High Teen Standards

By John Gardner

I post variations of the picture advice below every year about this time — because this is Marching Band season.

Marching band students are together soooo much, 6-8-10 hours a day during camp and multiple hours daily during school. They rehearse together, eat meals together, have breaks together, travel together, perform together.

Lots of couplings happen during band….and that is not a bad thing. I met my wife  of 38 yrs during college band. There are some terrific couples I know, parents of teens, who were high school sweethearts.

Over the years, however, and too many times – I’ve seen good people have to drop out of band due to decisions made in some of these couplings. A few years ago, I got a response from a former student…..

Read more ›

Posted in High Schools, Personal experience, Respect, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , , , ,

What crushes their dreams?

Below is one of the more depressingly negative parts of a page I have ever written. It comes from a 3-page section of an eBook I wrote, College Prep: A Strategic and Systematic Strategy that was the basis of a college presentation I made recently. I am convinced that many teens treat college prep the same way they treat any homework assignment. On the three page excerpt below, I answer the question, “what crushes their dreams”?

They take what comes and go with the flow. Given their life history, why are we surprised? Teens coming into high school have had almost no control in their life story. They didn’t choose their parents, or where they live, or what economic condition they would endure. They have moved away from their friends as the parents get jobs or flee bill collectors. They are the unintended wounded in divorces and then have to “learn” to get along with parental “friends” or to have to go back and forth between parents. They have to learn to become brothers and sisters to someone else’s children. They have two and three bedrooms in different homes. Some jump from home to home weekly while others make a long summer move every year. The reality of single-parent households often includes a poverty component, or an absent parent working multiple jobs to try to make it. And what choice does the teen have?

By the time they get to high school, they are numb to relationship building. When they apply some of the standards and practices they’ve witnessed in their homes to their first boy/girlfriends, they experience similar traumatic results. Hearts are broken, and many erect shields of protection as a defense to both students and adults – including teachers.

So when the realities of their short-sighted focus, crushed dreams and dashed hopes come to bear as they approach time for college decisions, they default into the same mode they already know so well. They just take it. They go with the flow.

Download these 3 pages: =====> Harsh Reality of Getting To and Paying for College.

Hopefully, I am NOT describing anything close to YOUR reality. If I am, I’m open to a conversation.

The good news is that with a systematic strategy, many students can get into higher priced schools paying less than they might have to go to a lower priced option. Depending on response/reaction, I may periodically post more as we move closer to the October PSAT test, for which I hope to convince you to “practice and prepare”.


Posted in College Prep, Consulting Tagged with: , , ,

The PSAT is more than just a practice test

In many high schools, the PSAT is administered to Sophomores in October. Teen Life Blog writes that the PSAT is more than just a practice test. 

Here is how the typical Sophomore takes the test.

The day before the PSAT, Sophomores are instructed to get a good night’s sleep and eat a good breakfast in the morning.

On test day, they report to their assigned room, spend several hours taking the PSAT and then exiting the room saying variations of…..

“That was terrible.”
“I blew it.”

And then a few weeks later, the scores come out and they find out they were right.

Don’t do it that way!

The PSAT does two important (and valuable) things

First, the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) is also the NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test). Here’s a good blog article, “How To Become A National Merit Semifinalist“.

“Doing poorly on the exam, taken most often by sophomores and juniors, won’t hurt your college admissions chances”, points out Mandee Heller Adler, founder of International College Counselors in Hollywood, Fla. “But doing well on it could mean more money for college—in some cases, a lot more.”

That’s because the PSAT also serves as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test for juniors hoping to be National Merit finalists.
-Money / Family Finance

I have some personal experience with the PSAT with my two high school sons.

The older acquired National Merit Scholar Status and received a $2500 annual award at his college, specifically because of that status. So in his case, the PSAT was worth $10,000. Is that worth “practicing and preparing”? I vote YES!

I didn’t keep track of the collegiate response to the older son’s PSAT, but I did for the younger. A few examples from the mail he received following his PSAT in 2000 and prior to graduation in 2001.

If you treat the PSAT like it doesn’t really matter, like the average high school student treats most homework and tests, then it will not do much for you. To be in the top 1% (what it takes to earn National Merit status), a strategy of “practice and prepare”, can help you get significant money for college.

