Burned Out or Bummed Out?

More on Teacher Self-Care: Diagnosis and Remediation

This is Part VI in a series of articles on educator health and wellness, following “Stressed Out!” and “Teacher Self-Care During the Pandemic.”

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Do you recognize these signs of burnout experienced  by yourself, a coworker, neighbor, or someone you love?

  • Physical: tired, lowered immunity, illnesses, aches and pains, loss of appetite or sleep
  • Emotional: sense of self-doubt, failure, helplessness, loneliness, cynicism, loss of satisfaction/motivation
  • Behavioral: withdrawal, isolation, skipping work, procrastination, frustration, overuse of food, drugs, alcohol

By the time it gets to that third bullet, probably everyone would be aware of the trouble.

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

Burnout Prevention and Recovery by Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Lawrence Robinson

 

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Gregory S. Perkins and Angela M. Guerriero, licensed Music Therapists from the Tempo! Music Therapy Services, provided much more detailed definitions of self-care in a session at the PMEA 2020 Virtual Summer Conference. (PMEA members may continue to register and view a video of this workshop until mid-September 2020.) You should know and be on the lookout for these terms:

The United Nations defines self-care as the actions that individuals take in order to develop, protect, maintain, and improve their own health and well being. Self-care involves a personal investment in maintaining physical, psychological and spiritual health, and pursuing a fulfilling, well-rounded life.

Brownout: “A practitioner essentially gives up or performs in a perfunctory manner when confronted with too much stress and too little gratification.” Guy, J. & Norcross, J. (2007). Leaving it at the office: a guide to psychotherapist self-care. New York, NY: Guilford Publications, Inc.

Burnout: “A syndrome of physical exhaustion including a negative self-concept, negative job attitude, and loss of concern and feelings.” Keidel, G. (2002). Burnout and compassion fatigue among hospice caregivers. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care, 19(3), 200-205

Recognizing the Need: Self-Care for Music Educators by Gregory S. Perkins, MT-BC, and Angela M. Guerriero, PhD, MT-BC

The Mayo Clinic offers numerous symptoms of “burnout.” How many of these have you “felt” too or noticed in someone else’s demeanor or behavior?

  1. Disillusionment over the job
  2. Cynicism at work
  3. Impatience with co-workers, administrators, and students
  4. Lack of satisfaction in accomplishments
  5. Dragging yourself to work and trouble getting started once you’re there
  6. Lack of energy
  7. Unexplained aches/pains
  8. Self-medicating with food, drugs, or alcohol
  9. Changes in sleep/eating patterns

 

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Education Week adds many more danger signs. Are any of these striking close to home?

Exhaustion. This is a fatigue so deep that there’s no way to “turn it off,” no matter how badly you want to. It’s deep in your bones. The kind of tired where you just want to ooze into your bed and disconnect from life.

Extreme graveness. Realizing you go hours without smiling or laughing, or days without a belly laugh.

Anxiety. The constant, nagging feeling that you can and should do more, while simultaneously realizing you need to unplug and spend more time with your family. But there are so many things to do.

Being overwhelmed. Questioning how they can possibly add one more task, expectation, or mandate to your plate. Compromising your values of excellence just so you can check-off 15 more boxes to stay in compliance. All the while knowing it still won’t be enough.

Seeking. Losing your creativity, imagination, patience, and enthusiasm for daily challenges. Craving reflection time and productive collaboration rather than group complaining.

Isolation. Wanting to head for the deepest, darkest cave where no one will see your vulnerability. A place where your limits are unseen and unquestioned and all is quiet.

— Six Signs of and Solutions for Teacher Burnout by Wendi Pillars 

 

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What about the causes of burnout or brownout? Where should we place the blame?

According to Paul Murphy in his book, Exhausted – Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It, the stress of a few problems may stand out as leading culprits at your place of employment:

  1. Lack of autonomy
  2. Dysfunctional work environment
  3. Inadequate social support
  4. Extremes of activity
  5. Poor work/life balance

But, you have no one else but yourself to blame! You must take responsibility for your own health and welfare. Most of the sources in this blog-post (including a few mentioned in past articles from this “care” category) suggest solutions to better self-care, many of which offer answers to address the issue and CAN BE DONE RIGHT NOW.

