Creating Core Values with your Color Guard

| February 11, 2011 | 1 Comment

In 2005, I took a job as the color guard director at Byron Center High School.  As soon as I met the kids, I learned that the vets had no training in technique and execution. I overheard them talking about their experience in guard, and how “bad” they thought they were; they talked about placing last at every competition and they talked about being made fun of in their school. That season I had to work with what I had, and in the end they learned some basics and didn’t come in last — I considered the season a success.  However, I found there were a few kids who really wanted to grow and improve, but lacked the necessary skills.

More importantly, they lacked confidence, vision, and the ability to work together as a team.

The following year, after auditions were complete, I scheduled a team building activity. I began by talking about what I learned in 2005, highlighting things individual performers had said to me. I laid some ground rules for our discussion: only kind and constructive words could be used, no blaming or excuse making, and only positive discussion would be productive and allowable. I also assigned a note taker to copy the information I’d write on the board. I asked them to list weaknesses in the group (not individuals) from the previous season, and we wrote them down. It was a monstrous list covering nearly two-thirds of the chalkboard! We then constructed another list of our strengths. That was a bit harder for them, so I provided some assistance and noted positive things I had observed.

Once we had our lists, I pointed to the board and asked them what they thought about it. This gesture opened up honest and deep discussion about their guard experience: how it had fallen short in the past, all of the weaknesses that kept them from achieving, and how they wanted to change it.

That was my open door! 


Using this information, I asked them to come up with some Values that their guard experience needed to encompass. Once we had a main idea (a Value), I asked them to define it and then tell me specific details about how it could be achieved. For example, one of the Values they identified was, “Being ‘good’ people.” They defined what that meant saying, “Someone who is honest, respectful, and treats people with caring and love. We will form healthy working relationships with each member of the guard.” Then we formed objectives for maintaining that Core Value (how they would achieve it): be on time; no backstabbing or gossip; don’t laugh at others’ mistakes; give and receive constructive criticism.This exercise provided framework for the kids to begin to set standards for their guard and to be empowered to maintain those standards by working together. The exercise took three hours, but it was the first step in building leadership within the group and establishing mutual expectations. I typed up the Core Values and distributed them to the kids. We collectively agreed to maintain them.

Every year at auditions, we pass out the Core Values so the new kids can review our team expectations and know the commitment they are making. Once our new team is selected, we review the Values and add to them — whether it is a new Value, a change in our definitions, or a new objective based on our strengths and weaknesses in the group. Through this process, we have developed a strong leadership team of captains and rank leaders to enforce and model these Values.

Because these Values did not come from me, the instructor, it’s easier to enforce them. If we have girls come late for rehearsal, I have the group pull out their Core Values sheet. I point out that they said that “Being good people” means to be on time for practice. I ask them if that should be changed or if it is still an objective (and of course, they agree that it needs to stay!). To go along with this, the kids established consequences: what should happen when someone doesn’t abide by the guard’s values. They determined that the first offense would be $1.00 to our pizza party fund, the second offense would be $1.00 and cookies for the guard, and the third offense would be $1.00, cookies for the guard, and an apology in front of the whole marching band. We’ve never had a third offense!

Creating these Core Values as a guard has shaped the group in a positive way. The kids now take ownership for their actions and responsibility for the consequences. Group expectations are clear and well communicated. And most importantly, it creates an environment where they can achieve their highest potential, learn from each other, and strengthen their leadership and discipline each year. And honestly, it has made my job as an instructor so much more enjoyable!

Click here for a .pdf example of Amy’s 2006 Core Values Document

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Category: Administrative, Student Leadership, Team Management, Teambuilding

About the Author (Author Profile)

Amy Townley is a color guard designer and instructor from Grand Rapids, Michigan. She currently teaches at Byron Center High School, and she is an adjudicator for Scholastic Marching Bands. She has taught for 13 years and continues to seek to be a better educator.

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