Happy Trails, Retirees! PMEA Retired Members Rock-On!

Have You Heard These?

  • Old composers never die, they just decompose.
  • Old performers never die, they just go out of tune.
  • Old musicians never die, they just go from bar to bar.
  • Old musical producers never die, they just make a big production out of it.
  • Old band nerds never die, they just leave after halftime.
  • Old music teachers never die, they just lose their class.
  • Old rockers never die, they just shake, rattle, and roll.
  • Old lighting directors (or sound engineers) never die, they just fade away.
  • Old singers never die, they just perform another encore. 
  • Old conductors never die, they just lose their place.
  • Old string players never die, they just get strung out.
  • Old jazz artists never die, they just play on and on.

“The trouble with retirement is that you never get a day off.” – Abe Lemons

Filling Up and Fulfilling Bucket Lists

Retirement is a journey, offering another roadway towards self-realization. You would expect to see any retired person enjoying the fruits of his/her career-long labor by “taking a break” – exploring travel, sightseeing, fitness training, sports, gardening, home improvements, reading, babysitting grandchildren, rescuing a pet, volunteering, attending concerts/musicals/movies, discovering and developing new hobbies/skills/talents, hanging out with former coworkers – you name it! Retired music educators are no different! However, one advantage of being in the profession of teaching creative self-expression is that it was never “just a job.”

And the music goes on and on…

Many Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) retired members remain active after they leave their full-time public/private school teaching positions. Numerous opportunities inspire retirees to continue making significant contributions to music and education. If you can actually catch-up with a former music teacher (they are usually very busy), he or she might be in the middle of participating in any number of Performing Arts or educational activities:
  1. PMEA state or local leadership position such as council representative or elected office.
  2. Full or part-time higher education instructor in music education methods, or supervisor of student teaching.
  3. Assistant director, guest conductor, or section coach for marching or concert bands, orchestras, choirs, chamber groups, jazz ensembles, dance or drama productions.
  4. Soloist, accompanist, and/or performer in community instrumental or choral ensembles at local community events, businesses, senior centers, and other venues.
  5. Music judge, clinician and/or director of PMEA adjudications, PMEA performance festivals, or commercial contests or competitions.
  6. Representative for local music store assisting on rentals and repairs of band and orchestra instruments.
  7. Private or class instructor of voice, instrument, or dance.
  8. Composer, accompanist, or music arranger for school music ensembles and concerts.
  9. Workshop presenter, clinician, presiding chair, sergeants-of-arm, registration aide, or volunteer at state and local music conferences.
  10. Writer of articles for local and state music publications, blogs, or other media.
  11. Advocate for arts education and the importance of creative self-expression, contacting local decision-makers and state legislators.
  12. Informal adviser and consultant assisting other music educators in the field, facilitated by joining the PMEA Retiree Resource Registry.


PMEA Retiree Resource Registry

Unveiled in February 2015 and based on PMEA Retired Members’ online survey responses, the Retiree Resource Registry (R3) and R3 Help Index archive a comprehensive record of music teacher retirees’ present and past job assignments, history of career achievements and awards, current professional music and music education activities, and special talents and interests. The registry serves as a “who’s who” directory of past leaders in PA music programs, as it documents the amazing contributions of some of the still most active albeit retired PMEA members. The R3 shares this vast wealth of the PMEA Retired Member experiences and expertise in order to offer the entire PMEA membership access to a list of very willing and capable informal advisers or consultants if anyone needs “free” (but priceless) help on a specific topic.

RVolunteer Areas

Help categories on survey (see R3 Help Index): accompanist, adjudications, arts advocacy, assessments, auditions, band, booster groups, chamber music, chaperoning, choral, choreography/dance, coaching, community ensembles, composing/arranging, core arts standards, curriculum writing, Dalcroze/eurhythmics, early childhood/pre-school, festival preparation, fund-raising, general music, guest conducting, guest lecturing, higher education, hosting a festival, instrument repair, instrument sales, jazz, Kodaly, leadership training, marching band, music appreciation, music theory, musicals, Orff, panel discussions, PCMEA/teacher training/mentoring, professional development, research, strings, technology, traveling/tours, voice, webinars, world drumming, and writing for PMEA News.


As of April 20, 2105, the R3 has the following statistics:

  • Number of Retired Members in Registry = 101
  • Expertise/interest in vocal music = 40%
  • Expertise/interest in instrumental music = 75%
  • Expertise/interest in classroom music = 46%
  • Expertise/interest at elementary level = 69%
  • Expertise/interest at middle school level = 76%
  • Expertise/interest at high school level = 78%
  • Expertise/interest at higher education level = 31%

Making Use of the Registry

To take advantage of this service, go to the retired member section of the PMEA state website and download the current R3 and R3 Help Index, both documents being updated periodically to reflect new/changed data received: http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/. Start with the R3 Help Index to peruse possible candidates. To help match your needs with potential retired “go‐to people,” the index is sorted by volunteer subject areas. Look up these names in the alphabetical main registry to find the retirees’ specific details, contact information, personal focus and specialties, and subjects they would be willing to provide assistance.

PMEA Retired Members: If you have retired from full‐time teaching, are willing to stay involved in PMEA, and want to join this prestigious list, please go to the PMEA website or this direct link: https://pmea.wufoo.com/forms/pmea-retiree-resource-survey/.

Freedom! It’s Doesn’t Get Much Better Than This!

The skies are the limit! Retirement provides the time for retirees to pursue their passions! Examine your “expressive roots!” What inspired you to choose a career in music? Refocus on some aspect of the creative realm, such as singing or playing your major instrument, or something new! What are you waiting for? Go out and realize your dreams!


© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Arts Advocacy – Everyone’s Job!

“If it is to be, it is up to me.” – William H. Johnsen

Can you imagine if there was only enough money in the education budget for one subject to be taught in school? What would it be?

The education of the “whole child” to acquire 21st Century learning skills, with an emphasis on the “Four C’s” – Creativity, Critical thinking, Communications, and Collaboration – is essential to the success of every child, and paramount for the future continuation of arts and creative self-expression throughout the world. This mandates equal-access to quality learning of rigorous curricula, offered to all students enrolled in courses of Fine and Performing Arts, English, Math, Science, World Language, Social Studies, and Physical Education.


(For an interesting set of articles detailing the above Venn diagram on the four C’s of 21st Century learning skills, see Margo Tripsa’s “Techie Teachers’ Tricks,” beginning with http://techieteacherstricks.com/2013/06/30/the-4-cs-critical-thinking/.)

Why the Arts?

An education in the arts benefits society because students of music, art, dance, and drama gain powerful tools for:

  • Understanding human experiences, both past and present;
  • Teamwork and collaboration;
  • Making decisions creatively when no prescribed answers exist;
  • Learning to adapt to and respect others’ (diverse) ways of thinking, working, and expressing themselves;
  • Learning problem recognition and problem solving, involving expressive, analytical, and developmental tools to every human situation (that is why we speak, for example, of the “art” of teaching or the “art” of politics);
  • Understanding the influence of the arts and their power to create and reflect cultures, the impact of design on our daily life, and in the interdependence of work in the arts with the broader worlds of ideas and action;
  • Developing the essential senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and kinesthetics as intellectual, emotional, physical, creative, and expressive acts;
  • Analyzing nonverbal communication and making informed judgments about cultural products and issues;
  • Communicating effectively.

