Cultivating a Precious Gem: Engagement

What do SHJO, Gerardo Parra and the “Baby Shark” theme, and the concepts of collaboration and teamwork have in common?

 

FoxsFiresides

[Artistic Director’s message spoken at the fall concert of the South Hills Junior Orchestra on November 10, 2019… appropriate to all performers, teachers, and parents.]

 

Have you had a reason to ask yourself recently, “What am I thankful for?”

Hopefully you can reflect on many things… Your family, friends, health, success, and happiness may instantly come to mind.

How about the privilege of membership in a “musical team” – valuable enrichment provided by both your school program (in which all of our pre-college students should participate) and community groups, like the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO).

One does not have to look far to confirm the benefits of music education and fulfillment of personal creative self-expression. Numerous articles and statistics point to the rewards of “making music” and regular collaboration in a performing ensemble:

I even tried “wrapping my arms” around a definition of this “calling” (one that I have spent my entire life sharing) in a blog-post which features a community TV interview of me by SHJO musician Sam D’Addieco: https://paulfox.blog/2019/06/16/the-importance-of-music-education/.

I do feel thankful! I am grateful to have been granted this opportunity of conducting SHJO and interacting, teaching, and learning alongside our gifted and enthusiastic instrumentalists! These experiences and memories are “priceless” and “fragile,” just like a rare jewel or crystal. I complain for more members (we’re small and turnout has not always been good), but I am also reminded of a comment from my own inspirational school orchestra and string teacher, Mr. Eugene Reichenfeld, who was often heard to say: “Our orchestra may be small, but it is precious – just like a diamond!”

I say, we must cultivate the future of this special musical experience!

Don’t take it for granted! This unique “mosaic of members and music, where all musicians learn, grow, and lead” will only continue if YOU commit consistent time, focus, attendance, and practice. Success relies on your full engagement to SHJO. We need the players, booster officers, parents, and other adult volunteers to join forces!

CBS Good MorningThe other day, I watched on CBS This Morning an interview of World Series Champion Washington National’s star outfielder Gerardo Parra (https://www.cbsnews.com/video/gerardo-parra-on-how-baby-shark-became-the-nationals-anthem/) who is credited for helping to turn things around for the team. Although he may be remembered more for giving the Nationals a new anthem, “Baby Shark,” (chosen by his baby daughter), Parra discussed why he was concerned that the other players on the team did not seem “engaged” and stay afterwards in the clubhouse (some paraphrased below):

  • Parra: “Wow, what a team we have,” and referring to the regular season, “But, even after we won, no one was there to celebrate in the clubhouse.”
  • Anthony Mason: “A lot of people credited you for turning around the team culture.”
  • Parra: “It’s more important for my team that we start in the clubhouse… we dance in the clubhouse.”
  • Gayle King: “But you started that hurrah. You said everybody used to leave and then you said no, everybody, let’s stay! One person came, then one person came, and another person came…”
  • Parra: “Everybody like family. We’re one team, not 25 men.”

When he joined the team in May, Washington was a team with a losing record of 33-38 and 8½ games out of first place in the National League East. Parra himself was mired in a 0-for-22 slump. That’s when he chose “Baby Shark” and got his team motivated! In their last 100 games, the Nationals won 75. Sure, they have amazingly gifted and hardworking players, but what was the cornerstone of their victory? Their teamwork, “power of collaboration,” empathy for each other, and unified sense of purpose! This is just what the doctor ordered for the 37th season of SHJO, and all similar youth or community groups. We need to develop more teamwork, collaboration, and engagement, too!

Thanks, kudos, and bravos go to all musical caregivers and participants for caring, giving, and sharing, and especially uniting together as a team. What really matters to me the most? As I told Sam in the interview, I truly cherish those “ah-ha” moments of realization we see in our musicians’ eyes when they “get it” and reach a new pinnacle of success or mastery of their artistry! I also love observing many peers-helping-peers, multi-generational teamwork, partnerships of musical leaders and followers in the ensemble, and numerous “random acts of kindness” every Saturday morning.

“My” SHJO remains the single most motivating and meaningful event of my week!

Let’s all celebrate a Happy Thanksgiving!

PKF

 

hi-res logo 2018The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow players.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of Cultivating a Precious Gem – Engagement.

