Hacks to Help Music Teachers Organize

Tips, Tricks, & Techniques for Time & Task Management

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

“Hack” – hæk – noun – various definitions

  • “a usually creatively improvised solution to a computer hardware or programming problem or limitation” (Merriam-Webster)
  • “one who works hard at boring tasks” OR “a mediocre and disdained writer” (vocabulary.com)
  • “a strategy or technique for managing one’s time or activities more efficiently” (Google)
  • “someone who does work that is not important or original” (Britannica Dictionary)
  • “an illegal attempt to gain access to a computer network” (Wiktionary)
  • “a clever tip or technique for doing or improving something” (Merriam-Webster)

Is “hack” really a bad word? Consider this modern-day etymology in the article “A 125-Year-Old Letter Dives Into the True Meaning Of the Word Hack by Robert McMillan posted on SLATE:

If you walk through the heart of Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, you’ll find a rather imposing two-story mural painted by artist Brian Barnecio. It looks like a massive totem pole filled with abstract shapes that resemble lips and eyeballs and boxes of ping-pong balls, and in the middle of it all, there’s a single word: hack.

In the late ’80s and on into the ’90s and early 2000s, hack was a dirty word. It evoked danger and criminal activity. It was all about breaking into computer systems, telephone networks, and other vulnerable technology. People who knew their computer history disagreed, but the negative connotation took hold in the mainstream. But over the past decade, hacker has been rehabilitated. Today, it seems, everyone wants to be a hacker. Facebook has gone a long way towards renovating the word, building its massive successful company around the idea that hacking is a good thing, a way of transforming technologies into something better.

Referring to only positive interpretations of “hack,” we turn to the World Wide Web and our colleagues in collaboration to explore unique ways to streamline and make more efficient our personal organization, day-to-day routines, and management of our office and music teaching “best practices” in time/task management. Peruse through these insights “borrowed” from professionals in the field. Some may resonate within you and solve problems you may have; others may inspire you to create other “hacks” towards success.

If you haven’t done so already, please consult my past blog posts on similar topics at this site:

First, I will revisit and expand on one of my favorite “systems” called Priority Management.

The Four D’s

Ever heard of Priority Management (PM)? Trolling the Internet, there are a lot discussions and resources that extol the virtues of “the four D’s” – DO IT, DELETE IT, DELAY IT, or DELEGATE IT:

It may at first seem like a novel way to clean off your desk and desktop. But, in my opinion, it goes to the root of our problem in time management – PRIORITIZE and give rid of the (another “D”) DISTRACTIONS!

PM’s “WorkingSm@rt method” promises to help you “gain control over your day, find balance, prioritize your work, and reach your goals,” giving you time to focus on the tasks that are important to you. The bottom line – every digital or printed post-it-note, piece of mail, receipt, publication, email or other communication – must be “put in its place” on the spot – either completed instantly, deferred to another time, given to someone else to do, or THROWN OUT!

You could reverse the order of the D’s to make the workflow go even faster… “start with the end in mind” as Stephen Covey would say, and DELETE unnecessary “stuff” first. This “habit” is particularly suitable for email: clear out the spam and TRASH duplicate messages and things that do not need your response.

Consider these PM Hacks:

  1. In advance, set-up file folders labeled by months, weeks, or days, and one each of these: in-basket, out-basket, and (very important) PRO-TIME tray.
  2. Designate a “PM Period” every day when you go through your in-basket of unsorted (e)mail and delete unnecessary stuff/tasks, date/delay for another time, delegate to others (out-basket), or…
    DO THEM NOW!
  3. As part of your “delay file,” place journals, catalogs, or other professional readings in a professional read tray (PRO-TIME), but regularly schedule daily/weekly time to do “silent and sustained reading.”
  4. Allow NO unsorted pieces of paper to ever infiltrate the surface of your desk.

How does PRO-TIME look for a music educator? We should intentionally focus on fostering our own creative self-expression, artistry, and professional development:

  1. Read an article in a professional journal or digital newsletter.
  2. Write your own article or blog post for a professional e-publication.
  3. “Keep up your chops” on your instrument or voice. Practice every day!
  4. Keep up with your “musicianship training” like ear training, sight-reading, and score reading. Pull out a copy of Elementary Training for Musicians by Hindemith and practice exercises that make you sing in syllables, tap a different rhythm independently with your left hand, conduct the beat pattern with your right hand, and beat your foot to the pulse. OR revisit your college solfeggio assignments, and of course, sight-singing or playing-at-sight anything new-to-your-eyes is most beneficial.
  5. Take time to compose or arrange your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”
  6. Perform or improvise on the piano or guitar, rotating weekly to different musical styles and forms.
  7. Is it time to learn a new instrument? When was the last time you crossed the break on the clarinet, drilled in paradiddles on the snare drum, OR shifted to third position on the violin? Can you play as well as your beginning students?
  8. If you’re not a piano wizard or an accomplished accompanist, try your hand at sight reading several different voice parts simultaneously from choral octavos. OR can you transpose and play “at-sight” a musical phrase from a full score? (Those French Horn parts always challenged this violist!)