The “Whole Child” Approach to Education

All of us should already be on board promoting the concepts of “whole child” education in the public schools:

“The demands of the 21st century require a new approach to education to fully prepare students for college, career, and citizenship. Research, practice, and common sense confirm that a whole child approach to education will develop and prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of today and tomorrow by addressing students’ comprehensive needs through the shared responsibility of students, families, schools, and communities.” – ASCD Whole Child Education Initiative http://www.wholechildeducation.org/about/


Launched in 2007, ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative was an effort to “change the conversation about education from a focus on narrowly defined academic achievement to one that promotes the long term development and success of children.”

My favorite tenets of “whole child” education are the following principles:

  • Each student has access to personalized learning…
  • Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
  • Each student is challenged academically…

Sounds a lot like the need for an education in the arts, right?

Need More Rationale?


The Partnership for 21st Century (P21) movement (see www.apple.com/education/docs/Apple-P21Framework.pdf) affirmed what prospective employees are seeking from graduates and others entering the work force –  21st Century learning skills, as well as an authentic work experience and achievement in and appreciation of the values of focus/attention, goal setting, perseverance, self-discipline, and cooperation. Would it surprise you that at every job interview in my life, I was never asked for the results of my SAT scores? For blue-collar and professional jobs alike, credentials/certification and past work/school history are important, but more than anything else, managers and “the big boss” want to know a job applicant’s record of absenteeism and tardiness, and if the candidate can take instruction, solve problems, innovate, communicate, and work well with others.

Where else but in the arts can students receive this exposure to and opportunities to explore and practice the work-related skills of communications and collaboration, and the thinking skills of critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity? You owe it to yourself to check out this more detailed layout:  P21 Arts Map.

If you have not viewed Sir Ken Robinson’s presentation of creativity in education, stop everything right now and go to one of these links:

Read my main page (above) for additional resources on Creativity in Education – Are We Ready for a New Paradigm Shift?

Also, it is worth perusing these sites:

How can you argue with all of this research?

Get Involved!

I find it amusing (albeit appropriate) that on my iPhone, Siri first translated “arts advocacy” as “arts have a good seat.”

There is a great need for arts advocates, and that means absolutely everybody… retired educators, current teachers, future/prospective employees of schools, students, parents, relatives of children attending school, and taxpayers who don’t have anyone enrolled in the public, private, or charter schools.

Politics is a numbers game. Your state legislators need to know that you care about education and the arts as priorities – justifying and finding more revenue and resources for music and art education. In addition, with all of the focus on high-stakes standardized tests and the Common Core (and very limiting) subjects, now more than ever, we all need to reach out to our elected officials and make our voices heard (above all of the din!). Yes, the arts do make a difference, but no one will know that unless you tell the decision-makers!


Now, here’s something you can do right now! If you reside in Pennsylvania, go to the advocacy section of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association website: http://www.pmea.net/specialty-areas/advocacy/. If you need to find your particular legislator to send the letter/e-mail, first visit this website: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/. If you feel strongly about the importance of arts education, your letter (the sample posted or something like it) should urge our elected officials to:

  1. Increase the basic education subsidy.
  2. Enact a fair funding formula.
  3. Restore the Pennsylvania Department of Education Arts Education Liaison for the curricular areas of music, visual art, theater, dance, and media arts.

(This process can be duplicated in a similar manner for every state in the union. Music and art programs are being cut daily!)

Don’t put this off! When was the last time you devoted a little time to express your opinion directly to your state representative? Didn’t we elect and charge them with the responsibility to do what is right for our educational programs and children? Music and art education needs your help NOW!


© 2015 Paul K. Fox

The “Alphabet Soup” of Educational Acronyms

“Learning never exhausts the mind.” – Leonardo da Vinci

pmeaArticle submitted for future publication in PMEA News – the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association


Preparing for an employment interview? Looking for that first job or interested in transferring to a new school district?

How well do you know current trends, key “buzz words,” and jargon in education? Even though no music teacher would have trouble identifying the meaning of our own abbreviations like D.C. al Coda or GM (G Major or General Music), administrators would expect that you know relevant and evolving general education terms, such as the following:

  • The Common Core
  • Customization and Differentiation of Instruction
  • The Four Cs – Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical Thinking (21st Century Learning Skills)
  • Flipped Classrooms and Blended Schools
  • HOTS – Higher Order Thinking Skills and DOK – Depth of Knowledge
  • Assessments – Diagnostic, Formative, Summative, Authentic
  • PDE (Pennsylvania Department of Education) SAS (Standards Aligned Systems) Portal
  • UBD (Understanding By Design) Curriculum Development with EU (Enduring Understandings) and EQ (Essential Questions)

Keeping up with the formation of new acronyms is quite a challenge… something you will have to do throughout your entire career. Get started by looking up any of these with which you feel unfamiliar. You can never predict when one of these will pop-up at a job interview!

Just for the fun and the challenge of it, try taking this crossword puzzle. For a printable copy of this article, full-size puzzle grid, clues, the answers and definitions, click on the link at the bottom of the page. Enjoy! PKF



1. A multi-tier approach to the early identification, intervention, and support of students with learning and behavioral needs.
3. Statements summarizing important ideas and core processes that are central to a discipline and have lasting value beyond the classroom – what students should understand – not just know or do.
4. A web-based resource for districts/schools to communicate performance results to various constituencies and assist districts and schools in aligning and focusing resources for continuous improvement.
7. A psychiatric disorder in which there are significant problems of attention hyperactivity or acting impulsively that are not age-appropriate.
8. Standards-based, criterion-referenced assessment used to measure a student’s attainment of the academic standards in reading, writing, math, and science.
10. Staff or programs to facilitate the acquisition of English language skills of students whose native or first language is not English.
11. Framework of study in science, technology, engineering, arts, in mathematics, bridging the gap between business and educational goals, and blending of science, the arts, and creativity in school.
13. A comprehensive, researched-based resource identifying six elements for improvement of student achievement developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
15. Developed by Norman L. Webb, the complexity or depth of understanding required to answer or explain an assessment-related item.


2. A customized statement of a child’s present level of performance, annual educational goals, modifications, accommodations, and special education supports and services to meet these goals.
5. A statistical analysis of Pennsylvania state assessments of growth and achievement data, allowing educators to make data-informed instructional decisions to promote student progress.
6. Using a backwards-design focus on the outcomes in order to design curriculum units, a tool utilize for educational planning in “Teaching for Understanding,” advocated by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins.
8. An extended learning opportunity such as a grade-level teaching team or a school committee form to foster collaborative learning among colleagues in order to improve student achievement.
9. Statewide nonprofit organization of over 4500 members, dedicated to promoting the musical development of all Pennsylvania residents, your number one professional development resource.
12. Inquiries focusing on the key concepts in the curriculum, the big ideas and core content, provoking deep thought, lively discussion, and new understanding as well as more questions.
14. A process to document a measure of educator effectiveness based on student achievement of content standards developed for Pennsylvania’s new Educator Effectiveness System.

Click here: Alphabet Soup Educational Acronyms puzzle with answers

Terms used in alphabetical order

ADHD…………. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A psychiatric disorder in which there are significant problems of attention, hyperactivity, or acting impulsively that are not age-appropriate.