Here are a few more self-care tips from PsychCentral:

  • Create a “no” list, with things you know you don’t like or you no longer want to do. Examples might include: Not checking emails at night, not attending gatherings you don’t like, not answering your phone during lunch/dinner.
  • Promote a nutritious, healthy diet.
  • Get enough sleep. Adults usually need 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Exercise. In contrast to what many people think, exercise is as good for our emotional health as it is for our physical health. It increases serotonin levels, leading to improved mood and energy. In line with the self-care conditions, what’s important is that you choose a form of exercise that you like!
  • Follow-up with medical care. It is not unusual to put off checkups or visits to the doctor.
  • Use relaxation exercises and/or practice meditation. You can do these exercises at any time of the day.
  • Spend enough time with your loved ones.
  • Do at least one relaxing activity every day, whether it’s taking a walk or spending 30 minutes unwinding.
  • Do at least one pleasurable activity every day; from going to the cinema, to cooking or meeting with friends.
  • Look for opportunities to laugh!

What Self-Care Is and What It Isn’t by Raphailia Michael, MA

 

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We should also review “Five Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout” by Mary Beth Hertz, an Edutopia blog (read the entire article for greater depth and clarity):

  1. Maintain your “other” life.
  2. Be a stakeholder when changes are made.
  3. Find lessons and opportunities in everything.
  4. Nurture peer connections.
  5. Keep it light.

Edutopia, from the George Lucas Educational Foundation, is a wonderful resource. Most recently, three valuable “streams” of articles have been released on coping with the preparations and stress in the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 year:

I also recommend this blog-post of the Regional Education Laboratory Program which describes “teacher well being” as “the reaction to the individual and collective physical, environmental, and social events that shape how educators respond to their students and colleagues.” They discuss how three prominent human behavior frameworks— Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the Five Stages of Grief and Loss, and the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM)— can be used to address the challenges that teachers face when adapting to change and identify approaches to support teacher well being.

 

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In addition, the following perspectives come from a variety of self-proclaimed practitioners:

“One of Leonardo da Vinci’s seven essential elements of genius is known as Sfumato, Italian for ‘smoked,’ or ‘going up in smoke.’ This principle is the ability to embrace uncertainty, the unknown, and the unknowable. In my interpretation, it’s also an ability to ‘let go’ of everything that’s left undone when you know you’ve done your best. Embrace Sfumato.”  — Wendy Pillars

“Self-care needs to be something you actively plan, rather than something that just happens. It is an active choice and you must treat it as such.” — Raphailia Michael

“Remember that example about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others? This is where that analogy really comes in to play. It’s time for you to take a good hard look at your self-care versus your care for others and decide if you are in a place where you have a good balance or if you need to make this a priority… Why is self-care… such a critical component of your physical and mental health? Because in order for you to function at your peak, you need to meet the needs your body and mind have for rejuvenation, relaxation, and rebirth. If you are constantly putting out efforts toward other people and events but never taking time to refuel yourself, then you will run out of steam and it will manifest in your body as an illness, weight gain, acne, joint pain – you know the drill – again.” — Lesley Moffat in I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me

“It’s estimated that teachers make about 1,500 decisions every school day. When you combine those decisions with all the necessary self-regulation involved with teaching kids, it’s no wonder our willpower is gone by five o’clock. We are exhausted.” — Paul Murphy

The term “unprecedented times” has become a hallmark for describing the context in which leaders must respond to changing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Effective responses in education are dependent upon teachers as the front-line workers in classrooms, so it’s essential that administrators take care of teachers. When they do so, they also take care of students.

When teachers don’t have the resources they need, and especially when sustained job demands are high, teachers experience chronic stress — and eventually burnout.

Teachers who are burned out are less effective as teachers, have less supportive relationships with students and, in turn, the students they teach have lower academic and social outcomes.

How to Prevent Teacher Burnout During the Coronavirus Pandemic by Laura Sokal, Jeff Babb, and Leslie Eblie Trudel

 

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We should all read the above blog-post from The Conversation, which offers these conclusions based on a national Canadian education survey conducted in May 2020:

  1. Teachers’ concern for vulnerable students is one of the most stressful aspects of their jobs right now.
  2. Teachers are seeing magnified inequities.
  3. When giving teachers initial resources, less is more.
  4. Perceived support matters to teachers’ resiliency.
  5. Teachers are concerned about effectively engaging students through remote learning, and professional collaboration can help.