Besides committing to regular scheduled PRO-TIME, you have to systemize your D-PLANNING by going over your DELAY files during your daily designated “PM Period.” (Yes., this will take discipline!) In addition, once a month (or whatever frequency you choose), you must to review and move things from longer-term goals to short-term or immediate action. Being conscientious and meticulous in the use of your very-limited planning time and scheduling what author of Fewer Things, Better Angela Watson targets for your “non-flexibles” is paramount for “taming the time tiger!” Her “aligning priorities” approach to time management echoes the philosophy of PM and First Things First by Stephen Covey:

  1. Identify your non-flexibles
  2. List your top priorities that you want to uncover more time for
  3. Specify what life would look like if you prioritized these things
  4. Add top priorities to the unallocated time in your schedule
  5. Identify/schedule the in-betweens

From How to Retire Happy, WIld and Free by Ernie Zelinski

Setting Priorities – How’s Your Work/Life Balance?

If you have been following this site, you know this blogger has retired from full-time public school music teaching. However, “preaching to the choir,” we all know how busy our schedules have become and how unbalanced things can get – no matter who you are – college music education majors, fully active music educators, even retirees. In fact, we should all be taking the advice of author Ernie Zelinski in his book How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free to set priorities and find equilibrium in our daily, weekly, monthly work/life to-do lists and tasks. How do your pie slices look (above)? Do you spend more time thinking of your school/job than your more pressing personal commitments. Do you commit adequate time for your own self-care?

Angela Watson helps us engineer “a plan” that will foster balance. Or, if you have a few moments, visit the website(s) of the late great Stephen Covey, author of the book and series Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, in many ways one of the most renown experts on time management. I would start with this clever YouTube video excerpt of him hosting a workshop on the merits of “finding the big rocks” in your life: https://youtu.be/zV3gMTOEWt8. He summed it up with the quote: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

The next step might be to consume Covey’s First Things First book and corresponding website here.

Summer Reading

Before you get started with planning your 2022-23 school year, we recommend taking a “time out,” pulling up a comfortable lawn chair or Lazy-Boy, and diving into these personal tutors – “gems.”

Also, if you want to taste more of the vision and work of Stephen Covey, check out his many books.

Coming Soon…

Part 2 – More Hacks to Help Music Teachers Organize

In our next blog-post, we will next share more insights – music educator to music educator – hopefully helpful hints thanks to these very inspiring sources:

  • Band Directors Talk Shop
  • Clever Music Teachers Hacks by Wendy Higdon
  • 9 Time-Saving Tools… for Busy Music Teachers by Ashley Danyew
  • Band Room Hacks on Pinterest by Julia Arenas

NOTE: This blog-site has a “comment” button at the top. If you would like to “come to the party” and offer up a little wisdom of your own, send in your own “hack” for a future posting.

HELP… Yes, there are ways to help clear up the clutter and GET ORGANIZED!

PKF

© 2022 Paul K. Fox

Leadership Lessons

Summertime Reading Suggestions for Music Directors

3 leadership books

What do authors C.S. Forester, Simon Sinek, Jocko Willink, and Leif Babin have in common?

They offer a fresh perspective on leadership principles, reflections perfectly applicable for the skill-set development of music teachers who desire to better “lead” their music programs, students, and parent boosters.

It was no accident that I chose these books to help explore the truths of inspiring confidence and leading groups of people like we do daily in our classrooms, rehearsal halls, and on the stages or marching band fields. Their use of military (as well as company or government management) anecdotes defines and re-enacts the very essence of leaders, leadership concepts, goals, and public service.

“These [military group] organizations have strong cultures and shared values, understand the importance of teamwork, create trust among their members, maintain focus, and, most important, understand the importance of people and relationships to their mission success.”