DOK……………. Depth of Knowledge: Developed by Norman L. Webb, the complexity or depth of understanding required to answer or explain an assessment related item.

EQ………………. Essential Questions (UBD): Inquiries focusing on the key concepts in the curriculum, the big ideas and core content, provoking deep thought, lively discussion, and new understanding as well as more questions.

ESL……………… English as a Second Language: Staff or programs to facilitate the acquisition of English language skills of students whose native or first language is not English.

EU………………. Enduring Understandings (UBD): Statements summarizing important ideas and core processes that are central to a discipline and have lasting value beyond the classroom—what students should understand—not just know or do.

IEP………………. Individualized Education Program: A customized statement of a child’s present level of performance, annual educational goals, modifications, accommodations, and special education supports and services to meet these goals.

PLC…………….. Professional Learning Communities: An extended learning opportunity such as a grade-level teaching team or a school committee formed to foster collaborative learning among colleagues in order to improve student achievement.

PMEA………….. Pennsylvania Music Educators Association: Statewide nonprofit organization of over 4,500 members, dedicated to promoting the musical development of all PA residents – your number one professional development resource.

PSSA…………… Pennsylvania System of School Assessment: Standards-based, criterion-referenced assessment used to measure a student’s attainment of the academic standards while also determining the degree to which school programs enable students to attain proficiency.

PVAAS………… Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System: A statistical analysis of PA state assessments of growth and achievement data, allowing educators to make data-informed instructional decisions to promote student progress.

RTI……………… Response to Intervention: A multi-tier approach to the early identification, intervention, and support of students with learning and behavioral needs.

SAS…………….. Standards Aligned Systems: A comprehensive, researched-based resource identifying six elements for improvement of student achievement developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

SLO…………….. Student Learning Objectives: A process to document a measure of educator effectiveness based on student achievement of content standards developed for Pennsylvania’s new Educator Effectiveness System.

SPP……………… School Performance Profile: A web-based resource for districts/schools to communicate performance results to various constituencies and assist districts and schools in aligning and focusing resources for continuous improvement.

STEAM……….. Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics: Framework of study in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, bridging the gap between business and educational goals, and blending of science, the arts, and creativity in school.

UBD   Understanding By Design: Using a backwards-design focus on the outcomes in order to design curriculum units, a tool utilized for educational planning in “teaching for understanding” advocated by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins.

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Creative Teaching & Teaching Creativity – PART III – Creative Techniques

Reprinted from the Winter 2015 issue of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association music teachers’ state journal of PMEA News.

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” — Alan Alda


“Creative thinking” riddle of the month:

An ordinary American citizen, with no passport, visits over thirty foreign countries in one day. He is welcomed in each country, and leaves of his own accord. How is this possible? (Answer printed at the bottom on this article.)

The final segment of this three-part series for all educators addresses many of the “how-to” aspects of using imaginative approaches to make learning more interesting and effective (teaching creatively) and strategies of teaching that are intended to develop students’ creative thinking or behavior (teaching for creativity).

25 Ways to Develop Creativity

Probably one of the best resources I found in my research on creativity is the book How to Develop Student Creativity by Robert J. Sternberg and Wendy M. Williams (ASCD 1996). Sternberg and Williams provide a detailed guide with personal experiences on instructional techniques in creativity, including how to choose creative environments, expose students to creative role models, identify and surmount obstacles to creativity, direct students to question assumptions, generate new ideas, and promote self-responsibility.

Steinberg and Williams refer to “the investment theory of creativity,” which asserts that “creative thinkers are like good investors – they buy low and sell high. Whereas investors do so in the world of finance, creative people do so in the world of ideas by taking a unique, typically undervalued idea, and convincing other people of its worth.”

Their 25 tips “in a nutshell” are:

  1. Modeling Creativity
  2. Building Self-Efficacy
  3. Questioning Assumptions
  4. Defining and Redefining Problems
  5. Encouraging Idea Generation
  6. Cross-Fertilizing Ideas
  7. Allowing Time for Creative Thinking
  8. Instructing and Assessing Creativity
  9. Rewarding Creative Ideas and Products
  10. Encouraging Sensible Risks
  11. Tolerating Ambiguity
  12. Allowing Mistakes
  13. Identifying and Surmounting Obstacles
  14. Teaching Self-Responsibility
  15. Promoting Self-Regulation
  16. Delaying Gratification
  17. Using Profiles of Creative People
  18. Encouraging Creative Collaboration
  19. Imagining Other Viewpoints
  20. Recognizing Environmental Fit
  21. Finding Excitement
  22. Seeking Stimulating Environments
  23. Playing to Strengths
  24. Growing Creatively
  25. Proselytizing for Creativity

Hands-on Ideas for Building Creative Learning

In Teaching Creatively and Teaching for Creativity, presented by the British Council (Eltec/Jordan), United Kingdom’s international organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities, the task for teaching “for creativity” is defined as:

  • Encouraging – Highly creative people are driven by strong belief in their abilities and a positive self-image.
  • Identifying – Creative achievement is driven by “a person’s love of a particular instrument, for the feel of the material, and for the excitement of a style of work that catch the imagination.” We must help students find their creative strengths
  • Fostering – “Creativity draws from many ordinary abilities and skills rather than one special gift or talent.” Therefore, “the development of many common capacities and sensitivities can help to foster creativity.”

“Creativity itself is a mode of learning,” a combination of three features:

  1. It involves a thoughtful playfulness – learning through experimental ‘play.’ It is serious play conjuring up, exploring and developing possibilities and then critically evaluating and testing them.
  2. It involves a special flexibility in which there may be a conscious attempt to challenge the assumptions and preconceptions of the self – an unusual activity in which there is an active effort to unlearn in order to learn afresh.
  3. This process is driven by the find, introduce, construct or reconstruct something new. It seeks actively to expand the possibilities of any situation. In this sense the learning of creative thoughts is not neutral; it has a bias towards the innovative.

The British Council proposes many tips for building creative learning:

  • Start simply, and build progressively.
  • Find easy ways in to creative learning. Start with the classroom environment. Move on to how pupils and staff use speech and questions. Keep it manageable, keep the focus tight. Show and share tangible changes. This will develop confidence to go further.
  • Be a ‘creative advocate.’ Create a presentation or materials that you can use both within your school to convince colleagues and out of school. This will help to build a whole-school ethos around creativity.
  • Focus on one area at a time, for example, in developing more creative learning in math, and use this to raise awareness and encourage staff to think about applications in other subject areas and spaces in the school.
  • Organize an enquiring minds-type project where pupils have an opportunity to negotiate the aim of the project and are instrumental in designing how it is carried out (resource: enquiringminds.org.uk).
  • Set-up an inventor’s club after school.
  • Transform one small area in the school as a space designed for creativity and imagination.
  • Make sure that the pupils have some ownership of the project.

