SMART Practice

Fox’s Fireside – Summer Camp Edition

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My wife is a genius!

Well, I knew this before I married her in 1978, but every day I work “side by side” with her on music education projects like the South Hills Junior Orchestra Online Academy (SHJOOLA – pronounced shah-ZOH-lah), I discover even more of her amazing “hidden” talents and insights!

Donna Stark Fox is the author of 99% of this Fox’s Fireside.

We launched SHJOOLA and other digital/virtual/alternative programs (like SHJO.clips) to keep our community orchestra instrumentalists practicing inspite of the school closure and restrictions caused by the pandemic. We want to foster our players’ self-confidence and motivate even greater focus on new growth and achievement in instrumental technique, key literacy, ear-training, musicianship, personal goal-setting, and artistic enrichment. As the character Jean-Luc Picard from the Star Trek Next Generation series says, ENGAGE… in the pursuit of their own inspired initiatives in music learning!

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During the first week of SHJOOLA, we introduced this SMART Practice Primer (download and adapt to your own practice regime). The philosophy comes from my wife’s (ahem) 55+ years in the field of music performance as a violinist and pianist and a versatile career of 38+ years in the public schools teaching strings, band, general music, elementary chorus, musicals, etc.

What are the secrets of practice success? Past Fox’s Firesides address many issues of time, goals, focus, mentors, problem solving, and various playing techniques. (You may also peruse this catalog of past articles and our SHJO.clip library here.)

This article hopes to bring out a new approaches to “practice builds self-confidence…”

Are you ready for SMART Practice?

  • Schedule time for practice by using a calendar.
  • Find a quiet place to practice and gather everything you need.
  • Set goals. Write them down, make them measurable, and be specific and realistic. Check them off and “raise” your goals frequently.
  • Gather your equipment, including your instrument, music stand, chair, pencils, music folder, metronome, and tuner.
  • Chart your practice with a list of what to practice, because writing it down is a promise to do it!
  • Keep a reflective journal to organize your thoughts, to analyze and to set new goals.
  • Regularly make audio or video recordings of yourself and keep them in a file in a folder on your electronic device.

Smart Practice 1

Success starts with a plan!

Begin with a long-range goal/dream.

  • I will perform a solo with a symphony orchestra.
  • I will become a professional musician.
  • I will play in a college orchestra or band.
  • I will enjoy music throughout my adult life.

Set medium-range goals.

  • I will play a Mozart Concerto before I am 16.
  • I want to upgrade to a better-quality instrument when I am 14.

Set and rest short-term goals on a weekly and even daily basis.

  • This week, I will play the Bach Fugue with accurate fingerings and pitch.
  • This week, I will play the Bach Fugue at performance tempo.

Here is an example of one violinist’s SMART Practice plan:

 

Practicing with a plan

Tips on SMART Practice

  1. Warm-up with drills and exercises.
  2. Identify the key of each selection you are practicing.
  3. Play the scale for the key you have identified, using a rhythm or articulation pyramid.
  4. Select a passage to improve and mark the fingerings in pencil.
  5. Say the note names in half notes. (“If you can say it, you can play it!”)
  6. Be sure you practice every note as a half note using the fingerings provided by the conductor.
  7. Use a metronome to “keep it honest.”
  8. Practice VERY SLOWLY using the original rhythm and bowings/articulations.
  9. Gradually increase the tempo by “inching up” on the metronome.
  10. How many times have you played the passage correctly?
  11. Ten consecutive times right today, and ten more tomorrow, will already make the passage 20 times better than it was before!
  12. Schedule your next practice session.
  13. Reflect in your journal and set new short-term goals for tomorrow!

 

smart practice is training your brain

Training your brain is SMART Practice

  • Practice is a process.
  • Practice is all about habit development.
  • Practice leads to self-confidence.
  • Practice is an opportunity for self discovery.
  • Practice is cumulative.
  • Practice is where you can make mistakes privately.
  • Amateurs practice to get it right.
  • Professionals practice so that they never play it wrong.

This is your brain on SMART Practice

Variety is the spice of life and music variations challenge the mind!

You may have heard these strategies before:

  • First make it easier, then progressively harder.
  • First subtract (e.g. remove slurred notes) and then progressively add more challenging elements to the music (dynamics, longer phrases, articulations, fingerings, positions, memorization, etc.)
  • First play it slower, then progressively faster.
  • First take smaller sections (measure by measure, phrase by phrase), then progressively expand to larger sections, eventually being able to play the entire piece.

practice rubric

Try these rhythm and articulation pyramids on your scales, warmups, etudes, and any difficult passage in the music. Taking “baby steps,” create a new way to learn the part…

More to come… Part II will dive into additional recommendations for personal music problem solving with numerous examples.

Keep at it! You’ll make us all proud. Most importantly, especially yourself!

PKF

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The mission of the nonprofit South Hills Junior Orchestra 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.

The second half of our 37th season (Spring 2020) was postponed due to school closures and the pandemic. We are now offering SHJOOLA – the South Hills Junior Orchestra Online Academy. The program includes virtual sectional rehearsals, special workshop seminars via Zoom, and remote music learning activities, both synchronous and asynchronous instruction, and provides a one-year subscription to MusicFirst Classroom, PracticeFirst, Sight Reading Factory, Musition (music theory), Noteflight (score notation) and other apps. Western PA instrumentalists are welcome to apply for membership in one of the 25 remaining “seats” in SHJOOLA by contacting Managing Director Janet Vukotich.

(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. For a printable, hard copy of this article, click here.

 

© 2020 by Paul K. Fox and Fox Paws Publications

 

Photo credit from Pixabay.com:

“Camp Fire” by Chris Aram

 

 

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.

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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.”

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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

The Future of Music Education

Spring 2020 Final Lecture to the Music Education Graduate Students

by Rich Victor, PMEA Past State President and Adjunct Instructor for the University at Buffalo Graduate School Online

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Originally posted in the Facebook group PLAN: The PA Leadership Advocacy Network

 

This course, “Supervision of Music Learning Programs,” was focused on programs as they existed before this year. Obviously, some things have changed.

What has changed and what has stayed the same? To answer that question let’s take another look at this graphic from Unit 4.

Rich Victor Decision Making Process

All decisions should flow from the mission statement. That should not change.

As you discovered, most school district mission statements focus on ideals such as “success, life-long learning, and becoming responsible citizens in the community.” An effective music department mission statement will be in alignment with the stated district mission. It will inform the administration and the community how the study of music helps the district achieve their stated mission through the skills and knowledge children learn in music. It also explains what children would lose if the subject were not offered because no other discipline is available in the school district where children can learn those skills and knowledge as well as in music classes.

The school mission and the department mission define the WHY.

Victor3Once the WHY has been determined, then the district must determine the WHAT. WHAT learning activities need to be offered to the students in the district in order to help them achieve the desired outcomes stated in the mission? The answer to that question should help determine the curriculum for music.

The content for the music curriculum is determined partially by the district and department missions, partially by state mandated Arts Standards, partially by local school district inter-disciplinary curriculum requirements, and partially by the music department’s desire to provide each child with a comprehensive and high-quality music education based on National Standards.

The outcomes from those learning activities – the WHAT – should not change.

In pre-COVID-19 times, the next decision would be to determine how much time is needed for students to master the curriculum and succeed in their activities. How many years will each facet of that curriculum require? How many hours of instruction should be allocated in each year and WHEN should that time be scheduled in order to provide the maximum number of learning opportunities for each child?

The WHEN might stay synchronous or change to asynchronous instruction. The number of instructional hours provided to each teacher and each subject may need to be flexible. That is yet to be determined and we should prepare for all possibilities. However, keep in mind that the WHEN should not alter the WHAT.

Once it is decided how many hours of instruction should be allocated annually and when Victor2those hours would be scheduled, then the district must figure out exactly how many teachers will be needed to deliver that instruction and what qualifications those teachers should possess. The “WHO” part of the process – the staffing piece of the puzzle – should still be driven by the needs of the curriculum and should not change.

It will be the HOW and WHERE parts of this process where the largest changes will occur.

Obviously, the decision WHERE teachers and students will be in the fall will impact HOW music will be taught and what equipment and materials can be used for learning activities.

Facilities in school buildings must be adapted to provide appropriate space for instructional activities to take place and to conveniently store all of the materials and equipment used in those activities while following whatever social distancing protocols and approved procedures for safely handling musical materials are adopted. The WHERE may continue to be the student’s home or a combination of school and distance learning. Once again, we need to prepare for all possibilities.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the outcomes of the K-12 music curriculum – the WHAT – should not change. Teachers need to keep “the end in mind” rather than just focusing in on their own period of time with each student. Then, following the principles of Understanding by Design, K-12 music staff must work as a team to create appropriate learning activities that are designed to help each student make progress through each grade and ultimately achieve the specific learning outcomes Victor1of the K-12 music program using the WHEN, WHO, HOW and WHERE pieces that we will have to work with.

As my friend and colleague Bob Morrison said in a recent presentation “Change the HOW not the WHAT!”

Yes, it will be challenging. The challenges caused by these changes may appear to be daunting at first, but they are not insurmountable!

Fortunately, there are some great thinkers in our profession who are already coming up with ideas to make the best of the situation for both classroom and performance teachers. Even if you are the only music teacher in your school district – you are NOT alone! Wonderful ideas for solutions to these challenges can be found in social media and through webinars.