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

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Pumpkin” by Lolame

The Importance of Music Education

One Teacher’s Views on the Advocacy of Music in the Schools

Here are partial transcripts, excerpts, and commentary about this blogger’s perspectives on the value and benefits of music education, paraphrased from the program The Edge, produced by the Peters Township High School On-Air Talent class: Episode No. 45, “The Importance of Music Education,”https://archive.org/details/The_Edge_-_Episode_45_-_The_Importance_of_Music_Education

 

The Edge Episode 45

 

music-1781579_1280_GDJOver the years, I have been a strong advocate of equal-access to music and the arts as an essential part the education of all children. This blog will give me an opportunity to put a lot of my thoughts in one place. I am aware that there are many people “out there” who offer the premise that studying music makes you successful in other areas, and you will see that this assumption is well-supported. However, I am not a brain scientist. I cannot confirm research that seems to point to a direct correlation that “the music itself makes us smarter.” It could be that students who are attracted to and become proficient in the arts are somehow uniquely “wired,” have a greater work ethic, or are better intellectually “equipped” to become successful engineers, doctors, lawyers, educators, scientists – you name the career – and enjoy life-long happiness and self-realization. So many of those music-in-our-schools-month fliers say “music is basic,” “music is math,” “music is reading,” “music is science,” etc. and they are right! So, it’s not wrong to bring it up. But we should be fully aware that the primary goal of an education in the arts is for the development of creative self-expression.

In short: music for music’s sake.

When revising our Fine and Performing Arts mission and goals of music education for Middle States accreditation, the music and art teachers in my district centered on several primary goals. Probably the most important one was “to promote the skills of creative self-expression by using music, art, dance, and/or drama as vehicles for defining the students’ self-identity, learning concepts, communicating thoughts and feelings, and exploring mankind’s musical heritage in order to gain a broad cultural and historical perspective.” This statement was written many years ago… prior to the advent of Internet and social media, but perhaps it is even more relevant today!

However, there’s plenty of room here to provide you a wide spectrum of rationale and research from multiple vantage points.

It was my joy to be interviewed by host Sam D’Addieco, a junior percussion player in my South Hills Junior Orchestra. This link takes you to a 30-minute Vimeo recorded in the Peters Township Community Television studio on May 6, 2019. Although this was his assignment for a media class, it really prompted me to do some additional introspection about “what I think I think.” These were some of the issues we discussed… by no means verbatim, but, after all, this is my website. Now I can say what I really meant…

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Initial Questions and Responses

  1. Why did you choose to become a music educator? Music teaching is the greatest job in the world. Every day you deal with the inspirational subject matter of music, and then share it with students who want to be in your class! What could be any better? We guide students towards finding their personal identities, innate artistic and expressive potentials, and successes in making music.
  2. What inspired you to become a music educator in the first place? Were you always going to be a music teacher? I was one of those “goobers” who wanted to “live” in the music room… if I could, participating in band and orchestra eight periods a day! But, up to my Freshman year, I was going to be a doctor or surgeon, thinking that the field of medicine, “saving people’s lives,” would be the most exalted career. That is until my Special Biology teacher gave each of us a needle, alcohol swipe, and blood type testing strip, and I found out I was too squeamish to poke myself. What did I really want to do with my life? Share my love of music!
  3. How did you get started in music? Before grade school, my mother signed me up for piano lessons, and I practiced on our Howard baby grand (Baldwin brand) at home reveling in its big, beautiful tone. At school in California, I started out on the snare drum. My piano teacher also introduced me to the violin in the summer between fifth and sixth grade. After that, every new band director I had when I moved to different school districts in Western Pennsylvania switched me to a “what was needed for the band” instrument (baritone then tuba), and my private string teacher moved me to the viola, probably due to the length of my fingers, which eventually became my “major” in college.
  4. Did you have any mentors that helped you along the way? I was blessed with many outstanding music educators, school directors, conductors of local community orchestras, and private instructors. Probablymusic-students-246844_1920_musikschule the one who had the greatest influence on my going into a career of music teaching was Eugene Reichenfeld, who I saw the last period of every day in Orchestra at Penn Hills HS, at least once a week in a private lesson and rehearsals of the Wilkinsburg Civic Symphony on Thursday nights, and over the three summers at the Kennerdell Music and Arts Festival in Venango County. What a role model! Partially blind and losing his hearing, Mr. Reichenfeld played violin, cello, and guitar, and taught uninterrupted until three weeks before he died at the ripe old age of 103!
  5. Any regrets? Absolutely not! My classmates in college dubbed me “mister music ed.” But some of my well-meaning supporters saw other skills in me and tried to talk me into other pursuits. From my senior year in high school to four of five years enrolled in Carnegie-Mellon University, my string professor George Grossman prepared me for employment as a professional musician, even to consider auditioning for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. I said, I want to teach students! My CMU music department chair Robert Page and Fine Arts Dean Akram Midani in 1977 urged me to look into enrolling in Harvard summer arts management courses. Again: I want to teach students! Believe-it-or-not, even my own dad encouraged me to rethink my plans. After attending my first Edgewood Elementary 4th grade musical production (1979), he marveled about how much time I devoted  to making music… 6-7 days a week including evenings! He asked me what were my earnings. We compared my first-year salary of $8200 vs. his position as manager in the nuclear division of Westinghouse Company (move the decimal point to the right – nearly $82,000 annual compensation). He suggested a partnership. “Why don’t you join with me, form a company together, and become entrepreneurs, and with a little luck and your obvious work ethic, we could both make a million dollars in a few years.”
  6. conductor-4189841_1280_GordonJohnsonDid your father ever realize why you chose music? In December 1986, Dad came to my choral/orchestra department production of Scrooge, involving over 250 students at my second career assignment, Upper St. Clair High School. After the closing curtain, he came up to me and asked, “Did you do all of this yourself? I answered, “Well, I had a lot of help. I did prepare the students on the dialogue parts in the script, the leads’ solos, chorus harmonies, and orchestra accompaniment, but I needed a drama specialist for coaching the actors and a choreographer for the dances. And yes, I am also the show’s producer, responsible for the printing of the program and tickets, finding people to assist in sewing the costumes, building the sets, running the stage tech, and applying the make-up.” After a short pause, he said something I will never forget: “Wow! This was incredible! You really made a difference to so many of your students’ lives.” He was proud of me, and finally expressed it! (It was a good thing too… he died suddenly of a heart attack exactly two years later when I was in the middle of staging USCHS’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.)