Return to the “Best of Bonk”

More hands-on tools and ideas can be found at the aforementioned website of Indiana University of Bloomington Professor Dr. Curtis Bonk’s (but, let me warn you, you can truly get lost perusing all of his class materials for the course Instructional Strategies for Thinking, Collaboration, and Motivation): http://www.indiana.edu/~bobweb/r546/modules/creativity/bob_handouts.html. He is very generous in sharing his materials. It is worth exploring his class notes and lecture presentations (PowerPoint) posted at the “Best of Bonk” website.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from his handouts:

Ten+ Creative Thinking Ideas

  1. Brainstorming: More ideas/wilder the better, no evaluation, combo to improve (examples – How to study better? How to raise test scores? What are better teaching techniques)
  2. Reverse Brainstorming (examples – How to study worse? How to lower test scores? What are worst teaching techniques)
  3. Creative Writing and Story Telling (examples – object obituaries, tell a tall tale, cartoons, jokes/quips, story starters, wrap-a-round’s, forced responses, newsletters, object talking, etc.)
  4. Idea-Spurring Questions, Checklists, or Cards (e.g., Osborn’s SCAMPER method): How do we substitute, combine, adapt, modify/max-min put to other uses, eliminate, reverse/rearrange?
  5. Six hats (wear different color hats for different types of thinking)
  6. Free Writing/Wet Inking (write without lifting pen for 3-5 minutes on, e.g., best teacher ever had)
  7. Checkerboarding, Attribute Listing, Morphological Synthesis (analyze or combine 2 key variables/components in grid/matrix; e.g., CT & CR)
  8. Analogies, Metaphorical Thinking, Synectics, or Forced Associations (This school is like a ____; An good presenter is like a ____?)
  9. Semantic Webbing/Chaining/Linking/Mapping of Ideas, Free Association Activities (What is a greenhouse effect? What is a good curriculum? What is effective teaching?)
  10. Simulations and Role Plays (Computer simulations, act out plays or literature, simulated games or performance)
  11. Other techniques
  • The Second Best Answer, What else, > 1 Right Answer (What else applies)
  • Elaboration/Explanation (Another reason is)
  • Diaries, Personal Journals (When in the field, I want to jot down…)
  • Just Suppose/What If Exercises (What if we had cooperative exams?)
  • Creative Dramatics/Improvisation (imagine hearing, seeing, feeling)

Bonk provides an exhaustive set of creative thinking techniques, including activities in visual thinking, idea listing, writing, group interactions, and process-product oriented.

More Resources

Too comprehensive to list here, but an excellent summary, the TeachThought “101 Ways for Teachers To Be More Creative” at http://www.teachthought.com/teaching/101-ways-for-teachers-to-be-more-creative, posts ideas for finding creative inspiration, capitalizing on the creative spark, inspiring students, the creative classroom, creative activities, sharing and collaborating, and educate yourself.

Check out the Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching website section entitled “Techniques for Creative Teaching” at http://www.celt.iastate.edu/creativity/techniques.html!

On the Friendship Circle blog, “How to Teach Creative Thinking to Concrete Thinkers” shares ten ideas from a parent’s perspective at http://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2013/05/02/how-to-teach-creative-thinking-to-concrete-thinkers.

Numerous music education specific sources are available. One of my favorites, Teaching Music Creatively by Pam Burnard and Regina Murphy (Routledge 2013), offers a comprehensive approach in the delivery of a creative music curriculum. Key topics included:

  • Creative teaching, and what it means to teach creatively;
  • Composition, listening and notation;
  • Spontaneous music-making;
  • Group music and performance;
  • The use of multimedia;
  • Integration of music into the wider curriculum;
  • Musical play;
  • Cultural diversity;
  • Assessment and planning.

Finally, from my favorite issue of the ASCD Educational Leadership, February 2013 “Creativity Now,” the starting point for much of the research for this three-part series, I recommend reading Danah Henriksen and Punya Mishra’s article “Learning from Creative Teachers,” who provide insight and practical applications from “outstanding teachers who share how they teach creatively in an age of scripted lessons and accountability.” You can find the text online at (http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb13/vol70/num05/Learning-from-Creative-Teachers.aspx). They discuss these areas:

  1. Connect Your Interests with Your Teaching
  2. Link Lessons to Real-World Learning
  3. Cultivate a Creative Mind-Set
  4. Value Collaboration
  5. Take Intellectual Risks

Arrival of the New National Music Standards!

No discussion on creativity would be complete without embracing our national music standards. The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards launched the Core Arts Standards on June 4, 2014 after extensive public review. You are urged to go to their new “official” website http://www.nationalartsstandards.org/. The National Core Arts Standards are organized into four processes – Creating, Performing/Presenting/Producing, Responding, and Connecting – in order to develop a philosophical foundation and lifelong goals towards artistic literacy. The three common anchor standards include the following.

Students will:

  1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  3. Refine and complete artistic work.

Are we intentionally doing these in our music classrooms?

Creativity vs. the Common Core? and Final Thoughts for the Future

Creativity is one of the 21st Century learning skills, and many educational visionaries declare it to be a one of the most essential for the students’ future success in career and personal life. Bloom’s Taxonomy and Depth of Knowledge charts put creating at the top level of higher-order thinking. In an article “Creativity on the Brink” (2013), Alane Starko connects creativity to deep understanding: “If we want students to master the content, they must do something with it beyond simple repetition. They must use it in meaningful ways and make it their own.” Catapult Learning sums this up best (see http://www.catapultlearning.com/creativity-and-the-common-core/). “As teachers transition towards the Common Core Standards, they are certainly being asked to attend to each of the aspects expressed through creativity: increased rigor and higher-order thinking, the application and transfer of knowledge, and the ability to communicate effectively through 21st century technology tools.”

Our music technology colleague Jim Frankel reminds us to define our “personal mission” in music education, to realize how important it is to remain “student-centered,” and that our kids “want to create content in the same medium in which they consume it.”

He adds, we should be focused on students “wanting to make ‘cool’ music/projects/websites/whatever.”

What better way to teach creatively and “teach for creativity” than to use the magic of music?

What are your thoughts?

Answer to the creative thinking riddle: The man is a mail courier who delivers packages to 30 foreign embassies in the United States. The land of an embassy belongs to that country of that embassy. [Attributed to Visual Thinking Puzzles by Michael A. DiSpezio (Sterling 1988)]

For a list of additional resources for further research, please go to the bottom of my main page on creativity at this WordPress site: Creativity in Education – Are We Ready for a New Paradigm Shift?


© 2015 Paul K. Fox


Creative Teaching & Teaching Creativity – Part II – Definitions and Rationale

“I think the single most potent school reform goal would be to place the highest priority on individual creative engagement, and to shape schooling to develop the habits of mind that constitute creative engagement.” – Eric Booth


How many rectangles do you see below?


What is your initial response? If you said sixteen or seventeen, sorry! You are not even close! The real number is more than 50! (See the exact answer at the end of the article.)

According to Robina Shaheen in her article “Creativity and Education” (Creative Education, Volume 1, No. 3, 2010), interest in creativity historically goes back to Plato’s age and is found in the Greek, Judaic, Christian, and Muslim traditions. She said that a sudden “frenzied” emphasis for the renewal of inventiveness and creativeness in schools (especially in the sciences) came about with the launch of “Sputnik 1” satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957. The supposed failure of engineers from Europe, USA, and other Western countries was attributed to their lack of creativity, which led to the adoption of the National Defense Education Act to accept the concept as important for “prosperity…survival of society.” Since then, there have been several additional “waves of creativity” in education.

