Editor, McLerran Journal
Assistant Band Director, Center ISD, TX
In 2017, the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University published Three Principles to Improve Outcomes for Children and Families, in which, researchers emphasize the importance of “scaffolding,” which they define as “developmentally appropriate support” including, but not limited to, establishing routines and modeling appropriate social behavior. Educators are encouraged to implement “policies that help children and adults strengthen their […] executive function and self-regulation skills,” which are necessary for success emotionally and professionally (Harvard University).
Constant changes and the adolescent mind are a dangerous combination since the developing brain is already experiencing its own form of turmoil. In a study completed by Dr. Jay Giedd at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda (U.S.), the brains of one hundred and forty-five “normal children” were scanned in two-year intervals throughout adolescence (Spinks). The research debunked the widely-believed myth that “the foundation of the brain’s architecture [is] laid down” by the age of five or six, and instead revealed another wave of structural changes that occur (particularly in the prefrontal cortex) as the child enters puberty (Spinks). The prefrontal cortex resides directly behind the forehead and is responsible for “planning, working memory, organization, modulating mood,” and impulse control (Spinks). As the subject enters into their early teens, the brain “consolidates learning by pruning away synapses and wrapping white matter (myelin) around other connections to stabilize and strengthen them;” this stage of growth is often referred to as “pruning” and is critical to the child’s long term development (Spinks). Dr. Giedd describes the importance of instilling good habits in children during this specific period of growth since the specific connections (or hardwiring) of the brain that survive “can affect them for the rest of their lives” (Spinks).
According to the Raising Children Network (Australia), “routines are how [people] organize themselves” and establish clear expectations of who should do what and how. The three main benefits of having a predictable daily routine include a sense of safety, increased independence, and the development of positive habits (Raising Children Network). Parents and educators who maintain normal routines “make it easier for children to deal with stressful events” and feel secure, especially “during difficult stages of development, like puberty” (Raising Children Network). Allowing students to take part in the daily routine, for example having first chairs take attendance, encourages responsible behavior and the development of independent young adults (Raising Children Network).
Educators or administrators who frequently change the class schedule or, due to poor planning, spring events on students, will experience frequent backlash and strong emotional responses from the students. An additional benefit of establishing a regular routine in the rehearsal space is a decrease in behavioral issues; when students understand what type of behavior is appropriate and what the exact repercussions will be for rule-breaking, they are less likely to overstep or slip. Because this increased level of organization helps to keep the class period running smoothly, it is also likely that there will more time left over for directors to focus on instruction (National Education Association, United States). When stresses do begin to pile up, the implementation of a predictable routine helps educators stay “organized and in control,” and less likely to have their own meltdown (Raising Children Network).
In my personal experience, I have noticed the inability of young musicians to overcome even the slightest deviation from the status quo. There is a noticeable decline in focus If I wear my glasses for the first time in a few months, if a visitor walks through the class, or if the band set up is moved a few feet forwards in the room. In order to provide a superior education to music students and minimize stress on developing minds, it is imperative that educators establish a clear set of expectations and a predictable routine in rehearsals.
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2017). Three Principles to Improve Out-
comes for Children and Families. <https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/three-
Spinks, Sarah. (2000). Adolescent Brains Are Works in Progress. Frontline. Nature, vol. 404.
Public Broadcasting Service.
National Education Association, U.S. (2002). Set Up Rules and Routines: Give Yourself More Time
to Teach. Adapted from the California Teachers Association.
Raising Children Network. Australia. (2017). Family Routines: How and Why They Work.