 

Statistics in Support of Music Education

What is the purpose of music in schools? Why is it important to take a creative arts elective throughout your middle to high school education?

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Okay, we can start with the huge body of research published just about everywhere that indicates “music makes you smarter.” Here are just a few examples and sample supportive documentation. (Please take the time to peruse these links!)

Other skills:

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More attitudes:

Several more general links, additional literature that supports the inclusion of music in the school curriculum:

 

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Learning Styles and “Intelligences”

Ever felt like you were a square peg trying to fit in a round hole? Now, lets dive into the concept that “music is a means to learning.”

Intelligence is often defined as our intellectual potential; something we are born with, something that can be measured, and a capacity that is difficult to change. In recent years, however, other views of intelligence have emerged. Also, more research has been applied to learning styles and preferences… all to promote better success in education.

“Many of us are familiar with three general categories in which people learn: visual learners, auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners. Beyond these three general categories, many theories of and approaches toward human potential have been developed.”

— North Illinois University: https://www.niu.edu/facdev/_pdf/guide/learning/howard_gardner_theory_multiple_intelligences.pdf

In 1983, the theory of “multiple intelligences” was formed by Dr. Howard Gardner, Professor Education at Harvard University, and widely read in his initial book offering Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Supported by Thomas Armstrong (books such as Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom), “the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited.” Instead, Dr. Gardner proposed nine different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults (the first one is my favorite):

  • choral-3871734_1280_gustavorezendeMusical (sound smart)
  • Naturalist (nature smart)
  • Logical-mathematical (number/reasoning smart)
  • Existential (life smart)
  • Interpersonal (people smart)
  • Bodily-kinesthetic (body smart)
  • Linguistic (word smart)
  • Intra-personal (self smart)
  • Spatial (picture smart)

“Dr. Gardner says that our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We esteem the highly articulate or logical people of our culture. However, Dr. Gardner says that we should also place equal attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, therapists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live. Unfortunately, many children who have these gifts don’t receive much reinforcement for them in school. Many of these kids, in fact, end up being labeled “learning disabled,” “ADD (attention deficit disorder,” or simply underachievers, when their unique ways of thinking and learning aren’t addressed by a heavily linguistic or logical-mathematical classroom.”

— American Institute for Learning and Human Development: http://www.institute4learning.com/resources/articles/multiple-intelligences/

saxophone-3246650_1920_congerdesignTransforming the way schools should be run, the multiple intelligences theory suggests that teachers be trained to present their lessons in a wide variety of ways using music, cooperative learning, art activities, role play, multimedia, field trips, inner reflection, and much more. This approach truly “customizes the learning” and provides eight or more potential pathways to learning.

“If a teacher is having difficulty reaching a student in the more traditional linguistic or logical ways of instruction, the theory of multiple intelligences suggests several other ways in which the material might be presented to facilitate effective learning.”

