Summer Reading

Teachers, you’re in the home stretch now! You are within weeks of a long vacation break and the chance to rest, refresh, recharge, rewind, and rejuvenate. After what COVID-19 dished out to us, you deserve some time off! Here comes much-anticipated trips, family visits, sleeping in, and going dormant for at least 2-3 weeks!

However, most music educators never totally shut down. We seek out new enrichment opportunities by attending conferences or music reading workshops, researching new methods, and “retooling” for our lessons ahead.

Modeling the annual Peanuts comic strip’s January theme of Lucy Van Pelt assigning Charlie Brown a long and unwanted list of New Year’s Resolutions, yours truly (a retired teacher with a lot less stress) is about to do the same and recommend YOU kick off your shoes, climb into a comfortable lounge chair, tune out all extraneous noise and media distractions, and crack open some “serious summer reading…”

Here are my three favorite books for the season to take with you when you go to the beach or sit by the pool!

In keeping with an alliteration of all those “r’s” to promote healing and health during this “recess,” take time to prepare for 2021-2022 and reflect on and restock your reservoir of resilience, robustness, and resourcefulness!

Teachers Pay Teachers SEL blog

S is for “SEL”

Yes, the values and life skills of emotional/mental/social “balance” begin at home. But the expectation is that schools and teachers are always relied upon to be the “safety net” – pick up the pieces or fulfill the needs not provided at home. And it should not have taken a pandemic for us to discover how important social emotional learning (SEL) is to the health, wellness, and success of every child (and their family members) we serve in our classrooms, ensembles, lessons, and after-school programs.

“Music educators are in a prime position to help students become socially and emotionally competent while at the same time develop excellent musicianship. For every child to be successful in the music classroom, teachers need to be aware of the whole student. How do music educators create success when students every day struggle with social awareness, bullying, communication, problem solving, and other challenges? This pioneering book by Scott Edgar addresses how music educators can utilize Social Emotional Learning (SEL) to maximize learning in the choral, instrumental, and general music classroom at all levels, and at the same time support a student’s social and emotional growth.”

— back cover of Music Education and Social Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music

“Finally! Thank you, Scott Edgar, for your willingness to walk boldly into this often trodden, but rarely addressed aspect of music education you have rightfully labeled social emotional learning. For every music educator, from preschool through a PhD program, we know the opportunity to “develop the whole person” is right in front of us each and every day. Where else in the academic community is there such a perfect forum that cultivates both the cognitive and effective growth of those involved? Ultimately, the rehearsal room/music classroom becomes a society within society, and the skills needed to grow and succeed at the highest levels are simultaneously offered in content and context. And yet, there are very few resources to guide the mentor in a positive, productive fashion. Now there is and this book is a powerful blueprint leading us to a worthy outcome and more.”

— Foreword by Tim Lautzenheiser for Music Education and Social Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music

Probably the most authoritative textbook on SEL for music teachers, it may be hard to believe that Scott Edgar wrote it in 2017, long before the crush of COVID-19. SEL is now coming to forefront due to the “pandemic-related” problems of students feeling disconnected, stressed, over- or underwhelmed, and unmotivated during their physical isolation from in-person schooling and remote learning (See Edutopia at https://www.edutopia.org/article/3-ways-support-students-emotional-well-being-during-pandemic and Education Week https://www.edweek.org/leadership/the-pandemic-will-affect-students-mental-health-for-years-to-come-how-schools-can-help/2021/03).

SEL sources

You have a wide variety of choices to explore this topic, and all of these are from Scott Edgar!

The NAfME Professional Learning Community: Music Education and SEL – An Advocacy Tool for Music Educators accessible as a video: https://vimeo.com/426070325

Music for All webinar series:

  • Episode 1Teaching Music Through Social Emotional LearningComposing with Heart hosted by Scott N. Edgar with guest presenters Brian Balmages, Brandon Boyd, Richard Saucedo, Alex Shapiro (composers) and Bob Morrison https://youtu.be/6HIbK23TmaE
  • Episode 10Teaching Music Through Social Emotional Learning Narwhals and Waterfalls hosted by Scott N. Edgar with guest presenters Paige Bell and Adrien Palmer: https://youtu.be/BlbxX1DP-5c

The NAfME Music in a Minuet blog: https://nafme.org/music-education-social-emotional-learning/

Music Education and Social Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music in book form is available from Amazon and https://giamusic.com/store/resource/music-education-and-social-emotional-learning-book-g9418?artist=tpVEu30fe0uy.

Check out his all-encompassing Table of Contents:

Section One – Teaching Music Beyond the Notes

  • Chapter 1: What is Social Emotional Learning
  • Chapter 2: Socialization in the Music Classroom by Jacqueline Kelly-McHale
  • Chapter 3: Bullying in the Music Classroom by Jared Rawlings
  • Chapter 4: Music Educators Are Not Counselors

Section Two – Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Music Education

  • Chapter 5: Self-Awareness and Self-Management in Music Education – Self-Discipline and the Music WIthin
  • Chapter 6: Social-Awareness and Relationship Skills in Music Education – Sharing and Communicating Through Music
  • Chapter 7: Responsible Decision-Making in Music Education – Problem Solving Through Music

Conclusion: The Heart of Music Education – Our Common Bond

SEL – the new “buzz word?” What is Social and Emotional Learning?

“Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” — Collaborative for Academic, Social, & Emotional Learning

Social emotional learning describes the development of skills in three domains: self, others, and responsible decision making.

“Self” includes:

  • Self-awareness skills such as ability to identify and recognize emotions
  • Self management skills such as perseverance in the ability to manage impulse control

“Others” includes:

  • Relationship skills such as cooperation, empathy, and respectful communication
  • Social awareness skills such as the ability to recognize diverse thoughts and opinions.

“Responsible decision-making” includes:

  • Behavioral skills such as situation analysis, anticipating consequences and generating alternative solutions.
  • Cooperative skills such as balancing personal in group expectations.

The three key pillars of SEL:

  1. identity
  2. belonging
  3. agency

Probably the best conclusion I have ever read about the value of SEL in the arts comes from Scott Edgar in the last section of his book:

“The music classroom is a melting pot of students from different backgrounds, musics of different cultures, varied personalities, and diverse values. All of this diversity is united under the common bond of music… Music classrooms, possibly more profoundly than any other academic setting, can help students and teachers cooperate to recognize diversity, engage in respectful dialogue to resolve conflict, and empathetically respect human dignity, because this is how music has functioned for centuries. Music classrooms are social because making music is, has, and always will be a social activity. In a time when there are so many divisive forces, music and music education can be a powerful uniting weapon. The tenets of SEL interwoven into a musical education strengthens both entities. Emphasizing self- and social-awareness makes music education richer and more personal. Music education brings humanity and culture into a world of personal and interpersonal interactions.”

Sunshine Parenting video by Audrey Monke featuring Dr. Michele Borba

Seven Teachable Skills to Cultivate & Nurture THRIVERS

The latest book by Michele Borba, Ed.D., Thrivers – The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine, is a definite must-read from cover-to-cover.

“Michele Borba has been a teacher, educational consultant, and parent for 40 years – and she’s never been more worried about kids than she is right now. The high-achieving students she talks with every day are more accomplished, better educated, and more privileged than ever before. But the old markers of success (grades, test scores) aren’t what these kids need to thrive in these uncertain times – and they know it. They’re more stressed, unhappier, and struggling with anxiety, depression, and burnout at younger and younger ages – “We’re like pretty packages with nothing inside,” said one teen. Thrivers are different: they flourish in our fast-paced, digital-driven, ever-changing world. Why? Dr. Borba combed scientific studies on resilience, spoke to dozens of researchers/experts in the field, and interviewed more than 100 young people from all walks of life, and she found something surprising: the difference between those who struggle and those who succeed comes down not to grades or test scores, but the seven character traits that set Thrivers apart (and set them up for happiness and greater accomplishment later in life).”


— from the front flap of Thrivers

The first thing you need to do (after you order and read both her original best-seller UnSelfie – Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World and this sequel) is to download her give-away “Core Assets Survey” from https://www.micheleborba.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Thrivers_CoreAssets.pdf. Here is a sample page of her assessment checklist for her seven character strengths.

How to use Borba’s book

Although it is generally marketed as a guide for parents (and grandparents), this is a perfect “program and process” for everyone who serves as youth caregivers and educational professionals. Borba prescribes these steps to use the book with the above evaluation tool:

  1. Assess your child’s character strengths: self-confidence, empathy, integrity, self-control, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism.
  2. Tally up the points, prioritize his needs, and address initially the one or two traits receiving the lowest score.
  3. Read each chapter of “evidence-backed strategies and skills” which can be easily transferred and taught to your child from preschool through high school.
  4. Motivate and help your child to adopt each character strength “as a lifelong habit to optimize his potential in thrive.”
  5. Choose one ability a month, focus on it, and “practice it with your child a few minutes a day until he can use it without reminders.”

For teachers, this is a wonderful “soft curriculum” for nurturing these seven essential personal traits, each broken down into “character strength description,” “abilities to teach,” and “outcomes.” It will become apparent to you that these are directly related to SEL.

Besides the character strengths (#1 above), the reader is introduced to several revised definitions and new acronyms that may help to reshape our perspectives for teaching kids (these are a few samples): C.A.L.M. (chill-assert-look strong-mean it – p. 239), C.A.R.E. (console, assist, reassure, empathize – p. 90), comebacks (p. 240), creativity (p. 178), C.U.R.I.O.U.S (child-driven-unmanaged-risky-intrinsic-open-ended-unusual-solitude, p. 175), digital limits (p. 78), emotions (p. 76), goals (p. 209), gratitude (p. 86), growth mindset (p. 205), micromanaging (p. 171), mindfulness (p. 133), moral identity (p. 148), multitask (p. 110), “the four P’s of peers, passion, projects, and play” (p. 163), parenting styles (dysfunctional) – “enabler,” “impatient,” “coddler,” “competitor,” “rescuer” (p. 127), triggers (p. 121), self-esteem (p. 33), T.A.L.E.N.T. (tenacity-attention-learning-eagerness-need-tone – p. 39), and well-rounded (p. 36).

Activities throughout the book are categorized for age-suitability: Y = young children, toddlers, and preschoolers; s = school-age; t = tweens and older; a = all ages.

In the final pages of the book, Borba poses some excellent group discussion questions to facilitate a thorough review of her work. A few of these especially resonated with me:

  • Do you think raising children who can thrive today is easier, no different, or more difficult than when your parents raised you? Why?
  • What influences children’s character and thriving development most: peers, media, education, parents, pop culture, or something else?
  • Which of the seven character strengths are more difficult to teach to children today? Why?
  • What kind of person do you want your child (or your student) to become? How will you help your child become that person?
  • What are some of the sayings, proverbs, or experiences you recall from your childhood that helped you define your values?
  • [As a teacher] what would you like your greatest legacy to be for your [students]? What will you do to ensure that your [children] attain that legacy?