Finally, we’ll end this epistle on “things to do to avoid burnout” with a timely and practical article from Carlee Adams found on the We Are Teachers site: 15 Smart Ways to Prevent Teacher Burnout That Really Work. Repeating many of the suggestions above, these “find these” remedies resonated with me:

  • “Find someone you can be vulnerable with…”
  • “When you feel hopeless, find perspective…”
  • “Find your own voice and allow it to change over time…”
  • “Find your people; they get you!”

The bottom line? If you “feel” consistent periods of burnout, brownout, or being bummed out in your career as negative influences to your “calling” as a teacher, you cannot sit back and let things continue “as is!” Most professionals cannot self-diagnose this problem (but, perhaps a family member may clue you in!). If you notice that you are continually having trouble sleeping, difficulty with relationships or communicating your thoughts to others, or find yourself feeling significantly depressed or lethargic, it may be time to visit your health care professional.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com by Gerd Altmann

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Sleep and Retirement

Are you getting enough (or too much) rest?

Saying goodbye to work life can mean a change in your sleep schedule. Learn how to sleep well during this new stage of life.

“Sleep, and the Workplace” at Sleep.org

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Did you know there really exists a National Sleep Foundation? Now that we are retired from full-time music teaching and the day-to-day stress of managing classes and a busy music program, do you think we need it? Can’t we sit back and enjoy “living the life of Riley” without experiencing any work-related tension or fears for the future?

Maybe not! What is that old Chinese proverb? “The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” After all, as humans, we all seek new and unique challenges to grow (and that brings on stress), and sleep is a complicated issue!

But, no worries! Several someones have “our back” (or should I say “our pillow!”). Here is a collection of insightful resources on promoting better sleep habits and relaxation techniques from a variety of research-based and/or medical authorities.

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I didn’t set an alarm for four months. I quickly learned that one of my favorite times of the day was 30 minutes after I first woke up. For the first time in decades, there wasn’t a rush to get out of bed. I’d let myself fade in and out of sleep several times, savoring the fact that I could let myself fall back into the hazy sleep rather – into the shower to wake myself for the morning drive. I’d gotten up at 5:30 AM for years the found that about 7:15 AM was a natural time for my body to wake up. The dogs seem to enjoy this new routine as well. We have four dogs, all of whom compete for space on the bed. Which ever one happen to be near my hand would nozzle under my fingers when they felt me start to wake up, being content to enjoy our laziness together as a new way to start our new days.

The Keys to a Successful Retirement by Fritz Gilbert

The perks of retirement are many, including the “freedom” to do new things and spend more time with family and friends as well as on travel, personal music-making, hobbies, babysitting loved-ones (or care-giving our elderly relatives), volunteering, and other projects or pursuits of “self-reinvention” suggested by “retiree gurus” like Dave Hughes, Robin Ryan, Kenneth Schultz, Hyrum Smith, and Ernie Zelinski.

Another benefit of post-employment? MORE sleep! According to Sleep.org, “people sleep approximately 20 minutes longer at night after retirement. Those who skimped on sleep the most during their working years see the biggest gains, increasing their nightly sessions by around 45 minutes compared to pre-retirement.”

The National Sleep Foundation website also offers articles on the “science of sleep.”

  • Sleep Cycles – Stages of Sleep
  • Circadian Rhythms
  • What Is Microsleep?
  • How to Fall Asleep Fast
  • What is the Sleep-Wake Cycle?

as well as mattress reviews and life style choices that may affect our sleep.

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The “serious stuff” for serious sleep issues

Experts do believe that “normal aging” brings on some changes to sleep… Basically, older adults tend to get sleepy earlier in the evening, and tend to sleep less deeply than when they were younger.

So it’s probably not realistic to expect that as you get older, you’ll sleep as long or as soundly as when you were younger.