The most important thing to know at this time is that discussions are occurring right now in every school district throughout the country. When students might return to school, and how classes might be scheduled will be determined soon. You must be proactive and become part of that decision-making process BEFORE the decisions are made! Be at the table so that decisions affecting music education in your district happen WITH you and not TO you.

The future of music education is in YOUR hands. It will be what you make it. Good luck and keep in touch!

Editor’s note: As a follow-up to Rich Victor’s article, check out these PMEA webpages:

 

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About the Guest Blogger

Victor0Richard Victor is currently Adjunct Instructor for the University at Buffalo Graduate School Online.

Richard Victor had a 37-year career as State College Area High School Band Director. In 1987, he was also appointed to the position of Coordinator of Music for the State College Area School District. He was President of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) from 2000-2002 and served as its Advocacy Chair. He was President of the PA Unit of the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) from 1989-1993, the PMEA All-State Jazz Coordinator and PMEA News Jazz Editor from 1993-1998, and chair for the NAfME Council for Jazz Education from 2014-2018. He has also served on the advisory board for the NAfME Teaching Music magazine and held the office of President of the Penn State Alumni Blue Band Association. Other professional memberships include Phi Beta Mu and The Gordon Institute for Music Learning (GIML).

Mr. Victor has been a guest conductor and adjudicator for concert band and jazz events in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and currently serves as an instrumental adjudicator for Music in the Parks. He frequently provides services as a clinician, consultant, and/or featured speaker for school districts and music events throughout Pennsylvania. He has presented sessions at five NAfME (formerly MENC) national conferences, three NAfME Eastern Division conferences, and the 2008 Americans for the Arts National Convention. He also has been a presenter for six different MEA state conferences, three JEN National Conferences, and three International Conferences on Music Learning Theory.

 

Teacher Self-Care During the Pandemic

We thought our next article in this series on music teacher health and wellness was going to center around burn-out. But then… COVID-19 struck (was this really only 3-4 months ago?), we were forced into self-isolation, and all “brick and mortar” schools closed. In the ensuing panic, we all scurried about seeking solutions to reconnect and engage our students from afar in compliance with strict shelter-in-place restrictions.

“Seemingly overnight, the world changed. Teachers and school leaders have had to revamp their entire instructional systems with, in many instances, only a day’s notice. To say many of us are experiencing whiplash, disorientation, and anxiety is an understatement.”

virus-4928021_1920_HoagyPeterma“Our students are feeling it too. Typically, nationwide, one in three teenagers has experienced clinically significant anxiety in their lifetime (Merikangas et al., 2010). It’s probable that during a pandemic that heavily impacts everyday life, levels of anxiety in children and teens are even higher, and the possibility of subsequent trauma greater.”

“In these unprecedented times, teachers are rising to the occasion creatively and quickly to shift to remote learning amidst school closures. Even in a traditional classroom, it can be a challenge to support students with anxiety and trauma histories to stay calm and learn. With distance learning, this difficulty is magnified. However, there is much teachers can do to reduce anxiety in students even while teaching remotely. During this crisis, we need to prioritize students’ mental health over academics. The impact of trauma can be lifelong, so what students learn during this time ultimately won’t be as important as whether they feel safe.”

“Maintaining Connections, Reducing Anxiety While School Is Closed” by Jessica Minahan in ASCD Educational Leadership, Summer 2020

My opinion? The Internet and other forms of media can be a godsend or a contributing factor to our feelings of malaise. The 24/7 nature and immediacy of news programs and web posts updating the statistics of new coronavirus cases, hospital admissions, deaths, shortages of personal protection equipment and respirators, unemployment numbers, and the stock market’s roller-coaster ride, have added fear, stress, and “noise” to the real problem… our ability to cope with the ramifications of this pandemic!

Well, at least a lot of dialogue has been generated “out there” about recommended remediation and “success stories.” The purpose of this blog-post is to share some of this “advice from the experts.” Many of you (I hope) may say, “This is just common sense.” True, but however “common” it is, more people than you think are not applying these principles to their own personal lives. And like the one online post that caught my eye the other day, “Teachers Are Breaking” by Jessica Lifshitz, all of us should share our anecdotes… the trials, internal struggles, and tribulations… to make it through this emergency.

Together, we are stronger!

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I have been accused of being a little too emotional and I should not “feed into the negativity,” as one reader complained in reaction to one of my blogs. However, according to this article by Christina Cipriano and Marc Brackett, “emotions drive effective teaching and learning, the decisions educators make, classroom and school climate, and educator well-being.”

“At the end of March, our team at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, along with our colleagues at the Collaborative for Social Emotional and Academic Learning, known as CASEL, launched a survey to unpack the emotional lives of teachers during the COVID-19 crisis.”

“In the span of just three days, over 5,000 U.S. teachers responded to the survey. We asked them to describe, in their own words, the three most frequent emotions they felt each day.”

“The five most-mentioned feelings among all teachers were: anxious, fearful, worried, overwhelmed and sad. Anxiety, by far, was the most frequently mentioned emotion.”

Navigating Uncertain Times: How Schools Can Cope With Coronavirus

Almost in unison, the strategies that seem to be echoed most often by medical and mental health professionals, educators on the front line, and even technology specialists, are outlined by this “wellness map of to-do’s!”

  1. Don’t obsess. Calm yourself. Set priorities.
  2. Connect and communicate often with your family members and your students.
  3. Set and maintain boundaries.
  4. Practice mindfulness.
  5. Take the necessary steps to maintain your own physical and mental health!

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Avoiding Becoming Overwhelmed

As a retiree, I “only” lost the spring season of my community youth orchestra to this crisis. In my position as state chair of the PMEA Council Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention (PMEA Council TTRR), I tried to soothe the “hysteria” of many of my still-working friends and colleagues who were grappling with the instantaneous roll-out of distance learning. After researching online music education resources, we were able to place countless links on the PMEA Council TTRR website (here). After 7+ weeks, one of our “omnibus Google Docs” has grown to 15+ pages and more than 225 separate sources of virtual, remote, and alternative music learning media and methods.

computer-768608_1920_free-photosFor some, this has made matters worse… an “overload of abundance!” The multitude of venues and opportunities (too many unexplored “new technologies” for many of us baby-boomers!) included information about virtual ensembles, YouTube libraries, music games, lessons plans and platforms for synchronous and asynchronous e-learning, video-conferencing techniques, hardware and software reviews, etc.

Take a deep breath! Focus! Prioritize your goals. What are you trying to accomplish? Don’t try to consume all of the available resources “out there,” nor use every application or online lesson that you find on Facebook groups like https://www.facebook.com/groups/mecol/. What was it my mother used to say at the dinner table? “Sip and chew slowly… don’t gulp!” Take away what might help your situation, but approach anything brand new in moderation!

online-5059831_1920_TumisuGo ahead and sign-up for a webinar or planned learning community meeting or two. Many professional development workshops are provided with “no extra fees” right now, like the NAfME library here, the aforementioned Facebook group and others, and if you already have a membership in PMEA, this website.

BUT… plan to take away ONLY one or two new “teaching tools” from each session… maybe consider trying-out one new app or lesson idea every other week?

As if to anticipate our needs, more than a year ago, Elena Aguilar published the in-depth piece “How to Coach the Overwhelmed Teacher” in Education Week blog, summarizing excellent stress-reduction treatments. (Share these if you think they will help you or some else! Read the entire article for more detail!)

desperate-5011953_1920_Peggy_MarcoFive tips for coaching overwhelm:

  1. Describe it.
  2. Recall previous experiences.
  3. Identify one tiny next step.
  4. Listen.
  5. Plan for action.

“When coaching someone experiencing strong emotions, it’s important to know the signs and indicators of depression and anxiety disorders. Emotions can turn into moods, and if moods hang around long enough, they may become depression or an anxiety disorder. People who feel overwhelmed a great deal may be experiencing depression, whereas those who are ‘stressed’ a lot may be experiencing anxiety. This resource, AppD Depression_Anxiety.pdf, can be offered to your coachees or used to consider whether someone may need professional help.”

“When coaching any strong emotion, it’s useful to remember that emotions can be guides to self-understanding. They are a normal part of being a human being, and strong emotions show up to get us to pay attention to what’s going on. We can welcome strong emotions—in ourselves and in our coachees—and explore them to gain insight into ourselves and humans and educators.” — Elena Aguilar

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Making Connections

Your loved-ones and friends probably need you now more than ever!

And, a myriad of research supports the assertion that social connections significantly improve our own physical and mental health and emotional well-being, such as published by the “Center of Compassion & Altruism Research & Education” of the Stanford Medical School:

“Strong social connection leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity, strengthens your immune system (research by Steve Cole shows that genes impacted by loneliness also code for immune function and inflammation), helps you recover from disease faster, [and] may even lengthen your life!”

“People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.” — Dr. Emma Seppala

There’s even evidence that “human touch” and close connections with other people increase our body’s levels of the beneficial hormones serotonin and cortisol.

Just more common sense? Right? Probably!

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The first thing I did during that initial announcement of school/activity closures was to reach-out to my “musical kids.” Many music directors told me they quickly sponsored a Zoom/Google Hangout meeting of their ensemble members, mostly just to check-in with their players or singers and get everyone “on board” for future online interactions.

Perhaps COVID-19 has made me a better “citizen,” too. Much more frequently, I now call or text a friend, colleague, volunteer co-worker, or neighbor to see how they are doing. It’s terrible to admit that it took a world disaster to improve my interpersonal communications skills!