— Thomas Armstrong: http://www.institute4learning.com/resources/articles/multiple-intelligences/

“While a person might be particularly strong in a specific area, such as musical intelligence, he or she most likely possesses a range of abilities. For example, an individual might be strong in verbal, musical, and naturalistic intelligence.”

— Kendra Cherry: https://www.verywellmind.com/gardners-theory-of-multiple-intelligences-2795161

The bottom line? We need music in the schools for a variety of reasons, not the least to systemically and intentionally provide avenues of learning for “music smart” kids as well as to share resources that all teachers across the disciplines may use to enrich their lessons, differentiate the instruction, and “reach” their students.

 

Ever Heard of the Four C’s?

How about defending the rationale that “music makes connections, within us and from the world around us?” Easy!

Music and art courses offer great rigor in developing 21st Century learning skills:

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Released by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2010), the best resource I found when this movement made the headlines was this P21 Arts Skills Map. It was developed to “illustrate the intersection between 21st Century Skills and the Arts. The maps will enable educators, administrators and policymakers to gain concrete examples of how 21st Century Skills can be integrated into core subjects.” With so much more detail, this document provides skill definitions, core subject interactions, outcomes and examples:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • stones-451329_1920_dweedon1Innovation
  • Information Literacy
  • Media Literacy
  • Information, Communication, and Technology Literacy
  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Self-Direction
  • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Productivity and Accountability
  • Leadership and Responsibility
  • Interdisciplinary Themes

“The music classroom is a perfect place to teach critical thinking and problem solving,” says MENC [now NAfME] member Donna Zawatski. Instead of giving students the answers, she asks questions that will clarify the process and lead to better solutions from the students. “Students will define the problem, come up with solutions based on their previous experience, create, and then reflect on what they’ve created,” she says.

— Donna Zawatski, “4C + 1C = 1TGMT,” Illinois Music Educator, Volume 71, No. 3.

 

Creativity is Number One!

One of my favorite educational gurus, probably an expert on creativity in the schools, is Sir Ken Robinson. His most viewed Ted-Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” (18 million+) should be required of all pre-service teachers. A great story-teller with a wonderfully dry English sense of humor, Robinson tells a narrative about a child who was not “behaving” very well in school… “coloring outside the lines” and fidgeting in class. According to the primary teacher, she was distracting the other students, and was hard to “contain” and keep her sitting in her seat.

At the insistence of school staff, the parents took the little girl to a psychiatrist. He did a battery of tests on her to find out why she was so “antsy” and… The counselor’s analysis? He said to her parents: “Your child is not sick. She is a dancer. She likes to express herself in movement. Take her to a school that emphasizes dancing.”

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A “quick-from-the-hip” diagnosis might have resulted in prescribing drugs in order to “calm her down” and make her “fit in” better with the traditional school setting.

The rest of the story? The incident he was talking about described the childhood of the super-successful multi-millionaire English ballerina and choreographer of Cats and Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, the late Gillian Lynne.

Creativity is probably the single most essential learning skill… and I have devoted a whole section of my website on the subject, starting with “Creativity in Education” to numerous blogs here.

 

Flexible Thinking, Adaptability, and Problem Solving

In the interview, I asked the question, “What is 1 + 1 + 1?” What I meant to elicit was, “Besides the obvious response of 3, how many different answers can you find to solve this math problem?”

  • 111
  • 11 (in binary)
  • 1 (draw it in the air, one vertical line and two horizontal lines making the Roman numeral I)

Living in the real world (as well as learning the arts), there are very few “one-right answers!” Unlike other subject areas and pursuits, music fosters abstract decision-making in situations where there are no standard answers, analysis of and response to nonverbal communication, and adaptations and respect of divergent styles and methods for personal expression and thinking.

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The arts foster divergent thinking (the ability to consciously generate new ideas that branch out to many possible solutions for a given problem) as well as convergent thinking (the ability to correctly hone in to a single correct solution to a problem).  According to Professor Curtis Bonk on his insightful “Best of Bob” – Instructional Strategies for Thinking, Collaboration, and Motivation” website, “In creativity, convergent thinking often requires taking a novel approach to the problem, seeing the problem from a different perspective, or making a unique association  between parts of the problem.”

“Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.”

— Proverb quoted by Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly

 

Are You of the “Right Mind?”

First, take the Left-Brain/Right-Brain test at the “Best of Bob” website above.