Her specific anecdotes, object lessons, and research for each character strength are priceless!

Lesley Moffat at Carnegie Hall

LOVE the Job, LOSE the Stress

In my “New Year’s blog” posted on December 29, 2020, I shared my advice on “how to make a difference in 2021” and told readers to find their own good role models and “positive gurus” to sustain their vision, motivation, and drive throughout the year.

Someone who has recently become inspirational to me is the wonderfully uplifting Lesley Moffat, probably an expert on the search for “mindfulness” in personal life and even during her band warm ups. In my opinion, her transformative stories provide the roadmap for happiness and wellbeing! She now has published two books (you need to read both) – I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me, and Love the Job, Lose the Stress, and if you are still teaching music full-time, you need to peruse her website: https://mpowerededucator.com/.

Now her latest book ties in all of the above enrichment and enlightenment – “successful social and emotional learning in the modern music classroom” – and adds an essential focus on teacher self-care and wellness. What was that saying attributed to Molesey Crawford in Unlocking the Queen Code?

  • Know thyself.
  • Love thyself.
  • Heal thyself.
  • Be thyself.

Lesley Moffat has taught high school band for over 32 years in the Pacific Northwest, with her ensembles earning superior ratings and performing all over the US, Canada, and even in Carnegie Hall. She was planning to retire at the end of 2019-2020 when the pandemic hit. (As far as I know at this time, she has not retired yet – “for the sake of her kids” she stayed throughout this challenging time of COVID-19 and the slow reopening of schools!) She clarifies this in the introduction to her Love the Job, Lose the Stress book:

“I completed the first draft of this manuscript on March 3, 2020. Ten days later, schools across the world began shutting down as the coronavirus began sweeping the globe… The ultimate purpose of this book is to share the protocol I created that has become the basis of the social and emotional learning needs for my students (and truth be told, for me). Everything I talk about in this book was true before the pandemic, and it has proven to be as powerful in a virtual environment as it is in person… The great news is that you can give your students the gift of learning to self-regulate, calm down, and focus without distraction through intentional design and practice.”

She offers an intriguing set of easy-to-read chapters in her “hard to put down” 191-page work.

  1. My Life’s Work Is So Much More Than Just A Job
  2. I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me
  3. The Badass Band Director’s Bible
  4. Step One: The Moffat Music Teacher Mojo Meter
  5. Step Two: Identifying the Three C’s – Care, Clarity, and Consistency
  6. Step Three: Identifying Your Priorities
  7. Step Four: SNaP Strategies for Music Teachers
  8. Step Five: Tuning Our Bodies
  9. Step Six: Creating Your Own First Four Minute Protocols
  10. Coda
  11. Fine

Highlights of suggestions from Love the Job, Lose the Stress

Like her last book, the Moffat Music Teacher Mojo Meter returns. If you are ever privileged to have her as a clinician for a local workshop, it is likely she may send out this survey to the participants in advance. These fifteen questions will provide her an individualized needs assessment of the stressors attendees are experiencing so she can differentiate the planning of her “help session” (page 48).

You’ll have a lot more questions to answer in Chapter 5 (page 50). Read and identify (and define for yourself) her three C’s for success: care, clarity, consistency.

In Chapter 6 (page 67), she wants you to identify your priorities. This is your chance to dream big! You’ll have to read her story (with wide swings of emotion) about her Jackson HS Honors Wind Ensemble performing at Carnegie Hall.

Also returning from her previous book, Chapter 7 (page 81) shares her Start Now and Progress – or SNaP to it – strategies for music teachers. Revisit her amazing tale about doing (of all things) push-ups: “By taking small incremental steps that build upon what I did each day before, I was able to take a skill that was very difficult for me on April 1 and do it 60 times just 30 days later.” She sums up three SNaP Strategies “for busy band directors” (page 90).

  1. Gratitude for the attitude
  2. Time stealers
  3. Reset yourself

Don’t miss her Chapter 10 (page 156) and “Lesley’s Top Ten Badass Band Director Tips!”

Finally, probably worth 1000-times the price of the book and all the time you will put into it is her Chapter 8 “Tuning Our Bodies” (page 103) and Chapter 9 “Creating Your Own First Four Minute Protocol” (page 129). This is where you will take what you read, reflect on her philosophies and system of classroom management and warm-ups, and adapt it to your situation. Adding to your teacher’s toolbox the techniques of mindfulness, breathing exercises, and listening skills – and practicing them with your students daily – will make all the difference in the SEL of your own lessons and overall program.

BRAVO and thank you Lesley for being so intuitive, upfront, and personal… and being so generous in sharing your secrets!

We applaud your efforts, and agree with Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser who said in the Foreword to Love the Job, Lose the Stress:

“This latest-greatest contribution offers a tried-and-true blueprint for vocational success while embracing the critical importance of fueling one’s mental, emotional and physical health. Spot on! Bull’s eye!”

“This is not a book you read and then put on the shelf; rather it is a file cabinet of priceless data certain to boister the health, happiness, and good fortune of every (music) teacher.”

“As music teachers, we teach students how to develop all kinds of skills, from mental to physical, in order for them to be well-rounded musicians. We show them how to properly form and embouchure, the correct fingerings to use, how to read music, what proper posture looks like, how to be artistic and expressive, and so much more. And we always tell them to “pay attention and “focus.” But do we ever teach them how to pay attention and focus? The secret to getting students engaged, focused, and curious so you can teach them all the cool stuff about music is teaching them how to actually build those skills until they become habits. Once you’ve taught them how to learn, then everything else becomes a million times easier for you and for them.”

— from the back cover of the Love the Job, Lose the Stress

Now you have it… a collection of at least three potential life-changing inspirations for summer study.

In addition to these “finds,” I need to mention a couple other educational publications for your consideration (see picture below). But, first-things-first as Stephen Covey would say! Check out Music Education and Social Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music by Scott Edgar, Thrivers – The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine by Michele Borba, and Love the Job, Lose the Stress by Lesley Moffat. PKF

Future Book Reviews

© 2021 Paul K. Fox

Image by csharker from Pixabay

Spring is for… Music Conferences!

In our neck of the woods (Allegheny County in Western PA), we are thawing out from what was a pretty mild winter, and welcome the sounds of birds chirping and sights of flowers blooming and grass turning green! Spring is the time for re-birth and growth… including professional development of all kinds for music educators – everyone from pre-service (future music educators) to in-service teachers and even retirees!

Let’s get recharged, re-energized, and re-inspired! Sign-up for one or more of these conferences.

COVID-19 has placed restrictions on all of our PMEA and NAfME venues, and so far, 2021 conferences will be held in a “virtual” platform. This is both good and bad news. The disadvantage remains that we cannot “get close and personal,” shake hands, network, collaborate, and “catch-up” with our friends and colleagues, meet new people, and sight-see places like the Poconos, Erie, Reading, or Pittsburgh! However, the advantage of these online events is that all sessions are being offered “on-demand” for at least several months after each closing event. In the virtual setting, you can take the time and view every workshop at your leisure!

If you have never attended a music education conference, take a moment and review one of these articles:

Yours truly is privileged to present several sessions on some of his “favorite topics” previously posted on this site:

  • Self-Care Cookbook – Reflections, Recipes, and Resources for Teachers (PMEA ANNUAL CONFERENCE)
  • Countdown to Retirement – Preparations for “Living-the-Dream” (PMEA ANNUAL CONFERENCE)
  • Hands-On Conducting (PMEA CRESCENDO FOR STUDENTS)
  • Hop on the E-Train – Essential Ethics for the new Educator (NAfME EASTERN DIVISION)

Update on 5/27/21:

PMEA Summer Conference 2021 – Rejuvenate!

The 2021 PMEA Summer Conference will be held virtually beginning Wednesday, July 21 and concluding on Friday, July 23. Most sessions will be presented live and will be recorded for attendees to access at a later time. 

For more information, go to https://www.pmea.net/pmea-summer-conference/.

PMEA Annual Conference 2021 – Renew!

The PMEA Annual Conference kicks-off on April 14, 2021 for three days and four nights of professional development activities.

PMEA will utilize the same online platform for this event as it did for its 2020 Summer Conference. The virtual annual conference will also include a virtual exhibit hall. With the theme of Renew, the 2021 Conference invites music educators to use this time together to Renew the way you think about music education, to Renew plans for the 2021-22 school year, to Renew connections with fellow music educators, to Renew our hope for a return to making music together, and to Renew our collective passion for the power of music education. All registrants will have access to the majority of the conference content for 90 days. Online registration is available. 

Thursday evening will feature synchronous open forum discussions and an Invited Researcher session with Elizabeth Parker, Temple University, as well as a keynote presentation by Byron Stripling, Principal Pops Conductor, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The evening will end with college/university receptions, held in the virtual space this year.

Synchronous research sessions will also be available on Friday in the late afternoon/early evening. The Saturday schedule includes a performance by the woodwind quintet WindSync and a presentation by Julie Duty, Founder & Executive Director of United Sound, an organization which offers the solution for music educators who desire to include students with disabilities in their music programs but struggle with the “how” and the “when.”

This year’s event will also include opportunities to network with fellow attendees, as well as an online Music Education Marketplace (exhibit hall) – allowing participants to connect directly with exhibitors within the platform. While the exhibit hall will be “open” the duration of the event, there will be specific hours, beginning Wednesday evening and concluding Saturday afternoon, when the exhibitors will be available for live interaction.

CRESCENDO Virtual Conference for Students

Students in grades 8-12 are invited to participate in the first-of-its-kind PMEA CRESCENDO, an online event to be held on April 17, 2021. Designed for student musicians who are interested in learning about opportunities to make music or find a career in music, the one-day conference will bring together some of the best speakers and teachers from a variety of music worlds.

Keynoters will feature Dave Wish, founder/CEO of Little Kids Rock, and ChaRonDon, rapper/hip-hop artist.

Sessions will include:

  • Careers in music (areas like music therapy, musical theatre, music education, military careers, music performance, music publishing, composition, retail and repair, and music production)
  • Breakout sessions (learning about drum corps, conducting, meet a composer, music technology, song writing, yoga for musicians, rap/hip hop, vocal jazz, leadership, and more!)
  • Masterclasses from experts on their instruments. Students will have the chance to spend some time learning more about their instrument or vocal performance area and get tips from the pros in unique online masterclass settings.

Proposed mini-workshops:

PA STUDENTS interested in participating in PMEA CRESCENDO should fill out this form.