Toward that end, here is the best place to practice. I say that because the PSAT is the College Board’s test.

Hope this helps.

Posted in College Prep, Personal experience Tagged with: , , , , ,

I WANT To Trust You

Screenshot 2015-07-05 13.01.12
“Honesty is the best policy. If I lose mine honesty, I lose myself.” –William Shakespear

“Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.”–Janis Joplin

“Some things are black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. Honesty is one of those things. You have it or you don’t.

I can trust you – or I can’t.” -G

On TV, honesty seems to be relative; use it when you can, abandon it when it helps the moment. That is a sad reality that we must avoid in band. Trust requires honesty. Without trust, everything you do or say must be doubted, questioned or verified. Trust lost is hard to earn back.

In a conversation with band students, I asked for the most common answer from a teacher after a student request. “No.” I asked for the most common response from parents… “No.” Could it be that the tendency to say ‘No’ is at least partially driven by a low trust factor caused by a questionable honesty level? I say yes….in many cases.

So who goes first?

Dear students,

I WANT to trust you. I WANT to believe you. I WANT to say ‘Yes’. I WANT you to be truthful with me and I’M willing to take the first reasonable risk. The danger, for me then, is that some people are so accustomed to saying what is convenient at the moment (situational ethics?) that they do that with ME (automatically or intentionally – doesn’t matter) …..and I get burned, disappointed, even hurt. Why do I take it so personally? I wish I didn’t, but I do.

I almost lost my job once, as a young District Sales Manager for a national fundraising company, when I went to bat for some reps only to discover they had been feeding me lies. My boss’ response to my frustration and question about how to know who to trust was, “Trust is a treasure that some people haven’t earned, don’t value or can’t handle. You have to learn WHO you can give HOW MUCH to.”

Trust, but verify.” -Ronald Reagan

“You won’t get away with it.” -my pastor

My mama used to say…

“Burn me once, shame on YOU!
Burn me twice, shame on ME!”

A former student from my first teaching job posted on my facebook:

“I’m remembering a little white lie that Tina and I told you just to get out of class for a minute or two……..Unfortunately, you found out about it. I’ve never felt so guilty as when I was caught tricking YOU! You were the TEACHER to go to when things weren’t going ok. And a trusted teacher…….I was SO sorry!”

So this is not a new problem for me. It isn’t something that JUST happend. IT happens…. Sometimes you can get me …. yes you can. Some of you are very good at trying, because your moral compass is off….or broken. Sometimes, I DO give you the benefit of my doubt.  Burn me once….

Here’s the bottom line, the brutal truth, the real consequence… and it is important that YOU KNOW IN ADVANCE.

If I give you MY TRUST and you respond with YOUR LIES …. it changes EVERYTHING, including my ability to trust and respect YOU….probably for longer than it should. I can still be your teacher. I can still treat you with professionalism and dignity. But, burn me twice….

So what? Maybe nothing…..because then I become like all the other adults in your life who will almost always say no and who will be compelled to question and verify everything you say….and the games go on.

That makes me sad.

With respect and trust,

Cracking and crumbling of the word Trust

Posted in Communication, High Schools, Teaching Tagged with: , , , , ,

Typical band performance schedule?

Posted in Assistant Directing, Marching Band, Pay to Play Tagged with: ,

Android Blue Screen of Death, but no panic

My phone died suddenly, but not totally unexpectedly (it had been increasingly acting up), when it went to the Android blue screen of death, but no panic. I was both prepared and pleasantly surprised with the smooth transition to a new phone. Below are some statistics to compare my phones/service, how I use online storage and programs to sync data, and a few things I learned along the way of my research.

Service: Net 10 no contract
Unlimited talk, text, data — although slows down after 4GB
Price: $40/mo plus discount for 2 phones

Previous Phone: LG G3 Refurbished @$150
Replacement Phone: LG V20 Unlocked Verizon @$315
SIM Card: $.99 via FedEx NDA from Net10

2-yr Comparison my way vs name brand option

(Figures are approximate)

Major Carrier @ $80/mo = $1920
New Phone @ $33/mo = $799 (List for V20)
TOTAL: $2719

No Contract Carrier (Net w0) @ $40/mo = $960
No Contract Phone: LG V20 New @ $315
SIM Card @$.99
TOTAL: $1275.99

SAVINGS: $1444 ($60/mo)

Popular Facebook Post (not mine)

Hey everybody, I got a new phone and lost all my contacts. Please send me your number.