— From the Foreword of Leaders Eat First

Why do we admire music teacher “heroes” and most sought-after conference keynoters in our profession such as “Dr. Tim” Lautzenheiser, Peter Boonshaft, Scott Edgar*, and Bob Morrison* (*the latter two to be featured in the PMEA Summer Virtual Conference on July 20-24, 2020). They inspire us. They recharge us and pick up our spirits. They serve as models of visionaries and coaches. They challenge the status quo and help us to grow!

I believe these books will do the same, assist in your career development to morph into an even better leader and teacher. Since many of us are “stuck at home” during the pandemic for awhile, here is a new “reading list” for personal self-improvement.

EPISODE 1-MUTINY
ITV/Rex Archive: Ioan Gruffudd in “Hornblower” 2001 TV series

Who is Horatio Hornblower?

To start with, how about a series of historical fiction from the Napoleonic-Wars era?

Hornblower is a courteous, intelligent, and skilled seaman, and perhaps one of my favorite examples of an adaptable “leader.” Although burdened by his (almost shy) reserve, introspection, and self-doubt (he is described as “unhappy and lonely”), the Forester collection illustrates numerous stories of his personal feats of extraordinary cunning, on-the-spot problem solving, and bravery. The first book spotlights an unpromising seasick midshipman who grows into a highly acclaimed, productive, and ethical officer of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, gaining promotion steadily as a result of his skill and daring, despite his initial poverty and lack of influential friends. And yet, the common thread throughout is that he belittles his achievements by numerous rationalizations, remembering only his fears.

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74-gun Royal Navy Ship-of-the-line ~1794

“Hornblower’s leadership is thoroughly self-conscious: what makes him a great leader, morally, is that he assumes as a matter course that he must lead rather than he can lead; Hornblower’s pervasive sense of responsibility would be diminished if it all came to him naturally and that he acts therefore as each situation demands. He can be self-effacing or fierce, or obsequious, all depending on what is necessary to get the job done. As it happens, Hornblower‘s many other gifts, including a formidable diligence, always beyond the call of duty, and a supple intelligence, make him a man others trust and lean on; but for the reader, especially young reader, it’s his moral qualities that are most engaging, it is instructive.”

by Igor Webb, Hudson Review

This set is a wonderful “chestnut” to acquire, sit back in your leather recliner, and devour over the coming months. Even though it may take you some significant time to finish Forester’s eleven novels (one unfinished) and five short stories, I promise you, it will all be worth it!

[If you like the Hornblower assortment, also checkout the works by Alexander Kent and Dudley Pope, all drawing parallels to the exploits of real naval officers of the time: Sir George Cockburn, Lord Cochran, Sir Edward Pellew, Jeremiah Coghlan, Sir James Gordon, and Sir William Hoste.]

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Now, how can you personally glean new leadership habits from this treasure chest? Coincidental to doing some research for this blog, I bumped into the article on LinkedIn “Leadership Lessons Learned from Horatio Hornblower.” My sincere thanks and “attaboy” go to Amro Masaad, Education and STEM Leader at Middlesex County Academies, who gave me permission to share his documentation and insightful interpretation of the following leadership tips learned from Hornblower that we can all employ as “best practices” in the education profession:

  1. Don’t be afraid to stand up to a bully.
  2. Don’t insist that all of your successes be praised.
  3. Don’t let employees sabotage your mission.
  4. If you want excellence, you can’t look the other way.
  5. Prove yourself when the situation demands it.
  6. Take one for the team.
  7. Show sacrifice and honor, even with your enemies.

I have always been inspired by the adventures of Hornblower, mostly because of his displays of humanity at a time in history when things were inhumane and primitive. Hornblower consistently modeled his intentions for the care and success of his subordinates while other officers “stepped on them” to get advancement, his unimpeachable moral code that guided his every action, and “taking it on the chin” when necessary for his shipmates and the good of “god and country.”

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Leaders Eat Last

I was struck by this quote by Simon Sinek, the author of Start with Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Action, who posted a popular TedTalk lecture of the same name:

“There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold the position of power or authority, but those who lead, inspire us. Whether they are individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And, it’s those who start with ‘the why’ that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others to inspire them.”

TEDxPugetSound

silent-drill-platoon-1398509_1920_skeezeHis latest book, Leaders Eat Last, brings up the rationale of mutual collaboration and prioritizing the mission and the needs of your team members. Sinek observed that some teams were able to trust each other 100%, so much so that they would be willing to put their lives on the line for each other, while other groups, no matter what enticements or special incentives were offered, were “doomed to infighting, fragmentation and failure.” Why was this true?