Finally, here’s a good “recap.” In spite of the need for social distancing, these examples of “safe connections” are suggested by Jennifer Wickham from The Mayo Clinic:

  • Use electronics to stay in contact with friends, neighbors and loved ones. This could include using video-conference programs, making voice calls instead of sending texts, or talking with a neighbor through windows while maintaining a safe distance.
  • Spend quality time with the people you live with, such as playing board games or completing an indoor project.
  • Make a family meal or dessert recipe that reminds you of friends or family you are unable to visit, and then call them to tell them about it. This way, you get an experience of internal and external connection.
  • Write in a journal about your experiences during this time of social distancing. Not only will this help you sort out what you are thinking and feeling, but also it can be shared going forward as a way for future generations to connect with the past.

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Setting Boundaries

Something else I admit to NOT doing!

“Going Google,” “exploring e-learning,” or “doing digital” –  it is easy to get carried away and not notice you just spent 12 hours in-a-row of “screen time” participating in online meetings or creating new remote learning opportunities for your music students. Exactly when are your classroom and office hours? You are likely pushing yourself too hard, even in your pajamas! This insane pace will only promote other health concerns!

The foresight of Elisa Janson Jones was evident for writing this in her blog “7 Self-Care Strategies to Prevent Burnout” back in September 2018 before the pandemic:

bulletin-board-3233653_1920_geralt“It’s hard to create a work-life balance when life is filled with work. Teachers are known for working long hours off-the-clock for no additional compensation. This is even more prevalent in music education. We add performances, competitions, musicals, individual lessons, fundraising, data entry, and even music composition and arranging to our task list.”

“We may find pride in saying we worked 60 hours this week, flaunting to our friends that we got to school in the dark and left in the dark. Perhaps we find self-importance in their pity and admiration.”

“However, to thrive in our profession, we must remember that teaching music is our career, not our entire life. Hobbies, families, volunteering, and other ways we contribute to our communities and our homes are also aspects of who we are.”

“Setting clear boundaries between when we are working for our paycheck and when we are working for ourselves helps us carve out space where we offer ourselves time to be free of obligations and burdens of our career. Whether it’s a few hours per day, a full day per week, or both, setting strict boundaries for when you’re on-the-clock and when you’re off is essential.” — Elisa Janson Jones

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Mindfulness and “Living” in the Present

Another concept that Elisa Janson Jones covered in her Smartmusic blog: mindfulness.

Now is the time for a little nonjudgmental “free reflection,” or what the psychologists call the best practice of “mindfulness” – a focus with full attention on your thoughts, feelings, and sensations “in the moment.” I think the “Teaching with Orff” website really nailed it in the article “7 Self Care Tips for Quarantined Music Teachers.”  Read co-author Zoe Kumagai’s examples of affirmations: “How do I want to feel today?”

  • I allow myself time and space to reflect.
  • My mind is aware of the present.
  • My heart feels compassionate and is full of love.
  • My mind is stimulated by books, stories, art, scholarly articles, music that inspire me to be my best self.
  • I maintain boundaries with technology and intake of the news.
  • My body is free to dance.
  • My voice is clear to sing, laugh and converse authentically.

According to this Harvard Medical HelpGuide, the habits and techniques of mindfulness can improve well-being, physical health, and mental health:

“There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment… Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra.” — HelpGuide

Band director, best-selling author, and acclaimed clinician Lesley Moffat devoted an entire chapter to mindfulness in her book I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me. You know what they say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” After learning the techniques for herself, she adopted mindfulness practice at the beginning of each band rehearsal for her students, a 4-5 minute routine of guided breathing and relaxation exercises leading up to the daily warmup chorale.

 

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I love the symbolism in her “snow globe” analogy:

“Just like a snow globe that’s been shaken up, it takes time for your mind and body to settle down. If you try to get the snow globe to settle down while you’re still holding it and carrying on with your regular activities, the snow may fall slower, but it won’t completely stop and allow you to see the objects in the snow globe. You must allow it to be completely still long enough for the water to stop swirling and the glitter to follow the pull of gravity and settle on the bottom. It only takes a matter of minutes until it settles, revealing the magical scene inside, and the very glitter that was covering up the view when it was moving around has become a lovely blanket of snow that grounds the scene in the snow globe. But without a few minutes of stillness, it is impossible for it to become completely settled. So it goes with a mindfulness practice. Your mind and body needs time to go from hyper-speed to a pace that serves you well, a place where you have space to think – and space to not think. That begins by bringing stillness to your body and to your mind. Easy to say – hard to do… until you practice it every day and it becomes habit.” Lesley Moffat

Love the Job, Loss the StressHer book should be required reading for all music teachers, even retirees who want to remain active in the profession. (Read my previous review here.) It serves as a true treasure-house of practical applications for de-stressing and re-centering your life. Her “mPower Method of Meals, Movement, Music, and Mindfulness” may be the solution to improving your situation.

FYI, her next book, Love the Job, Lose the Stress, is on the way. You can request an advance e-copy here.

 

“Do as I Say… Don’t Do as I Do!”

The worst part of this? We seldom take our own advice. Hey teacher, “heal thyself,” and “practice what you preach.” Taking care of our children or elderly relatives, we are probably the last to comply with the tenets of our own sermons on health and wellness.

Lesley Moffat also devoted a chapter in her book to the airline safety bulletin “Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First.” You cannot take care of someone else (your family members or your music students) unless you first take care of yourself!

salad-374173_1920_stevepbMake self-care PRIORITY ONE for YOU! I know, you have heard all of these before:

  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Hydrate.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Exercise daily.
  • “Flex your brain.”

The latter “exercising your mind” is referenced in the Teaching with Orff website, and is a frequent emphasis on my blog-site (with examples here, here, and here). Pursue your own avenues of creative self-expression, and grow and learn something new every day!

According to charitable organization Waterford.org, the definition of “self-care” is “any action that you use to improve your health and well-being.” They cite extensive research from the National Institute of Mental Illness (NAMI), corroborating the statement that there are six elements to self-care:

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Social
  • Professional

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And, as explained in the article “Why Teacher Self-Care Matters, and How to Practice Self-Care in Your School,” self-care is not about selfishness.

“Self-care is an important component of a teacher’s mental health, but there are misconceptions about what it is. It’s common for educators to dismiss the self-care movement as ‘selfish’ or ‘superficial.’ But for teachers, self-care is so much more than breakfast in bed or treating yourself to a spa day. It’s about taking care of your health so that you’re prepared to be the best teacher you can be for yourself and your students.”

Waterford.org

These endorsements probably represent just “the tip of the iceberg!” Peruse all of the resources listed below. In addition, perhaps we should take a close look at Alex Wiggin’s ASCD article,  “A Brave New World: A Teacher’s Take on Surviving Distance Learning” (Educational Leadership, Summer 2020), considering the adoption of these four lessons learned from the past four months:

  1. Relying on a team reduces work and stress.
  2. Connecting with students boosts morale.
  3. Learning new technology isn’t so bad.
  4. Model being a life-long learner

I predict that the hardest part, coming to the end of May and the completion of our first-ever “virtual spring semester,” is coming to grips with our “fear of the unknown!” At the date of this writing, no one really knows when “we” are going back to “in person” schools, how we will resume large group music instruction like band, choir, or orchestra rehearsals, and what will the “new normal” look like to successfully “move on!”

Summer break is just around the corner… a good time to stop and reflect! And yes, we will make it through this.

Please stay safe! PKF

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References

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order)

From Pixabay.com

 

3 Simple Words – KEEP AT IT!

How Are You Spending YOUR Time?

 

FoxsFiresides

This is probably the most important message we can share with you during this period of coronavirus self-isolation.

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No matter what this pandemic throws at us, or how long we remain away from close human interaction and participation in our ensembles or classes at the now closed “brick and mortar” schools, let’s keep a focus on maintaining our “chops,” building on our “musical momentum,” and practicing every day.

From an eco-friendly (“save our natural resources”) slant as well as an economist’s perspective, you have invested too much time and money on playing an instrument to give up now! So, nature and the COVID-19 have thrown you a few curve-balls these past seven weeks?

The only way we should respond to the challenge is to meet it head-on!

Take advantage of all of this available “free” stay-at-home time to further your artistic enrichment and make “new and improved” musical goals!

dual graphics

crying-146425_1280No teacher will have any patience listening to your whining or remarks of “could have,” “would have,” or “should have been” excuses. What have we always wished for? “If only I had enough time to learn that new scale, étude, or song!” “With all of my other academic assignments, sports events, and extracurricular activities, how can I fit in moments for listening to bands, orchestras, or classical virtuoso artists performing on the web?” “When am I ever going to have the chance to compose…” (or “arrange” or “record” or “memorize” or “conduct” or “choreograph”) “…that piece?” “When will I get around to learn this new technique, practice sight-reading, or dive into those drills designed to improve my key literacy, rhythmic precision, tone, intonation, range, form, coordination, embouchure, stick rudiments, or bow control?

The answer is… now only one word: NOW! 

What are you waiting for? You have too much at stake here, and soon, this crisis will pass, and we will all come back together – only much stronger and wiser for making good choices in the use of our time!

SHJOclips

We divided up the SHJO.clips into categories to develop your “well rounded” musicianship:

  • C = Create, invent, explore
  • L = Listen
  • I = Inspire, read, analyze
  • P = Practice, perform
  • S = Share, show others, play for fun

(Download the interactive CLIP JOURNAL here!)