PA MUSIC EDUCATORS recommending a student for this conference should fill out this form.

57th Biennial NAfME Eastern Division Conference

Finally, you won’t want to miss the following week’s frenzy of enriching and enlightening professional development, the 57th Biennial NAfME Eastern Division Virtual Conference!

In addition to the NAfME workshop sessions being only 30-minutes (colleagues sharing quick “tips, techniques, and solutions” and more opportunities to peruse additional sessions), there will be a designated Thursday evening “concert time” with 5 programs to play at 8:45 p.m. (Orchestra, Chorus, Band, Jazz, Modern Band) along with performances from the Division’s colleges and universities. 

The master schedule is posted here. Registration can be completed here. Hope to “see” you there!

© 2021 Paul K. Fox

Coming Soon… Books to Put on Your Reading List

Pixabay spring picture: Crocus-Flower-Spring by MichaelGaida

Mock Interviews

Unraveling “the Puzzle” of Landing a Music Teacher Job

Assembling the pieces: Interview Questions and Assessment Criteria

Soon it will be the season of new school district postings of employment openings and opportunities to be hired! Hurray! At long last, college music education majors have made it through all of the music and methods courses, recitals and concerts, competency exams, field observations, student teaching, and Praxis testing. Or, perhaps you are a veteran teacher looking to relocate and find a new job? You’ve come to the right place!

With rumors of retirements, sabbaticals, teacher shortages, and HR staff and administrators scrambling to find people to fill positions, NOW is the time to “bone up” on marketing yourself and practicing your interviewing skills – to get together with your friends and fellow “rookies” and schedule mock interview sessions to interrogate and evaluate each other. Record your mock interviews and sit back, watch, critique, and learn.

A large number of past blog-posts within this “jobs/training” section were provided to assist prospective new or transferring music educators in preparing for the often-stressful job search process. Scroll down for a summary of “the basics” to help you gain the tools, knowledge, competence, and confidence to succeed at your next interview!

Good luck! PKF

Let’s put the pieces together to ace those employment screenings!

How would YOU respond to these interview questions?

Special thanks to Michigan State University: https://www.music.msu.edu/assets/SampleMusicInterviewQuestions.pdf

  1. Tell us something about your professional strengths, challenges, and goals for the future.
  2. Who had the greatest influence on you becoming a music teacher and why?
  3. What are the most important qualities of an outstanding music educator?
  4. Describe a successful lesson plan you have developed and how did you assess the learning?
  5. How will you accommodate students with special needs or varied interests in your music program?
  6. How would you recruit/encourage students and “grow” interest and participation in the music program?
  7. Why is it important for students to be actively engaged in the performing arts?
  8. What is the role of sacred music in the school choral program?
  9. Describe the ultimate choral program in your school – types and make-up of ensembles.
  10. You are meeting a middle school student for the first time How would you convince him to join your _____ (band, strings, choir)?
  11. There’s a guidance counselor who is not a supporter of the ___. He discourages students from including music in their schedule. How would you try to improve the situation?
  12. How important are competitions and festivals to you?
  13. How do you select soloists, leadership positions, or rank seating in your ensemble?
  14. Discuss your approach for teaching improvisation for the first time.
  15. Discuss your background in Orff, Kodaly, Gordon, Suzuki, and Dalcroze.
  16. Give some examples of materials you would use to build a diverse repertoire.
  17. Discuss the process you use in developing the singing voice.
  18. How do teach a group of 5th graders who are having trouble mastering dotted note values?
  19. Describe your classroom management procedures. What kind of discipline do you require?
  20. What personal qualities do you have that would make you an effective leader… team member?
  21. If offered the job, how do you see your involvement in our district (both music and nonmusic)?
  22. Name 3 vital emphases in your teaching. What is most important: content, outcome, or process?
  23. How would your students describe you? How would your friends and/or colleagues?

What are the interviewers looking for?

Actual sample candidate rating form

This form was used at the school district from which the author retired:

During the mock sessions, here’s an assessment tool you (and those observing your “performance”) can use. For emphasis, place the letter of the criteria under either the “good” or “bad” column.

Are you missing any more pieces of the puzzle?

TOP-TEN LIST:

The ultimate outline interview primer for pre-service music teachers

  1. Overall marketing skills – “the science” of finding a job https://paulfox.blog/2015/07/08/overview-strategies-for-landing-a-music-teacher-job/
    • “But you got to know the territory…” (The Music Man)
    • 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
  2. The “alphabet soup” of educational terminology, jargon, acronyms, etc. https://paulfox.blog/2015/07/18/the-alphabet-soup-of-educational-acronyms/
  3. In PA, training and assessment in the criteria of Charlotte Danielson’s “Four Domains” from the Framework for Teaching. https://danielsongroup.org/framework and https://paulfox.blog/2015/08/09/criteria-for-selection-of-the-ideal-teacher-candidate/
  4. Types of music teacher employment screenings https://resumes-for-teachers.com/blog/interview-tips/the-most-common-types-of-interviews-in-the-education-sector/ and https://paulfox.blog/2015/09/01/a-blueprint-for-success-preparing-for-the-job-interview/
    • Online
    • Informal
    • Structured
    • Unstructured
    • Sequential
    • Panel or Group
    • Audition/Performance (on major and minor instrument, singing, piano accompaniment)
    • Lesson Demonstration
  5. Types of interview questions
  6. Interview questions
  7. The “ABCs” of additional employment marketing topics
  8. 21st Century employment search strategies https://paulfox.blog/2016/08/14/21st-century-job-search-techniques/
    • Membership in PCMEA/PMEA and other professional associations
    • “Have resume will travel”
    • E-portfolio and professional website
    • Electronic business cards
    • Hiring agency sites and job bulletin boards 
  9. Additional interview assessments https://paulfox.blog/2019/05/14/job-interview-rubrics/
  10. Other websites to peruse

“You can take it with you…” The above list is available here as an easy-to-print PDF file.

© 2021 Paul K. Fox

PIXABAY.COM GRAPHICS:

Model Code of Ethics for Educators

Don’t you love this quote from TeachThought?

“Teaching isn’t rocket science; it’s harder!”

Teachers make as many as 1,500 decisions a day for their classes and students… that’s as many as four educational choices per minute for the average teacher given six hours of class time. Surprised? (Not if you are an educator!) Check out this corroborating research:

Of course it can be exhausting… and as fast as “things” happen, even mind-numbing at times!

What do educators rely on for guidance, a sort of internal “ethical compass” for making these decisions, many of which are snap judgments?

  • Educational background
  • Teacher “chops” (professional experience)
  • Peer and administrative support
  • Personal moral code (derived from one’s life experiences and upbringing)
  • Aspirations, values, and beliefs generally agreed upon by educational practitioners
  • State’s code of conduct and other regulations, statutes, policies, and case law
  • Professional ethics

Or all of the above?

At this juncture during my workshops on ethics, I usually quote Dr. Oliver Dreon, Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Digital Learning Studio at Millersville University of Pennsylvania and one of the authors of the Educator Ethics and Conduct Tool Kit of the Pennsylvania Professional Standards and Practices Commission:

“From a decision-making standpoint, I tend to look at it from the perspective of Ethical Equilibrium (work by Troy Hutchings). Teachers weigh the moral (personal) dimensions with regulatory ones (the law) with the ethics of the profession…  While focusing on consequences is important, I worry that teachers may interpret this to mean that as long as they don’t break the law, they can still be unprofessional and immoral.”   

– Dr. Oliver Dreon

From college students participating in their first field observations to rookie teachers (and even veterans in the field), I recommend searching the term “ethics” on the website of your State Board of Education. In Pennsylvania, checkout the following:

Now enters probably the single most valuable document of our time, an all-encompassing philosophy for embracing the highest standards of what it means to be an ethical educator: the Model Code of Ethics for Educators (MCEE), developed under the leadership of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC). With the collaboration of numerous development partners including the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, Council of Chief State School Officers, and American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education – to name a few – MCEE is comprised of five core principles (like spokes in a wheel – all with equal emphasis), 18 sections, and 86 standards.

“The purpose of the Model Code of Ethics for Educators (MCEE) is to serve as a shared ethical guide for future and current educators faced with the complexities of P-12 education.  The code establishes principles for ethical best practice, mindfulness, self-reflection and decision-making, setting the groundwork for self-regulation and self-accountability.  The establishment of this professional code of ethics by educators for educators honors the public trust and upholds the dignity of the profession.”

MCEE Framing Document

Although pre- and in-service training on both are essential, the differences between a “code of conduct” and a “code of ethics” are vast. Codes of conduct like the Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Pennsylvania teachers are specific mandates and prohibitions that govern educator actions. A code of ethics is a set of principles that guide professional decision making, not necessarily issues of “right or wrong” (more shades of grey) nor defined in exact terms of law or policies. Codes of ethics are more open-ended, a selection of possible choices, usually depended on the context or circumstances of the situation.

“The interpretability of The Model Code of Ethics for Educators allows for robust professional discussions and targeted applications that are unique to every schooling community.”

Troy Hutchings, Senior Policy Advisor, NASDTEC

The music teacher and administrator colleagues with whom I have been privileged to work for more than 40 years are highly dedicated and competent visionaries who focus on “making a difference” in the lives of their students, modeling “moral professionalism” and the highest ethical standards for their classes, schools, and communities, in support of maintaining the overall integrity of the profession.

However, let’s unpack some of “the wisdom” of MCEE as it addresses the rare “nay-sayers” and entrenched teacher attitudes, failing to understand “the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do…” (Potter Stewart) or “doing the right thing when no one else is watching – even when doing the wrong thing is legal” (Aldo Leopold).

Here are sample negative responses, MCEE “exemplars,” and proposed assimilations for thoughtful and interactive peer discussion. Bring these to your next staff meeting or workshop, and apply them to a few mock scenarios (like these from my past blog ).

Principle I: Responsibility to the Profession

The professional educator is aware that trust in the profession depends upon a level of professional conduct and responsibility that may be higher than required by law. This entails holding one and other educators to the same ethical standards.

“I didn’t know it was wrong…”

Section I, A, 1: Acknowledging that lack of awareness, knowledge, or understanding of the Code is not, in itself, a defense to a charge of unethical conduct;

My comment: The old adage, “ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

“What’s the problem? I didn’t break the law!