From numerous educational visionaries, we have more recently heard the essential need for 21st Century learning skills, including creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communications, and yet our political focus continues to be on high-stakes standardized testing and the ‘common core’ (and very limiting) subjects.

Definitions of Creativity

Numerous scholars, scientists, and educational leaders have provided their perspective on the meaning of creativity:

  • Creativity is defined as the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others (from Human Motivation, 3rd ed., by Robert E. Franken)
  • Creative refers to novel products of value, as in “The airplane was a creative invention.” Creative also refers to the person who produces the work, as in, “Picasso was creative.” Creativity, then, refers both to the capacity to produce such works, as in “How can we foster our employees’ creativity?” and to the activity of generating such products, as in “Creativity requires hard work”(from Creativity – Beyond the Myth of Genius by Robert W. Weisberg).
  • Creativity is generating new ideas and concepts, or making connections between ideas where none previously existed (from SmartStorming by Mitchell Rigie and Keith Harmeyer).
  • Creativity is the ability to find new solutions to a problem or new modes of expression; thus it brings into existence something new to the individual and to the culture (from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Dr. Betty Edwards).

Creativity According to Sir Ken

“Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.”

“Think of creativity as applied imagination.”

The above quotes are from Sir Ken Robinson, internationally recognized leader in the development of education and creativity, famous for his 2006 and 2010 talks at the prestigious TED Conference, estimated to have been seen by more than 200 million people.

Sir Ken Robinson champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity, and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence. He has been known to say, “We are educating people out of their creativity,” and “Creativity is now as important in education as literacy, and we should teach it with the same status.”

Sir Ken embraces the written works of Howard Gardner (Multiple Intelligences), Robert Steinberg’s three intelligences (analytical, creative, and practical), and Robert Cooper’s “heart brain” and “gut brain.” His own “three features of intelligence” are that they are “diverse, dynamic, and distinctive.”

Through his numerous lectures and online videos, Sir Ken has tried to dispel a few myths on creativity:

  1. Only a few people are really creative. “Everybody has tremendous creative capacities.”
  2. Creativity is for the arts only. “Creativity is a function of everything we do. Education for creativity is about the whole curriculum, not just part of it.”
  3. Creativity is just about letting yourself go. “No, creativity is a disciplined process that requires skill, knowledge, and control, as well as imagination and inspiration.”

In a recent TEDTALKS video on YouTube, he defines three principles crucial for the human mind to flourish, but seem to be currently contradicted by the culture of education:

  • Diversity vs. conformity
  • Curiosity vs. compliance
  • Creativity vs. standardization

See http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley.html for one of his lectures. If you like his presentations, you will love Sir Ken’s two books: Out of Our Mind – Learning to Be Creative, and The Element – How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.

Eric Booth’s Creative Habits of Mind

Eric Booth, a teacher at the Kennedy Center, Stanford University, New York University and the Lincoln Center Institute, and founding editor of the Teaching Artist Journal, maintains that the arts are more than subject matter and disciplines. They serve as modes of cognition that are necessary for every content area and for success in life.

Centering on the essential skills of brainstorming, divergent thinking, metaphoric thinking, flexible thinking, multisensory engagement, and empathy, the following “habits of mind” according to Eric Booth, are key processes, actions, and attitudes activated when we invest ourselves in the flow of creating:

  1. Generating multiple ideas/solutions
  2. Sustaining an inner atmosphere of exploration
  3. Using one’s own voice
  4. Trusting one’s own judgments
  5. Formulating good questions and problems
  6. Improvising
  7. Finding humor
  8. Crafting
  9. Making choices based on a variety of criteria
  10. Inquiring skillfully
  11. Persisting
  12. Self-assessing
  13. Reflecting metacognitively
  14. Thinking analogically
  15. Willingly suspending disbelief
  16. Observing intentionally
  17. Going back and forth between parts & wholes
  18. Trying on multiple points of view
  19. Working with others
  20. Tapping & following intrinsic motivation

He concludes with advocating for the arts and more inquiry-based learning in the schools (quoting Booth):

The “artistic process” encompasses:

  • Asking great questions and identifying good problems
  • Experimenting, while carefully attending to results
  • Cultivating a productive relationship with failure
  • Anticipating challenges and generating imaginative solutions
  • Tolerating uncertainty (even taking pleasure in ambiguity)
  • Engaging in appropriate risk-taking
  • Being resilient
  • Focusing on quality and excellence
  • Self-assessing eagerly & naturally
  • Infusing ongoing reflection into the work at hand
  • Enjoying the process and getting personal satisfaction out of it
  • Connecting to others through an expression of who you really are

Pink’s Points

To round out this provocative philosophy of teaching creativity and creative processes for their own sake, we have the highly entertaining Daniel Pink, author of three best-sellers: A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and To Sell Is Human: the Surprising Truth About Moving Others

Daniel Pink talks about his first book on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhKLSTBSgwI

Pink’s core argument in A Whole New Mind… is that “the era of ‘left brain’ dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which ‘right brain’ qualities – inventiveness, empathy, meaning – predominate.”

Tagged as “Pink’s six senses,” he proposes the following new “aptitudes” or abilities that individuals and organizations must master in an outsourced, automated age – and should become fundamental to updating our curriculum, enduring understandings (“big ideas”), essential questions, unit planning, and lesson learning targets:

  • Design
  • Story
  • Symphony
  • Empathy
  • Play
  • Meaning

Roger von Oech

Finally, a very appropriate example of defining creative thinking as “changing contexts” is described by Roger von Oech in his book Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative:

In 1792, the musicians of Franz Joseph Haydn’s orchestra were mad because the Duke had promised them a vacation, but continually had postponed it. They asked Haydn to talk to the Duke about getting some time off. Haydn thought about it, decided to let the music do the talking, and wrote the “Farewell Symphony.” The performance began with a full orchestra, but as the piece goes along, it is scored to need fewer instruments. As each musician finished his part, he blew out his candle, and left the stage. They did this, one by one, until the stage was empty. The Duke got the message and gave them a vacation.

Von Oech concludes with stating that this example illustrates “the creative mind power to transform one thing into another. By changing perspective and playing with our knowledge, we can make the ordinary extraordinary.”

More to come… Care to join the debate?

[Answer to the 4 by 4 rectangles’ puzzle at the top of the page: Remember, a rectangle can be two columns by one row or three rows by one column, etc. The total number is 100!]

Segments of this and other articles on my blog are reprinted from PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association. To see more writings or the complete three-part series on creativity, please go to the following:


© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Creative Teaching and Teaching Creativity – Part I – How Creative Are You?

“Creativity is putting your imagination to work, and it’s produced the most extraordinary results in human culture.” – Sir Ken Robinson

The following series of excerpts were originally published in a three-part series for PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association. To read the articles in their entirety, please visit my blog page “Creativity in Education – Are We Ready for a New Paradigm Shift?” at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/creativity-in-education-are-we-ready-for-a-new-paradigm-shift/. I have taken the liberty to extract, condense, and even add to this material.


