The leader of the band is teacher of the year and so much more

October 30, 2017 by Brandman University

Brian McDaniel talks fast. About music. About teaching. About his family. He’s passionate about all of those and about being an adjunct faculty member at Brandman University.

Brian McDaniel and family
Brian McDaniel surrounded by family, friends and former students.

That passion was obvious to the committee sent to find the California Teachers of the Year. McDaniel and four others earned the honor. Only McDaniel will be among the 52 state nominees for the National Teacher of the Year.

Winning that notoriety could be a distraction for a man already juggling multiple roles. McDaniel sees it as a way to spread the word about his compassionate approach to teaching young musicians in public schools in Desert Hot Springs and working with teachers-to-be through his liberal arts classes at Brandman.

A gift to students at all levels

Melanie Borrego, associate dean for undergraduate education in the School of Arts and Sciences, hired McDaniel to teach music and humanities courses in 2013 because of McDaniel’s impressive background in music and education.

McDaniel and band
Brian McDaniel directing his middle school band.


“He has taught largely for Title One schools, which means that the majority of the students come from low-income homes. The highly competitive music programs he has developed give the students and their parents something to be proud of, something to rally around. His mission is not necessarily to produce professional musicians, though he's thrilled when it happens. Rather, it is to instill a lifelong appreciation of music, because according to him, it motivates, inspires, and heals,” said Borrego.

“Dr. McDaniel brings that passion for learning into his online classroom here at Brandman. His students sing his praises, citing his participation in discussion, his quick turn-around time with grading, and his willingness to be available to them when they have questions. His approach to teaching is very hands-on, and I know he enjoys teaching future teachers, particularly in our music courses.”

Multiple honors

In a phone interview, McDaniel admitted to being both absolutely exhausted and beyond thrilled to be a 2018 California Teacher of the Year. It comes after being chosen first as the Teacher of the Year at Painted Hills Middle School where he teaches band and vocal groups and then Teacher of the Year for Riverside County.

Choral group
McDaniel director one of his choral groups from Desert Hot Springs.


“It’s definitely an honor. I am beyond humbled to be chosen from among the 400,000 teachers in California,” he said. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson contacted him by phone, first making small talk about music programs and teaching. “Then he said, ‘I’ve selected you.’ All the blood in my face drained. ‘And you’re the sole designee from California (for consideration as national teacher of the year),’” said McDaniel.

If creating another packet of information to send through the national process wasn’t enough to keep him busy this fall, McDaniel is also bringing a new group of students into his programs by adding teaching fifth-grade band and choir at Bella Vista Elementary School to his middle school duties.

It’s been a theme throughout his life. When he sees a need, he finds a way to fill it.

Hometown beckons

“I grew up in Desert Hot Springs. It’s known for violence, drugs, teenage pregnancy and dropouts. Everybody says this place is horrible, but I want to make it the greatest city in the world. I’m not planning on going anywhere,” he said. He returned to his hometown after going to college and beginning his teaching career in Long Beach, California.

Brian McDaniel
Brian McDaniel


Because his father died when he was just 11 and he missed having a father figure in his life, McDaniel often finds himself filling that role for his students and for his blended family of soon-to-be six children. He’s already walked three of his former students down the aisle. In both his public school and Brandman classes and at home, he sets high expectations and requires both discipline and commitment from each person, while doing everything he can to help each find his or her own value in the world.

“I tell my students, ‘If you could see yourself through my eyes, you wouldn’t recognize yourself. I see you as the person getting a doctorate, getting married, taking your kids to school.’ They live up to those expectations,” he said.

His classes are so popular that nearly a quarter of the middle school is in one of his choral or band programs. “Teachers can see the truth in their students: crushes forming, ideas developing, hearts breaking, suffering in silence,” he wrote in his Teacher of the Year biography. “I make myself available to listen without judgment, offer positive encouragement and provide them with materials to be successful: toothbrushes, T-shirts, backpacks, deodorant food … I just want my kids to have a chance at a better life.”

Putting the emphasis on feedback

His Brandman students get the same laser-like attention. “I really try to keep the lines of communication open. I think that makes me a decent professor,” he said.

The Brandman approach to training future teachers fits with his own cross-curricular approach to education and he finds the college classes help him stay relevant in his own classrooms. He’s delighted when students remember him as “that music guy.”

“I leave feedback on everything. I have to be proud of myself. Was I a quality professor? I don’t ever want anyone to say, ‘he didn’t care.’

“A lot of people say they want to change the world. I do it one at a time. As long as I keep repeating that process, I’m successful.”

Finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award are announced in January with the final selection in April. 


  • Graduated from Long Beach State in 2005 with a Bachelor of Music, Instrumental Music
  • M.A. in Education from Cal State San Bernardino, 2008
  • Doctorate of Education from University of Redlands, 2011
  • His student groups have won multiple awards, including most recently the Grand Sweepstakes at the Hollywood Heritage Music Festival in 2017
  • Writes and receives grants to help make instruments and band uniforms available to every student
  • Brandman course taught include “Music, Movement and Drama: The Human Expression,” “Roll Over Beethoven: A Survey of Rock and Roll,” and “Musical Cultures of the World

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