Quartet, was a winner of ODU’s annual concerto competition, and attended master classes sponsored by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra.
In 2004, Nile graduated with a master’s of science degree in secondary music education. Her resume impressed the principal at John Paul Stevens High School in San Antonio, Texas. Nile was hired as the orchestra director at the brand new school.
Despite her impressive credentials, Nile tells us that at first some of the students and parents weren’t too comfortable with her teaching techniques and her thick handbook of procedures. Many of the students in Nile’s orchestra had played under other, well-liked directors in middle school and were not happy playing under a new one—especially for one with a different way of teaching. (Nile now visits the middle schools to assist the musical directors there!)
“I have to admit, it took a while for me to prove myself. I was new. The school was new. I didn’t have a history of results to support my position.”
But I knew in my heart and from my own experience that the key to a successful classroom filled with students able to learn and achieve is organization and structure.
Teaching orchestra is a complex task. There are different instruments, different skill sets, and different musical scores. There are exercises for tuning up, warming up and learning to sight-read music. There is practice music, challenge music, and concert music. The director must consider a wide spectrum of factors from the safety of the students to the accomplishment of a complicated score.
And all this must be done within the scope of a single class hour each day.
A Typical Day Begins Before the Bell
The bell has not yet rung for the class period to start, but strains of orchestral music waft from Nile Wilson’s classroom. Like the fresh-baked aroma from a bakery that sets your mouth to watering, the melody prepares Nile’s orchestra students for the music they are about to create.
Like every effective teacher, Nile knows how to make the most of every minute she has with her students.
“When students step into my classroom, they know exactly what’s going to happen in class. I include class objectives on the TV screen, so they are visible as soon as the students enter the room.
“My classes start on time and make the full use of instructional time. And there is no dead time! It’s amazing how much material we are able to cover in 45 minutes when the students know upfront what to expect and what to do.”
Be Prepared. Be Punctual. Be Appropriate.
Here are three of Nile’s procedures that underlie every activity in her classroom.
Procedures for Starting Class
Music from professional orchestra recordings set the stage for class
At bell, warm-up monitor steps up to director’s podium and leads warm-up exercises.
Prepares minds for work ahead
Warms up muscles to prevent playing-related injuries such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome
During warm-ups, attendance monitor takes attendance and librarian distributes class sets of instrumental method books
Following warm-ups, concertmaster tunes the orchestra
Nile makes announcements then leads the class in “solfège”—singing pitches while using Curwen hand signals
Weekly schedule written on the board—includes books the students must have for each day
Daily Focus is visible on TV screen—10 minutes at beginning of class devoted to focus
Monday and Tuesday: Sight-reading skills and rhythm training exercises
Wednesday: Left-hand technique
Thursday: Section group rehearsals run by section leaders
Friday: Music theory and scales practice
A signal is used to gain permission for the restroom; Nile responds with a nod or shake of her head so practice is not interrupted.
Three minutes prior to end of class is reserved for cleaning up, so there is plenty of time before class is dismissed.
Nile tells the students class is not over when the bell rings. She dismisses the class with, “Thank you, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Nile has procedures for just about every classroom activity, from handling absences and coming in late to musical challenges and classroom courtesy. When a student occasionally forgets, Nile simply reminds, “What’s the procedure, please?” As a result, her class pretty much runs itself.
The Students Run the Show
“The subs love to sub for me,” she says. “My students run the show and all the subs have to do is supervise. I’m proud of my students for being productive and staying on task, even when I’m not around! While I was gone on maternity leave, I missed them terribly and they missed me. But when I returned, I was so pleased to discover that they had learned all their music!”
It took time, but in the three years since Nile began teaching at Stevens High School, she has more than proven her mettle. The orchestra program has grown, more than doubling from 35 students in 2005, to 74 in 2008-09. And the skills of the students have also grown. Just two years after Nile took over the reins, her orchestra students gained great respect as competitors at the prestigious University Interscholastic League (UIL) competitions. The proof is in the pudding. The orchestra has earned a number of trophies—concrete evidence of their increased performance skills!
Nile Wilson faced initial skepticism from some of her parents and students who weren’t accustomed to classroom procedures. But the success of her students and their enjoyment in her classroom changed their minds. As for those parents who at first weren’t too sure about Nile and her handbook—many are now her most ardent supporters. Nile has learned from them as well.