That said, although aging by itself does change sleep, it’s also quite common for older adults to develop health problems that can cause sleep disturbances. So when your older relatives say they aren’t sleeping well, you’ll want to help them check for these. Figuring out what’s going on is always the first step in being able to improve things.

Better Health While Aging blogs by Dr. Leslie Kernisan here and here

The definitions, causes, and treatments of sleep disruption are described in great detail by Leslie Kernisan, M.D., authoring “5 Top Causes of Sleep Problems in Aging and Proven Ways to Treat Insomnia” outlined here:

  1. Underlying medical problems
  2. Sleep-related breathing disorders (snoring, sleep apnea, etc.)
  3. Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
  4. Periodic limb movements (PLM)
  5. Insomnia

Painful nighttime leg cramps may also interrupt sleep, as referenced by the American Family Physician, Mayo Clinic and WebMD.

Dr. Kernisan advises us against using sleeping pills or other sedatives. She prefers the following remedies which have shown great promise, backed up by published research:

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy: New York Times and Mayo Clinic
  2. Brief behavioral treatment: Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine and National Institute of Health
  3. Mindfulness meditation: Journal of the American Medical Association and Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at UCLA
  4. Exercise: Science Direct, National Institute of Health, and New York Times

The Division of Sleep Medicine at the Harvard Medical School also offers these “Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep.”

  1. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep.
  2. Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment.
  3. Establish a soothing pre-sleep routine.
  4. Go to sleep when you are truly tired.
  5. Don’t be a night-time clock-watcher.
  6. Use light to your advantage.
  7. Keep your internal clock set with a consistent sleep schedule.
  8. Nap early, or not at all.
  9. Lighten up on evening meals.
  10. Balance fluid intake.
  11. Exercise early.
  12. Follow-through.

Another “sleep checklist” worth a quick examination is available from WebMD.

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Should we take cat naps? The jury is out.

At first glance, the National Sleep Foundation basically says NO! Napping during the day may “throw your body clock off and keep you awake at night.”

However, the truth may be more about how long to doze off during the daylight hours…

You may think that taking a catnap will make you feel more tired than skipping it altogether, but that’s not necessarily true.

The key to waking up refreshed from a nap is all about timing. Just 20 minutes is all you need to get the benefits of napping, such as improved alertness, enhanced performance, and a better mood. Naps of that length keep you in the lightest stage of non-REM sleep, making it easier for you to get up and go after your snooze session. Be sure to set an alarm so you don’t snooze for too long and wake up all groggy.

Nap for 30 to 60 minutes and you’ll hit the deeper stages of sleep, where your brain waves slow down, making you feel groggy (as if you have a sleep hangover) when you wake up…

It might not be worth it to nap at all if you’re going to nap for this amount of time because you’ll likely come out of your shuteye feeling less alert than before.

“How Long Is an Ideal Nap” at Sleep.org

The benefits and drawbacks of napping are further examined by the Mayo Clinic and even TIME magazine.

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Can too much sleep be bad for you?

According to new research carried out by Online Opinions, over-60s need to make sure that they are not in fact getting too much sleep once they are retired, as this can actually have an adverse effect on health.

According to the National Sleep Federation, the optimum amount of sleep for adults aged up to 64 to get each night is between seven and nine hours, while for over-64s, between eight and nine hours is deemed to be best.

You need to remember that your body isn’t as young as it once was and needs a decent amount of rest, but not too much, but the organization warns that more than ten hours’ sleep a night could be stopping people from using their bodies and brains as much as they need to in order to keep them active and hold on to their cognitive functions. In other words, too much sleep could carry a small extra risk of dementia development.

But there’s no need to worry too much; as long as you get plenty of exercise, keep your brain ticking, and lead a healthy lifestyle during the hours that you’re awake, there shouldn’t be too much cause for concern.

Just Group

WebMD warns that oversleeping has been linked to a host of medical problems, including diabetes, heart disease, depression, and increased risk of death.” The article “Physical Side Effects of Oversleeping” delineates the causes and effects of too much sleep, and points to an online “sleep habits assessment” to help you evaluate your needs.

This research seems to be supported by several other sources:

The amount of sleep you need varies significantly over the course of your lifetime. It depends on your age and activity level as well as your general health and lifestyle habits. For instance, during periods of stress or illness, you may feel an increased need for sleep. But although sleep needs differ over time and from person to person, experts typically recommend that adults should sleep between 7 and 9 hours each night.