MCEE Section I, A, 5: Refraining from professional or personal activity that may lead to reducing one’s effectiveness within the school community;

My comment: Any on or off-duty conduct or inappropriate language that undermines a teacher’s efficacy in the classroom, damages his/her position as a “moral exemplar” in the community, or demeans the employing school entity may result in loss of job, suspension or revocation of license, and/or other disciplinary sanctions.

http://pimaregionalsupport.org/event-2610673

“I’m not a rat fink…”

MCEE Section I, B, 2: Maintaining fidelity to the Code by taking proactive steps when having reason to believe that another educator may be approaching or involved in an unethical compromising situation;

My comment: As a professional with “fiduciary” responsibilities, we must look out for the welfare of our students, proactively protecting them from harm by embracing all provisions of “mandatory reporting.”

“What’s in it for me?”

MCEE Section I, C, 3: Enhancing one’s professional effectiveness by staying current with ethical principles and decisions from relevant sources including professional organizations;

MCEE Section I, C, 4: Actively participating in educational and professional organizations and associations;

My comment: Keeping up-to-date and current, we are fortunate to avail ourselves with the exhaustive tools and resources of media, music, and methods provided by groups like the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association and National Association for Music Education.

Principle II: Responsibility for Professional Competence

The professional educator is committed to the highest levels of professional and ethical practice, including demonstration of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions required for professional competence.

“What’s the big deal about standards?”

Section II, A, 1: Incorporating into one’s practice state and national standards, including those specific to one’s discipline;

My comment: As professionals, we should volunteer to help write our school’s courses of study, content units, and learning goals for the subjects we teach, and take advantage of the National Core Arts Standards, the PMEA Model Curriculum Framework, and the state’s standards.

“Not another ‘flavor-of-the-month’ in-service program!”

Section II, A, 5: Reflecting upon and assessing one’s professional skills, content knowledge, and competency on an ongoing basis;

Section II, A, 6: Committing to ongoing professional development

My comment: Always “raising the bar,” being a member of a “profession” (like medical personnel, counselors, attorneys, etc.) requires the loftiest benchmarks of self-regulation and assessment, ongoing training, retooling, and self-improvement plans, revision and enforcement of “best practices,” and application of 21st Century learning skills.

“I needed to give him credit?”

MCEE Section II, B, 1: Appropriately recognizing others’ work by citing data or materials from published, unpublished, or electronic sources when disseminating information;

My comment: Especially during this period of online/virtual/remote education brought on by COVID-19, we must reference the owners of intellectual property (including sheet music) that we use and abide by all copyright regulations. In general, it is always “best practice” to cite research or authorship “giving credit where credit is due!”

“I’m just a music teacher! Don’t ask me to do anything else!”

MCEE Section II, C, 2: Working to engage the school community to close achievement, opportunity, and attainment gaps;

My comment: We teach “the whole child,” not a specialty or specific content area! I believe our ultimate mission is to facilitate our students’ capacity and desire to learn, inspire self-direction and self-confidence, and foster future success in life.

Principle III: Responsibility to Students

The professional educator has a primary obligation to treat students with dignity and respect. The professional educator promotes the health, safety, and well being of students by establishing and maintaining appropriate verbal, physical, emotional, and social boundaries.

“It’s just a gift…”

MCEE Section III, A, 5: Considering the implication of accepting gifts from or giving gifts to students;

My comment: It is not appropriate to give a gift to a student lacking an educational purpose. In some cases, this may be defined as a “sexual misconduct.” It begs the larger question: “Do you ensure that all of your interactions with students serve an educational purpose and occur in a setting consistent with that purpose?” Also from the PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission: “Teachers should refrain from accepting gifts or favors that might impair or appear to impair professional judgment.”

“You should never touch a student!”

MCEE Section III, A, 6: Engaging in physical contact with students only when there is a clearly defined purpose that benefits the student and continually keeps the safety and well-being of the student in mind;

My comment: We were told this warning in methods classes. However, as I mentioned in a previous blog here, this “rule” has little support in research or common “best practices.” It has been my experience that on occasion, most elementary instrumental teachers assist their students in acquiring the correct playing posture and hand positions by using some (limited) physical contact. Consoling an upset student with a pat on the shoulder is not out-of-line either. The factors that may contribute to the moment being judged “okay” vs. “inappropriate” boil down to:

  • Intent
  • Setting
  • Length of time
  • Frequency or patterns of repetition
  • Comfort level of the student
  • Age level of the student
  • Happening in public
  • Who started it?
busyteacher.org

“My students are my friends!”

MCEE Section III, A, 7: Avoiding multiple relationships with students which might impair objectivity and increase the risk of harm to student learning or well-being or decrease educator effectiveness;

My comment: You cannot be their “friend.” You are their teacher, an authority figure that is looking out for them and doing what is necessary (“fiduciary” responsibilities) for their health and welfare… perhaps at times things they do not want you to do. Crossing the teacher/student boundary with familiarity, informality, and being their “confidant” or “friend” are more than just unprofessional acts – they can foster a dual relationship where roles are less defined, an ambiguity that may lead to additional inappropriate actions and educator misconduct.

“He’s weird…” or “He’s not one of us!”

MCEE Section III, B, 2: Respecting the dignity, worth, and uniqueness of each individual student including, but not limited to, actual and perceived gender, gender expression, gender identity, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and culture;

My comment: Check your prejudices and personal biases at the door. Being a teacher is all about sensitivity and caring of all individuals – students, parents, staff, etc. Embracing today’s focus on reprogramming community attitudes on “diversity,” an educator daily models the values of empathy, compassion, acceptance, and appreciation, not just settling with the “lower bar” of tolerance, allowance, and compliance!

“Wait ’til you hear what happened in class today!”

MCEE Section III, C, 1: Respecting the privacy of students and the need to hold in confidence certain forms of student communications, documents, or information obtained in the course of practice;

My comments: Gossiping about and “carrying tales” home or in the teachers’ room are serious breaches of the care and trust as well as your fiduciary responsibilities assigned to you on behalf of your students. As for “regulations,” your indiscretion may be a violation of your students’ confidentiality rights (“a federal crime” according to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Grassley Amendment, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). You are only permitted to share information about a student with another teacher, counselor, or administrator who is on a “needs-to-know” basis or is actively engaged in helping this student.

Principle IV: Responsibility to the School Community

The professional educator promotes positive relationships and effective interactions with members of the school community while maintaining professional boundaries.

“Don’t tell my parents!”

MCEE Section IV, A, 1: Communicating with parents/guardians in a timely and respectful manner that represents the students’ best interests;

My comment: I wish I had a nickel every time a student plead with me, “Don’t call my mom!” It is part of “moral professionalism,” your “code,” and good ethical standards to originate meaningful two-way dialogue, and if necessary, confront the parents of underachieving children. I also believe it goes on long way to nurture your relationships in the community if you notify parents when their kid has done something remarkable… “I caught him being good” or “The improvement has been extraordinary!”

“Did you hear what a staff member said about you… in front of the kids?”

MCEE Section IV, B, 1: Respecting colleagues as fellow professionals and maintaining civility when differences arise;

MCEE Section IV, B, 2: Resolving conflicts, whenever possible, privately and respectfully, and in accordance with district policy;

My comment: Before you bring up the matter with your supervisor or building administrator (which you have the right and even responsibility to do, especially if the students hear any improper speech first-hand or that the incidents rise to the level of bullying or aggressive behavior), first confirm the story. Talk to the unhappy team member one-on-one. Be calm and sensitive, but hold your ground: you must assert that his/her behavior/language is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the future.

“Not another TEAM meeting?”

MCEE Section IV, B, 4: Collaborating with colleagues in a manner that supports academic achievement and related goals that promote the best interests of students;

My comment: We work together to insure that all educational goals are met. Open and interactive peer partnerships are helpful in the review, design, and application of new lessons, methods, media, and music.

“I was just teasing her…”

MCEE Section IV, B, 8: Working to ensure a workplace environment that is free from harassment.

My comment: Be extremely careful in the practice of any behavior or language of a kidding, sarcastic, cynical, or joking manner. It can be misinterpreted regardless of your intentions… and it can hurt someone’s feelings. And it is never appropriate or “professional” to “put down” another person.

“Don’t ask for permission… beg for forgiveness.”

MCEE Section IV, C, 3: Maintaining the highest professional standards of accuracy, honesty, and appropriate disclosure of information when representing the school or district within the community and in public communications;

My comment: Yes, I have heard this “view” a lot, advocates of whom will tell you to go ahead and stick your neck out to do something “for the good of the order,” and if needed later, “beg for forgiveness” if you decision is met with disapproval from administration. My advice? Less experienced teachers, run everything through your fellow colleagues (informally) and principal (formally). Don’t fall back on the lame “oops” and “beg for forgiveness.” I may have felt differently when I had three times as many years of experience under my belt than the supervisors who were assigned to “manage” me… but, even then, “venturing out without a paddle” usually did not serve the best interests of the students. There’s no reason to place “the teacher’s convenience” over the safety/welfare of the students. Besides, why not take advantage of the legal and political backup of your bosses if they are kept “in the loop?”

“He’s our preferred dealer and always takes care of us.”

MCEE Section IV, D, 4: Considering the implications of offering or accepting gifts and/or preferential treatment by vendors or an individual in a position of professional influence or power;

My comment: Formerly called “sweetheart deals” with music companies, you are on “shaky” ethical ground (and may also have “crossed the line” violating state laws/statutes) if you negotiate the rights of exclusive access to your school’s or booster’s purchasing. If you have any questions about your school’s policy on outside vendors, seek advice from your district’s business manager.

Principle V: Responsible and Ethical Use of Technology

The professional educator considers the impact of consuming, creating, distributing, and communicating information through all technologies. The ethical educator is vigilant to ensure appropriate boundaries of time, place, and role are maintained when using electronic communication.

“Isn’t use of social media forbidden?”

MCEE Section V, A, 1: Using social media responsibly, transparently, and primarily for purposes of teaching and learning per school and district policy. The professional educator considers the ramifications pf using social media and direct communications via technology on one’s interactions with students, colleagues, and the general public.

My comment: Professional educators’ use of a dedicated website or other social network application enables users to communicate with each other by posting information, comments, messages, images, etc. and “learn” together. However, using social media for sharing social interactions and personal relationships with your students, parents, and staff is unethical and dangerous. As they say, “a post (or snap) is forever.” Communicating digitally or electronically with students may lead to the blurring of appropriate teacher-student boundaries and create additional challenges to maintaining and protecting confidentiality.

The Final Word

In Pennsylvania (as well as the rest of the country), the statistics on school staff misconduct reports are rising alarmingly. Your own state’s “code of conduct” and the MCEE should help to clarify misunderstandings, but it has been my experience that the majority of educators do not receive regular collegiate, induction, or in-service training on educator ethics or moral professionalism. Luckily, we are fortunate to have access to many mock scenarios (see below) from state departments of education to review/discuss among ourselves common ethical conflicts and “conundrums” dealing with pedagogy, enforcement, resource allocation, relationships, and diversity. We all need to “refresh” our understanding of these issues from time to time and revisit “our codes” frequently to help “demagnetize” (and re-adjust) our decision-making compass.