Nile’s willingness to listen and adapt to the changing needs of her students has also helped to make her a successful teacher.She’s not afraid to learn from the success of others. As she told us after reading a pertinent teachers.net article, “Now I have even more tips to steal!”
Over the years she has trimmed her orchestra handbook to make it more accessible and has modified procedures to better fit the needs of her class. A website (www.falconorchestrasatx.bravehost.com) facilitates communication, helping to inform parents, students, and the entire school community of important events and achievements.
Commendation from Her Administrator
It is not only the parents and students that applaud her efforts. Nile also received commendation from her administrator for her classroom management techniques. The administration wrote,
“Your goals and objectives were communicated clearly, both verbally and in writing. It is a credit to you and your style of instruction that your students are so eager and ready to take on the challenges of their music. Monitoring and assessing progress seems to be an on-going process in your classroom. You were always quick to reinforce correct form and style and the students stayed on their toes. It was wonderful to see improved playing and performance right as I watched.”
Inspiration to Those Who Want to Become Teachers
Some of Nile’s best praise has come from the students themselves. One graduating senior wrote in Nile’s yearbook,
“It has been a long three years and every day I looked forward to coming to this class. I am going to miss the concerts, UIL, everything. You are an amazing teacher and a great person. I admire your hard work and patience with us crazy kids.”
Nile has several students who have expressed interest in majoring in music education, and these students have been designated as her teaching assistants. Nile gives these students the opportunity to conduct music, run rehearsals, and teach beginning and intermediate orchestra classes.
While they will be learning how to play all the string instruments when they go to college, those who are really serious about teaching music have a head start. She has taught them how to play all the string orchestra instruments and how to teach these instruments to beginners.
Her procedures enable her class to make the most of each day. Because of her organized procedures, the teaching assistants run the rehearsals in her absence.
She is an inspiration to those students who want to become teachers.
Regardless of Subject or Grade level
Nile is a successful teacher and musical director. Her classroom is filled with the sounds of students learning and achieving. And your classroom can be the same way, too. Structure is the key and Nile is happy to share her orchestra handbook with you. Click here to see it.
A successful teacher is successful regardless of the subject they teach!
More Successful Educators
On the cover of the new 4th edition of The First Days of Schoolare also these effective educators (from left to right) who have been featured in past teachers.net articles. They also are referenced in the pages of the book.
Ed Aguiles, principal
Ed will be featured in a Spring 2009 of teachers.net article.
Each and every one of these teachers and administrators is successful because they communicate procedures, establish routines, and have high expectations for their students. They understand that the time they spend organizing and structuring their classroom and school directly translates into success for their students.
And they understand how important it is to teach their procedures from the very first day of school.
Tomorrow Is a New First Day
We’ve often made reference to the fact that teaching is one of the only professions where teachers can start all over again any day of the school year. If you do not use procedures in your classroom, you can start tomorrow and you will notice a difference in your classroom.
We recently received a letter from a principal who wrote an apology! He said that as a new teacher 20 years ago, he was in the audience during one of Harry’s presentations and cast off the information as bunk as “he knew it all.” Twenty years later, he has come to realize how valuable the information on effective teaching is and what a difference it makes in school climate and student achievement. As an administrator now, he is an advocate of our work and uses it to help his staff become the most effective teachers possible for his students.
Please don’t wait 20 years for your epiphany. The time you have with students is too valuable. Too often we bemoan the lack of time to get everything done in the classroom. With procedures and routines in place, more minutes will be added to your instructional clock and the sounds of learning will fill your classroom.
a printable version of this article click
Harry and Rosemary Wong have been writing columns for Teachers.Net for over 13 years and the columns all have a distinctive style. They write about effective teachers, administrators, schools, and school districts featuring techniques that are immediately replicable and at no cost. More importantly, they work to enhance student learning. An archive of past articles can be found at the end of every column, with an abstract of all articles at the end of the most recent June column.
For over 30 years, helping teachers become effective has been the passion of the Wongs. Writing for Teachers.Net is just one of the many ways they reach out to educators with their ideas on how effective teachers improve student learning.
About Harry & Rosemary Wong...
