Lindsay Brazell

Music Educator and Creative Professional

Teaching Inspiration from Dabo Swinney

I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard Clemson football fan, as I am generally not overly interested in sports. I’m simply a fan because I am a proud graduate of the university, and consider it to be one of the most important 4 years of my life. However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I love all the winning that has been happening, and I credit that to Coach Dabo Swinney. In fact, I have learned 2 major lessons about teaching from observing his coaching.

Lesson #1

My favorite moment of the season was during the Miami game. Yes, it was a complete blowout, but the score is completely irrelevant in this instance. During the game, Dabo was displeased by the character and sportsmanship being displayed on the field. Players were fighting, trash-talking, and overall poorly representing themselves on the field. With the score at halftime being 42-0, most fans were thrilled, but not Dabo. The coach circled his team midfield to express his disappointment in their behavior.

Not only did this make me proud to be a Clemson alum, but it resonated with the values I am trying to instill in my choral program.

This year we have implemented a Zero Tolerance Policy to discourage bullying, we wrote thank you notes, and our December theme (which I haven’t revealed them to yet) will revolve around giving back. Our monthly themes started off with connections to our content, but now we are veering towards human skills. Maybe it will be a wasted effort for some, but at least I tried to influence students to be the best person they can be, and to strive to be kind and welcoming to all.

My favorite quote from Dabo in that video is, “You be who we are.” I love that. It tells us a few things about his program:

  1. He has created and fostered an expectation of character among his players.
  2. He acknowledges the greater organization of our school, and that the football team is a representation of Clemson’s values.
  3. He values high character over high scores.

I think music educators, particularly ensemble directors, need to reflect on the vision they have for their programs. Superior festival scores are wonderful, and certainly a high achievement of both the students and the director, but is that choir made up of students who disrespect one another? Or students who get in trouble in or out of school? Maybe that doesn’t speak to the elements of an exceptional ensemble to you, but I personally would rather sing with a decent choir of good people, than an award-winning choir of jerks. Our world is looking dim and lacking kindness and acceptance.  Consider the caliber of student you want to graduate into the world.

Lesson #2

In honor of their winning season, Dabo is hosting a campus-wide pizza party after the ACC Championship game…regardless if they win or lose. While the decision may have been made partially with logistics in mind, (it would be hard to cancel 2,500 pizzas if they lose), I love how he still insists on celebrating the season even if they don’t find success in their final game.

Last year at our state choral festival, our choir went in feeling confident and ready to perform, especially in sight reading. We had been practicing all year, and even mastering some sight reading examples that were above the level they would be reading. With some minor traffic mishaps, we were running so late that we literally walked off the bus and onto the performance stage. We did fairly well, and overall we were all pleased with the performance we gave. Then we went to sight reading, and completely fell apart.

I mean really fell apart. Nerves got to them and it was definitely not our best. We ended up with an overall Excellent rating, which of course, students were aiming for a Superior. When we got on the bus and I had the results, I delivered the news and said, “It’s not about how you perform all the time…it’s how you perform that day. And I know you sight read better than that, and so do you. And that’s ok! We’ll try again next year.” We came back to school and had Zaxby’s for lunch as a group, and felt a sense of great accomplishment.

Celebrating achievements, large and small, is what keeps some kids going. They may not get any praise at home, or they may not have any other academic or extra curricular achievements. When there is good reason to celebrate, we should.


There’s much to be learned from coaching. In fact, my academic advisor at Clemson wrote a book about achieving success in life and references several notable coaches, Working Toward Excellence: 8 Values for Achieving Uncommon Success in Work and Life.* It’s an excellent read, and I highly recommend it!



Educators: How are you leading your ensembles and students? Who are you modeling yourself after? What is your character vision? Leave a comment below, or continue the conversation on Twitter @LindsayBrazell.


About Lindsay

I’m Lindsay, a choral music educator by day, a singer-songwriter by evening, and a writer when time allows. You can find my latest album, The Room I Found – Lindsay Morelli on iTunes.

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