How many of these have you accomplished? In your clip journal, do you show progress in all focus areas? Can you advise SHJO family members and directors on your recommendations on future projects to further our “collective” knowledge, skills, and appreciations in music? (We would LOVE to hear from you!)

Now get out there and learn, create, and share meaningful moments in music!

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 this article and the Interactive Clip Journal.

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

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits from Pixabay.com:

“Campfire Stick Fire Flame Camping” by Free-Photos

“Learn Student Laptop Internet” by geralt

“Crying Smiley Emotion Sad” by OpenClipart-Vectors

Will You Still Need Me When I Retire?

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Pixabay.com by skeeze

When I get older, losing my hair
Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a valentine,
birthday greetings, bottle of wine?

If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?

– John Lennon / Paul McCartney, songwriters

When I’m Sixty-Four lyrics © 1967 Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

 

Mattering vs. Marginality

Perspectives for Those Leaving the Profession

Adaptations of the article in PMEA News (Fall 2019) and the blog “Retiree Concepts.”

Do you feel “needed” and “making a difference” to others? This is an essential part of what author Ernie Zelinski of the best-seller book How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free emphasizes: “finding purpose, structure, and community” – goals for which your job and career usually provide – but are equally essential in retirement.

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“Work structures us and gives us routine in our lives,” says psychologist Louis Primavera of Touro College in New York City, who co-wrote the 2012 book The Retirement Maze: What You Should Know Before and After You Retire. “We plan around work. It is part of our identity. We go to a social gathering and people say, ‘What do you do?’ Clearly, what happens is people say, ‘What am I going to do? What am I going to be?’ The loss of identity is a major fear.”

Retiring is “a series of transitions,” says Nancy Schlossberg, a professor emerita of counseling psychology at the University of Maryland, and now of Sarasota, Fla., where she is a consultant and public speaker on life transitions. “Change is very unsettling. There are people afraid because they can’t forecast the future,” she says, and because they worry “they no longer will have a purpose.”

In her 2009 book Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose, Schlossberg talks about “mattering,” which she describes as “the degree to which you feel you’re appreciated, you’re noticed, you’re depended upon.”

Citing the research of Morris Rosenberg and B. Claire McCullough (adolescent studies) at https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1983-07744-001, Schlossberg further defines it as “a universal, lifelong issue that connects us all.”  Her “four dimensions of mattering” are:

  • Attention – the feeling that a person has the interest of another;
  • Importance – the feeling that others care about what you want, think, and do;
  • Ego-Extension – the feeling that others will be proud of your successes and/or saddened by your failures;
  • Dependence – the feeling that a person can depend on someone else.

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Schlossberg also describes the opposing term “marginality” as “a sense of not fitting in,” which can lead to “self-consciousness, irritability, and depression. For some, these feelings can be permanent conditions.” Furthermore, “feelings of marginality often occur when individuals take on new roles, especially when they are uncertain about what these entail.”

Sound familiar? This might resemble that sometimes-tumultuous passage to and emotional ups-and-downs during the initial stages of “life after the work!”

Retirees, do you wake up in the morning feeling like you have an important part to play in the grand scheme of things? According to blogger Carol Larson and life coach Mary Helen Conroy, “During those early months of retirement, folks often try to figure out what their purpose is now that they’re not working. They wonder if they matter.” They view this concept through the lens of popular culture and the literature of transitions. You are invited to try their shared “recipe for mattering” in the Retiree Rebel free-podcast posted at http://www.retireerebels.com/mattering-matter-retirement-mhc-214/.

Dr. Amit Sood, author of the Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living, recommends to “treat the first year in retirement as if you are ‘interning’ to give yourself time to readjust and set new expectations.” So, seemingly taking his advice, plan a “break” from everything, take extended trips, tours, or cruises, and enjoy some unscheduled time… to literally “go with the flow.”

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Susan Woodward, now 75 and living in Tucson, spent four years of her retirement traveling the country in her RV. She visited national parks and the maritime provinces in Canada, and even spent of that time volunteering. What she remembers most is her first trip, when she headed to Deming, N.M. from Raleigh, N.C. “I had such a sense of freedom, empowerment, expansion. I can’t even explain it,” she said. “It was like the whole world opened up.”

— Alessandra Malito

But, a “traditional retirement” may not be for everyone. As Alessandra Malito writes in MarketWatch https://www.marketwatch.com/story/afraid-of-being-bored-in-retirement-consider-these-options-2017-10-10, “Some can’t wait to put in their papers, while others dread the day they give up work for fear of having nothing to do, and no meaning to their name.”

It’s true that retirement can be a dangerous time for some. Without a sense of purpose, the risk of depression increases, and what should be a relaxing time becomes an anxious one. Studies show that without anything meaningful to do, and “mental exercises” throughout the day, cognitive abilities diminish in early retirees. They should also engage in social activities and find a leisurely activity they can enjoy if they aren’t trying to spend their retirement years still working.

— Alessandra Malito

The good news? You have friends in high places… NAfME and your state’s federated music education association (MEA) colleagues who have successfully “Crossed the Rubicon” into an active, meaningful, healthy, and happy retirement.

pmeaAnyone contemplating retiring over the next three years should visit their state’s retired member section and Retired Member focus area on the PMEA website: https://www.pmea.net/retired-members/. Take a look at past issues of the PMEA Retired Member Network eNEWS, read the Ultimate Retiree Resource Guide/Bibliography (also posted here), and view the video How-to-Retire.

Finding purpose and “mattering” during your post-full-time employment years will be easier if you continue your own pursuits in music artistry and creative self-expression, as well as your support of music education – be as active as you want – but consider the value of a few of these Goals/Benefits of NAfME/State MEA Retired Membership:

What music teacher retirees need from their professional associations…

  • Recognition and archival of past and current professional accomplishments, assignments, interests, skills, and talents.
  • Sessions geared for retired members, such as nurturing expressiveness and participation in amateur/community ensembles, retirement planning, etc.
  • New “brain-engaging” outlets for learning, leadership, advocacy, “encore career” development, and service.
  • Discounts for membership and attending festivals, workshops, and conferences.

What NAfME and state MEAs’ need from its retirees…nafme

  • Mentoring of new/less experienced teachers
  • Advising “best practices” in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and literature
  • Serving as leaders or consultants on local or state councils/boards
  • Volunteering at local workshops and state conferences
  • Advocating music education to the legislature and general public
  • Presenting sessions at workshops or conferences
  • Conducting, coaching, or accompanying students at festivals
  • Assisting in technology, teacher training, recruitment, auditions, etc.

Yes, you do matter, and you have a lot to offer benefiting the profession to which you have devoted your life! Happy trails to all retiring and retired members!

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References

Jayson, Sharon. (2017). Are You Afraid to Retire? AARP: https://www.aarp.org/retirement/planning-for-retirement/info-2017/retirement-fear-fd.html

Larson, Carol & Conroy, Mary Helen. (2017). Mattering: Do I Matter After Retirement? Retiree Rebels: http://www.retireerebels.com/mattering-matter-retirement-mhc-214/

Malito, Alessandra. (2017). Afraid of Being Bored in Retirement? Consider These Options. MarketWatch: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/afraid-of-being-bored-in-retirement-consider-these-options-2017-10-10

Malito, Alessandra. (2017). This is What Older People Do When They’re Not Quite Ready to Retire. MarketWatch: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/this-is-what-older-people-do-when-theyre-not-quite-ready-to-retire-2017-07-07

Malito, Alessandra. (2017). Why Retirement Can Be a Dangerous Time. MarketWatch: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-retirement-can-be-a-dangerous-time-2017-09-18

Primavera, Louis, Pascale, Rob & Roach, Rip. The Retirement Maze: What You Should Know Before and After You Retire. Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 2012.

Rohwedder, Susann & Willis, Robert J. (2010) Mental Retirement. National Center for Biotechnology Information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2958696/

Rosenberg, M., & McCullough, B. C. (1981). Mattering: Inferred significance and mental health among adolescents. Research in Community & Mental Health, 2, 163-182

Schlossberg, Nancy K. Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose. American Psychological Association, 2009

Sood, Amit. The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living. Da Capo Press, 2013

Zelinski, Ernie J. How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free. Ten Speed Press, 2009

PKF

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

More on Teacher Interviews

Coaching Advice for Acing Those Employment Interview Questions

There is a huge body of information on preparing for the job search process, interviews, and marketing yourself previously posted at this site. Where should you go first? Be sure to survey the following blogs:

What else do you think we should cover on this topic? How about some specific “coaching” in recommended answers to commonly asked interview questions… tips from the experts, HR staff, interviewers, supervisors, and the like. We give each resource “the baton” and “the podium” to offer a glimpse in the triumphs, pitfalls, and pratfalls of frequently observed interviewee responses. For grasping the full comprehension and context, follow-up by reading the entire article posted at each link.

Many of these suggestions are geared to “general education” teacher interviews, but you can apply them to whatever specialty or grade level to which you are applying. After all, the person sitting at the other side of the desk is probably an administrator or director of curriculum, not a current/former music educator.

Again, be sure to visit each website. All told, there are more than 108 sample questions and responses in these collections below!

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What is your teaching philosophy?

Teacher interview questions like this ask, “Are you a good fit for our school?” It’s the teaching equivalent of “tell me about yourself.” But —

Don’t answer elementary teacher interview questions for an unstructured school with, “I believe in structured learning.”