I avoided that. Here’s how:

Where/How I store stuff

  • CALENDAR / CONTACTS: I use Google and GMail for easy transition from home and school computers and phone. My wife and I sync our calendars so we can both see what is going on.
  • PHOTOS: All phone photos and videos are automatically backed up to Dropbox when I am connected via Wifi
  • MUSIC:
    • Google Play. I download albums to my phone so I’m not using data when driving. This was one step I had to do over with my new phone.
    • Amazon Prime Music. I use the online service when I am connected to Wifi.
    • Dropbox. Only 2GB free, but I have earned 9.75GB by inviting friends to join. I sync between two computers and phone.
    • Drive. 15GB available. Sync between two computers and phone.
    • Box. 50GB Free. Not as easy as Dropbox, I use this for ‘older’ files.
  • STORAGE (Backup) OFFLINE. WD “My Passport Ultra” 1TB hard drive. Auto backs up my home computer, including all my synced files.

LG V20

So, when my old phone died and I activated the new one, Google Play automatically re-installed all the apps I had installed — onto my new phone, including Google, Dropbox, Box, etc.  For several of them, I had to log in the first time, but I did NOT have to reinstall.

Even though the LG V20 claims “military grade” reinforced corners and stronger glass that doesn’t need a case, I purchased a slim, clear cover for the back — mostly because it has a slightly raised rim to keep the screen off the surface if I place the phone screen down.

I bought adapters because the V20 uses USB C and my G3 used micro-USB. By purchasing 5, I could use for my home office, bedside, business office and car.

I have not yet purchased a backup battery, power pack, or QC quick charger.


Misc from my search

  • LG V20 is 2016 vs LG G6, which is 2017. About $100 difference in price. Some reviews have the camera (including video) rated higher than the 2017 phones.
  • The LG is a couple hundred less than the Samsung S8.
  • If you look for an unlocked LG V20 on Amazon, note that the “International” version comes with no warranty. Not sure why.
  • The V20, G6 and S8 all have 5.7″ screen. My previous phone had 5.3 and I wanted larger.
  • In eBay
    • “used” is cheapest, but you are generally purchasing from an individual
    • “vendor refurbished” means the store/vendor has purchased phones and refurbished them in house.
    • “manufacturer refurbished” usually cost more, but may be worth it.
    • “new, other” (what I purchased) is a new phone, but may have been a display — or for whatever reason does not come in the original packaging but is NOT used.

Hope this helps.
Thanks for reading.

Posted in Communication, Personal experience, Social Media, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , ,

10+ Values Marching Band Students learn

By John Gardner

See Teens At Their Best

This is a followup article to an article, “14 Ways to Volunteer for a Marching Band to Appreciate and Applaud what is Good about Teenage America”, which focused on ways to share your talents and abilities and experience the youthful, enthusiastic atmosphere around a marching band during competition season. This post focuses on some of the values marching band students learn.

Some larger competitions can involve dozens of bands with thousands of students with nothing resembling the level of supervision in a high school before or after school or as classes change. For the most part, band parents and the directors are the only ones with direct oversight….. and after a performance, most students are free to congregate back at the stadium to watch the other bands as they mix and mingle.

In uniform, before a performance, you’ll see focused faces as students prepare to do what they are there to do. You might see them move quietly and in formation from the bus area to visual and musical warmup and then to the stadium.

Band students learn dedication, commitment and
that striving for excellence is a worthy goal


Most marching band operations are very structured with responsibility and accountability. There are seniors, section leaders, drum majors, staff, directors (where do I put parents in this list) all with authority over the band student. Participants appreciate  compliance and cooperation.