“The answer became clear during our conversation with the Marine Corps general. ‘Officers eat last,’ he said. Sinek watched as the most junior Marines ate first while the most senior Marines took their place at the back of the line. What’s symbolic in the chow hall is deadly serious on the battlefield: great leaders sacrifice their own comfort – even their own survival – for the good of those in their care.”

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

Throughout his book of vivid narratives from armed conflicts to business “revolutions” of take-overs or new CEO transformations, Sinek dives into the precepts of what constitutes “great” leadership:

  • The value of empathy should not be underestimated.
  • Trust and loyalty exist on a two-way street – to earn them, leaders must first extent them to their team members.
  • The role of leadership is to look out for (and take care of) those inside their “circle of safety.”
  • For the success of the team, goals must be tangible, visible, collaborative, and written down.
  • Leaders know: There is power in “paying it forward.” It feels good to help people, or when someone does something nice to us, or even when we witness someone else doing something good.
  • It’s also a big deal when leaders express that final personal touch and shake hands.
  • Leadership is all about service… to the “real, living, normal human beings with whom we work every day.”

I have never found a better source for defining the four “chemical incentives” in our bodies (also known as hormones) and numerous actual examples of their daily use (and misuse): endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.

UnSelfieAlso intriguing is an expanded Chapter 24 and Appendix section in the book called “A Practical Guide to Leading Millennials.” Similar to another suggestion for summer perusal, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borba, Ed.D (Simon & Schuster, 2017) which focuses more on our current young “charges,” Sinek’s differentiation is provided to inspire and educate the ultimate multitaskers of the “distracted generation.”

“This is what it means to be a leader. It means they choose to go first into danger, headfirst toward the unknown. And when we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march behind them and work tirelessly to see their visions come to life and proudly call ourselves their followers.”

“The biology is clear: When it matters most, leaders who are willing to eat last are rewarded with deeply loyal colleagues who will stop at nothing to advance their leaders vision and their organization’s interests. It’s amazing how well it works.”

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

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Extreme Ownership

This next leadership philosophy, the core premise of the book Extreme Ownership – How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, will not surprise anyone who has ever taken on the inherently risky task of programming a student concert, marching field show, dance recital, or musical/play: the music director assumes full responsibility for the failures and faux pas that may occur during the performance, but instrumentalists, singers, actors, and/or dancers should get all the credit for a successful production.

“Combat, the most intense and dynamic environment imaginable, teaches the toughest leadership lessons with absolutely everything at stake. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin learned this reality firsthand on the most violent and dangerous battlefields in Iraqi. As leaders of SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser, their mission was one many thought impossible: help US forces secure Ramada, a violent, insurgent-held city deemed “all but lost.“ In gripping, firsthand accounts of heroism, tragic loss, and hard-won victories, they learned that leadership – at every level – is the most important factor in whether a team succeeds or fails.”

Front panel of the hardback Extreme Ownership

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This is a comprehensive textbook on Leadership 101. Admittedly, the rehash of their battle scenes are scary. This is a world so far apart from anything I have ever experienced. We do owe all our veterans a massive depth of gratitude to face such dangers to defend our freedoms and way of life. (As an inexperienced teacher, the worst fear I ever had to face was a homeroom of 99 excitable and talkative Freshman girls in my first year as the high school choral director.)

When possible, I try to share the Contents (chapter titles) of my book recommendations, giving you a broad glimpse of the outline of their publication:

  1. Extreme Ownership
  2. US Navy SEAL Team Three [ST3][Patch][1.5]No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
  3. Believe
  4. Check the Ego
  5. Cover and Move
  6. Simple
  7. Prioritize and Execute
  8. Decentralized Command
  9. Plan
  10. Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
  11. Decisiveness Amid Uncertainty
  12. Discipline Equals Freedom – the Dichotomy of Leadership

From these sections, we can explore these fundamental building-blocks and mindsets necessary to lead and win.

Part I: Winning the War Within (Chapters 1-4)

  • Leaders must own everything in the world. There is no one else to blame.
  • A leader must be a true believer in the mission.
  • Even more important then “the how” and “the what” is “the why” of any plan. Not knowing the rationale of a decision or goal is a recipe for failure. It is a leader’s job to understand the mission and communicate it to his/her team members.*
  • During situations lacking clarity, leaders ask questions.
  • Leaders temper overconfidence by instilling culture within the team to never be satisfied and to push themselves harder to continuously improve performance.
  • Leaders know that over-inflated egos cloud judgment and disrupt everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to except constructive criticism.

* Who said “great minds think alike?” (Answer: Carl Theodor von Unlanski.) The concept of “the why” is also described in great detail in the aforementioned TedTalk by Simon Sinek.

