Stinson, Donald

Don Stinson is a comprehensive music educator with a robust background spanning roles as an author, speaker, and clinician. He holds educational degrees from an array of prestigious institutions including Joliet Junior College, VanderCook College of Music, and Northern Illinois University. Adding to his educational background, Don also holds a Master’s in Education Administration from the University of St. Francis, bringing unparalleled expertise to his educational endeavors. 

Currently, Don is the director of bands at Joliet Central High School in Joliet, Illinois, distinguishing himself as only the fifth individual to hold this honor in the band’s history. Under his guidance, the band has flourished, receiving invitations to esteemed state and national festivals, including a special performance at the seventy-fifth Midwest Clinic in 2021. 

Over the years, Don has accrued numerous awards and recognitions including the Yale University Educator Award, the Chicagoland Outstanding Music Educator Award, and a spot on Yamaha’s 2021 “40 Under 40 Music Educators” list. His unwavering commitment to education has also earned him the Dr. William P. Foster Project Community Development Award and multiple citations of excellence from the National Band Association. 

As a sought-after speaker, Don has been invited to present at high-profile conferences including the National Association for Music Education National Conference and the Illinois Music Education Association Conference. He has recently served as the keynote speaker at both the Omaha Public School Music Teacher In-Service and the Northern Illinois University Urban Education Summit. In 2023, he spoke at the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic, and he is slated to present at the Texas Music Educators Association conference in 2024. 

Apart from his teaching roles, Don authored the book High Needs, Monumental Successes: Teaching Music to Low-Income and Underserved Students, available through GIA Publications. His insightful articles are featured on the Yamaha Education Suite. Also a skilled podcaster, Don hosts The Bandmasters Podcast and presides as the president of Legacy Fine Arts Inc., NFP, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing music mentoring and programs for underserved youth. 

Nationally Board Certified, Don is a member of several professional bodies including the Phi Beta Mu International Bandmaster’s Fraternity, the National Band Association, the American School Band Directors Association, and the Illinois Music Educators Association. For more details, please visit


Poverty, Barriers, Music, and Success: Understanding and Helping Low-Income Music Students Succeed - Music Education

Music is expensive for some families, and financial barriers and time constraints are limiting factors in students’ participation in school music. There are many labels used to describe students without a lot of money and/or support: low-income, high needs, underserved, less fortunate, poor, poverty-stricken, and impoverished, to name a few. This session helps teachers understand where low-income and high needs students are coming from. Strategies are presented to help with teaching, supporting, and advocating for students from low-income and high need situations. Attendees participate in interactive scenarios familiar to most music teachers. Identifying and working with dysfunction is of special focus. The session will also help attendees understand and locate financial resources for their programs. This session is presented with a goal of identifying some real situations in our schools while focusing on empowering and uplifting teachers and students in our music programs.

Poverty, Barriers, Music, and Success: What Our Pre-Service Teachers Need to Know About Teaching in Today’s Schools - Music Education

Similar session to the above, but tailored towards college instructors in teacher preparation programs, pre-service teachers, and early-career teachers.

Elementary School Band and Orchestra in Title I Schools - Music Education

Special session by request for collegiate elementary music methods course. Mindset, practical advice, and strategies for guiding at-risk students in their early development are discussed. Question and answer and breakout sessions are an integral part of this session.

How To Ask For Money - Music Education

Money doesn’t solve everything, but it helps! This session gives a brief overview of school finance, including school budgets, activity accounts, parent club accounts, community donations, and programs such as Title I. Session participants will then work with Don and other session members in the larger group, small group, and individually to work on plans and proposals for equipment and services that benefit their students and programs. A special focus will be taken on techniques for music teachers to both advocate and negotiate for themselves and their programs and shift to a mindset that “there is always money somewhere.” Finally, some budget-saving techniques and tips will be shared to help best spend the dollars that we already have. Upon completion of the session, participants will have access to sample financial request scripts and proposals.

Teacher Agency: Advocating For Yourself In Today’s Educational Climate - Music Education

Topics include: How to Say No, Dissecting the Giving Tree, Why Selfishness is Better Than Selflessness, and Why Putting Yourself First is best. Teachers are the profession that makes every other profession possible. We’re important, and sometimes it’s OK to act important! In today’s climate, many teachers feel like they are losing their agency or are just unable to say no. Interactive scenarios and practice sessions are a core part of this session! Participants will be able to practice live with scripts and suggestions in a safe environment. In short: this session talks about what they don’t have time to teach you in college and helps the teacher find their voice and agency.

Practicing Not Required - Music Education

Students have many reasons for not practicing. Some live in rented homes or in apartments, and their landlords may not allow them to play loud instruments. Others may share bedrooms with siblings and cannot practice in the common areas of the house. Other students share an instrument and cannot take the instrument home. Many young people work outside of school. Playing instruments or singing after school or on weekends is not an option for most. But the only reason that really matters? They don’t want to. This session focuses on designing your classroom time, program goals, and methods in order to operate without forcing practice on students. Educators will work towards focusing on what they can and cannot control and will use strategies for goal setting that directly involve students. The session will especially focus on maintaining or improving the quality of music programs while allowing students to have agency over their time and goals. Session participants will explore methods that encourage students to practice on their own without being held to a grade or expectation.