RThe 60s work of Nobel Peace Prize scientist Dr. Roger Sperry pointed to different sections of the brain being used for unique functions of the mind. Accordingly, the left brain is supposed to be more verbal, analytical, and orderly than the right brain. It’s sometimes called the digital brain. It’s better at things like reading, writing, and computations. In contrast, the right brain is purported to be more visual and intuitive. It’s sometimes referred to as the analog brain. It has a more creative and less organized way of thinking.

However, portions of his research, especially about brain hemisphere dominance have been disputed.

“Magnetic resonance imaging of 1,000 people revealed that the human brain doesn’t actually favor one side over the other. The networks on one side aren’t generally stronger than the networks on the other side.”

“The two hemispheres are tied together by bundles of nerve fibers, creating an information highway. Although the two sides function differently, they work together and complement each other. You don’t use only one side of your brain at a time.”

“Whether you’re performing a logical or creative function, you’re receiving input from both sides of your brain. For example, the left brain is credited with language, but the right brain helps you understand context and tone. The left brain handles mathematical equations, but right brain helps out with comparisons and rough estimates.”

Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/left-brain-vs-right-brain

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Here is what I believe. Parts of what we do in music, like interpretation, expressiveness, phrasing, aesthetic sensitivity, and perception of man’s creations around us, etc. involve imagination and intuition, and are more holistic, intuitive – I will call it “right” brained.

In his book A Whole New Mind – Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the World, Daniel Pink, formerly a lawyer and the speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore, forecast that most future careers throughout the world will involve the learning skills normally attributed to the right side of the brain – innovation, invention, ingenuity, adaptability, critical thinking and problem-solving, etc., not jobs that are dominated by predetermined or routine actions, instructions, scripting (e.g. tasks that can be done by robots, Legal Zoom for simple wills, or 1-800 tech help hotlines).

I recommend looking into Pink’s books and his “Discussion Guide for Educators.”

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In conclusion, with so many memories swimming around in my mind, I was asked by Sam what I thought was the greatest achievement of my career (or perhaps he meant what single student did I “inspire” to greatness?).  I replied that there were far too many to count, those blessed “AH HA” moments when a musician, singer, actor, or dancer goes for his dream and realizes his potential… “I made it!” Sometimes they don’t believe in themselves, are afraid to try, and the teacher has to nudge or encourage them. But, once it happens, you can see the sparkle in their eyes! And, even in retirement, they never let you forget their accomplishment(s) and the difference you made in their lives!

Finally, I agree wholeheartedly with the following statements regarding music’s role in everything from self-esteem development to building “symphonic” relationships and connections between seemingly unrelated or dissociated items or events – “putting the pieces of the puzzle together!”

“To be able to play a musical instrument (increasingly well), to be able to express oneself musically, to become friends with others making the same accomplishments, to reach musical goals and achievements — these things help people feel good about themselves. That has lasting value as it relates to nearly all other things in their lives, according to the music educators.”

The Herald Paladium, September 10, 2000

Music also boosts creativity and the ability to see the relationships between seemingly unrelated things—enhancing all learning. Children who have studied music develop faster socially, mentally, and even physically.

Woodwind Brasswind: “How Music Study Relates to Nearly Every School Discipline”

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Simply put, making music in school and life-long learning as adults are FUN! It nurtures our inner voice, feelings, and self-worth. We enjoy the social interactions of participation in an ensemble. Literally, we explore our artistic “souls” and embrace the beauty within and around us. A career of 40+ years of directing orchestras, both in formalized classes and community/youth groups, has been the most inspirational and life-satisfying of pursuits… something I hope I can do for many more years until I reach Moses’ age!

PKF

 

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com:

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Reference Letters: What To Do?

Reprinted from “A View from the Podium” (Upper St. Clair High School, 2015) for current South Hills Junior Orchestra members and other students seeking recommendation letters from their music teachers.

foxsfiresides

If you are requesting a letter of recommendation from any teaching staff member, administrator, minister, coach, or activity sponsor for college entrance, scholarships, awards, or job placement, please follow the instructions of your school counselor AND review/complete the steps below.

Do you have an updated “me-file” on your computer’s desktop? Maintain a bulleted list of accomplishments with dates. Scan archives of awards, programs, commendations, special honors, and significant assessments. This will become the basis for the creation of résumés or portfolios, and background for your college or employment essays.

In person, ask the teacher from whom you want the letter if he/she is willing to do this. This should be an adult in whom you have a great deal of trust and with whom you have had frequent contact. If you have any doubt or misgivings like “Does this professional like me?” or “Will he/she give me a fair rating?” – then you should ask someone else. If you are a current member of SHJO, anyone asking Mr. Fox should have no fear. He will tell you immediately if there is any problem in writing a positive letter.