Band students learn the value of,
and respect for chain of command


Unlike a basketball team with its starting five, there is no bench in marching band. Everybody is in. Everybody is a starter. Few other types of groups will involve people from varied backgrounds. There are children of doctors and lawyers marching with children of single-parents working multiple jobs or utilizing government help. There are the students who have their own cars and those who need rides, those with the iPhones and the free phones or no phone. You will find students in most bands from every church in the community and others who have never been inside a church. And yet, with all these differences, when they put that uniform on (actually, even before they dress)…..they are all on the same team, all equal. A good result requires the best from everyone. Students learn teamwork and cooperate with those outside their friend circle.

Band students learn to cooperate and collaborate
with those from different backgrounds and capabilities


You will see students cheer and applaud for good performances of other groups, including those with whom they compete. You’ll see them wishing each other good luck, especially when a band is transiting through the pre-show stages and passing others who have either already performed or have a while yet to go. In a recent competition, I saw a band applauding the same-county rival band and the new band that their previous director had transferred to. When our band was relaxing and enjoying a band-parent-provided soup & chili bar supper following a recent performance, a competitor band passed by, still in uniform, returning from the field following their performance. Our students applauded their rival until the last one had passed. One of their directors found me to tell me that, “Your students are a class act.” That is sportsmanship….or should I call it bandsmanship?

Band students learn good sportsmanship.


Marching band is a time-consuming extreme weather sport. Summer rehearsals are in extreme heat and often go 8+hours a day for multiple weeks before school starting in the fall. Think about the temperatures in September and then imagine putting on a winter coat, hat and gloves and running around a football field at a fast pace. But then, by the time mid-October comes, it gets cold enough that students are wearing under armor and other garments under the uniform to try to stay warm. Then, add periodic rain. Sometimes they have to move rehearsals in and outside to avoid it and other times they get wet. When school starts, add 8-10 extra rehearsals Mon-Thur, 4-5 hrs for a Friday football game, then 12-14 hours on Saturday for a rehearsal, travel and competition — sometimes two.

Band students learn to commit, persevere and endure.


You’ll see both excited and disappointed students as the results are announced, but they will display professionalism many adults would be good to observe and learn from.

Band students learn that there are no shortcuts to success.


Many students, seemingly for the first time in any significant way, are given tasks and responsibilities and held accountable for them. The band student is responsible for loading and unloading his/her equipment; instrument, gloves, show shirt, correct socks and marching shoes. Some students have “section leader” responsibilities, which for most is a first time they’ve had management and oversight responsibilities for others. They have to learn leadership and people skills. Often, at the end of a 4-5yr career, graduating seniors will talk about how

band “taught them” responsibility and accountability.


Band students learn that they are individually important.

There is nowhere to hide in a marching band. All students are active participants. In a typical Indiana marching competition, there are six judges watching and listening; four in the press box and two walking around the field going eyeball to eyeball with performers. Band students understand that a trained judge’s eye automatically goes to what is different; someone out of step, out of line, out of tune, and that an individual performance reflects on the total ensemble score. Seniors and section leaders learn how to balance their role as a mentor and teacher/trainer for the newbie members, while also ensuring that even the newbies get up to speed in time for performance.
Students are trying to follow the ‘dots’ from their chart/dot books that tell them where they are going. It is difficult to see the big picture from that spot on the field, so there are directors or instructors watching from farther back (and sometimes higher up) who will adjust a form or shape. Or perhaps it is to point out that an individual is playing too loudly and needs to balance and blend better with others around them. This is contrary to much contemporary educational philosophy which emphasizes only the heaping of praise on what students are attempting to do. Band students know better, and expect to hear how to improve individual performance. Achievement through excellence enhances self-esteem . The challenge for the individual is to “not take it personally”. I describe to students regularly that I highly value them individually, but that when we are trying to improve a marching performance, that they are but one small moving part of a larger machine and that my job (as a director) is to fix the part to improve the machine….no matter who the part is. Nothing personal.

Band students learn to accept criticism, and that
self-esteem is raised through the achievement of excellence

With the extreme time commitment a marching band requires, students must learn to prioritize their time and use it efficiently, especially when it comes to getting homework done.

Band students learn time management skills.