WebMD

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More on retirement and “mindfulness”

From the author of one of my favorite “teacher self-care books,” I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me by Lesley Moffat, I personally recommend trying the “M-Power Method” of mindfulness practice during meals, movement, music, and what Lesley describes as the “5 S’s of clearing,” cited by the website dailyom.com:

  • Slowing Down
  • Simplifying
  • Sensing
  • Surrendering
  • Self-care

Jason Ong, a sleep psychologist at the Rush University Medical Center, offers these reminders of “Seven Tips for Falling Asleep” based on mindful practices of health and wellness (visit his site here to study these more in depth):

  1. Beginner’s mind
  2. Non-striving
  3. Letting go
  4. Non-judging
  5. Acceptance
  6. Trust
  7. Patience

Finally, if you want to immerse yourself in a comprehensive “mindfulness journey,” visit the blogs of Cindy’s Mindful Retirement to peruse “Mindfulness After Sixty: 21 Practices.”

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Can you “trick” your brain into going to sleep?

One last interesting resource I stumbled on… how to “drum yourself to sleep” if you are having difficulty in calming the thoughts swirling around in your mind at night. This technique intrigued me enough to include it as one of the digital SHJO.clips for my community orchestra musicians sent out as a remote learning opportunity:

CLIP #22C: View and try the techniques in this YouTube “How to Trick Your Brain into Falling Asleep” by Jim Donovan (TEDtalk) using a simple 2 to 3-minute rhythm tapping and breathing “cool-down.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5dE25ANU0k

Now, although anticipated, I am not necessarily looking forward to website comments or emailed responses from mattress and sleep accessory manufacturers, sending me their advertisements, recommendations, and industry reviews. Regardless, one thing is true: “What you sleep on has a major effect on achieving a quality rest!” I can confirm this fact “living it” with a recent replacement upgrade to our master bedroom. If you are in this situation, you need to take ample time to explore all of your options in any new purchase of beds, adjustable or nonadjustable bases, mattresses, bedding, and pillows. Essential in education; here, too: you need to personalize and customize everything to meet your needs!

Just to stave off a few of these companies, here are a few websites to visit if you are in the market to buy a new bed, mattress, pillow, or other bedding:

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The final word? If you prefer a few “more heady” academic studies and statistics on retirement + sleep, look up “Sleep Before and After Retirement” from the National Institute of Health, the “Reduction in Sleep Disturbances at Retirement” dissertation from Cambridge University Press, or review the case studies discussed by Health.Talk.org in “Sleep Problems Later in Life.”

Have a good night!

PKF

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order)

From Pixabay.com

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

 

One Happy But Solitary Retiree

 

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The corona-virus crisis has created a new stay-at-home environment for all of us. With the exception of healthcare appointments, grocery pick-ups, and mail deliveries (as well as a few other essential services), we have been banished to indoors for the most part, allowing only an occasional excursion to go get take-out or walk the dogs.

And, many of us feel a bit claustrophobic and worried about the future!

Do not underestimate the cognitive and emotional load that this pandemic brings, or the impact it will have on your productivity, at least in the short term. Difficulty concentrating, low motivation and a state of distraction are to be expected. Adaptation will take time. Go easy on yourself. As we settle into this new rhythm of remote work and isolation, we need to be realistic in the goals we set, both for ourselves and others in our charge.

— Desiree Dickerson at https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00933-5

The purpose of this blog is to reflect on the measures we can bolster our sense of well being, stimulate new directions of personal growth, and endure the unpredictable “ups and downs” of this period of mandatory confinement.

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Self-Care and COVID-19

According to mental health providers and experts in wellness such as Geisinger Health, it is important to your overall health to make time for personal self-care.

From watching the news every hour to scrolling social media a little too much, it’s easy to get lost in the noise of what’s going on around us.

And you’re not alone in this.

If you’ve found yourself in an extended state of self-quarantine, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your mental health, in addition to your physical health.

