Teacher of the Year offers advice to parents

Becoming Florida’s Teacher of the Year was never on his radar. In fact, Dr. Dakeyan Chá Dré Graham had big plans to become an anesthesiologist and was concluding his major in microbiology at the University of Florida when he had a change of heart.

“My high school band director had said, ‘No, you’re not going to be a doctor. You’re going to be a teacher,’ ” he recalled. She was right. As Graham was finishing his master’s in music education, she told Graham that she was retiring and wanted him to return to King High School to be its band director.

Now, the Hillsborough County educator’s goal is to “positively influence the next generation of world changers.” He has the platform to take that mission statewide as the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education, a position he will use to celebrate and recruit Florida teachers, as well as provide professional learning opportunities.

Music training in childhood “fundamentally alters the nervous system such that neural changes persist in adulthood after auditory training has ceased.” — The Journal of Neuroscience

But Dr. Dré, as his students call him, also has positive messages to share with parents. As the director of instrumental studies at a diverse school that “really is a good representation of our society and our country,” he has seen up close how numerous factors can influence student success.

“The number one difference between success and struggle comes down to one single word, and that’s ‘support,’ ” Graham said.

How can parents better provide that success-inducing support? Here are Graham’s top five tips:

  • Show up. Go to the open houses and the teacher conferences. Ensure kids are doing their homework. Attend those performances and presentations. Yes, being involved takes time and energy, but it pays big dividends. “Students that have the support of parents have a higher chance to succeed,” Graham said. “The role of the teacher is to support within the confines of the classroom. Even though the vast majority of us do what we can to provide support outside of our four walls, it is impossible for us to go home with every single student. Imagine if the students had the support of that teacher plus the presence and reinforcement of the parent.”


  • Embrace the importance of arts education. Because of technology and how quickly we have access to knowledge, students can have a “right now mentality,” Graham said. “But you’re not going to pick up an instrument and master it in two seconds. You can see the results — they’re very tangible results — but it does require work.” It’s a lesson in delayed gratification that translates well to the real world, he said. “You’re at a job, and now you’ve got these different things causing difficulty. Are you going to give up because it’s hard? Or are you going to persevere because you’ve learned that through hard work you accomplish your goals?”Graham’s dissertation was on the connection between band participation and executive function. He said scientific studies show that the cross-hemispheric brain activity required during music instruction and performance improves processing speed, working memory and attention span — all skills that are useful for academic success.


  • That said, it’s not all about the report card. “I think it’s so important for parents to understand that there’s more to school than grades,” he said. “It’s good to have an expectation, but they have to believe in who their student is and ALL the things they can and WANT to do.”


  • Discover what interests your child and encourage them to pursue that interest at school. Clubs and electives are important because they help the student become personally invested in their learning environment.“If there’s a kind of anchor, some kind of draw, they’re more likely to feel connected and take ownership,” Graham said.As a band and orchestra director, he has seen that connection flourish time and time again. “These students are more committed to a family atmosphere than they are simply a team atmosphere,” he said. “Knowing you’re contributing these hours after school, doing that with your brothers and sisters, it plays a different role.”


  • Advocate for community involvement. “We hold teachers in this incredibly high regard and have high expectations of them, but we often leave it to the government to be the ones responsible for the funding. What is the community doing to demonstrate their support for those programs?” Corporate sponsors can make huge impacts on student achievement. Graham recalls an anonymous donor who provided every Gainesville High School band student with a brand new marching instrument. He’s also impressed with community schools throughout the state, such as one in Orange County that is now attached to a pediatric care center and Boys & Girls Club. By being vocal advocates for their schools, parents can inspire community support.“Tell them, ‘There are great things happening behind these doors.’ Then we’re really starting to get the village onboard.”

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