When you ask people who were in a marching band years ago, they may remember how their overall band performed or competed, but probably not likely that weekly score or placing that seemed so important at the time. But they will remember the values they learned, which is why former band students encourage their children to participate in band as well. This is not the article to argue that band utilizes academics, multiple arts and significant athleticism….. but they get all that as well.
VMO Business Card
Related articles you might want to check out:
And here’s an article published by American Music Parents called “18 Lessons Marching Band Teaches Our Kids
Thanks for reading,
Posted in College Prep, High Schools, Marching Band, Parenting, Repost, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , ,

Long Range, Laser Focused Goal Achievement

In May 2013, David received a PhD at Ivy League Penn (University of Pennsylvania) two months ahead of his goal of PhD by 30.

But his long range, laser focused goal achievement didn’t start there.

During the course of his high school, undergraduate and graduate school experiences, David expressed specific long-range goals and then laser focused on goal achievement.

High School Graduation goal set freshman year

At the end of his first high school semester, the school published a preliminary “Top 25” list of students in each class. Of course, I was proud and offering praise. With over 500 in his class, he surprised me and I (probably) brushed aside a comment he shared as we discussed that list:

“I will graduate #1 in this class.”

The result: At graduation, over three years later, David was ranked #1 as one of three with a perfect pre-weighted grade point.

Goal pursuit:

  • Always did the extra credit anyway.
  • Considered his academic efforts and time applying for scholarships his “part-time job” that would pay off when time to go to college.

Top-tier college goal set early

David only applied to one college – Duke University. I had never paid attention to terms like “top-tier” related to college until I started asking about his choice and reasons for it. Duke claims to admit students from the top 1% nationally. When I asked, “Why Duke?”, he answered:

“I’m tired of being the geek. I’m tired of ruining the curve. I’m tired of everybody being angry at me for doing all the extra credit anyway. I want to go where I can be ‘normal’, where it is okay to be an achiever.”

At least part of his reasoning was that his extremely high SAT score was just slightly above “average” there. Duke asked him to sign a binding “Early Decision” contract in September of his high school senior year.

When I balked at the price, they said,

“If we decide we want him, we will get him here.”

They didn’t make it easy, but they made it possible.

Our 4-yr expense was about what it would have cost to send him to an in-state state school.

College career goal set freshman year

In the introductory meeting for the parents of the 1500 freshmen, 500 of whom were high school valedictorians, the official warned,

Most of you have students who were at the top of their classes in high school. We want to prepare you for the fact that half of them will be average here.

The confident response when we shared that with David was,

“I will not be average.”

The result: David graduated in the top 1% ( one A- in 4yrs) of his class and gave one of two commencement addresses at the English Department’s ceremony. He was employed prior to graduation and was college debt free shortly thereafter from one of the most expensive schools in the country.

Goal pursuit:

  • When possible, re-did any work that wasn’t an “A” until it was.
  • Expected and asked for feedback on anything graded less than perfect.
  • Always signed up for and visited more classes than he could end up taking and then picked the best classes with the best professors.

PhD goal set at undergraduate graduation

After introducing me to one of his English professors at the reception following his departmental graduation ceremony, commenting on the distinguished cap that the professor wore, David pronounced his next goal:

“I will have my doctorate before I’m 30.” 

Goal pursuit:

  • Scheduled times for reading/writing dissertation – treated it like a job
  • Persevered when requested support and feedback was lacking

The result: got his PhD in May and turned 30 in July.


Valedictorian Speech, Huntington North High School, 2001

Valedictorian Speech, Huntington North High School, 2001

Duke commencement address, "Finding our Porpoise:. 2005

Duke commencement address, “Finding our Porpoise”:. 2005

Duke English Dept Newsletter with Gardner Commencement Address

Click the pic to see the entire letter with the commencent address.

Click the pic to see the entire letter with the commencement address.

The end of formal education. Doctoral Graduation, University of Pennsylvania, 2013

The end of formal education. Doctoral Graduation, University of Pennsylvania, 2013

PhD Diploma, (in Latin), University of Pennsylvania, 2013

PhD Diploma, (in Latin), University of Pennsylvania, 2013

After teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, Rosemont College and City College of Philadelphia, David became a teacher at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, one of the nation’s top boarding schools.  Started during the Revolutionary War, Paul Revere designed the school’s seal, John Hancock signed the Articles of Incorporation and George Washington gave a speech on campus. Both presidents Bush went to school there.