— Geisinger Health at https://www.geisinger.org/health-and-wellness/wellness-articles/2020/03/18/17/56/self-care-during-quarantine

Geisinger recommends these practices of self-care during a quarantine:

  1. Make time to unwind.
  2. Exercise to promote good health.
  3. Be mindful to support your immune system.
  4. Take breaks from the news.
  5. Remind yourself why you are in isolation.

Here are a few more websites that might help if you are feeling depressed, confused, or just not coping well with all the “corona chaos…” (like us all):

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What Are You Waiting For? Just Make Music!

If truth be told, as a writer and a musician, I personally don’t mind having all of this extra time to focus on creative self-expression.

Think about it…

  • What have you always wanted to explore… play… sing… compose… record… conduct… create?
  • When will you finish your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” prepare the parts, and eventually have it taught, performed, and/or recorded?
  • When are you going to publish your next song, article, book, warm-ups, instrumental method, essays on pedagogy, musical, drumline feature or halftime show… or write your personal memoirs?

Well, what’s stopping you from devoting yourself to it RIGHT NOW?

As retired music teachers, we have an advantage… avoiding most of the stress that our still-employed colleagues are experiencing, suddenly having to “catch-up” with the technology, search for online music learning tools and lessons for their classes, and facing even more mostly unanswered challenges:

  • How can I care for my music students and the school program from home?
  • What essential learning can/should I offer during the school/activity closures?
  • How can I rehearse my music ensembles?
  • How can we provide meaningful feedback? Should we assess their work?
  • How do I motivate my students to continue their practice or music enrichment?
  • How will I find the mental, emotional, and physical stamina to serve my students during this lock-down without becoming overwhelmed?

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Costs and Risks Associated with All of This “Social Distancing”

Yes, we have ways to stay in touch electronically via text, email, videoconferencing, and social media, but it is not the same. In fact, many studies indicate that the more time we spend on social media, the less happy, less empathetic, and more envious we are.

The very act of meeting face-to-face, making eye-contact, and physically touching nourishes us but also exposes us to the coronavirus. We all know of the infant mortality research that shows babies deprived of physical touch experience development limitations. It is no different for adults. The Atlantic quotes Tiffany Field, the founder of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, in describing the power of physical touch:

“…any pressure or movement on the skin helps increase the activity of the Vagus nerve, which connects to every major organ in the human body. Touch from another human slows down the heart. It goes to the GI tract and helps digestion. It helps our emotional expressions—our facial expressions and our vocal expressions. It enhances serotonin, the natural antidepressant in our system. That vagal activity can also lower a body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol; cortisol is known to harm the ‘natural killer cells’ that can fight viral, bacterial, and cancer cells.”

Field concludes that as people are now especially stressed over the consequence of the virus, they have even greater need of these valuable effects of touch, now that they are afraid to hug or shake hands as usual.

— Robert Hall at https://ifstudies.org/blog/avoiding-a-relationship-pandemic

Indeed, what I do miss most is the human interaction… the ability to share two-way verbal and musical communication in an ensemble. I long for sharing music with the players in my community orchestra – the South Hills Junior Orchestra – who before the outbreak, rehearsed every Saturday for two hours at my former employment placement, the Upper St. Clair High School. I have to settle for sending them more of my “how-to” music articles (Fox’s Firesides) and basically low-tech “distance learning opportunities” discussed in my last blog here.

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Go-To-Meeting, Google Hangouts/Meeting, or Zoom.com

Zoom is not a great vehicle for a “free and easy” exchange of ideas or being able to “monitor and adjust” the learning of a group of students. We use it, and other choices like Go-To-Meeting and Google Hangouts, because we have to use them. It’s better than nothing. It’s important to at least “check in” with the members of your community, church, or school band, orchestra, or choral ensemble, and give them a chance to talk to one another, if only by allowing the use of the chat feature or unmuting all of their mikes at once. (But, get ready for a loud cacophony of sound!)

Zoom is offering a package that is free as long as you stay under 40 minutes for your virtual meetings of more than two people. The sound (delayed and designed for voice not music) is not great,  and you will need to do a quick study of how to adjust the technology to fit your needs. Several websites offer some advice on adaptations for music educators:

If you are thinking about holding online private music lessons, take a look at my string colleague Susanna Sonnenberg’s article. 

