Last summer I couldn’t put down this book:


I couldn’t put it down.

Not only is it an intriguing storyline- one where this monster of industry even admits his own failings- but there are plenty of inspiring moments.

At the time, I was reading it as an entrepreneur. But the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about how we as music educators can use some of the same business acumen, and some of the same habits of mind and body, that to drive our success- not just in the classroom, or in our job, but in our lives.

So I submit to you these 7 Lessons Music Educators Can Learn from Richard Branson.

When it comes to making mistakes, bounce back- don’t fall down.

This one was particularly hard for me as a middle school band teacher. The first year I did Jazz Band I took my group to district festival. My former Jazz professor from college was one of the judges. I was confident my band could play their stuff well…they had had totally rocked it at our pre-festival concert earlier that week! There was just one little problem: our drummer had been out sick for a month. I had called and called to try and see what was going one. I had tried and tried to find another student who could play set, but to no avail. At the concert, I had my husband at the time step in- which is why the band played so well! They had a solid beat to follow. Alas, I showed up to festival sans drummer and was just planning on taking the kids on stage with what we had. At the last minute, our drummer showed up! Only…he didn’t know the music. He’d been out for a MONTH! We got on stage and did our thing and it was awful. It was one of the most horrifying experiences of my life! Of course, I couldn’t show that to the kids. I smiled and patted them on the back, and encouraged applause. Afterward, our rating was abysmal….and far too generous. I couldn’t look my colleagues or my professor in the eye. But guess what…there was nothing I could do about it. I had done the best with what I had. I refused to fall down into the pit of self-blame and self-pity. Instead, I turned it to the kiddos: how can we improve? How can we do better next time? And you know what? It only got better from there.

Write things down.

Sir Richard Branson has a notebook with him everywhere he goes. When he gets a new idea, he writes it down. In his own handwriting. When an employee is having an issue, he writes it down. Then every night he reviews the notes and schedules them in so that they can go from idea to action. I’ve been doing this myself since I read about his habitual note taking and I guarantee I am far more productive and proactive for it!

Beware the ‘us vs. them’ environment.

In this article they are talking about management vs. employees. But for our purposes as educators, let’s say it’s us ‘arts’ or ‘specials’ or ‘electives’ teachers against their ‘classroom’ or ‘core’ teachers. This is almost epidemic in our industry- feeling like we are set apart, either above or below other teachers. And in some situations we are. But let’s remember that we all, ALL teachers, have a common mission: educating students. Once you find this common ground there is no way to maintain an ‘us vs. them’ attitude. We are all on the same mission, and only by working together in this common cause can we truly see optimal growth in our students.

Start Out Your Day With Exercise

There are several times in the book when Sir. Richard talks about the importance of maintaining an healthy body, and one of the habits he swears by is morning exercise. I mean, look, if your body isn’t functioning, how can you give any time or attention to anything else? I think as music educators we tend to be on the self-sacrificing side. We are givers. We are sometimes martyrs. But this attitude does not serve us nor the people that we hope to serve. By choosing to exercise every morning- even if it’s only for 5 or 10 minutes- we are showing ourselves that taking care of our physical tabernacle is the most important thing. It will keep you eating more mindfully throughout the day. It will help you think more clearly. It will help you have MORE ENERGY- and, honestly, who doesn’t need that?

Define Your Brand

If your program/classes are electives and you have to recruit to get kids in them, branding can go a long long long way. For those of you who don’t know what ‘branding’ is- it’s all the colors, fonts, logos, etc. that make you or your ensembles recognizable. It gives you clout.

Which leads us to…

Be Visible.

If you need anything…ANYTHING…for your program to be more successful, you have to be seen. Send out a press release about every concert. Invite the media to your school when you do a themed performance [like I do for Veteran’s Day] Get your face out there! By being visible you’re letting people know that you’re confident. You know what you’re doing. It will make kids want to be in your program. It will make parents want to come volunteer. It will help give donors more reasons to donate more money more often. Get your face out there and don’t be shy!

Perfection is Unattainable.

If you haven’t already heard about the movement in education to teach Growth Mindset, it’s time you do! Here’s the book:


The idea is that we celebrate the entire journey- the effort every step along the way- instead of just the outcome. It means that we aren’t stuck thinking we are dumb or smart or any label really, we can change anything we like about ourselves. The idea is to strive for authentic over perfect, growth over achievement. Richard Branson never gives employees 100% perfect on their evaluations. If you’re perfect, where is the room for growth?

Don’t do it if you don’t enjoy it.

I once read something that said, “If it feels good, do it.” and “If it hurts, don’t do it.” Ah, the simple life lessons! But we all know that’s not true. If I want to be a faster swimmer, I have to push myself past the point where it ‘hurts’. It’s the hurt that tells us we are moving beyond where we’ve been and into where we want to go, right!? Similar idea with this quote… we are all going to have to do things we don’t enjoy. You’re going to have to find all those receipts so you can get that tax write-off. You are going to have to call that parent because those boys got in another fight in your class. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put a positive spin on everything… on anything! You have the power to shift your attitude so that it IS fun. You can make a game out of almost anything. [I learned that from Steve Chandler...] I recommend having some go-to tricks to make things fun. I like to have a checklist and see how many things I can get crossed off in an hour. I like to give myself incentives, “If I do this and this and this today then I get to splurge on that $5 bottle of wine and have a bath!”

But most of all, our jobs are fun! And if you aren’t having fun, think about why that might be. What are the times when you’re having the MOST fun? How can you recreate that feeling at any time, in and place? I think you’ll find all you need is a little shift in your thinking and it can be fun again.