Before the Common Core movement came “crashing down on us” commanding an exhaustive redesign of our curriculum and new high-stakes standardized testing, perhaps the more promising and innovative “buzz” was a recommendation to adopt 21st Century learning skill initiatives. Companies, businesses, and governments – the employers of the vast majority of the future work force – did not want their employees to settle for an education based on a “regurgitation of facts and figures,” but to demonstrate mastery of the work-related skills of communications and collaboration, and the thinking skills of critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) group, in order for the United States to be able to “compete in a global society,” a refocus is essential on learning the skills of personal innovation. Advocating for 21st century readiness of every student, P21 emphasizes education in the best practices of creativity, originality, divergent thinking, flexibility and adaptability, communication, personal initiative and self-direction, and leadership and responsibility, among other themes including collaboration, global awareness, financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy, health and wellness awareness, and technology.

How Creative Are You?

Take this quick test, and try to think “outside the box.” This puzzle, first introduced to many of us by Michael Kumer at an early PMEA Summer Leadership Conference, instructs you to link all nine dots using four or fewer straight lines without lifting the pen, and without tracing the same line more than once. Can you solve this using four lines? For advanced visionaries, how about completing it with only three lines? Believe it or not, a super-creative person may be able to find a way to solve this problem with ONE line! (Answers at the end of this article.)


Numerous measurements have been proposed to evaluate a person’s creativity potential. Check out several of these:

Mind Tools’ questionnaire at http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/creativity-quiz.htm illustrates a model for the “highly creative” personality.

How many of these terms describe YOU?

  • Willingness to take risks
  • Perseverance, drive, commitment to task
  • Curiosity
  • Openness, open-mindedness
  • Tolerance for ambiguity
  • Broad interests
  • Valuing originality
  • Intuition, being perceptive
  • Embracing the need to find solutions to problems
  • Being internally occupied, withdrawn, needing privacy
  • Awareness of own creativeness
  • Sense of humor
  • Being attracted by complexity and novelty

Feel free to share your perspective!

Respond to this blog. Be as creative as you want!

(More to come….)


© 2015 Paul K. Fox


Advice from Music Teacher Retirees to Soon-To-Be Retirees

Tips and Resources on Bridging That Transition to Retirement

“Your problem is to bridge the gap which exists between where you are now and the goal you intend to reach.” – Earl Nightingale

Retirement is a life-changing event, perhaps the most significant “final transition” in our lives involving an ongoing process of emotional adjustment.

The research of counseling psychologist Dr. Nancy K. Schlossberg is worth reading. She identified the following ways in which people approach retirement, as quoted at http://www.apa.org/research/action/retire.aspx:

  • Continuers who continued using existing skills and interests;
  • Adventurers who start entirely new endeavors;
  • Searchers who explore new options through trial and error;
  • Easy Gliders who enjoy unscheduled time letting each day unfold;
  • Involved Spectators who care deeply about the world, but engage in less active ways;
  • Retreaters who take time out or disengage from life.

Soon after being appointed to the position of Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) State Retired Member Coordinator, I realized that we have three types of PA music teacher retirees responding to the challenge of this time-honored passage:

  • People who do not see themselves as retired, just leaving a full-time job in music education, and moving on to new goals, employment, and/or volunteer work.
  • People who are relieved from the stress of day-to-day employment, and now feel ready to fill and complete new “bucket lists,” spend more time with family, travel, and hobbies, and perhaps even explore several new areas/levels/skills in music and education.
  • People who are happy to leave the profession and want nothing to do with any part of music education or PMEA.

With the exception of the latter group, it is worth repeating the message I wrote in my Winter 2015 article in PMEA News:

“PMEA has a lot to offer, and, in return, we retirees can ‘give back’ in a way that is both meaningful and beneficial to our professional association. It comes to no surprise that PMEA retirees have filled numerous district and state officer, committee chair, council, and ex-officio positions. You know what they say – What we know in our little pinkies….”

There are numerous opportunities to “lend a hand” or “keep our feet wet” in our profession:

  • Sign up for the PMEA Retired Members’ Retiree Resource Registry (R3) to share your vast wealth of teaching experiences and expertise, archiving your special skills, interests, awards, and past professional assignments, and being willing to be called upon to serve as an informal adviser or go-to person for help. Complete the survey at https://pmea.wufoo.com/forms/pmea-retiree-resource-survey/.
  • Volunteer to serve as presiding chair or member of the planning or listening committees for the PMEA In-Service Conference.
  • Participate as a guest lecturer or panel discussion member at a conference or workshop.
  • Judge PMEA adjudication festivals.
  • Offer to help plan or manage a local PMEA festival or workshop.
  • Accompany, coach or guest conduct music festivals or local school ensembles.
  • Call up the local music teacher and offer your help in music technology, instrument repair, etc.
  • Submit articles to PMEA News.

Additional suggestions from successfully retired members were sent and shared in PMEA News (Summer 2015) :

  1. To prepare yourself for retirement, have something in place to do – private teaching, performing, traveling, and/or volunteering.
  2. Have a plan! Figure out some idea of what you want to do with the rest of your life after teaching.
  3. Build your social network of friends, colleagues, and people with which you want to continue spending time. Relationships are important in retirement.
  4. Stay involved in music – somehow. Once retired, you can revisit your roots in creative self-expression (the things that inspired you to become a music teacher in the first place), while avoiding the day-to-day stress and routine of your former job assignments.
  5. Do not micromanage or “try to help” the new guy appointed to your position. If (and only if) your replacement asks, perhaps you can meet for breakfast or lunch to “pass on the baton,” offering to share with him/her where are the closets (if not the skeletons), and information for smooth transition such as the location of the music library database, curriculum guide, classroom instruments, etc. However, keep in mind it is not your responsibility nor is it appropriate to give the newcomer philosophy, methodology, or minute details on how or what to do in your former job. The new professional is not you (and probably will make many mistakes), and will have to find his/her own way to realize success in the position.
  6. Travel to those places that you always wanted to see but never had the time. Try a warm sunny place in the winter and see what your students always enjoyed while you were stuck in the classroom during January and February.
  7. Get involved in advocacy, either for music education or something else that is important to you.
  8. For assistance in making the smooth transition to retirement, read the Fall 2013 PMEA News article “Retirement – Now What?” archived on the Retired Member section of the State PMEA website (http://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Retirement-Now-What-in-PMEA-News-Fall-2013.pdf). Also review the other links posted on the same site.

Be sure to read the other retirement blogs on this site, “Are You Ready? Thoughts on Retirement for Music Teachers” (July 2, 2015) and “Retirement, Exercise, and Balance” (July 6, 2015).

Finally, peruse the following links and books which analyze the psychology and stages of retirement, and provide thoughtful recommendations for happiness and fulfillment after a career of full-time employment. Happy trails, retirees!