Harry and Rosemary Wong are teachers. Harry is a native of San Francisco and taught middle school and high school science. Rosemary is a native of New Orleans and taught K-8, including working as the school media coordinator and student activity director.
Harry Wong has been awarded the Horace Mann Outstanding Educator Award, the National Teachers Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award, the Science Teacher Achievement Recognition Award, the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award, and the Valley Forge Teacher's Medal. He was selected as one of the most admired people in education by the readers of Instructor magazine. Rosemary was chosen as one of California's first mentor teachers and has been awarded the Silicon Valley Distinguished Woman of the Year Award. She was also honored as a Distinguished Alumnus from her alma maters, Southeastern Louisiana University and Louisiana State University.
Harry and Rosemary have been awarded the Upton Sinclair Award and were nominated for the Brock International Prize in Education. They have built and sustain a school in the jungles of Cambodia.
The Wongs are the most sought after speakers in education today, booked two years into the future. Their presentations are practical, offering a common sense, user-friendly, and no-cost approach to managing a classroom for high-level student success. Over a million teachers worldwide have heard their message. In spite of their heavily booked schedule, Harry and Rosemary have agreed to write this monthly column so that more people can hear their message.
How They Develop Effective Teachers...
Harry and Rosemary Wong are committed to developing effective teachers, one teacher at a time.
To do this, they have formed their own publishing company, of which Rosemary is the CEO.
THE Classroom Management Book is what everyone has been waiting for. It is an exhaustive extension of Unit C on classroom management in The First Days of School.
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Step-by-step plans to a well-managed classroom
50 procedures in detail
40 QR codes with additional resources
320 pages in full color
Complete first days of school plans
Suitable for all grades, all subjects, all teachers
Costs no money to implement
How to Be an Effective and Successful Teacheris an audio CD set that was recorded live before 800 teachers in St. Louis. Listen as they walk you through classrooms that hum with learning and share how you can replicate the same success in your classroom. In 2 hours and 40 minutes, Harry and Rosemary can transform you into a very effective and successful teacher at no cost!
This presentation has transformed the lives and teaching success of hundreds of thousands of teachers.Learn how to
Begin the school year with a plan
Start class immediately
Have a well-organized and structured classroom
Reduce discipline problems
Have students who are engaged and working
Teach procedures and responsibility
Maximize classroom instructional time
Use lesson objectives so students know what they are to learn
Use rubrics to assess for student learning
Deal with at-risk students
Improve student learning and achievement
The Wongs have written The First Days of School, the best-selling book ever in education. Over 3.8 million copies have been sold. It is used in 120 countries, 2,114 colleges, and most every new teacher induction program. The fourth edition has been translated into five foreign languages and includes:
An additional chapter on procedures
A new chapter on assessment with rubrics.
A new chapter on Professional Learning Teams
A new chapter for administrators on implementation
Additional information in Going Beyond Folders
A new DVD, Using THE FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL, presented by Chelonnda Seroyer
The Wongs have also produced the DVD series, The Effective Teacher, winner of the Telly Award for the best educational video of the past twenty years and awarded the 1st place Gold Award in the International Film and Video Festival.
They also have a successful eLearning course, Classroom Management with Harry and Rosemary Wong. The course can be taken in private at the learner's convenience. The outcome of the course is a 2 inch binder with a personalized Classroom Management Action Plan.
This Action Plan is similar to the organized and structured plan used by all effective teachers. Details for the classroom management course can be seen at www.ClassroomManagement.com.
You can hear Harry Wong LIVE on a set of CDs, called
How to Improve Student Achievement, recorded at one
of his many presentations. He invites you to steal from him the secrets of effective teaching for all grade levels.
Never Cease to Learn has the power to transform your
attitude and your life. In this DVD, Harry shares his journey on the road to success and tells listeners how to become the educators they were meant to be.
When the books, video series, CD, DVD, and eLearning course are used together, they form the most effective professional development training tool for producing effective teachers. Staff developers and administrators who would like to know how to implement the aforementioned book, video series, and CD are encouraged to consult the book, New Teacher Induction: How to Train, Support, and Retain New Teachers. Information about these products can be found by visiting the publisher's website at www.HarryWong.com.
Helping you produce effective teachers is our passion.