He has been promoted to “Cluster Dean”, which puts him as an overseer to five dorm houses, about 100 students and those responsible for the individual dorms.

For summer school 2017, David served as “Academic Dean”.

Dr. David’s story should be an encouragement to all students from families of modest means, demonstrating that “Good Grades Do Pay” and that, even though families of privilege have an unfair advantage, determination and perseverance can break through a lot of barriers.

Posted in College Prep, High Schools, Parenting Tagged with: , , , , ,

Marching Band Freshmen and Newbie Survival Guide

By John Gardner

The following comes from a band handbook I wrote.

All first year participants in Marching Band are Newbies. Consider the terms rookie, freshman and newbie to be interchangeable.

We love our newbies and couldn’t have a band without them.

Band is FamilyThe biggest challenge is for newbies to grasp the concept. Some come to us after being big, bossy 8th graders in the Middle School…and now they are….rookies. Our eighth graders get to spend time in both worlds.

We do not emphasize “chair” placement in Marching Band. In some cases, there may be a freshman who is musically superior to an upperclassman, but the one thing freshmen and newbies don’t have is experience. You need to listen and learn and experience Marching Band.

Some advice for newbies to enhance their rookie year experience:

  1. Be quiet and learn. Do not talk in rehearsals. Other than asking a question or asking for help, speaking should come from directors, staff, drum majors, seniors or section leaders. The upperclassmen with experience know what we expect and know what it takes. Newbies do not…yet. You will become experienced, but you are not there yet.
  2. Respect your elders, including your upperclassmen. Marching Band does have a chain of command type of hierarchy and newbies are not at the top – yet.
  3. Come to a drum major or director if you ever think someone is harassing or mistreating you, because that is absolutely forbidden. It just doesn’t happen here….and it won’t.
  4. Never, EVER confront or challenge a director in anger during rehearsal. We will make mistakes and perhaps even falsely accuse you of an error in rehearsal. The best thing you can do is cooperate at the moment and come talk to us during a break – or privately. If we are wrong, we will admit it and apologize to you publicly, if appropriate. Remember, though, that in a rehearsal, a director cannot lose an authority-questioning or disrespecting battle.
  5. Don’t take it personally. We do a pretty good job, I think, of showing all band members that they are important to us and that we care about them individually.

We want to hear about what is happening in their lives, including outside of band. It is okay to come talk to us about boy/girlfriend issues, job situations and even something where you want a sounding board in addition to or outside of home.

BUT WHEN WE ARE IN REHEARSAL, think of yourself more like an important part of a big machine. The machine only functions properly if each and every part is working. If you are out of line, out of step, out of interval, out of horn position, are playing something incorrectly or not playing…..we WILL point that out to you because you affect the machine.

A judge’s eye is always looking for something different, so the best thing is NOT to draw attention to yourself. If you ever think that we are ‘picking’ on you, please come say something. That is never the intent.

And remember…. you are only a rookie / newbie one year. Then YOU will be one of those upperclass people. Hang in there. Survive well. Let us help you help us.

Your Director

Posted in High Schools, Marching Band, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , , ,

10 Reasons Teachers and Coaches Make Good Fundraisers

By John Gardner

Make Money - Ask Us HowAt my first teaching position, I replaced the band director who went into fundraising. My fundraising rep was a former band director. Four years later I left to start a fundraising career. Of the fifteen reps in our ‘District’ — over half were band directors. The company owners were band directors who had broken off from another company run by band directors.

Why so many band directors in fundraising? Because bands are some of the most aggressive fundraising operations, and fundraising companies like those experienced with fundraising to sell fundraising. There were two recruiting pitches that got my attention.

“You know fundraising well from the customer side. Let us teach you the company/sales side — and you’ll be well equipped to talk to people who had the same needs, concerns and time constraints that you did.”


“Come to work for us and we’ll double your income.”

Read more ›

Posted in Fundraising, How May I Serve YOU?, Income Opportunity, Job Search, Sales and Marketing, Small Business Tagged with: , , , ,