Please peruse the ethics category of this blog-site for other articles and sample references below.

PKF

Resources

PIXABAY.COM GRAPHICS:

© 2021 Paul K. Fox

Shun Away from Shams, Scams, and Spam

PART I: Financial Fraud

Every day in the news, we hear of another sad story of someone being tricked into giving up some of his/her hard-earned green-stuff… numerous successful fraudulent schemes to get you to part with your $$$ willingly or simply steal it right out from under you without you even knowing it! Even the FBI has devoted a webpage on elder-fraud which we should all review: https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/elder-fraud. With losses as high as $3 billion annually, this is a problem we all must become better informed.

My blog-posts are provided to educate and inform retired music teachers and other professionals… and there’s never a reason to “reinvent the wheel” if I can share something “as is” that is totally “on the mark!”  Before you do anything else, for you and your family’s personal financial security, education, and peace-of-mind, take a 15-minute break and read the entire Birch Gold Group Scam Protection Resource Guide on this website here: https://www.birchgold.com/scam-protection-resource-guide/.

Below is an outline of their recommendations with the hopes to better illuminate the problem, define types of fraud and methods to avoid them, and warn you about the “booby-traps” that are out there ready to pounce on the unwary. More resources are also offered for “homework.”

The Birch Gold Group guide is designed to “provide investors with the info necessary to identify fraudulent activity and common-sense solutions to avoid being scammed.” 

Six warning signs of a scam:

  1. Sounds too goods to be true
  2. High-pressured sales tactics
  3. Complex investment strategies
  4. Limited account control
  5. Insider info, faked credibility
  6. Overseas opportunities

Six tips to avoid fraud:

  1. Ask the salesperson tough questions
  2. Do your own research
  3. Beware of unsolicited offers
  4. Protect yourself online and on social media
  5. End the conversation
  6. Know what to look for

Nine prominent types of scams:

  1. Pyramid schemes
  2. Ponzi schemes
  3. Pump-and-dump schemes
  4. Advance fee scam
  5. Foreign currency trading (Forex)
  6. Affinity fraud
  7. Offshore scams
  8. Binary options
  9. High-yield investment programs (HYIPs)

Also from Birch Gold are these additional investment “scams” for which you should be on the lookout:

(Permission was granted for reprinting portions from the Birch Gold website.)

More Advice on Blocking Financial Scams

“Year after year, a destructive flood of fraud sweeps the nation, leaving countless victims in its wake. Unfortunately, new and improved technology only gives fraudsters an edge, making it easier than ever for scam artists to nab financial data from unsuspecting consumers. In fact, swindlers and hackers pinched $16 billion from 15.4 million U.S. consumers in 2016, according to Javelin Strategy & Research’s 2017 Identity Fraud Study. To make matters worse, the Identity Theft Resource Center reports there were 1,473 recorded data breaches in 2019.2 But even in these uncertain times, there are things consumers can do to protect themselves from greedy, increasingly crafty fraudsters.” — Investopedia

Amy Bell contributed a helpful article to the Investopedia blog “on topic” with the following title: “Ten Tips to Avoid Common Financial Scams,” This is another excellent resource you should peruse detailing her “top ten list.”

  1. Never Wire Money to a Stranger
  2. Don’t Give Out Financial Information
  3. Never Click on Hyperlinks in Emails
  4. Use Tough-to-Crack Passwords
  5. Never Give Out Your Social Security Number
  6. Install Antivirus and Spyware Protection
  7. Don’t Shop with Unfamiliar Online Retailers
  8. Don’t Download Software from Pop-Up Windows
  9. Make Sure the Websites You Visit Are Safe
  10. Only Donate to Known Charities

Additional Websites for Your Review:

Coming soon…

Part II: Other Types of Fraud and Remedies

PKF

Pixabay.com graphics by Mohamed Hassan:

© 2021 Paul K. Fox

COVID-19 vs. New Year’s Resolutions?

How to “Make a Difference” in 2021

Of those who make a New Year’s resolution, after 1 week 75% are still successful in keeping it. After two weeks, the number drops to 71%. After 1 month, the number drops again to 64%. And after 6 months, 46% of people who make a resolution are still successful in keeping it. In comparison, of those people who have similar goals but do not set a resolution, only 4% are still successful after 6 months.

New Year’s Resolutions Statistics (Updated 2020) from Discover Happy Habits

Although we may be seeing the first signs of “the light at the end of the tunnel” with the distribution of the vaccines, coronavirus still has its grip on us… off-the-chart infection rates, record-breaking hospital admissions, schedule disruptions, restrictions on restaurants and small businesses, mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, precautionary self-isolation, etc. By all accounts, mindfulness, self-care, patience, and a positive outlook for the future are keys to making personal and professional goals as the pandemic rages on…

This article spotlights an age-old but usually neglected perspective – “think first” before you formulate any New Year’s Resolutions! For this to really work, you need a little research and reflection… and then COMMIT TO YOUR GOALS! Read on!

Start Out by Being S.M.A.R.T.

Admittedly, 44+ years in teaching has affected how I view goal-setting – “make it intention!” Adopt the often published S.M.A.R.T. approach to any plan. Make goals that are…

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

What goals do you want to satisfy in 2021? “Keep it simple” and S.M.A.R.T. Like lesson plans, write your resolution(s) in behavioral terms… “by the end of this class, the students will…” For example, the easiest way to limit the intake of fried food in your diet is to write on a post-it note, “I will not eat anything fried this week” and place it on your bathroom mirror.

A lot of these resolutions fail because they’re not the right resolutions. And a resolution may be wrong for one of three main reasons: 1) It’s a resolution created based on what someone else (or society) is telling you to change. 2) It’s too vague. 3) You don’t have a realistic plan for achieving your resolution.

How to Make and Keep a New Year’s Resolution by Jen A. Miller (New York Times)

Review the Usual Ones…

According to Brad Zomick in his GoSkills blog, these are the most common New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Exercise more
  • Lose weight
  • Get organized
  • Learn a new skill or hobby 
  • Live life to the fullest
  • Save more money / spend less money
  • Quit smoking
  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • Travel more
  • Read more

Just as important to WHAT you choose is HOW you approach it. In his article, Zomick provides a “how-to” roadmap to success, if you follow his steps:

  1. Mentally prepare for change.
  2. Set a goal that motivates you.
  3. Limit resolutions to a manageable amount.
  4. Be specific.
  5. Break up big goals into smaller goals.
  6. Write down your goals.
  7. Share your resolutions with others.
  8. Automate when possible.
  9. Review your resolution regularly.
  10. If you fall off track, get back on quick.

Do these recommendations sound familiar? They should if you are a disciple of the aforementioned S.M.A.R.T plan. Also, the concept of “writing down your goals” should ring a bell if you recall the supposed 1979 Harvard Business School MBA Study on Goal Setting (urban legend?) reviewed by Wanderlust Worker here:

Have you set written goals and created a plan for their attainment? Prior to graduation, it was determined that 84% of the entire class had set no goals at all. 13% of the class had set written goals but had no concrete plans. 3% of the class had both written goals and concrete plans. The results? Well, you’ve likely somewhat guessed it. 10 years later, the 13% of the class that had set written goals but had not created plans, were making twice as much money as the 84% of the class that had set no goals at all. However, the apparent kicker is that the 3% of the class that had both written goals and a plan, were making ten times as much as the rest of the 97% of the class. 

The Harvard MBA Study on Goal Setting from Wanderlust Worker

Whether the Harvard (or Yale) study is fact or faction is probably irrelevant. The point here is that to improve the odds for accomplishing our goals, we need to take the time to write them down, announce our intentions (your spouse or significant-other), and define the details with “action plans.”

The Glass Is Half Full

Have you heard the joke about the identical twins, one an optimist and the other a pessimist?

A psychiatrist has one son who is a total pessimist, and another who is a complete optimist.  He decides on an experiment.  For Christmas he fills the pessimist’s room with hundreds of beautifully wrapped gifts, and dumps a heap of horse manure in the optimist’s room. On Christmas morning he sees the pessimist boy sitting motionless at the center of his room, eyeing his gifts suspiciously. But over in the optimist’s room he sees his boy filled with joy, digging happily in the odorous pile. He asks the kid what he’s doing and he answers:  “Daddy, with all this horse dung, there’s gotta be a pony in here someplace.”

The Center for Optimism

It’s time to cheer-up, look to the future, and embrace HOPE for tomorrow!

Are you kidding? You want me to “put on a happy face” after all the pandemic has done? YES!

One remedy for “losing the blue funk” is to reject all “blame and complain” speech or behavior! It is so easy to get caught up in negativity… family adversity or “challenges” of a medical or employment nature, or simply being forced to remain distant from each other, daily news media reports about COVID-19, political dissension and the polarization of viewpoints, angry rants on social media, etc. literally fanning the flames of an unprecedented perpetual global “bad mood!” I even found myself in the throes of periodic bouts of public distemper, griping on Facebook about a Dial for Men product that made my hair dry (my FB friends responded, “Thanks for the heads-up” – ha, ha!), or grumbling about the roll-out of new revisions of WordPress and Constant Contact program editors that are not backwards-compatible nor fail to support the “look and feel” of previous versions. The effect of exposure to or expression of all of these “B” words (badmouth, beef, bellyache, bemoan, bicker, b*tch) is to make you even more bitter… not fostering the “can-do’s” for taking steps towards helping others, self-renewal, or an optimistic attitude.

Do you find your emotions swinging rapidly from sadness to elation to anger or fear during the lockdown? If your mood is all over the place at the moment, that’s completely understandable. This is not a normal situation. It’s a hugely disruptive, sudden change to our daily lives that nobody was prepared for. It isn’t surprising that many people are experiencing unpredictable moods. “It is going to affect everyone’s mood in many, and sometimes unexpected, ways,” reveals psychotherapist Mark Bailey. “Whether it’s worry, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, discombobulated, angry and even perhaps unexpected emotions like relief as we accept some of our current situation, it’s useful to know that as we experience one emotion it doesn’t nullify or negate another.”

COVID-19: How to Manage Mood Swings... by Natalie Healey

Get Inspired by Good Role Models and “Positive Gurus”

Many music educators attend the keynote addresses at state MEA/NAfME conferences to “recharge their batteries.” A few of my favorite “master motivators” are Tim Lautzenheiser, Peter Boonshaft, and Fran Kick. As a sample, check out this video (sponsored by MusicFirst) that featured “Dr. Tim” – One Person Can Make a Difference!