Take the time to learn the school’s philosophy before the interview.

Example answer: “I believe in teaching to each student’s passion. For instance, in one kindergarten class, my students had trouble with punctuation. I observed that one student, Mary, suddenly got excited about apostrophes. I fueled her passion with a big book on punctuation. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and soon the entire class was asking bright and animated questions. Whenever possible, I try to deliver structured lessons in an unstructured way like this.”

That answer uses the S.T.A.R. approach to teaching interview questions. It shows a Situation, a Task, an Action, and a Result.

“25 Teacher Interview Questions and Answers” by Tom Gerencer

This is from a Zety “career toolbox” website. They also offer an outstanding app to “build” a resume, CV, and cover letter, all with excellent examples.

 

Why do you want to be a teacher/work with children?

You have to know who you are as an individual and as an educator, and you have to know what you can bring to the school… This question gets to the heart of that self-awareness and passion. The interviewer wants to know: What drew you to this field, specifically?

How to answer it: It’s obvious of course, but you don’t want to say, “Summer vacations!” This should be easy to answer simply because there’s probably something you can think of that made you want to get into education. Maybe you love teaching your friends new things, or are a facts wizard bursting with knowledge, or love connecting with children. Focus not just on what you like about teaching but also on what you can… bring to the table.

For example, you might say: “I really admired my third grade teacher, Mrs. Kim, when I was younger, and even after I left her class I still felt myself drawn to her for advice and guidance over the years. It’s that sense of warmth and acceptance she provided me that inspired me to become a teacher. I want to be that person others can lean on as they navigate the oftentimes tough waters of growing up.”

“15 Common Questions Asked in a Teacher Interview (and How to Answer Them With Ease)” by Alyse Kalish

In addition, the site above shares several important pointers from Calvin Brown, Senior Recruiter at Alignstaffing, an education staffing firm, and Dan Swartz, Managing Director at Resolve Talent Consulting, LLC, a firm that specializes in education recruitment.

Reaffirming the blog S is for storytelling at interviews: “If you have a situation or a story with a great outcome, absolutely share [it],” says Brown. “Stories are also a great ways to highlight your expertise and skill set if you don’t come with a traditional background in education.” Swartz adds, “Even if you’re not a teacher with experience, you can still highlight how you go about your work by giving past examples and scenarios of engaging others.”

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How would you handle a difficult student?

Mary Findley, Senior Teacher Success Manager at Skillshare, former Teach for America Core Member and elementary school teacher, suggests this scenario and answer:

“When students are disengaged, it’s either because the content’s too challenging, it’s too easy, or there could be some outside-of-school factors,” explains Findley. A good answer delves into figuring out the cause, as that’s often the most important step.

Then, your response should show that “you’re meeting the student where they’re at and building on their strengths,” she says. It should also emphasize that you’re “collaboratively discussing” solutions with the student rather than ordering them around. If you have an example story to tell, that’s a great way to state your case.

You could say: “For me, the first step would be to pull them aside and address the issue privately. My biggest questions would be about deciphering what might be the root cause of this student’s bad behavior. Once I know what may be contributing to their difficulty, I really try to work with them to come up with a solution. I used this strategy in my last classroom, where I had a student who couldn’t seem to stay in his seat during lessons. We talked about how his behavior affected the rest of the class and why he kept moving around, and we agreed that when he was feeling really anxious he could raise his hand and I’d let him take a lap around the classroom, but only when it was appropriate. I also decided to make some of my lessons more active and hands-on so that other students could benefit from getting out of their seats every once in a while.”

“15 Common Questions Asked in a Teacher Interview (and How to Answer Them With Ease)” by Alyse Kalish

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How do you incorporate social-emotional learning in your lessons?

Many states and districts have added requirements for social-emotional learning into their standards. Explain how you will not only tend to the academic needs of your students but tie in lessons that satisfy the core SEL competencies. Describe how you will help students build their self- and social-awareness skills, how you will support them in building relationships, and how you will give them the skills to make responsible decisions. 

“18 Interview Questions Every Teacher Must Be Able to Answer” by Brandie Freeman

If you have never heard the term “core SEL competencies” in your methods classes, peruse the online article “Building SEL Competency in the Elementary School Music Classroom” by Lindsey Jackson, posted on the NAfME Music in a Minuet website.

How will you meet the needs of the students in your class who are advanced or say they’re bored?

and

How will you engage reluctant learners?

School leaders don’t want to hear canned responses about how you can differentiate; they want you to give some concrete answers and support your ideas. Perhaps you help get kids prepared for scholastic competitions once they’ve mastered the standard (spelling bee or chemistry olympiad, anyone?). Maybe you offer more advanced poetry schemes for your English classes or alternate problem-solving methods for your math students. Whatever it is, make sure that you express the importance that all students are engaged, even the ones that are already sure to pass the state standardized test.

Teaching in an age when we must compete with Fortnite, Snapchat, and other forms of instant entertainment makes this question valid and necessary. How will you keep students’ heads off their desks, their pencils in their hands, and their phones in their pockets? Share specific incentive policies, engaging lessons you’ve used, or ways you’ve built relationships to keep students on task. An anecdote of how a past student (remember to protect privacy) that you taught was turned on to your subject because of your influence would also help your credibility here.

“18 Interview Questions Every Teacher Must Be Able to Answer” by Brandie Freeman

women-1687852_1920_melysernaWhat are your greatest weaknesses?

Considered one of the “trick” or unfair questions by many, you should still be ready for it. One of the keys to sounding sincere is to personalize your response, and provide specific examples of the “problem,” self-improvement goals, and positive growth and progress.

At some point during the interview process, you may be asked to describe your personal strengths and weaknesses. Many job candidates are unsure about how to approach this question. However, by establishing the appropriate context, you can give hiring managers an honest, thoughtful answer that highlights both your self-awareness and professionalism.

Preparing ahead of time for this question is a valuable use of your time before the interview. Even if you aren’t asked about your strengths and weaknesses specifically, scripting out your response to this common question will give you a candid yet compelling description of what you bring to the table and how you wish to grow in the future.

job-interview-2552411_1920_shaukingBecause we all have weaknesses but rarely want to admit to them, it’s best to begin with a truthful answer and build your script from there. Select an answer that a hiring manager would not consider to be essential qualities or skills for the position as well as qualities that you are actively improving.

Some examples of weaknesses include:

  • Disorganized
  • Self-Critical/Sensitive
  • Perfectionism (Note: this can be a strength in many roles, so be sure you have an example of how perfectionism can be a problem to demonstrate that you’ve thought deeply about this trait)
  • Shy/Not adept at public speaking
  • Competitive (Note: Similarly to perfectionism, this can be a strength)
  • Limited experience in a non-essential skill (especially if obvious on your resume)
  • Not skilled at delegating tasks
  • Take on too much responsibility
  • Not detail-oriented/Too detail-oriented
  • Not comfortable taking risks
  • Too focused/Lack of focus

Example weakness: Perfectionism

“I tend to be a perfectionist and can linger on the details of a project which can threaten deadlines. Early on in my career, when I worked for ABC Inc., that very thing happened. I was laboring over the details and in turn, caused my manager to be stressed when I almost missed the deadline on my deliverables. I learned the hard way back then, but I did learn. Today I’m always aware of how what I’m doing affects my team and management. I’ve learned how to find the balance between perfect and very good and being timely.”

target-1414775_1920_DeedsterExample weakness: Difficulty with an area of expertise

“Math wasn’t my strongest subject in school. To be honest, as a student, I didn’t understand how it would be applicable in my adult life. Within a few years of being in the working world, though, I realized that I wanted to take my career in a more analytical direction. At first, I wasn’t sure where to begin, but I found some free online courses that refreshed the important basics for me. In my most recent job, this new foundation has enabled me to do my own goal setting and tracking. Actually, getting over the math anxiety I had when I was younger has been incredibly empowering.”

“50 Teacher Interview Questions and Answers to Help You Prepare” from Indeed.com

One final resource, perhaps more focused on business or company interviews, but still applicable to education positions, is the work of author, career counselor and interview coach Robin Ryan. Knowing that college students are by necessity drawn to “free stuff,” I would first view one of her YouTube videos such as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_lgyK37JJM or venture into reading her “how-to” articles at http://www.robinryan.com/index.php/articles. There are some excellent gems perfect for “collegiates” here:

60 seconds and youre hiredFocusing on Robin Ryan’s “interview tools” such as “the five-point agenda” and “60-second sell,” her book 60 Seconds and You’re Hired ” is inspiring and provides much greater depth (76 pages!) on answering those “thorny” interview questions. Nearly all of the sample questions above are also analyzed, offering easy-to-understand comments and recommendations for specific career paths. For example, Robin Ryan also weighs in on that inquiry “What is your greatest weakness?” – first offering to joke about it “I cannot resist chocolate!” and then, if it is reiterated, endorsing a strategy to share a work habit problem (like being a “Type-A” person) on which you are currently improving but is not critical for the position they are seeking to fill.

To sum up the book, these are my favorite sections:

  • Chapter 2: The Five Point Agenda
  • Chapter 3: The 60-Second Sell
  • Chapter 5: Interview Etiquette (including tips on proper dress, good manners, nonverbal and verbal communication, the hand shake, and eye contact)
  • Chapter 7: 60-Second Answers to Tough, Tricky Answers
  • Chapter 12: 12 Pitfalls to Avoid

In conclusion, as stated throughout all of this literature on interview techniques, the keys to success are preparation and practice… just like getting ready for your semester jury or senior recital. After studying these materials, collaborate with your peers to hold “mock interviews,” video-record yourself answering the questions, and take time to review and self-assess. Yes, you CAN and WILL do well at future employment screenings!

