Summer 2018: Put Yourself First ... for Your Students

Posted May 30, 2018 by Ben Harloff

When you step onto the podium after summer break, your students deserve the best version of you. We all know how important the role of a band director is today. Students look up to us in many ways, and we need to be everything we can for them. Whether your summer break lasts one week or three months, you should take time to insure you’ll be at your best when you return.

I was a kid when I first heard the directive: “Put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others.” I didn’t really think much of it at the time. I just thought, “Ok, I’ll put it on when I need to.” When I became a husband, a dad, and a teacher, this idea drastically changed for me. “No, I will not put the oxygen mask on myself before helping the ones I love,” I thought. In my personal life, I have always put my wife and daughter before myself. And as a teacher, I’ve always put my students’ needs before my own.

But after doing this for many years, I have experienced some struggles. I haven’t always been happy with the person I saw in the mirror. There have been times when I wasn’t happy with any part of my life. Maybe I wasn’t the dad, husband, son, brother, or friend I could be. I definitely wasn’t the teacher I could be. This is because I wasn’t taking care of myself. I sacrificed my needs to serve others. And because of this, I haven’t always performed as well as I know I could.

Does any of this sound familiar? As much as we love teaching, there are moments when we need to put ourselves first. This is hard for so many people, especially teachers. But our students need us to present the best of ourselves. This summer is the summer you will put yourself first. Here are six things you can do this summer to help you arrive in the fall as the teacher your students deserve.

Go Off the Grid
As band directors, our email in­boxes are always full, and it seems that someone is always trying to reach us. The pressure can definitely take a toll. This summer you need to set aside a time when you are simply unavailable. Put up the “Do Not Disturb” sign and fall off the grid. Leave your computer at school, or even turn off your phone. This is a time for you to do some serious soul­searching. You can go away with family, or focus on other things besides your job. Going off the grid will allow you to clear your head and perform better when you return. My favorite place to fall off the grid is our family’s cabin. When I am there I sleep better and I am even able to forget what day it is. Take out your calendar right now and find a time this summer to fall off the grid.

Run a Marathon
Okay, so maybe an actual marathon isn’t appropriate... but do focus on some kind of physical activity this summer. I find that this is really important to me and to my mental health. When I exercise on a regular basis, I am a completely different person and teacher. Exercising isn’t just good for our bodies ­­ it is also good for our brains. During and after exercising we can think more clearly. It does matter what kind of physical shape we are in. We all need physical activity on a regular basis. Aim to exercise four or five times per week this summer.You don’t have to devote hours to each workout­ in fact, even a 20 minute walk can help the body and the mind. Take out your calendar right now and find a few times you can exercise in the next week.

Go Play Golf
Or fill in the blank with your own hobby. Having a hobby allows us to feel human and to fill our days with something other than band. This might also be an opportunity to connect with family and friends, or even with colleagues away from the workplace. It is not healthy to have only band on our minds. It is not healthy to have only band events on our calendars. This summer, fill your calendar with as many non­band things as possible. You will be able to use these outside experiences to enrich your music teaching.

Work on a Weakness
Your students need you to be a lifelong learner. Your students need you to continue to grow every year. Take one weakness you have as a teacher and focus on it for the summer. Make it a strength. Maybe you want to be a better piano player. Maybe you are a woodwind player and want to teach brass students more effectively. Maybe you want to learn how to use Finale or Pyware. Take lessons or research this topic so you can use it when you are teaching. Get together with mentors whose strengths are your weaknesses. Ask lots of questions. Grow! For example, in the last two years I have focused a lot on piano. I don’t take lessons, but I most certainly play on a regular basis, and this has drastically helped me when I am in front of a band.

Leaders are readers. As teachers, we need to continue to fuel our minds, and books are a great way to do this. Pick two or three books that you will commit to reading this summer. Choose different types of books, too. Perhaps choose one novel, one biography of a composer, and one book on personal productivity. Consider putting together a local band director’s book club for the summer and choose books to study together. The kinds of books that I read focus on leadership and productivity. On a daily basis I am able to use what I have recently read to teach life lessons to my band students.

Nurture Relationships
In his book The Richest Man in Town, Marty Martinson discusses the life­lesson that “Relationships Matter Most in Life.” This is why we as band directors do what we do. We don’t teach for the trophies or the standing ovations; we teach for the relationships we develop with our students and our colleagues. As busy as we band directors are, sometimes our relationships with family and friends are put on the sideline because of our busy schedules. Take this summer to reconnect or rebuild those important relationships in your life. Make these relationships a high priority. The special people in your life deserve to feel special. Fostering these relationships now will prove beneficial when work demands so much of our time and energy during the school year.

There are certainly other ways you can recharge this summer. Begin with this list and add to it. After all, you know yourself better than anyone. You know what provides inspiration. But you must have a plan. Michael Hyatt writes, “What gets scheduled gets done.” So put these activities on your calendar. If you don’t, they may not happen. And remember your motivation: When classes begin again, your students deserve --YOU deserve --­­the very best version of you.


Ben Harloff has two degrees from Indiana University: Trumpet Performance and Music Education. While at IU Ben studied trumpet with Edmund Cord, Stephen Burns, John Rommel and Dominic Spera. He had the privilege to play in Ray Cramer’s Wind Ensemble and Dominic Spera’s final Indiana University Jazz Band. Ben completed a Master’s Degree in conducting from Southern Oregon University in 2008. When he was twelve years old, Ben’s drum corps career began with the Phantom Regiment Cadets. Ben marched Star of Indiana from 1990 to 1993 at which time he had an opportunity to perform under an incredible instructional staff, including Star¹s Brass Caption Head Donnie Van Doren. He also performed with Star of Indiana¹s Brass Theater where he had the privilege of working with the prestigious Canadian Brass. Ben was one of the trumpet soloists in both the original London and New York casts of the show Blast!, which was the 2001 recipient of the Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event and also won the 2001 Emmy Award for Best Choreography. Since 1999 Ben has been teaching drum corps including The Cadets, Magic of Orlando, Crossmen, Syracuse Brigadiers, Blue Knights, Troopers, Minnesota Brass, and Blue Stars. He continues to be a proud brass staff instructor for Carolina Crown. Ben was a band director at Clay Middle School in Carmel, Indiana for two years and at Eastview High School in Apple Valley, Minnesota for three years. Ben has been a band director in the Wayzata school district in Wayzata, Minnesota and is currently a band director at Rosemount High School in Rosemount, Minnesota. Ben has been judging marching band competitions and arranging for marching bands since 2000.