In my opinion, if you choose the right person to do your letter, you can sign-off your rights to see it before submission to the institution. A student checking “yes” to waiving his/her access to/examination of the reference may look better to the evaluator. Although not required, some may send you a copy of it for your files. That is my standard practice.

Know your deadlines. BY WHEN do you need the reference letters or common app teacher recommendations?

seriestoshare-logo-01As a courtesy to the writer (and modeling good preparation on your part), give at least two to three weeks’ notice (more is better). Remember: “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on the teacher’s part.” It would also be polite to “gently remind” the staff member about the final deadline of the recommendation (at least one weekend’s notice). For SHJO, one Saturday ahead of the final deadline would be ideal.

Unless it is an online application or digital reference, the individual requesting the recommendation should provide in advance a pre-stamped self-addressed envelope to be signed, sealed, and mailed directly to any school or organization.

To facilitate “anecdotal references” and confirm accurate data/details, email a mini-résumé of your achievements, particularly those things that can be mentioned in the letter. Try to complete as many of these as possible:

  1. When did you first begin your musical (or other academic specialty) study? When did you join SHJO or other music group?
  2. What classes, ensembles, and/or productions have you participated at school?
  3. What music or academic leadership positions have you served (give specific dates)?
  4. What are your outside activities?
  5. What have you done as community service?
  6. How are you unique? Describe yourself in three to five words.
  7. What qualities or strengths have you exhibited that the staff member, from working with you, could corroborate in the letter?
  8. Can you remember any funny or significant class or rehearsal anecdote that demonstrated growth in your musical technique, expressiveness, student leadership, “team” or ensemble building, or the 21st Century learning skills of creativity, communications, critical thinking, collaboration, and global understanding?
  9. What is your planned major or minor in college, and how did your association with the staff member (his/her classes or activities) help you gain the experience, insight, or confidence to go into this field?

Good luck! PKF  Revised 3/18/19

hi-res logo 2018

The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of Reference Letters: What to Do?

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

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fireside” by pixeldust

 

The “Care and Feeding” of Your Principal

New Teachers’ Guide for Fostering Positive Relations & Good Interactions with School Administrators

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Conventional wisdom suggests that the initial school staff you should get to know immediately on a first-name basis in your new teaching job are 1) the building secretary, 2) head custodian, and 3) cafeteria workers. (The first one keeps you out of trouble, the second cleans up your messes, and the last group makes sure you’re well-fed!)

However, even more influential, the principal “assigned to you” will literally “make or break” a smooth transition and orientation into the workplace. Especially if this person was partially responsible for hiring you (a member of the screening committee which chose you out from all of the other qualified candidates), he/she should be your penultimate “mentor!” To validate the administrator’s judgment (and you continuing to be the “hero”), he/she will likely be highly motivated to foster your success!

So… once you land your new position, your first move should be to learn everything you marching-band-1404489_1920_sam99929can about “your champion!” Find out his/her goals, needs, and “pet-peeves,” and while you’ll at it, get off on the right foot with relations with all of your school supervisors.

Here are some tips for “rookie” or new music teachers to cultivate these relationships.

According to the article, “The Principal’s Role in the Music Program” by Orville Aftreth in the Music Educators Journal (Vol. 46, No. 3, January 1960, pp. 41-44), “A successful music program requires a principal who enables the following basic attitudes:

  • A belief in the value and importance of music;
  • A desire to grow his ability to enjoy, appreciate, and produce music;
  • A willingness to vitalize school activities through music.”

But, unfortunately, it seems that few administrators have significant and ongoing experiences in making music.

While I was doing online research for this blog, I stumbled upon an excellent thesis entitled, “Why We Love Music: a Case Study of High School Principals” by D. Benjamin Williams (https://nafme.org/ways-to-build-better-working-relationships-with-your-principal/), which seemed to support this premise.

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A principal’s musical background influenced their view of music as a key part of a quality education. Most of the principals’ formal experience in the arts ended early in their life, and none took classes on how to be an effective administrator for an arts program. Principal certification courses typically deal with finance, special education, and general leadership and administration.

—D. Benjamin Williams

My own history (35 years of teaching in the public schools with 30+ administrators) was to serve with only one principal who was a former music teacher, and perhaps 10% of the remaining administrators had any real arts education experience (or even regularly played an instrument or sang in a choir).

woman-2679619_1920_anna2005Williams shared the purpose of his case study: “to gain an understanding of school administrators’ thoughts on their school’s music program in regards to music’s role and value.” He documented the comments of five principals in their advocacy of the arts.