PKF

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Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com:

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

 

Living Your Legacy

Teacher Retirees: Not to be morose, but have you undergone a little soul-searching and introspection into how you want to leave your mark on this world? Since you’ve departed from your full-time career, do you feel your past/current goals and pursuits will make a difference?

How will you be remembered once you’re gone?

If someone else was to “put me on the spot” and ask me this, my quick rejoinder would be, “Music and education are my life!”

How about you?

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Let’s start with a review of the broad definition from Merriam-Webster:

legacy

noun: 1. a gift by will especially of money or other personal property, 2. something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past

adjective: of, relating to, associated with, or carried over from an earlier time, technology, business, etc.

synonyms: bequest, birthright, heritage, inheritance, patrimony

Legacy is [how] most people… want to be remembered, loved, and revered.

A legacy is not something that we have complete control over. After all, we cannot control how other people perceive us, we can only control our own actions.

So how can we leave the world with a legacy of our choosing?

What we must do is inspire through our own actions. If you go back through time and analyze the most influential legacies, you’ll see that they all inspired action through their own action. They didn’t just think about doing things, or tell others to do them; they went out and got things done on their own!

These legacies began while they were still alive, except I’m sure they weren’t thinking about them in those terms. Their ACCOMPLISHED GOALS became their legacy, which lives on today.

— Amy Clover in Strong Inside Out

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It may boil down to two thought-provoking inquiries posed in “What Will Be Your Legacy?” What do you want to leave for the world that will affect it when you are gone? AND How do you want to change the future?

Thanks to blogger Marelisa Fabrega, here’s more food for thought and self-examination:

  1. What do you want your life to stand for?
  2. How do you want to be remembered by your family and friends?
  3. What will those beyond your circle of family friends remember you for?
  4. What kind of impact do you want to have on your community?
  5. How will the world be a better place because you were in it?
  6. What contributions do you want to make to your field?
  7. Whose lives will you have touched?
  8. What lessons would you like to pass on to future generations?
  9. What do you want to leave behind?
  10. How can you serve?

 

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In her article “How to Leave a Lasting Legacy,” Fabrega also shares several activities for the creation of a personal legacy, everything from the Stephen Covey exercise on writing your own obituary or designing the words you want etched on your tombstone to adding your own “meaning of life” verse to the Walt Whitman poem Oh Me Oh Life as English teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams) taught in the film Dead Poets Society.

Your legacy is putting your stamp on the future. It’s a way to make some meaning of your existence: “Yes, world of the future, I was here. Here’s my contribution, here’s why I hope my life mattered.”

— Bart Astor in Forbes

 

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Getting Your Affairs in Order

A legacy is more than a large donation to your favorite church, foundation, or charity. Of course, this process should begin with self-reflection, advance planning, hiring an attorney, and making your financial intentions and final instructions clear in writing.

Do you have a legal will, ethical will, living trust, Power of Attorney, and advance directive? Have you updated your important documents to take care of the needs of your family? Have you notified your spouse, adult children, and other relatives where they can find these legal papers, passwords, and other digital files? If not, please review my blog “Estate Planning.”

But, legacy is so much more, including strategies for passing on your values and goals after you are no longer here!

Ethical Wills.png13 years ago, I first learned about an ancient tradition for passing on personal values, beliefs, blessings, and advice to future generations called an “ethical will.” At a subconscious level, I must remember the custom, because when my father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1990, I asked him to write a letter about the things that he valued. About a month before he died, my dad gave me two hand-written pages in which he spoke about the importance of being honest, getting a good education, helping people in need, and always remaining loyal to family. That letter – his ethical will – meant more to me than any material possession he could have bequeathed.

— Barry K. Baines in Ethical Wills

As we have also noted in a previous blog-post, you should reflect on what you would say to those nearest and dearest to you if you couldn’t (or didn’t) tell them in person. Consider writing individual letters to your partner, children, or other family members “as a way of leaving a few last words.” Check out Frish Brandt’s “Last[ing] Letters.”

 

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Your Contributions “In Memoriam”

The idea of leaving a legacy is the need or the desire to be remembered for what you have contributed to the world. In some cases, that contribution can be so special that the universe is unalterably changed. However, for most of us mere mortals walking this earth, we will leave a more modest legacy that doesn’t necessarily change the world but does leave a lasting footprint that will be remembered by those whose lives you touched.

You hope your life matters in some way. I know I do. I’ve been teaching since the age of 22 and teaching is my legacy, my contribution that hopefully enlightened the lives of my students whether they became actors, scientists, doctors, mothers or yogis. My teaching is a gift that keeps on giving because it leads me to other learning and knowing experiences that I share with others.

— Joan Moran in HUFFPOST

(I bolded “teaching is my legacy” in the above quote because I hope that will be considered as my own preeminent legacy.)

To borrow from the inspiration and expertise of others, I found this insightful and stimulating self-help article offering “Five Ways to Leave a Great Legacy” by Joan Moran.

Moran describes in detail these tips:

  1. ornament-1899065_1920_2_xsonicchaosSupport the people and causes that are important to you.
  2. Reflect and decide what is most important to you in your life.
  3. Share your blessings with others.
  4. Be a mentor to others.
  5. Pursue your passions because they are infectious.

She sums it up succinctly: “Leaving a legacy is an important part of your life’s work. A legacy develops from a life dedicated to self-reflection and purpose. What will be revealed and what will endure is a truthful and value driven body of living.”

The straightforward way to live a life of significance is simply to share your three t’s: time, talent, and treasure. Our lives are meant to give away – to significant causes, to loving families, to friends in need, to lasting relationships. Find a way that your gifts can serve others. Your time, energy, and money are precious resources – they are limited, and you are the sole owner. If you spend them in one area you can’t spend them in another. When we say “yes” to one thing, by default we saying “no” to something else. The key to winning is to say “yes” to the significant things in your life.

— Lee Colan in Inc.

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Giving Back… Getting Personal

eleemosynary

adjective: of, relating to, or supported by charity

synonyms: altruistic, beneficent, benevolent, charitable, do-good, good, humanitarian, philanthropic

Fancy SAT vocabulary term! No, we do not need a visit from Charles Dickens’ three ghosts to learn altruism! Everyone should want to be remembered as eleemosynary or generous souls! Especially during my retirement years (2013 to the present), I want to model volunteerism:

  • Fox_Paul_SHJODirecting the South Hills Junior Orchestra (non-salaried sharing of my teaching)
  • Serving as a volunteer escort for the St. Clair Memorial Hospital (three days/week)
  • Promoting communications and marketing strategies of the Community Foundation of Upper St. Clair
  • Supporting the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association in various projects including teacher training, recruitment, retention, and retirement prep.
  • Writing articles and presenting workshops/webinars that help other teachers

These wishes will need to be updated from time to time, just like revising mission/vision statements, goals and objectives.

In addition, future monetary bequeaths from “what’s left” of our remaining assets will serve as “random acts of kindness from the grave” in support our current values, funding hereafter projects and pursuits (subscribing Moran’s tips #1-3 above) that matter to us.

How to Make an Educator Smile

My wife and I never had kids, so admittedly we live vicariously when we “bump into” our former students and revel in their major life-passages and accomplishments. It warms a retired music teacher’s heart to “catch-up” with a combined 53+-year history of past pupils from our music classes, choirs, bands, orchestras, and musical/play productions, and learn that they are happy, healthy, prosperous, and thriving. It gives us a special thrill to hear they are still “making music” and/or passing on their love of the arts to their own kids. That is indeed part of every teacher’s wish for a lasting legacy.

During our retirement, we continue to attend many concerts, recitals, weddings, receptions, Eagle Scout ceremonies, etc. of our former “charges.” We feel blessed to be invited to participate in these special occasions to share in their joy, love, and success.

In some small way, we fervently hope our efforts to bring creative self-expression and the appreciation of the arts have made a difference to our students’ lives and their development into caring, responsible, and “artistic” adults.

In Conclusion: The Fox Vision and Values — “These Things I Believe”

  1. Equal-access to high quality and meaningful music education programs is an essential part to the intellectual, emotional, and artistic development of all children.
  2. The primary goal of an education in the arts is to nurture creative self-expression.
  3. Regardless of talent or privilege, every individual on earth can find inspiration and success in some form of music or the arts.
  4. Our life purpose involves relationships. It is more about people than about things.
  5. We were put on this planet to understand and help others, to foster more than a mere tolerance for diverse individuals and perspectives, rather to emphasize the values and practices of acceptance, respect, empathy, and collaboration.
  6. Our primary goal is to empower volunteerism, to make a difference in the lives of others less fortunate or experienced, and to give freely of our time, talents, passions, and resources.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

 

Photo of Robin Williams portraying John Keating in the movie Dead Poets Society was by bardfilm.blogspot.com

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Is Your Job Killing You?

Book Review: I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me – The Teacher’s Guide to Conquering Chronic Stress and Sickness by Lesley Moffat

Have you read this “International Bestseller” written by a band director?

Where was this when I was still teaching full-time, managing a crazy 24/7 schedule of music teaching and administration, fulfilling a myriad of self-assigned extracurricular activities like band, choir, strings, fall play, spring musical, adjudications and festivals?