Sample of Online Links

Honey I Am Home – for Good – Ohio State University Extension (by Kirk Bloir): http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/5159.html

Stages of Retirement – Ohio State University Extension (by Christine Price): http://ohioline.osu.edu/ss-fact/0201.html

3 Ways to Successfully Transition into Retirement – U.S. News and World Report Money (by Dave Bernard): http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/on-retirement/2012/12/07/3-ways-to-successfully-transition-into-retirement

Journey Through the Six Stages of Retirement – Investopedia (by Mark P. Cussen): http://www.investopedia.com/articles/retirement/07/sixstages.asp

Transition into a Healthy Retirement – SPARKPEOPLE (by Rebecca Pratt): http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=396

25 Things to Do When You Retire – U.S. News and World Report Money (by Phil Taylor): http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/on-retirement/2011/02/11/25-things-to-do-when-you-retire

Emotional Stages of Retirement – Ameriprise Financial: https://www.ameriprise.com/retire/planning-for-retirement/retirement-ideas/emotional-stages.asp

Life After Retirement – What Do I Do Now? – Forbes (by Mike Lewis): http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikelewis/2013/10/22/life-after-retirement/

Thinking About Retirement? Time to Think About Your Psychological Portfolio – American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/research/action/retire.aspx

Behavioral and Psychological Aspects of the Retirement Decision – U.S. Social Security Administration: http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v71n4/v71n4p15.html

Psychological Effects of the Transition to Retirement – University of Alberta (by John W. Osborne): http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ969555.pdf

Recommended Books to Read

How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free by Ernie Zelinski

How to Love Your Retirement: The Guide to the Best of Your Life by Barbara Waxman

The Joy of Retirement: Finding Happiness, Freedom, and the Life You’ve Always Wanted by David Borchard

The Joy of Not Working: A Book for the Retired, Unemployed and Overworked by Ernie Zelinski

65 Things to Do When You Retire by Mark Evan Chimsk


© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Overview – Strategies for Landing a Music Teacher Job

“Without ambition, one starts nothing. Without work, one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

In a challenging job market with limited openings for public/private school music educators in many geographical areas of the country, there is great competition in the screening and evaluation of the applicants. I am happy to offer some tips and techniques towards successful career preparation, employment searches, interviewing, and promotion of your image and record of past performance, experiences, achievements, behaviors, knowledge, skills, and abilities that are job-related.

The concept of marketing oneself for employment is based on several skill sets:

  • Knowing the territory
  • Making connections
  • Branding yourself
  • Storytelling about the challenges and triumphs you faced in life
  • Proving that you have “what it takes” and your skills/experiences would be a “good fit” to the needs, goals, and values of the institution, employer, and position to which you are applying
  • Being persistent and well-organized

Here is my outline of general targets for marketing professionalism and a successful job hunt. Many of these subjects have been/will be shared in current or future blogs on this site.

  1. Develop and model your skills as a “professional.” (Read my July 1, 2015 blog “The Meaning of Pro.”)
  2. Complete a self-assessment of your content knowledge, teaching skills, musicianship, and personality traits. (Prepare in advance so that you will be able to share your “best” attributes.) One model for evaluation of prospective and current educators is Charlotte Danielson’s “Four Domains” from The Framework for Teaching. (To research these, see http://danielsongroup.org/framework/).
    • Planning and Preparation
    • Classroom Environment
    • Instruction
    • Professional Responsibilities
  3. Seek out avenues (while in college or around your music education peers) to practice and improve your weakest skill areas (less familiar band/string instruments, improvement in piano accompaniment, jazz improvisation, or singing)
  4. Assemble artifacts of your professional activities, the precursor for the development of a comprehensive résumé and portfolio.
    • Bulleted list of specific academic and music accomplishments with dates
    • College assessments and transcripts
    • Scholarships and other awards
    • Education experiences (e.g. lists, photos, and/or audio/video recordings of student teaching, observations, and other field assignments, private teaching, substitute teaching, other employment in the private and public schools, conducting or performing in community ensembles, summer camps, sports, scouts, church programs, marching band sectionals or field assistance, choral accompaniment or vocal/drama/dance coachings, etc.)
    • Sample solo recital and chamber/large group concert programs
    • Sample lesson plans, learning targets, rubrics, and other student assessments
    • Original compositions and arrangements
    • Congratulatory notes and letters of reference
  5. Create a philosophy of music education. Be ready to answer the key essential questions “What is your personal mission?” and “What is the role of music in a child’s education?” (To define a broad-based vision for becoming the ultimate “total music educator,” avoiding any prejudice to, limitations in, and restrictions of a particular music specialty, see my July 4, 2015 blog “Marketing Yourself and Your K-12 Music Certification.”)
  6. Familiarize yourself with current educational jargon, terminology, trends, and acronyms, possible topics administrators may check for understanding at a future interview. If you do not know the meaning of terms like The Common Core, formative/summative assessments, or 21st Century Learning Skills, look them up. (See my July 18, 2015 blog “The Alphabet Soup of Educational Acronyms.”)
  7. Compile a set of detailed professional anecdotes based on your positive attributes (see #2 above), artifacts (#4), and examples of your professionalism (#1) – the most important successes you have had in your education, career and personal life. Metaphors, analogies, and humorous anecdotes are the foundation for excellent storytelling at interviews. (See my August 2, 2015 blog “When It Comes to to Getting a Job, ‘S’ is for Successful Storytelling.”)
  8. Pre-interview preparation
    • Creation or revision of your résumé, interview handouts, electronic portfolio, and employment website
    • Practice and drill on answering common interview questions (including self-assessments of video samples) – see examples of interview questions from the 2013 Pennsylvania Music Educators Association In-Service Conference: http://www.uscsd.k12.pa.us/Page/6361
    • Research of the school district, music program, job opening, and unique local curricular innovations
    • Development of appropriate and meaningful questions to ask the interviewer
    • Trial run (know exactly where you are going, time needed, traffic patterns, etc.)
  9. Positive interview techniques (future blog)
  10. Post interview (debriefing yourself) and organization of the job search process (another future blog)

As they say in the theater, “break a leg” at your job interview!

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” – Albert Einstein


© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Retirement, Exercise, and Balance

“One in three people 65 and older fall each year in the United States.” Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html

“Staying active with regular exercise can help seniors improve their health and hang on to their independence longer. Walking is a great way for seniors to fulfill the recommendation of two and a half hours of aerobic activity per week.” Source: Livestrong Foundation at http://www.livestrong.com/article/416885-walking-exercises-for-seniors/

According to the Centers for Disease Control, falls are the leading cause of injuries, fatal and nonfatal, by U.S. seniors. Older adults can stay independent and reduce their chances of falling by adopting the following strategies:

  • Exercise regularly especially to increase leg strength and improve overall balance.
  • Have a doctor or pharmacist review prescriptions and over-the-counter medications for side-effects or interactions that may cause dizziness or drowsiness.
  • Check the eyes at least once a year and update eyeglasses to maximize vision.
  • Reduce household tripping hazards by the adding grab bars inside and outside the tub or shower and next to the toilet, installing railings on both sides of stairways, and improving the lighting in and outside homes.
  • Lower the risk of bone fractures by consuming adequate calcium and vitamin D from food and/or from supplements, doing weight-bearing exercise, and being screened and treated (if needed) for osteoporosis.

The best advice I heard recently about retirement and remaining physically active was contributed to PMEA News (state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association) by colleague Chuck Neidhardt, a retired member of PMEA:

Begin a routine exercise plan, or begin a sport. You don’t have to be good at it – just do it for your health. This is a must for retirees because the exercise we got from walking the hall between our room and our mailbox (or elsewhere in the school) is no longer there. It only takes a short while to begin to add the pounds and lose the strength we had while teaching. Also, be sure to begin a regular regimen of seeing your doctor and having a physical check up at least once a year. 

Since I have retired, I have experienced a few surprises first-hand in maintaining my own physical fitness and stamina.