The research questions posed in this study centered on the following:

  1. What are common values and/or themes among administrators when it comes to music in their schools?
  2. Are there common points of advocacy administrators find themselves making in support of their school’s music program?
  3. What do administrators see as benefits of having a music program in their schools?
  4. Where does music fit in the overall vision of a school?
  5. What is music’s role in a quality education?

They mentioned how the arts are an opportunity to plug in, be engaged, and earn scholarships; that they create an identity for the individual and for the school; that they make a whole student and contribute to a whole education; and that they provide opportunities for higher-order thinking, such as critical or creative thinking and problem solving, that are encouraged in core-content areas as well. The pressure placed on education institutions in the 21st century are focused on these concepts, and the principals saw that music helped and encouraged students to develop these abilities. This is why they chose to support, advocate, and build up their school’s music programs.

—D. Benjamin Williams

I repeat: the first advice we give to newcomers to the profession is know your bosses! And, intentionally invite, “educate,” include, and engage them in your music classes and ensembles’ activities! Draw a circle around him/her to become a member of your team!

He drew a circle to shut me out,
heretic rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win,
we drew a circle that took him in.

— Edwin Markham

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This view is reinforced by the article “Ways to Build Better Working Relationships with Your Principal” by Gabriel L. Woods on the NAfME Music in a Minuet blog-site at https://nafme.org/ways-to-build-better-working-relationships-with-your-principal/. He shares a summary of the basics:

  • Understand your principal and his/her job.
  • Build positive relationships with your principal.
  • Learn techniques to make your principal work for you and your program.
  • Learn how to think like a principal.

Each year when I return from honor bands or other music related field trips, I make it a habit to purchase my administrators a small token of appreciation to let them know the trip was a great success. Students must write an essay, and they present the administrators with the gift. In the essay, students are required to write what they learned, what the field trip meant to them, and how they will use this experience to make the school better. Praise is effective.

— Gabriel L. Woods

NAfME blogAlso, you should check out an even more recent NAfME blog, “Stronger Together – How to Get Administrators on Your Side” by Lori Schwartz Reichl, which offers a great perspective. Several meaningful quotes from her piece:

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.

— Henry Ford

Remember that even though you are not taking the role of administrator, you are a leader. You lead a program. You lead a musical family. You are the leader of a superior sound. You are the leader of inspiration for your community. In the most genuine way, lead your administrator to a music education crescendo.

— Lori Schwartz Reichl

After a little brainstorming, I recalled my own working “top-ten list” of techniques for building harmonious interactions and collaborations with your school leaders.

  1. Be the first to arrive and the last to leave, and you will earn their respect! Professionals, especially music teachers who participate in co- and extra-curricular activities, are not “clock watchers” and need to “put in the time” before and after school to prepare and achieve meaningful learning experiences for their students.
  2. man-1020389_1920_geraltLearn what makes them tick! Is your principal a site-based manager? Is he/she a stickler for “chain of command.” I had an administrator who would go bonkers if he thought you back-copied a memo to the superintendent or called a central office manager first. Be sure you conform to the management style of your chief. This is a way of showing him/her respect and cooperation, which in all likelihood, will be returned to you in spades.
  3. Keep your principal “in the loop” and “in your corner,” and make sure you communicate any serious disputes that come up (especially with unhappy parents) that could blow up in your/his/her faces in the future. This also which means you don’t subscribe to the philosophy, “Don’t ask for permission, beg for forgiveness.” Proponents of this belief will tell you to go ahead and stick your neck out, perhaps do something “for the good of the order,” and later declare “oops!” if it goes south and your administrators disapprove. I cannot vouch for the ethics of this position, and “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 and welfare of the children, and you should first try to obtain the legal and political endorsement of your boss(es) as you keep them appraised about what you are doing. Don’t be a nag, just “cc:” when appropriate, and “ask,” don’t “tell!”
  4. Give them credit! Publicly, you make it clear: you and your students’ awards and accomplishments are also your administrators’ awards and accomplishments. If it is possible, have your principal join you on stage to accept any ensemble honors.
  5. Serve on a non-music related committee or project. Principals are always middle stateslooking for volunteers to help fulfill the overarching goals of the district. This might mean signing up for the strategic planning committee, Middle States accreditation evaluation team, school renovation planning meetings with the architect, etc.
  6. Engage your principal as a participant in your program: concert appearances as guest conductor or solo/ensemble performer, featured narrator or announcer, limited-engagement as a walk-on part in the musical, judge of talent show, etc.
  7. Model professionalism and good time management skills. Be prompt in the completion of all deadlines assigned by administration. Don’t turn your principal (or his secretary) into a “nag” requiring numerous follow-up reminders.
  8. Understand the importance of public perceptions and “appearances.” Many school leaders spend an inordinate amount time trying to defend the sometimes questionable actions of their staff. Don’t make this necessary! Be responsible for your “public brand.” If it looks bad, it is bad… and that’s always up to you!
  9. Don’t just bring up problems, have answers! At odds with an existing policy or boss-2179948_1920_balikpractice? Suggest a solution and a Plan B to an issue you would like to address. Upholding “moral professionalism,” tactfully but firmly point out what is not working (and why). But, do your homework first. Share the “facts and stats” and try to propose several different directions to consider (even a Plan C and a Plan D). You will impress the “head honcho” by modeling the traits of flexibility, creative problem solving, and sensitivity to the needs of other staff and programs.
  10. Think long term and back-up your requests with numbers! When you submit your budget for the next school year, include the “tangibles” and statistics that your principal could use to “fight for you.” Include data on and percent changes in student enrollments, per-pupil costs, history of past purchases, etc. and separate your proposals into one, two, three, and/or five-year “plans” to spread out the expense for big-ticket items. Be specific and prioritize! When asked to “cut” my sheet music amounts, I assembled a set of sample folders with all of the music I used in the current year and broke down each selection’s current (replacement) price, each concert’s overall value, percentage of the repertoire used from my library, projected losses, etc. In one case, I predicted that if the district went through with its reduction of the music budget by 20% and (at the time) the cost of sheet music was rising 15%, I would be forced to schedule one fewer public performance in the school year. (It never happened!)