Who can have a positive influence on us or serve as a “catalyst for change” to help us realize our resolutions? Practically anyone! I bumped into this provocative article by Professor Dr Ger Graus: Good Role Models – How Has COVID-19 Changed Pupils’ Career Aspirations? He relates these criteria “to elevate a person or profession to role model status” (at least in the eyes of a child) – possibly an excellent framework for creating your plan.

  1. Demonstrate passion for what you do and have the capacity to infect others with it.
  2. Show a clear set of values and live them in their world. Lead by example. Children admire people who act in ways that support their beliefs. It helps them understand how their own values are part of who they are and how they might seek fulfilling roles as adults.
  3. Demonstrate commitment to community. Be others-focused as opposed to self-focused. Freely give your time and talents to benefit people.
  4. Show selflessness and acceptance of others who are different to you. Be fair.
  5. Demonstrate the ability to overcome obstacles. Young people admire those who show them that success is possible.

Someone who has recently become inspirational to me is the wonderfully uplifting Lesley Moffat, probably an expert on the search for “mindfulness” in personal life and even during her band warmups. In my opinion, her transformative stories provide the blueprint for happiness and wellbeing! She now has two published books (you need to read both) – I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me, and Love the Job, Lose the Stress, and if you are still teaching music full-time, you need to peruse her website: https://mpowerededucator.com/. For a good laugh, view her recent “rap” – Moffat’s HamJam for Band – for which she performed for her music students.

Apply the concepts of social and emotional learning (SEL), EMPATHY, and “corona kindness” to yourself and loved-ones! Seek out advice from a few of these experts: Manju Durairaj, Scott N. Edgar, Bob Morrison, and Edward Varner.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. The key components of SEL are self-awareness, social awareness, responsible decision-making, self-management, and relationship skills.

Finding Sanctuary – Social and Emotional Learning and Visual and Performing Arts by Edward Varner

Sum it Up – Fox’s “Top-Ten Tips”

  1. Renew your efforts to intentionally reach-out, connect, and engage with people, albeit virtually for now.
  2. Focus on the things you can control.
  3. Remind yourself about the good things in your life and your personal resilience.
  4. Start small and change one behavior at a time.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up when things get a little rocky
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  7. Seek creative new ways to reduce your stress.
  8. Exercise, meditate, go outside, and plan better meals.
  9. Share your experiences with family and friends.
  10. Implement one or two S.M.A.R.T. goals and embrace the “spirit” of self-improvement.

It’s easy to become an idealist when the new year rolls around, but it’s important to remember that New Year’s resolutions are ultimately a tool to help you grow into the person you want to be. Take some time this New Year’s Eve to really consider who you want to be in the future, and then employ S.M.A.R.T. goals to help you fulfill your vision. Making a resolution to live your life with purpose and passion is a beautiful and exciting thing, not something to dread.

How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions by Using S.M.A.R.T. Goals by Mary McCoy

PKF

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Resources

Credits:

iStock.com photos (in order): “2021” #1280953227 by phototechno, “SMART Goals” #1134658098 by BrianAJackson, “New Years Goals List 2021” #1266648329 by Olena Sakhnenko, “Half Empty to Half Full” #1128990168 by Fokusiert, “Lead by Example” #849367144 by Michail_Petrov-96, and “2021 Happy New Year” #1273431483 by Weedezign

“Happy Face” VectorStock.com/467693 

Dear Music Parents…

We Need Your Help to Support Your “Kids” and Make Music Education More Effective

This message was sent to the parents and partners of the nonprofit community ensemble “for instrumentalists of all ages” – The South Hills Junior Orchestra – and participants in the SHJO Online Academy (SHJOOLA), but is applicable to all music families. School music directors everywhere need your assistance!

[http://www.shjo.org/]

Another first! A special “reach-out” via Fox’s Fireside geared exclusively to music parents.

Before we start with the nitty-gritty, on behalf of music educators everywhere, let us thank you in advance for all of your commitment and collaborative efforts in support of your child’s music program!

We hope this finds “you and yours” healthy, safe, productive, and happily engaged. Since many of the schools are within a month to the end of their fall semester and second nine-week grading periods, we thought now would be a good time to step back a little and offer our assessment of how things are going.

“When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.” In spite of the limitations brought on by the pandemic, the directors are doing everything in their power to connect with, stimulate, and enlighten the players and singers. In general, we are satisfied with the musical progress of everyone – the students are showing technical growth, mastery of the music, and even more importantly, great resiliency in dealing with these challenging times. SHJOOLA and other remote teaching or alternative music learning serve only as a temporary stopgap measures until all of us can return to our the normal “live and in-person” rehearsals. However, it looks like this may not be until Spring 2021 or later.

[Feel free to share this blogpost or this PDF link.]

We would like to elicit the help of our music parents to check in and observe the online activities of your son or daughter, and if necessary, intervene on behalf of them. This would help us improve the quality of the virtual music programs run smoothly. We have all found that online teaching is very hard. The limitations of this technology (latency and inability to sync the visual and audio portions of zoom meetings) will not allow the chance to hear in real-time performances of individual players or the group altogether. The most important “takeaway” from this message is the camera on your household device needs to be operative and used every time we sponsor a class. In addition, it is not satisfactory for anyone to position their device so that we cannot see them, leave the meeting early, mute or disengage from the virtual lesson discussions, or turn off their camera at any time. Video feedback is the only avenue available to “monitor and adjust” our instruction during any “synchronous sessions.” We have found that Zoom runs quite well on smartphones and tablets, and the cameras on these devices will suffice if the computer hardware is not up to the task.

So, effective immediately, if your SHJOOLA child seems to be having trouble with his camera, we will notify you.

(Please let us know if you need any technical assistance. The cost of purchasing a new “web cam,” is as low as $16 at WalMart. If we cannot help you, we’ll find someone who can!)

As the character Jean-Luc Picard says in the Star Trek Next Generation series: ENGAGE! What are the number one concerns of all educators during this disruption to education caused by COVID-19, shared even by the “Plan B” strategies for music? – Loss of individual attention, sensitivity, communications, connectivity, empathy, and self-empowerment towards the pursuit of the students’ own inspired initiatives in learning!

In other words, “distance learning should not be distant.” To be effective, it needs to promote an exchange of dialogue, responsible online citizenship, and goals to reach-out and engage within this unique “music community!” (For those of you who enjoy reading about learning theory, feel free to peruse Mr. Fox’s recent educator blogpost about social emotional learning, “teacher presence,” emotional intelligence, “character” curriculum, and habits of empathy: https://paulfox.blog/2020/11/03/embracing-the-intangibles/.)  

[New players may join SHJOOLA at any time. We accept out-of-town musicians, too!]

Following the advice of several members and to keep the team more “connected,” our initial SHJOOLA Zoom meetings will open 10 minutes early to allow for a little informal chit-chat! How are you doing?

REMINDER: Whether hybrid or online, attendance is mandatory. Music directors understand that, on occasion, there will be illness, family, business, or other educational conflicts necessitating the missing of a Zoom meeting. For SHJOOLA, our attendance policy is flexible, but notification of the SHJO Managing Director in advance is mandated: mdirector@shjo.org. (Please include your name and the reason for missing the session.) Considering all of the prep time your music directors are devoting to the lessons, it would only be “common courtesy” for the absentees to keep themselves up to date on what was presented, view any available archived rehearsal videos or slides posted (for SHJOOLA posted weekly at http://www.shjo.org/online-academy), and make-up all missed work within a few days of the absence. Ensembles are teams and rely on camaraderie and responsibility: “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts!”

FYI, the software embedded in our SHJOOLA MusicFirst Classroom provides access to a valuable subscription that will last through June 2021. There are a lot of great applications for members to freely explore asynchronously (on-their-own at their convenience) in order to foster self-improvements in ear training, music theory, performance assessment, sight reading, and writing/analyzing music.

In conclusion, parents, we need you to “stop on by” and observe what’s happening!   For SHJOOLA, our goal is to continue offering our free professional services in making meaningful music, playing duets, performing with online soundtracks, learning new (and in greater detail) musical concepts to “grow” our musicianship and comprehension of orchestral literature, and to just have fun being successful. PKF

These things are “NOT COOL” during online music classes…

  • Arriving late to scheduled meetings (“early is on-time!”)
  • Missing sessions and not “catching up” on the missed work
  • Failing to download and print the music in advance
  • Not having instrument and music (in order) ahead of the start of the meeting
  • Turning off or re-positioning your camera so we cannot see you
  • Failing to respond to questions or participate in the discussions
  • Texting, emailing, or using any other device that distracts your attention
  • Allowing interruptions or loud noises during the class
  • Eating or drinking during rehearsals

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulfox.blog/foxs-firesides/.

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com:
“Blaze-Fireplace-Campfire-Bonfire” by Pexels
“Learn Student Laptop Internet” by geralt

Giving Thanks

Take a moment.

Close your eyes.

Take a deep breath.

Reflect on the people for whom you are thankful to know.

Think about the things for which you are thankful to have.

Stop all the backstabbing, badmouthing, belly-aching, and bickering!

The glass is half-full… the sun will come up tomorrow… the future is great!

No complaining… or blaming!

Make Thanksgiving a “no-rant” day!

Just today, forget about your fears, troubles, or problems.

Focus on the positive: Why are YOU so blessed?

We gather on this day to be thankful for what we have, the family we love, the friends we cherish, and the blessings that will come.

Soon we will all depart from the challenging year of 2020! Hurray!

Have trust…

Faith…

Hope!

From my family to yours – best wishes for the attainment of all of the essential “R’s” during the coming winter break – a refreshing, restful, reawakening, reviewing, recreating, reviving, rejuvenating, replenishing, and re-invigorating New Year!

PKF

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Past special-occasion blogposts

Tips for Retirees on Managing Stress During the Coming Winter Celebrations

Random Acts and Other Resolutions

Happy Thanksgiving, Newbies!

Resolutions for Retirees

Embracing the Intangibles and my LinkedIn post

We are grateful to John Hain for his Pixabay.com graphics

Embracing the Intangibles

Teaching Empathy and Engagement

Admittedly, if we keep piling on more mandates for earning a teaching degree and professional certificate, our music education majors would have to continue several more years at the university. What has been added to the forefront of education? You name it: “backwards-designed curriculum,” ethics, the “four C’s” (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication), Common Core, social-emotional learning, special education, new technology, etc. We are already wrestling with the limits of time to cover a mastery of personal musicianship and artistry to find space to “squeeze in” at least a cursory study of the other more abstract but important “soft skills” of character development, cultural diversity and sensitivity training, nurture of emotional health and wellness, stress management, “charismatic” leadership, time management, and… humanity!