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Don’t Become a “Couch Potato!” Get Active and Stay Active!

What we don’t want to do during this emergency is to spend most of our time watching television. Besides being totally unhealthy, sitting in your easy chair like a lump and watching hours upon hours of generally, in my opinion, totally uninspiring programming, will drain the gray matter from your brain. I don’t know if I could stand watching another PBS broadcast rerun, National Geographic episode, or “Nature” program.

The bottom line: being solitary is not being alone. And even if you are left alone at a given moment, you should not be bored!

“Boredom isn’t good or bad,” said John Eastwood, who runs the Boredom Lab at York University in Canada and is co-author of Out of My Skull, a forthcoming book on boredom. “It’s what we do with that signal.”

That’s a confusing moment, especially amid the pandemic, with news outlets and social media publishing endless lists of things to do with all the newfound time, from the juiciest TV to downloading hours of podcasts — a digital bounty that Newton, thankfully, didn’t encounter.

“When you don’t have a lot going on, you might say, ‘Wow, I’m going to binge watch Netflix. This is perfect,’ ” Eastwood said. “That will get rid of the feeling in the short term. But treating yourself like an empty vessel to fill with a compelling experience makes you more ripe for boredom down the road.”

Why?

“Because what you’ve done,” Eastwood said, “is you’ve failed to become the author of your own life.”

— Michael S. Rosenwald at https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/these-are-boom-times-for-boredom-and-the-researchers-who-study-it/2020/03/27/0e62983a-706f-11ea-b148-e4ce3fbd85b5_story.html

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A Top-Ten List for Retired Music Teachers

So, here are my ten things-to-do when stranded at home during any period of forced inactivity or voluntary self-quarantine:

  1. Use Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, etc. to “call” several loved ones, friends, coworkers, or neighbors in your life, and “check in” with them to see how they’re doing. They would appreciate hearing from you!
  2. Feeling lonely or a little down yourself? Reach out to someone. Studies show that when we connect with someone, we release the hormone oxytocin, a chemical that can actually help repair your heart. Simply talking about our problems and sharing our emotions (positive and negative) with someone you trust can be profoundly healing—reducing stress, strengthening our immune system, and reducing physical and emotional distress.
  3. Practice. No matter your choice of instrumental or vocal self-direction, or exposure to the self-exploration of other art forms like painting, drawing, sculpture, sewing, woodworking, photography, or writing, now is the perfect time to develop greater levels of personal artistry, proficiency, and self-confidence… even to establish new goals/pursuits. I have found that mornings work best for me with anything that requires creativity. (Brainstorming for this blog occurred at 8:20 AM one morning, after sleeping in a little, watching the news, and having my breakfast and coffee).
  4. Go outdoors and exercise. Get your body moving… a little every day! If you are lucky to have a furry pet or two, venture into the neighborhood with them… of course, maintaining “safe social distancing” (even the dogs have to stay 6 feet apart from the two-legged mammals) and adhere to the essential rules of pet walking etiquette and citizenship (mentioned here).
  5. Return to those “old fashioned” leisure activities: listen to your favorite music or read a book. Revisit something from that Hornblower (C. S. Forester) or Tom Clancy series (my frequent “gems”). When I needed a break in college (100+ years ago?), I took the afternoon off, ordered myself a medium pizza (yes – I ate it all!), and then walked to the Oakland branch of Carnegie Library to sit in those wonderfully comfortable high-back leather chairs and pull out one of my “old friends” to read.
  6. In other sections of this blog site (here and here), I have already discussed avenues for developing the right side of the brain, mainly our innate creativity and curiosity quotient. Visit these notable sites: https://nationalcreativitynetwork.org/, https://curiosity.com/, Sir Ken Robinson, Odyssey’s 9 Useful and Inspiring Websites for Creative People, Dr. Curtis Bunk’s old “Best of Bunk” site, and the “pinkcasts” and eBooks of Daniel Pink.
  7. Puzzle doing or making can be a relaxing pastime. Some people like to create them (I drew mazes when I was in grade school), while others try to solve them. My wife can sit for hours completing crossword puzzles or assembling the pieces of a virtual jigsaw puzzle on her iPad. If you like making word games, look at websites like http://puzzlemaker.discoveryeducation.com/ or https://www.puzzle-maker.com. 
  8. If you are in a “tidy mood,” now would be a great time to reorganize, de-clutter, or sort through your closets, cupboards, or drawers. Put aside unused or unneeded clothing for Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Have you indexed your record/CD/DVD collection? One year I alphabetized (by author) and reordered the entire collection of sea books on the shelves in my library (100’s of fiction and nonfiction editions). Do librarians or data base managers get bored easily?
  9. If you are lucky enough to be a pensioner and can rely on a somewhat safe monthly income coming in, you might be surprised that this might be a good opportunity to save money. My wife and I have suddenly stopped going out to our favorite restaurants, which was our usual practice 3-5 times a week. Cooking and eating at home, although raising our grocery budget, has brought down our overall food expenses. Put away a little green every month while eating those healthy greens! And, if you can tolerate the stock market doing it’s “roller coaster ride,” consider planning a few new long-term investments if/when you decide the prices are low or discounted enough during the economic crisis.
  10. Finally, schedule a virtual field trip. During our careers and now retirement, my wife and I were never much into traveling around the country or the world. Professional responsibilities (string camp, music workshops, youth orchestra tours, and the extended marching band season) usually precluded taking cruises or long vacations. There are a lot of places on the planet to which we have not journeyed. One thing a lot of people have discovered during these shelter-in-place restrictions is the amazing number of FREE online resources that transport us to museums, galleries, architecture “wonders of the world,” online films of Met operas and Broadway musicals, etc. Plan to take a handful of these wonderful “Internet trips.” (Special thanks for the advance “legwork” of many of these destinations done by Andrea Romano at https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/museums-with-virtual-tours).

