Beyond the Music Department

At the 2016 MMA Conference I was asked to lead a session entitled ‘Maintaining a high profile for music in my school’. We looked at the importance of music for its intrinsic value and the evidence of the wider impact it can have on our students and the whole community. We discussed how we could put our case with conviction given the landscape of proposed changes in the National Curriculum with the EBacc and the marginalised creative subjects. We acknowledged that, notwithstanding the many enlightened schools and colleges that continue to realise the benefits of a balanced curriculum, there are also Headteachers, governing bodies and families who may view this as an opportunity to reduce resources and give less priority to the arts.

I talk to teachers regularly who feel compelled to put the case for well-resourced music provision to the senior management team and to governors, colleagues and parents. Sometimes they are so pre-occupied with this and with supporting students and colleagues that their personal ambition and career development become sublimated in the process. It is this area of leadership that I would like to explore here with some general observations about career development, whilst recognising the range and breadth of the MMA Ensemble readership.


‘I feel stuck’

‘I’m not valued’

‘they don’t understand how hard we work’

‘my contribution isn’t recognised’

‘I’m losing confidence in my abilities’

‘I’m so swamped with the day to day pressures that I don’t have time to think about myself’

‘they don’t listen to me’


These are the types of comments I hear quite often and if you are reading this and feeling curious, you might go on to ask what you perceive as the barriers to your development? Are these practical (for example lack of relevant experience, qualifications and training, limited opportunities within the organisational structure of the institution, time factors, financial constraints), or maybe psychological (for example lack of self belief, lack of confidence, fear of failure, fear of rejection, lack of courage to take the first step)?


And then you might go on to consider what is driving you to explore these issues? Examples might include the need for personal fulfilment, knowing that you have not given yourself a chance before, and feeling that you have more to contribute to the success of the institution and to getting your ‘voice’ heard.


Resilience is a vital ‘reservoir’ in addressing and overcoming challenges in our working lives but how can we develop it further? In research undertaken at Roffey Park[i] the components of resilience include:



Emotional intelligence –  Have we developed empathy and compassion towards others including those with a different outlook and background?

How do we react to others and can we enhance our interpersonal skills?

Are there creative ways to solve a problem? Sometimes we are so  fixed on an issue that we are unable to re-frame the situation.


Perspective     How important will this situation be tomorrow, next week, in 6 months?

Can we pick our battles? We tend to let annoying people take up more mindspace than they deserve.

Do we identify and celebrate success? Sometimes we forget to do  this!


Purpose –     Is there congruence between our own values and our professional life? Can we exemplify these beliefs more in our work?


Network –    Do we have a support network?

Who can we trust professionally within and outside the educational context to give us support and constructive feedback on occasions?  And are we supporting others in the process?


Managing our physical energy –   Sleep, exercise and switching off! We all have our own interpretations of this, but meditation can be very beneficial even for ten minutes. [i]


 I would always encourage clients to ‘start small’ with new behaviours, to experiment with a different type of conversation, possibly with a colleague from another department in the staff room when you usually tend to grab a coffee and rush out? You may be in for a pleasant surprise and realise that sharing thoughts and ideas may lead, for example, to new collaborative opportunities.

Taking the next step, however small, on our career path can be scary but can you recall a past professional experience of whatever type when you felt fulfilled and motivated?  It can be reassuring to reflect on this and to analyse what was special about it and why it had meaning for you at the time or in retrospect.

If you have reached the end of this article and are still curious, I would encourage you to consider

  • the barriers that may be impeding your development and what responsibility you can take in addressing them;
  • examples of your resilience in and out of the workplace, and examples when you needed more!
  • who is in your professional network and how you might extend it;
  • developing your sphere of influence further, both inside your institution and externally;
  • advice and further training that may support you in reaching your potential and your desired goals.


We can each define ambition and progress for ourselves. The goal is to work toward a world where expectations are not set by the stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents and interests. Sheryl Sandberg

 Marion Friend MBE is a coach, mentor and consultant in the arts and education.

Lucy, D, Poorkavoos M, Thompson A, Building Resilience: Five Key Capabilities (2014)