“Back in the dark ages” when I attended Carnegie-Mellon University, the pathway for becoming a teacher was to complete (and pay full-tuition!) five years to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and license to teach in the public schools. The fifth year was when we did our student teaching along with additional graduate credits applied towards a Master of Fine Arts in Music Education. This was conferred after a full year’s employment “in the field” (Year #6) and completion of additional summer courses of Philosophy in Music Education, Administration of Music Education, several more credits, and a master’s thesis addressing a self-targeted educational problem at our job. For my entire time at CMU, 80% of the coursework on my transcript was singularly focused on performance classes (lessons on piano and the “major” – mine was on viola – as well as chamber and large group ensemble rehearsals), conducting, instrumental and vocal methods, music history, sight-reading/ear training, harmony, orchestration, etc.

What’s Missing in Music Teacher Training?

It is amazing what we must learn “on our own” after we receive our diploma. Yes, I was competent to read a score, assess a solo, band, chamber group, choral, orchestra, or theatrical performance, compose/arrange and accompany a piece for a string class, coach a vocalist on warming up her voice, apply my knowledge of a composer’s life and music to interpret a masterwork, and start a new student on the cello or flute or tuba or drum! However, a quick reminiscence of “the ABCs for the 2009 opening day” agenda I presented to my music staff as their Performing Arts Curriculum Leader had little bearing on the pre-service training all of us received in higher education:

  • Assessment “of” (“Summative”) and “for” (“Formative”) Learning
  • Blackboard and Blended Schools
  • Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge
  • Curriculum Mapping and the Rubicon Atlas web program
  • Customization and Differentiation of Instruction
  • Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings
  • Multiple Intelligences Theory
  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Standards-Aligned System
  • Teaching the “Whole Child”

So, if I became a “superintendent for a day” (or much longer), what would I now prioritize for induction and/or in-service training of educators?

We’ll start out with a taste of the inspiration led by my mentor and former superintendent of schools of Upper St. Clair School District where I taught for 33 years, the man who probably had the greatest influence for my getting hired and seeing something in me to channel my energy towards succeeding in several challenging assignments: Dr. William A. Pope. Way back in the 90’s, Bill was a proponent for studying “the stuff of human relationships,” including the introduction of elementary and middle level units on caring/compassion, courage, empathy, honesty, kindness, sensitivity, trust, among many others. Yes, you CAN teach values and acquiring a “moral compass” in the public schools!

I recently recalled many of these terms as they resonated within me during a motivating “The Presence of a Teacher” session presented by Penn State University Associate Professor of Theater Dr. Susan Russell. She opened the Pennsylvania Collegiate Music Educators Association Region III Virtual Workshop on November 1, 2020 with a “Zoom discussion” brainstorming the essential tools for building every teacher’s “presence” and “connectivity” with his/her students:

  • empathy
  • engagement
  • enthusiasm
  • listening
  • personal story-telling
  • self-care
  • sharing
  • vulnerability (acceptance to show)

A Different Kind of “Bucket List!’

Next, let’s add to this mix the easy-to-read book How Full Is Your Bucket by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton, organized around the simple metaphor of a dipper and a bucket. Their work is grounded in 50 years of research and will show you how to greatly increase the positive moments in your work and your life – while reducing the negative – which, of course, can be applied to benefit your interactions with students (of paramount importance!), their parents, and school staff.

Admittedly, at times, this may be difficult. As I sit here putting on the finishing touches to a lesson plan for a virtual rehearsal of my online music academy – a “best I can do” replacement to in-person practices of our community youth orchestra’s 39th season, while absorbing the awful media broadcasts of recent spikes in the coronavirus across my region and the country, and trying to ignore the very angry rhetoric of a divided nation in the yet unresolved presidential election: How does one find “positivity” or project an image of hope? What’s that saying? “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”

A “Thoughtful Drop” from a “Full Bucket” would emphasize the

  • Focus on the positive
  • Sharing of frequent small positive acts daily
  • Positive reinforcement to motivate learning
  • Promotion of positive emotions for your own good health

“How did you feel after your last interaction with another person?”

“Did that person – your spouse, best friend, coworker, or even a stranger – “fill your bucket” by making you feel more positive? Or did that person “dip from your bucket,” leaving you more negative than before?”

https://www.gallup.com/press/176132/full-bucket.aspx
https://crystalecho.com/gallup-profiling/

You can even take their Gallup Clifton Strengths poll to understand your “personality DNA” (above) and assess your potential: https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/home.aspx

Raising Caring, Successful Kids in a “Plugged-In, Trophy-Driven World”

In any discussion on what children need most, are you surprised that the word “empathy” keeps coming up? We turn to, in my opinion, “the single most revolutionary book of our time,” UnSelfie – Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Dr. Michele Borba, Ed.D., with her framework of nine essential habits of empathy:

  1. Emotional Literacy (recognition of the feelings and needs of self and others)
  2. Moral Identity (adoption of caring values that guide integrity and activate empathy)
  3. Perspective Taking (appreciation of another person’s feelings, thoughts, and views)
  4. Moral Imagination (use of literature, films, and emotionally charged images as a source of inspiration to feel with others)
  5. Self-Regulation (management of strong emotions and reduction of personal distress)
  6. Practicing Kindness (increased concern about the welfare and feelings of others)
  7. Collaboration (working together in the achievement of shared goals)
  8. Moral Courage (resolution to speak out, step in, and help others)
  9. Altruistic Leadership (motivation to make a difference for others)

Michele Borba emphasizes that the “selfie syndrome” is leading to excessive “self-promotion, personal branding, and self-interest at the exclusion of others’ feelings, needs, and concerns. It’s permeating our culture and slowly eroding our children’s character.” In short, she charges educators and parents alike to focus on enhancing the children’s “social-emotional competencies, resilience, academic success, leadership, healthy relationships, moral courage, happiness and mental health.”

I wrote this article for PMEA News about this phenomenon, examples of my impressions of the “dumbing down” or numbing of emotional quotient, less focus on “team” orientation, omission of studying “character” in our schools, and the seemingly increased emphasis on “the me – not the we!”

“Social-emotional learning” (SEL) was not a part of a college music education course catalog, even a few years ago. And yet, today more than ever, it is probably the single most valued “teaching skill” necessary for the care and engagement of students during the pandemic. Educators are “leaders” and often have a lasting influence (maybe only second to their parents) on the social-emotional health of their “charges!” Let’s review the principles of emotional intelligence (EI):

“Most effective leaders have a high degree of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.”

United Nations Staff College https://www.unssc.org/ and What Makes a Leader? by Daniel Goleman https://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader

Why is SEL so important?

SEL provides a foundation for safe and positive learning, and enhances our students’ ability to succeed in school, careers, and life.

https://casel.org/sel-framework/

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

https://casel.org/overview-sel/

SEL can provide students with the SKILLS to confront their challenges by being self-aware, socially-aware, and to make responsible decisions. According to Associate Professor of Music, Music Education Chair, and Director of Bands at Lake Forest College Dr. Scott Edgar, this may take the form of reflection, discussion, and lecture, but to be most effective, it needs to be embedded in curriculum.

“For me, the music teacher can do this in a much more authentic way—through music… SEL should not feel like one more thing; it is THE thing. We teach music; we teach self-discipline; we teach collaboration. SEL is in our classrooms already; our job is to make it explicit, consistent, and structured.”

Dr. Scott Edgar https://nafme.org/music-education-social-emotional-learning/

According to Edgar, music teachers can help teach SEL by:

  • encouraging students to set their own musical goals
  • devising solutions for individual or group errors (instead of us always giving the answers)
  • navigating performance anxiety
  • understanding the power of music for social change

One more purchase recommendation:
Music Education and Social and Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music
by Scott N. Edgar

“Music education helps our students learn how to be dedicated, to persevere, and to work together. It is our job to help students see that these skills are not isolated to the music classroom. These are the skills they need to be successful outside of music and to confront their challenges with strength and skill. Music can be the preventative mental health our students need so they have the skills to confront the life challenges ahead of them.”

Dr. Scott Edgar https://nafme.org/music-education-social-emotional-learning/

For a full understanding of SEL, it might be best to review the well-known “CASEL Wheel” (shown above) online at https://casel.org/sel-framework/. I also suggest you download this PDF file.

We have many additional resources to peruse for developing SEL:

When COVID-19 crashed into our lives wrecking havoc to almost all forms of live/in-person instruction, quarantining elements of the population, enforcing isolation and social-distancing requirements, closing schools and even cancelling most close-collaborative artistic ventures (music lessons, rehearsals, concerts, musicals, etc.), educators everywhere looked for a way to reconnect with their kids… and settled for the less-than-satisfactory, latency-prone, desensitizing virtual-conference environment! Overnight, schools and teachers resorted to “very” remote models of online learning only to view rows and rows of “trapped,” emotionally-detached, mummy or wax-museum-like faces of their students in windows of Zoom, Google Meet, or GoToMeeting platforms.

It’s time to retool and revamp. The most important thing we can do right now is to reach-out to, re-engage, and re-energize our music students, find out how they are doing, foster moments of meaningful dialogue, and share (there’s that word again) empathy… and that we care. We need to immerse ourselves into and apply the principles of human relationships, teacher presence, “bucket drops,” and recommended habits of empathy, EI and SEL explored above by a few wise educational leaders (a.k.a. “our models”).

PKF

Photo credits from Pixabay.com:

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

In Defense of Dogs

Pet Ownership in Retirement

Part 5 of a series of articles featuring the “Foxes-and-Hounds” pack

I’m writing this blog at 3:30 in the morning because Brewster decided he needed to go out… three hours earlier than usual! Now, in lieu of struggling to go back to sleep, I decided to sit down behind my computer with one sleeping dog in my lap and reflect on my thoughts why I feel so lucky to have my two “pups!”

Like grandparents “bragging” about their extended family, dog owners have no compunction to stop and talk to perfect strangers and share their photographs and stories of their pets… especially the wonderful (and sometimes quirky) personality characteristics of their dogs! So, shamelessly, it’s my turn! Here are my two “love and joys” who joined our household literally months after I retired from full-time school music teaching in 2013. Get ready to smile… (and with my best marching band announcer’s voice): “We proudly present ‘Gracie’ (a female Bichon Frise) and ‘Brewster’ (a male Yorkiepoo, Yorkshire Terrier/Poodle mix).”

My wife and I would recommend to all retirees who are not planning to travel out-of-town a lot and are no longer facing that grueling 8-12 hour daily regiment of work (or volunteering) to consider caring for a dog. We knew we were going to take advantage of our major “life style” change when we left our careers… it was just a matter of what dog or dogs to pick… or which ones would pick us!