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How many of you struggle to

  • Fall and stay asleep?
  • Avoid “brain fog” and exhaustion brought on by stress?
  • Alleviate (or ignore) aches and pains or illnesses that interfere with your work?
  • Reclaim and maintain enough energy to support your work and family life.
  • Resolve feelings that your life is falling apart or you are “burned-out?”

Well, instead of sitting around and whining about your hectic schedule or other challenges in your life, ruining your health, mood, and relationships with your family, friends, and students, or “throwing in the towel” and giving up altogether… take a look at this comprehensive guide to walk you through the problem — “baby steps” towards a complete self-care plan — providing assessments and action plans towards better personal health and wellness.

This blog provides a few highlights from Lesley Moffat’s work.  You owe it to yourself to break down and buy this inexpensive and easy-to-read paperback! Although it is meant for individuals who are serious about starting a comprehensive self-improvement project, this book is not long nor laborious! With a supposed “read time” of 132 minutes (according to the back cover), I would devote probably a couple weeks to thoroughly consume it. For even more clarity, I have even taken to reading sections of it to my wife, also a retired music teacher! Both of us have “been there” in coping with many of the issues of job-related stress and life-style choices.

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The Why — Chapter 12: “Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First” (Page 109)

After a quick scan of the first couple chapters, I recommend jumping to Chapter 12 to absorb the priority of “me first” in order to be able to care for others. I love the airline safety announcement analogy about “place the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.”  The central focus of her book, this is something I ignored for 35+ years.

You must take care of yourself. First. You can’t give what you haven’t got.

This is perhaps the hardest lesson of all, yet it is so important. Chances are you got where you are because you ran yourself ragged taking care of other people’s needs. I bet you never said no to requests to be on one more committee, drive carpool, watch a friend’s kids, and every other favor someone made of you, yet I’d also bet there’s a good chance you never take the time to take of your own needs. When was the last time you read a book for fun? Or went to a movie you wanted to see? Or pursued a creative endeavor that made you happy? Or any one of a million things you want to do? I bet it’s been a long time. —  Lesley Moffat

 

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Lesley Moffat’s website where you can order the book: https://squ.re/2TaXoAr

The Who — Chapter 3: “My Journey” (Page 15)

What an incredible story! Lesley Moffat gets personal and tells her own tale of total exhaustion, lack of mental focus (she calls ADHD), numerous aches and pains, arthritis, weight gain, bouts of illnesses like pneumonia, restless leg syndrome (a sleep disorder), and migraines, needed medical procedures like back surgery, hip replacement, bunion removal, etc. At times, her narratives are explicit and most graphic.

This profession is hard. Until my generation, women weren’t high school band directors, so there were no role models for me to look up to when I struggled with finding a balance between raising a family and having this career path. I had to learn things the hard way and make up my own solutions when there weren’t resources for me to use. My peer group is primarily men. How could my male band directing colleagues relate to my struggles? They may have kids, but they didn’t have to spend nine months making those babies while teaching (an exhausting combination that cost me a miscarriage during a band trip), and then pump breast milk during their planning periods to feed each of those babies for the first six months of their lives. And how many of them had to ask a spouse to make a ninety-minute drive with their newborn baby in the car behind the school buses where the band had to play for basketball playoffs so they could nurse the baby in the bathroom when they weren’t directing the band? — Lesley Moffat

The good news? Moffat reports that after a long and often discouraging search to restore her health and vitality and “to get back to the job I love,” today she has found peace, health, and happiness, and is back in the classroom with a renewed vigor, on her way to fulfilling her personal and professional goals.

 

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The What — Chapter 4: “Let’s Get Started!” (Page 23)

Lesley Moffat introduces her mPower Method (and a perfection alliteration) of four key components: meals, movement, music, and mindfulness. She says it all starts with administering a self-evaluation called the Mojo Meter (sample of the 40 questions below):

  1. I have a lot of aches and pains. T F
  2. I often feel tired after eating. T F
  3. My memory doesn’t seem to be as sharp as it used to be. T F
  4. Other people have mentioned that I seem down, upset, or not myself. T F
  5. I experience a lot of brain fog.* T F
  6. etc.

*She describes examples of “brain fog” more than a dozen times throughout the book. Do you experience any of these symptoms?

Brain fog isn’t a medical condition itself, but rather a symptom of other medical conditions. It’s a type of cognitive dysfunction involving:

  • memory problems
  • lack of mental clarity
  • poor concentration
  • inability to focus

Some people also describe it as mental fatigue. Depending on the severity of brain fog, it can interfere with work or school. But it doesn’t have to be a permanent fixture in your life. https://www.healthline.com/health/brain-fog

In her Mojo Meter assessment, if you answered “true” to 11 or more of these statements, then Moffat responds, “I know why you are here… It’s time to reclaim your health and energy, so get ready to amaze yourself.”

 

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The How — Chapter 9: “SNaP Strategies” (Page 79)

If you want to change your life, first change your mindset. You can’t find opportunity when you are looking for excuses. — Anonymous

Moffat’s “My SNaP Strategies” (Start Now and Progress) will give the reader examples of ways to develop new skills by changing habits one step at a time. Some of my favorites:

  • Take a break from social media.
  • Seek out opportunities to compliment others.
  • Allow someone to go ahead of you in line at the store.
  • Set your alarm for nine minutes earlier and use those nine minutes to listen to an inspiring song.
  • Turn off notifications on your phone.

In addition, she urges you to “do the homework” and dive into her Action Plans at the end of most chapters.

 

Mojo Meter on Meal Planning
I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me Page 47: “mPower Method Mojo Meter for Meals”

More Sneak Peeks

  • Using the observations you made in the self-administered Mojo Meter forms, the end of Chapter 5 offers an extensive “plan” for evaluating and removing the foods to which you may be allergic. (See above assessment form.)
  • I can heartily endorse her suggestion of using a food journal in Chapter 5, keeping track of every food choice and “how it makes you feel.” My wife discovered her sensitivity to gluten, and removing it from her diet has made all the difference!
  • One of her funniest anecdotes described her first-days participating in a yoga class! (Chapter 6)
  • Do you have on-hand and regularly use specific self-designed music playlists for meals, exercise sessions, and getting ready for bed? (Chapter 7)
  • A simple definition (but not so easy acquisition) of “mindfulness” — “being fully present in the here and now.” (Chapter 8)
  • Check out her “advice for driving during rush hour” (Chapter 11), tips for staying calm during all stressful moments: slow down, simplify, sense, surrender, self-care.
  • On Pages 9 and 10, there are amazing “before” and “after” photos of the author!

 

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Coda: Summary of Advice for Better Self-Care (Chapter 10)

  1. Take deep breaths when you encounter speed bumps and stop signs during your daily commute.
  2. Write a cover page to your syllabus outlining appropriate times and methods for parents and students to contact you.
  3. Have a work space that is exclusively yours, including a “do not disturb” sign, closed door, and/or noise-cancelling headphones.
  4. Talk to your boss about reasonable expectations, including how many after-school and evening events are anticipated.
  5. Enlist the help of others (volunteers, boosters, etc.).
  6. Start your mornings in a way that charges you up for the day.
  7. Re-evaluate your work space and make changes changes that will be conducive for more efficiency.
  8. Plan meals and make time to eat them.
  9. Stay hydrated.
  10. Incorporate time to upgrade yourself.
  11. Ask yourself, “Does this choice align with who I am?”
  12. Come up with a self-care plan that is sustainable.

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This is just the “tip of the iceberg” analyzing pathways for improved health and wellness. We are thankful that Lesley Moffat was so bold and open about sharing her own journey. Everyone can “take home” the causation of being “sick and tired of being sick and tired” and wrap their arms around implementing new strategies towards a happier living!

 

Author’s Bio (excerpts from the book)

Moffat authorNow in her fourth decade as a high school band director, Lesley Moffat has worked with thousands of people, helping them not only achieve musical goals (including repeated performances at Carnegie Hall, Disney Theme Parks, Royal Caribbean cruise ships, and competitions and festivals all over the US and Canada), but also teaching them how to develop the long-term life skills they need to be successful in the world.

Lesley has been a presenter at the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) and WMEA Conferences, served on the board for the Mount Pilchuck Music Educators Association, and has been an adjudicator and guest conductor in the Pacific Northwest.

After completing her undergraduate degree at Indiana University, she returned to her roots and moved back to the Pacific Northwest, where she and her husband, George, raised their three daughters, all of whom were students in her high school band program. Fun fact: Lesley, George, all three of their daughters, and Lesley’s dad have performed at Carnegie Hall.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

WHEN Should You Retire?

The Skills and Models of a Happy Retirement

[Portions reprinted from the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association, PMEA News, Spring 2019 issue – All rights reserved.]

 

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Is It TIME to Retire?

This is a personal question that no one but YOU can answer… not even your PMEA Retired Member Coordinator! By the time you read this article in the Spring edition of PMEA News, this choice may be uppermost in your mind, especially if you are within a couple years of that so-called “retirement age.” Most school districts require advance notification of an employee’s plan to retire in order to retain full benefits and exit bonuses, and to allow planning for the job replacement search and screening process. (Check your teacher’s contract!)

