Don Heinzman Column: For principal, leadership also means learning a new instrument

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Carol Rowan, principal of Zanewood Community School in Brooklyn Park, looks up from her music during band practice. (Photo by Jonathan Young, Sun Post)

Carol Rowan, principal of Zanewood Community School in Brooklyn Park, looks up from her music during band practice. (Photo by Jonathan Young, Sun Post)

by Don Heinzman – They say elementary school principals set the tone for their buildings.

Don Heinzman

Don Heinzman

Carol Rowan, principal of Zane Community School in Brooklyn Park, literally does that by learning and playing an instrument along with students in the grade school band. Last year, during weekly 30-minute group lessons, she learned how to play the clarinet – not an easy instrument and one she’d never played before.

That’s more than most principals would do, in addition to running their buildings.

Jon Millerhagen, executive director of the Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association, agreed that Rowan is special. He was quick to answer that all principals do something special for their students.

Rowan encourages the students to stick to their goal of playing in the band; only a few quit last year. She thinks having a principal playing the clarinet motivates them and shows the importance of lifelong learning.

“You want to be that role model.  Besides, it’s fun,” she said.

Studies have shown there is a correlation between those who learn music and their ability to learn in the classroom.

Band director Steve Reisetter says the students are enthused to have Rowan playing in the band and added it helps them relate better to the principal. It’s good for students to see adults willing to persevere and learn something new, Reisetter said.

Rowan said, “I think it’s important for them to see us struggling to learn a new skill.”

Rowan comes from a musical family. She loves to sing with her sisters, and she sang with the St. Cloud University choir. Her daughter Hillary is an accomplished musician, who once played in the University of Minnesota orchestra.

Actually it was Reisetter who suggested she play an instrument with the band students. She sat alongside the students, learned how to take the clarinet apart and then began to learn the notes.

She was relieved when she passed a “test” playing for Reisetter. Naturally, she was nervous when she played in the holiday concert, hoping the clarinet wouldn’t squeak.

What about this year?

Well, she’s going to try learning a new instrument – the flute, figuring she’ll be on the same level with the beginning band students.

What’s more, some of the teachers in the building are interested in learning an instrument and playing in the band.

That will bring even more harmony to Zane Community School.


Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers and a member of the ECM Editorial Board.


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