We went to a local outlet of a national pet store chain just to waste time “looking at the cute doggie beds and toys,” never expecting that they would actually sell puppies in cages from behind the glass! (Most experts would agree that to avoid the promotion of “puppy mills” and the dangers of acquiring unhealthy animals, you should only buy from a reputable breeder. But, this was an accident!) After determining there were no cat adoptions in the store (my wife is very allergic to their fur/dander), we walked in to view on the wall an amazing array of the most adorable four-legged furry companions begging for our attention. As we sat in the area designated as “pet introduction booths,” we sampled many young pups. Gracie picked my wife, and Brewster picked me – the rest is history!

Do individual dogs or breeds have personalities?

Brewster

According to the American Kennel Club and other sources, these specific characteristics are common. First, for Brewster:

“The Yorkiepoo is a high-energy, happy dog who’s often enthused about life. They thrive off attention and love to keep their family entertained and be the star of the show.”

“They love to play, and will be happy to take part in a quick game of fetch — but that will almost always be followed up with a desire for a cuddle (and maybe a nap on the couch).”

“Yorkiepoos quickly attach to their family, and will happily spend the day following their ‘people’ around the home. Their families are not the only people that Yorkiepoos like—they’re happy to see anyone, and will greet both friends and strangers with the same enthusiasm.”

“If you’re willing to play a lot with your pet, a Yorkiepoo is a great match.”

The Yorkiepoo Dog Profile by Whitney Coy (Rover.com)

Now, here are the tendencies for a Brichon Frise, our “Gracie,” minus the formal (fluffy) “show cut” that some purebred enthusiasts ask from their groomers.

Gracie

“Bichons are adaptable companions who get on well with other dogs and children. Alert and curious, Bichons make nice little watchdogs—but they are lovers, not fighters, and operate under the assumption that there are no strangers, just friends they haven’t met yet. Their confidence and size make them ideal city dogs. Bichons train nicely and enjoy performing for their loved ones. Finally, there’s the happy-go-lucky Bichon personality that draws smiles and hugs wherever they go.”

American Kennel Club

The American Kennel Club offers a lot of insight to help you match the dog breed to your own pet-ownership experience and life style. If you are thinking of rescuing or purchasing a new pet (especially if this is your first time), we recommend reviewing their dog breed selection site.

What about dog personalities?

Surfing the ‘Net, I came upon an intriguing but seemingly inactive set of websites (nonworking phone number, email address, and contact form) that propose to “analyze” dogs into these categories:

  • left brain introvert – “sofa spud”
  • right brain introvert – “status seeker”
  • left brain extrovert – “socialite”
  • right brain extrovert – “nervous nelly”

According to the mystery bloggers at (two different spellings) doganality.net and dogenlity.com, dog energy levels are critical to your pet selection.

“A dog’s energy level is a crucial component of its overall ‘Dogenality.’ Coupling their behavior with a form of temperament gives you a better idea of who your dog is, what it is that drives them, and how you should go about forming a relationship with them that will be mutually beneficial.”

https://dogenality.com/new-energy-levels/

They offer a free-trial “dogenality” assessment and even canine DNA testing. Watch Angie Wood’s video here and even peruse their other informative blogs here (posted in 2018):

  • Fear’s Effect on Dogs
  • Dog Psychology vs. Human Psychology
  • Does Your Dog Get Enough Exercise
  • Bringing Home a New Dog
  • Laser Pointer Syndrome in Dogs
  • Why Some Dogs Are Afraid of Men
  • Seasonal Dog Allergies
  • A Dog’s Work vs. Vacation
Brewster during COVID-19 “red phase” before pet grooming resumed.

In keeping with the paulfox.blog philosophy to research sources for further study, here are more (probably more current) sites to explore:

“Dogs come in all different shapes, sizes, and personalities. That’s part of why we love them. But it can be easy to fall into the trap of seeing your dog not as what they are, but as you wish they could be, and treating them accordingly. When we assume our dogs enjoy something just because they are dogs, we not only do them a disservice and set them up for failure, we set ourselves up for frustration when they fail to live up to our expectations.”

“All dogs, regardless of their breeding, are individuals. It’s essential to look beyond your dog’s breed to try to understand the traits that make up their personality. The better you know your dog, the fewer misunderstandings you’ll have in the future. As a professional dog trainer, I convey this message constantly to my clients.”

Dog Personalities from A to Z: Which One is Your Pup? by Shoshi Parks

The happy hysteria of day-to-day doggie life!

Can we go out for a walk?

As a dog owner, you expect to live many moments of basic insanity:

  • It takes years of experience for you to resolve the propensity of your two pups trying to go in opposite directions and tying you up with their leashes while taking a walk.
  • You keep buying them bones until at some point you discovered their larder is ridiculously large, encompassing a reserve in multiple plastic containers in three or four rooms throughout the house.
  • One of your cupboards is crammed full of treats, many of which were past purchases that were rejected “paws down.” You cater to the unique tastes of both dogs; of course, they don’t like the same things.
  • “You have been trained” to give out everything in pairs. At times, you take into account the alpha dog’s competitive spirit (Gracie) and her desire to steal the bone from the easy-going one (Brewster). That means you have on-hand two identical bones. If Gracie doesn’t get the bone that Brewster has in his mouth (the only one she wants), she barks him down until he gives it up. To keep the peace, after she grabs it and sets off to consume it, you unobtrusively hand Brewster another one.
  • On the day of your 40th wedding anniversary, you go out and buy one of the dogs it’s own desk chair so she can sit next to you while you’re on the computer. Yes, this means that since you have two dogs, there are two extra chairs cluttering up the space in your office.
  • Your dogs have more patience with little children than you do. As you walk them up the street, they suddenly jerk to a stop and stare at the front door of a neighbor’s house, waiting for the “human critters” to come out and play with them.
  • You acquiesce. One dog is frequently insisting that you pick him up and carry him with you. The other one, not as often. At times, Brewster can be stubborn and “hit the brakes” on a walk, simply refusing to go where you want him to go. Of course, as well trained as you are, you comply.
  • When one of your furry friends is having a bad day, you’re having a bad day. Black or blue moods spread very easily. But, in a snap of your fingers, life is joyful again, and yippee, all is forgotten.
Gracie’s favorite spot on the bed

Who’s training whom?

Dog owners share a common vocabulary and unique language. Some of it sounds a little like baby talk… (Check out the American Kennel Club’s piece, Study Shows Dogs Really Do Respond to Baby Talk by Linda Lombardi)

  • “Wanna go outside?”
  • “Need to go potty?”
  • “Good dog!”
  • “Isn’t he cute?”
  • “Did you do this?”
  • “He did his number two.”
  • “This is puppy heaven!”
  • “She gave me a kiss!” or “Give mommy a kiss! No kiss?”

Ever count how many times YOU “cave-in” to your pet’s requests? They stare at you with those big sad eyes (“Daddy, please share a scrap of food from the table…”), and when the “alpha” spouse turns her back… (“Oh-oh, something just fell off the table!”)

Our pooches know how to distract us, reach directly into our hearts, make us smile no matter what our mood, and finagle yet one more treat out of the bag… and, yes, we love their trickery! Hey, exactly who is in charge, here?

You should read this amusing article from an obviously experienced dog trainer Casey Lomonaco writing in DogStarDaily. We dog owners only have ourselves to blame (if we even care about their “controlling behavior!”) For me: “Been there, done that, drank the Kool-Aid, and bought the t-shirt!”

FYI, I found a promising book on this subject: Who’s Training Whom? – Six Easy Lessons to Put Any Dog Owner Back in the Driver’s Seat and in Control of Their Dog. by Carols Puentes.

The best part – learning MY dogs’ quirks

There are times when Brewster’s and Gracie’s “doganalities” seem to be much more pronounced. Here are a few “fun” anecdotes!

  • You would think I just gave Brewster filet mignon, witnessing all the excitement of full-throttle chasing after, pouncing on, tossing around, and eventually chewing up an ice cube!
  • Gracie’s demonstrates her athleticism with a remarkable burst of energy to run up three flights of stairs to get on the bed to retrieve a bone.
  • One of Brewster’s favorite things-to-do is to jump onto “good grass” (devoid of branches, acorns, or leaves) rubbing his back in semi-circles as if doing the back stroke in a swimming pool. Of course, I have to pull up on his leash to stop him. (Wife is also allergic to mold and grass!)
  • Both Brewster and Gracie sleep with us in our queen-size bed. Did I say, they take up more than 2/3’s of the bed? Brewster needs to jam himself against me to nestle in the small of my back, while Gracie chooses a spot near my feet.
  • My two dogs like to play tug-a-war with one another, albeit very briefly, fighting over a toy or Brewster grabbing one of their beds with his teeth, taunting Gracie with it, and then dragging it across the floor.
  • Gracie’s internal clock is amazing, and so is her command of “people” language. At precisely 5 p.m. when she is usually fed, she jumps off the chair, stairs at one of us, and if we say, “ten minutes,” she sighs and goes over to her beanbag chair, only to return in exactly ten minutes to remind us “dinner is past due!”
  • No matter how I often I do it, when I nuzzle Brewster’s ear, he repays the compliment by licking my wrist. “Thank you, Daddy!”
  • To make house guests laugh (even our dog groomers), if you ever ask, “Need to go outside?” – Brewster will turn around and look at his butt.

You embrace their differences, laugh at the signature looks, gestures, and motions, and especially revel in their one-of-kind “prancing.” (Brewster hops like a kangaroo when he’s at his happiest times!) As educators, we know that “differentiation is essential.” It’s no different with dogs. And, you can always tell who’s-who in the dark by the unique sounds of their “gate” and the nails on our hardwood floors.

Unlike your human children or the students in your classes at school, you are always the centerpiece of their lives, what they live for, yearning to spend 100% of their time next to their “heroes” who can do no wrong, and (of course) they simply become the center of your life.

Recap: Rationale for fostering a furry friend!

So now that you are retired, have you settled on your self-reinvention and found the mandatory “purpose, structure, and community” referred to by best-selling author Ernie Zelinzski in How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free?

For our Finale, these are Fox’s reasons for Finding a Forever yours pet!

  • Fitness (help you to get up, get moving, and get out of the house)
  • Forecasting (they seem to be able to predict your mood, the weather, or the Future, and they certainly know when something is going on outside)
  • Friendliness (despite COVID-19 restrictions, they Fight isolation and Favor meeting people and getting to know your neighbors – even a random passerby!)
  • One last burst of alliteration: Fun, Frivolity, Festivity, and Fascination (literally what they add to “the joy of life!”). You can’t beat that!

I invite you to revisit my other four “blogs on dogs!”

PKF

© 2020 Paul K. Fox