In music educator conference sessions, director meetings at festivals, and printed in PMEA News and the online e-publication Retired Member Network eNEWS, much has pmeabeen discussed about the “what,” “how,” and most recently, “where” of retirement, even issues of “privacy” regarding your decision. For a review of these areas and a bibliography of resources, please visit:

The “why” of retirement is also relevant. There may be a lot of influences for someone to consider leaving their full-time career:

  1. Boredom or lack of stimulation in the current job
  2. Changing employment status or responsibilities
  3. Health problems (yours or other members of your family)
  4. Spouse retiring
  5. Your or family member’s desire to relocate
  6. Needs for caregiving (grandchildren, parents, or elderly family members)
  7. Travel opportunities
  8. Acceptance of a new position or the start or expansion of an “encore career” (higher education, music industry, travel/tour planning, or another field)

Other involuntary or more negative motivations may “encourage” you to resign your position:

  • Music and/or staff are eliminated from the curriculum or building in which you teach.
  • You are experiencing a decline in music program enrollment or participation.
  • You feel unappreciated, unsupported, devalued, or ignored as a professional.
  • You conclude you must retire early to avoid losing existing contractual benefits.

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However, the most important reflection on WHEN to retire should begin with the question, “Are you ready for retirement?” and…

Do You Have What It Takes for a Happy Retirement?

A successful retirement is not “all about the money.” Certainly, you are well-advised to make an appointment with an estate planner, elder attorney, and/or financial advisor (probably all three). Bring a copy of your bank and investment statements, annual reports on your pension, social security, annuities, and insurance documents. Make sure you have the “big picture” of your net worth and accomplish the following (https://www.fisherinvestments.com/en-us):

  • Determine your goals, objectives and time horizon;
  • Make key distinctions between income and cash flow;
  • Develop a basic plan to help achieve your retirement goals.

However, probably even more important, experts say there are many other requirements that foster preparedness to enjoying your post-full-time employment years. For example, proposed by the editorial team of the NewRetirement website, there are eight essential keys to a potential retiree’s “happy transition.” (Read the entire article for a greater perspective at https://www.newretirement.com/retirement/8-skills-you-need-for-best-retirement/.)

  1. A Knack for Dealing with Uncertainty
  2. Resilience: Can You Overcome Adversity?
  3. Capability to Maintain a Set of Friends
  4. Cash Flow Mastery
  5. Ability to Set Your Own Schedule and Stay Motivated
  6. Can You Relax?
  7. Capacity to Have a Purpose and Follow Passions
  8. Do You Know How to Manage an Overall Retirement Plan?

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These concepts are supported by the book Happy Retirement: The Psychology of Reinvention by Kenneth S. Shultz (DK Publishing, 2015) which focuses on the question, “Are you psychologically prepared to retire?”

  1. How important is your job when it comes to getting a sense of life satisfaction?
  2. How many non-work activities do you have that  give you a sense of purpose?
  3. How do you imagine your life to be once you stop working?
  4. How do you think retirement will affect your relationship with family and friends?
  5. How much energy for work do you have these days?

Being “psyched” for the “big day” also involves learning personal coping skills, modeling these characteristics of good mental health (from the book The Psychology of Retirement: Coping with the Transition from Work by Derek Milne, 2013):

  • Being able to use your talents and energy productively
  • Enjoying challenges and gaining pleasure from accomplishing tasks
  • Being capable of sustaining a meaningful love relationship
  • Finding meaning in belonging and contributing to your community
  • Being responsive, sensitive, and empathic to other people’s needs and feelings
  • Appreciating and responding to humor
  • Coming to terms with painful experiences from the past
  • Being comfortable and at ease in social situations;
  • Being energetic and outgoing
  • Being conscientious and responsible.

 

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Should I or Shouldn’t I Go Now?

No, this won’t be an easy decision… but, you knew that, right? There seems to be a plethora of free advice “out there” to help (?) you deliberate. (Well, you get what you pay for!) A few samples from the Internet:

7 Signs It Is Time (http://www.plannersearch.org/financial-planning/7-signs-its-time-to-retire)

  1. Your bank accounts
  2. Your bucket lists
  3. Your health
  4. The markets
  5. Health care benefits
  6. Social Security benefits
  7. Your spouse

10 Signs It Is Not Time (https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/021716/10-signs-you-are-not-ok-retire.asp)

  1. Struggling to pay bills
  2. You have lots of debt
  3. Have major expenses
  4. Don’t know your SS benefits?
  5. Need monthly financial plan
  6. Need long term financial plan
  7. What about the effects of inflation?
  8. Need to re-balance portfolio
  9. Retirement worries you
  10. You love your job

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Happy retirement = busy retirement. We keep going back to what PMEA MIOSM Chair Chuck Neidhardt said about venturing into retirement – also the perfect bumper-sticker: “Have a plan!” In almost every case study, retiring music teachers must “move on” to an equally engaging and active life style, finding new purpose and meaning in their “senior years!” Considering that many professionals are “addicted to achievement” and the sudden cessation from work may cause some emotional turmoil (Sydney Lagier in US News and World Report, July 20, 2010), we should study examples of those who have happily “Crossed the Rubicon” ahead of us into “retirement bliss.”

Leaving your school employment does not mean you won’t continue doing what you have always enjoyed… personal music (or dance or drama) making, performing in or conducting an ensemble, composing, accompanying, etc. The PMEA Retiree Resource Registry – the proverbial “directory of past leaders in PA music programs” – lists many retired members who continue to offer their talents and experience to help others in the profession. This is a good place to start for asking “advice from the experts” on just about any topic… perhaps even tips on deciding WHEN to retire: https://www.pmea.net/retired-members/.

How about a couple more “models and mentors” who made this “change of life” adjustment and explored new directions towards self-reinvention in retirement?

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Ben Franklin, Founding Father
“Having worked as a successful shopkeeper with a keen eye for investments, Franklin had earned his leisure, but rather than cultivate the fine art of indolence, ‘retirement,’ he said, was ‘time for doing something useful.’ Hence, the many activities of Franklin’s retirement were: scientist, statesman, and sage, as well as one-man civic society for the city of Philadelphia. His post-employment accomplishments earned him the sobriquet of ‘The First American’ in his own lifetime, and yet, for succeeding generations, the endeavor that was considered his most ‘useful’ was the working life he left behind when he embarked on a life of leisure….”

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/09/how-america-lost-track-of-benjamin-franklins-definition-of-success/400808/

2000 – “The Year of Retirement?” for two musical superstars
Barbra Streisand, singer, songwriter, actress, and filmmaker
Garth Brooks, country-music singer and songwriter
“In 2000, Barbra Streisand performed four farewell concerts to mark her retirement from performing live. At the time, she was 58 years old and wanted to focus more on acting, directing and recording albums, reported ABC News.”

“Her retirement ended in 2016 when she returned to the stage for her The Music… The Mem’ries… The Magic! tour, which grossed $53 million over 16 performances, according to Billboard.”

“Garth Brooks shocked fans in October 2000 when he announced his plan to retire to Oklahoma until the youngest of his three daughters graduated from high school, reported Billboard. The country music superstar was 42 years old when he began his early retirement.”

“During his semi-retirement, he did a few sold-out stints at arenas and a 186-show Las Vegas residency with wife Trisha Yearwood, according to Billboard, but he largely stayed out of the spotlight. Brooks returned to touring in September 2014 and continued until December 2017, performing a total of 390 shows, reported Billboard. Forbes cited his 2017 earnings as $60 million. Together, Brooks and Yearwood are one of the richest celebrity couples.”

https://www.gobankingrates.com/net-worth/celebrities/celebrities-who-came-out-of-retirement/

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“If money can buy you happiness,” supposedly these ten athletes were financially more successful after retirement, as opposed to the total earnings they generated during their original sports careers:

  • Muhammad Ali
  • Jim Brown
  • Oscar De La Hoya
  • Lenny Dykstra
  • George Foreman
  • Dwayne Johnson (“The Rock”)
  • Magic Johnson
  • Michael Jordan
  • Nolan Ryan
  • Dave Whelan

https://www.complex.com/sports/2012/01/10-athletes-who-made-more-money-after-retiring/

 

Agatha Christie, British writer
Finally, to answer the question, “What would Agatha Christie do in retirement?” best-selling author Ernie Zelinski quoted in his The Retirement Cafe website the following list of activities proposed to be “her favorite things” from the publication Agatha Christie: An Autobiography (Dodd, Mead & Co., 1977).

  • Sunshine
  • Apples
  • Almost any kind of music
  • Railway trains
  • Numerical puzzles and anything to do with numbers
  • Going to the sea
  • Bathing and swimming
  • Silence
  • Sleeping
  • Dreaming
  • Eating
  • The smell of coffee
  • Lilies of the valley
  • Most dogs
  • Going to the theatre

Ernie concluded, “This list of activities and things that Christie loved may trigger some of the stuff that turns you on and which you can use for an active retirement. This will go a long way towards conquering retirement boredom.”

http://www.retirement-cafe.com/Fun-Things-to-Do-When-You-Retire.html

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Is the time ripe for you to retire? Again, only YOU can answer that!

When it becomes the right moment for you to make that “big plunge” to “living your dreams…” KUDOS and BEST WISHES on your rebirth as you explore your own pursuit of retirement self-reinvention and post-employment “freedom!”

PKF

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

 

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “old” by dietcheese, “man” by geralt, “elderly lady” by mabelamber, “senior” by ritae, “woman” by silviarita, “old couple” by monicavolpin, “ben-franklin” by ericdunham, “Fisherman” by paulbr75, “grandma” by fujidreams, and “wooden-train-toys-train-first-class” by Couleur.

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