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Part II: Laws of Combat (Chapters 5-8)

  • Elements within the “greater team” are crucial and must work together to accomplish the mission, mutually supporting one another for that singular purpose.
  • In life, there are inherent complexities. It is critical to keep plans and communication simple. Complex goals and plans add to confusion which can compound into disaster.
  • Competent leaders can utilize their own version of the SEAL’s prioritize and execute. It is simple as, “relax, look around, and make a call.” Prioritize your problems and take care of them one at a time, the highest priority first. Don’t try to do everything at once or you won’t be successful.
  • Leaders delegate responsibility, trust and empower junior leaders to make decisions on their own as they become proactive to achieve the overall goal or task.

Part III: Sustaining Victory (Chapters 9-12)

  • Effective planning begins with an analysis of the mission’s purpose, definition of the goals, and communication of clear directives for the team.
  • Effective leaders keep the planning focused, simple, and understandable to all of the team members and stakeholders.
  • Leadership doesn’t just go down the chain of command, but up as well. Communication to your supervisors is also key.
  • Leaders must be decisive, comfortable under pressure, and act on logic, not emotion.
  • In challenging situations, there is no 100% right solution, and the picture is never complete.
  • Leaders have self-control and “intrinsic self-discipline,” a matter of personal will. They “make time” by getting up early.
  • Self-discipline makes you more flexible, adaptable, and efficient, and allows leaders and team members alike to be creative.
  • A leader must lead, but also be ready to follow.

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A Leadership Recap for Music Teachers

I am probably not doing justice to these incredible resources. They offer an exhaustive body of knowledge and examples on leadership ideology as well as a dazzling array of practical advice on what habits/skills are essential to become an effective leader. You need to sit back and devour these books one-by-one, apply their relevance to your situation, and come to your own conclusions about prioritizing the needs for your own personal leadership development.

To sum up a few of the theories from all this literature, we could revisit page 277 in Extreme Ownership and quote “The Dichotomy of Leadership” by Jocko Willnick.

“A good leader must be:

  • confident but not cocky;
  • courageous but not foolhardy;
  • competitive but a gracious loser;
  • attentive to details but not obsessed by them;
  • strong but have endurance;
  • a leader and follower;
  • humble not passive;
  • aggressive not overbearing;
  • quiet not silent;
  • calm but not robotic;
  • logical but not devoid of emotions;
  • close with the troops but not so close that one becomes more important than another or more important than the good of the team; not so close that they forget who is in charge;
  • able to execute Extreme Ownership while exercising Decentralized Command.”

“A good leader has nothing to prove but everything to prove!”

—  Extreme Ownership

Many years ago, my wife and I were fortunate to participate in almost all of those early PMEA Summer Conferences that were basically leadership training workshops. Initiated and inspired by our first guest clinician Michael Kumer (who was then “modeling leadership” first-hand as Dean of Music for Duquesne University), we were exposed to a rich curriculum of “the greats” on leadership, team building, time management, and professional development. If you have not consumed them yourself, a few of these resources from the first couple years should be added to your reading list:

  • 7 HabitsOne Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
  • First Things First and other sections from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People series by Stephen Covey
  • A Kick in the Seat of the Pants: Using Your Explorer, Artist, Judge, and Warrior to Be More Creative and A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative by Roger Von Oech

As a part of fulfilling “total ensemble experience” and to make the learning meaningful, I have always “taught” leadership to my students. The settings may have varied, whether it was as a part of the longstanding tradition of training marching band leaders, student conductors or principals’ who ran sectionals, our spring musical “leadership team” of directors, producers, and crew heads, elected high school choir officers, participants (grades 6-12) in a six-day string camp seminar, or even booster parents in a “chaperone orientation.” Many of my own often-repeated leadership quotes were passed down:

  • “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” – Vince Lombardi
  • “You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” – Ken Kesey
  • “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” – Abraham Lincoln
  • “The very essence of leadership is you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” – Rev. Theodore Hesburgh
  • “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” – Stephen R. Covey

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Finally, to close this seemingly-endless essay, I would share one of my regular but more unique lessons: “leaders flush.” We advise our plebe leaders-in-training that when anyone on the team sees an opportunity to take care of something that’s not right, or someone who needs help, or a problem that can be resolved on their own, they should take it upon themselves to do what is necessary for the greater good. We cite the example that, if you visit a restroom and discover someone before you did not flush the toilet, you do what’s right. Leaders flush.

PKF

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

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Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com