One would have thought that once we were released from the day-to-day demands of our music programs and school work, we could become “footloose and fancy-free” to enjoy free time and all kinds of physical activity – to the end-result of noticeably improved health, endurance, and vitality in our lives! (After all, have you noticed that the majority of recently retired people seem to look instantly younger, well-rested, and happier?)

What free time? For most retirees, it doesn’t take long to fill up their “dance card” and calendars with social engagements, family obligations, home improvements, yard work, golf/tennis outings, swimming, or other sports, doctor and dental appointments, local concerts and musicals, trips and vacations, systematic sorting/filing/downsizing the mounds of paper (and music) accumulated over 30+ years of teaching – you name it! You’ll hear it frequently lamented by most retired educators: “How did we ever find the time to do everything when we had our job?”

Where’s my stamina? When I was a full-time teacher with numerous extra-curricular activities, I would arrive to school by 7 a.m., teach 6-9 music classes or lessons during the school day, attend faculty, curriculum meetings or after-school ensemble rehearsals until 4:30, run home to get a quick bite to eat, and then more often than not return to school for at least another couple hours for play or musical practices. On most week-nights, lesson planning and prep had to begin at 9:30 or 10 p.m.

All those years and I didn’t even notice that this “rat race” was stressful and physically grueling! (Although, the evidence was there all along… such things like “always being tired” and “feeling stressed!” Really, is it normal for anyone to take only five minutes to eat lunch in his car traveling between buildings? Many itinerant music teachers who are assigned to 2-4 buildings a day may have to catch a quick-snack this way. Even today, if I don’t hold myself back, I can consume a meal in under 10 minutes!)

Now that I have retired and left all of these “bad habits” behind, why is it that volunteering 3 1/2 hours pushing wheelchairs at a local hospital sometimes seems to be more than I can manage? Nap time, anyone?

What’s a healthy solution? The first thing I considered when I retired was something I could never do during my teaching career – go out and buy two (adorable) puppies! Similar to the exhaustive physical demands of babysitting grandchildren, caring for my “Brewster” (yorkie-poo) and “Gracie” (bichon frise) has consumed every free moment! Just look at their picture above and you will instantly know the rationale behind my wife’s and my commitment!

Well, the good news is… now my weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol are down! For me, the secret is dog walking! According to the new app that suddenly appeared during an update of my iPhone iOS, I am now averaging 12,000 steps every day, at least five miles (and some days as many as nine!)… and the lion’s share is due to the doggies! To me, walking is a wonderfully peaceful and reflective stress eliminator, and puts me in a good frame of mind. No matter the weather or the season, my “pups” will help me stick to my plan of low-impact fitness training! Isn’t that why they say pet owners live longer?

In conclusion, retirement is a good time to “pump up exercise!” For more specifics, check out the USATODAY online article at http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/01/19/retirees-exercise-physical-activity/4262151/.

Of course, first consult your physician on what type of physical regimen would be good for you!

I will leave you with this summary from the Livestrong Foundation:

Exercise can have profound effects on a senior citizen’s vitality and overall well-being. Staying active can help to reduce pain and stiffness, improve energy levels and increase strength. Older adults who exercise are more mobile and independent. Senior citizens need to get a mix of four types of exercise: endurance, strengthening, stretching and balance. Your routine can be simple and does not have to involve elaborate or expensive equipment.


© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Marketing Yourself and Your K-12 Music Certification

Model yourself as a competent, comprehensive “Generalist,” not a single-subject “Expert” or “Specialist” (which may decrease your chances in finding a job).

To get a music teaching job, specialization in Pennsylvania is probably a four-letter word.

Need proof? Examine the wording on the PA Instructional Certificate, accrediting you in “Music, Grades K to 12,” not directing choirs, concert or marching bands, or orchestras, nor teaching jazz, theater, music theory, music appreciation, or general music.

In the state of Pennsylvania, there are no prerequisite specialties nor exclusive focus areas in the music curriculum such as Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze, World Drumming, Suzuki, etc. Perhaps an individual school district’s courses-of-study may emphasize a particular discipline (and as far as I know, only a few do), but the Pennsylvania Department of Education is “specialty blind.”

The exhaustive employment search process is all about finding a single job. The only thing that really matters is whether you are the “right fit” for a particular opening. Do you have the skills and training to teach the music classes for that posted position?

When a school district begins looking for a new music candidate in pa-educator.net or other web service, the human resource assistant may submit online search parameters such as “majored in voice” or “band” or “elementary” or other criteria. However, be wary of disqualifying yourself or possibly getting your name “thrown off the list!” Don’t be myopic in your descriptions of your music teaching competencies and personal philosophy. Give yourself the chance to prove yourself and at least be granted an interview.

It is paramount that you adopt a unified philosophy of music education (and be ready to relate real-time anecdotes that you are practicing these convictions), where all areas of performing arts instruction (from instrumental music to choral music to classroom general music and all other related arts electives) have equal emphasis and importance.

On your digital portfolio, employment webpage, resume, and interview handouts, document your field experience, summer camps, church or community ensembles, private teaching activities, and/or other employment in as many categories as possible… ideally, showing examples or artifacts from all of them – choral, strings, band, piano, and general music.

In your statement of philosophy, be sure to analyze and be ready to express why do you want to become a music teacher? Can you respond to the key questions renown music education clinician/technologist Jim Frankel (Director of MusicFirst) often demanded at his in-service workshops or conference sessions:

  1. What is your personal mission?
  2. What is the role of music in a child’s education?
  3. Are we creating performers, theorists, teachers… or lifelong music lovers?

Here are some additional tips to avoid being seen as unqualified or “pigeon-holed.”

  1. Embrace the concept and needs of “the whole child” (see http://www.wholechildeducation.org/).
  2. Do not allow yourself to be labeled to a specific subject area or grade level.
  3. Know the current educational buzz-words and acronyms… administrators love checking your understanding of the “alphabet soup” – terms like UBD and EQ, HOTS or DOK, RTI, IEP, and SLO. (This will be the subject of a future blog.)
  4. Still in school? Utilize your college resources now to “broaden your training” and master your insecurities.
  5. Identify your “worse area” and get to work on it. Ask help from your peers or secondary methods instructors!
  6. If you think you are a “miserable” pianist, take a few extra lessons. Or conquer your other “fears” such as learning to sing better, playing a new string instrument, crossing the break once again on the clarinet, practicing the basics of jazz improvisation, etc.
  7. Develop resources – personal contacts, ensembles, and associations – to help you land and keep a job outside your favorite “specialty.”

The job market fluctuates and suitable positions (especially in your “targeted” geographical areas) can be limited, so you may have to accept employment far from your college major, initial goals or interests. It happened to me! Although a viola major who never sung even once in a high school or college choral ensemble, I was asked to direct the 200+ member choirs (five groups) at the Upper St. Clair High School… for 16 years! What inspired us in that famous Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken?” For my career, “I took the path less traveled by.” But, we had great success, and it eventually led me to directing/producing plays and musicals as well. “And that has made all the difference!”

Remember, excellent teaching comes from excellent musicianship, NOT that irritating other quote: “Those who can, DO. Those who can’t, TEACH….”

Work towards marketing yourself as a “total music educator” while you have the chance – NOT just a proficient music specialist! After you land your first job, then you can be “picky,” and perhaps seek a transfer to your preferred area.


© 2015 Paul K. Fox