Edutopia provided excellent insight in promoting collaborative relationships with your principal. In “Five Ways to Develop a Partnership with Your Principal” by Ben Johnson, this advice was shared:

  1. Have a Face-to-Face Meeting
  2. Make Your Resource Needs Known
  3. Write It Down
  4. Invite Her into Your Classroom
  5. Offer Encouragement

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If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples, then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.

— George Bernard Shaw

Another resource worth reading is “A Teacher’s Guide to Working With Your Principals” by Kristy Louden. She reflects: “But aside from the obvious factor that your principal is your boss, and you want your boss to think well of you, I have found my relationship with my principal has helped in more ways than I probably realize. Here’s why:

  • They’ll think of you… (when an opportunity comes up that you might want).
  • You can ask for what you want.
  • You’ll get respect and recognition.
  • You have a reference (just in case).”

ENhancing the Professional Practice of Music TeachersFinally, the most comprehensive manual I have ever read on this subject should be a “required read” for every music educator: Enhancing the Professional Practice of Music Teachers: 101 Tips That Principals Want Music Teachers to Know and Do by Paul Young. To add to the above guidelines, I would especially peruse these recommendations:

  • Tip #13: Work closely with classroom teachers
  • Tip #30: Take charge of your schedule
  • Tip #41: Continuously improve classroom management
  • Tip #62: Make ethical decisions
  • Tip #80: Write notes, return phone calls, reply to email
  • Tip #93: Perform (satisfy your own pursuit of creative self-expression)
  • Tip #97: Improve your leadership skills (quotes from the book Leadership 101 by John Maxwell)

This final point is an excellent one. You are “in charge” of your own self-improvement projects and professional development. Administrators want to see staff members who seek growth experiences. Don’t wait for the annual implementation of the district’s “latest flavor of the year” in-service program (as it is sometimes referred to by teachers) or your supervisor’s year-end conference. Do your own self-assessment and plan specific and measurable goals and tasks to fulfill them. Always strive to do your best and be harder on yourself than anyone else (even administration) can ever be. Model the concepts of focus, cooperation, self-discipline, and a positive attitude in the workplace.

Now, take a deep breath. It’s all about one step at a time. Soak up these ideas. You can and will nurture happy and productive relationships with your principal and other school administrators, enhance your professional image and effectiveness, and foster opportunities of achievement and self-fulfillment for you and your music students!

PKF

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

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Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “handshake-regard-cooperate-connect” by johnhain, “laptop-office-hand-writing” by Aymanejed, “marching-band-chicago-thanksgiving” by sam99929, “violin-flute-music-classic” by horndesign, “woman-business-woman-boss” by anna2005, “people” by Russell_Clark, and “wooden-train-toys-train-first-class” by Couleur.