virtual tours

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More websites with suggestions about conquering boredom or avoiding becoming too sedentary during the COVID-19 “stay-at-home” orders:

This article and researching the links above took 4-5 hours, and were the things I did to pass the time TODAY! So, now it’s your turn.

The world is your oyster. Get out there and crack it!

Best wishes for your continued good health, safety, happiness, and finding a little music and meaning in every day!

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order)

Shutterstock_1660879444

From Pixabay.com

  • concerns-concerned-about-the-anxiety-4944455 by Larsgustav
  • yoga-exercise-fitness-woman-health-3053488 by lograstudio
  • score-music-piano-guitar-melody-4947840 by sweetlouise
  • covid-19-coronavirus-distance-4940638 by geralt
  • meeting-relationship-business-1019875 by Peggy_Marco
  • wood-couch-potatoes-funny-potatoes-3119970 by Alexas_Fotos
  • sunset-island-mar-dusk-brain-485016 by 95C
  • pieces-of-the-puzzle-mix-hands-592798 by Hans
  • wooden-train-toys-train-first-class by Couleur

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© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Stressed Out?

More Remedies for Reducing Teacher Stress & Burnout

stress-1837384_1920_johnhainWelcome back to our series on music teacher (and other professionals) self-care.

First, as presented in this insightful article by Chris Mumford, we confirm the notion that “stress is inevitable,” but “how you respond to it can spell the difference between a long, rewarding career or one cut short by burn-out.” Based on new research, he offers some surprising (and even counter-intuitive) techniques to better deal with it, including these “9 Stress Management Strategies Every Teacher Needs to Know.”

  1. Breathe (properly)… When you’re experiencing intense levels of stress, breathe in deeply (put your hands on your stomach and feel it expand out), for four seconds, then exhale evenly for four seconds. Keep this up for two-three minutes for maximum effect. 
  2. Embrace the stress… Viewing your stress in constructive ways [reframing] will actually cause your body to respond to it differently and prevent long-lasting physical damage.
  3. Be imperfect… Teachers are often prone to perfectionism and its ill effects: they often feel that they aren’t doing enough, or that their mistakes are magnified because of the importance of their job. If you find yourself feeling this way, fight back.
  4. stress-2379631_1920_DavidqrPractice emotional first aid… Do you beat yourself up when you experience failure or make a mistake? [Find] ways to break the negative patterns of thought.
  5. Be grateful… We have to stop, quiet our minds, and create “stop signs”—little reminders of things that we should be grateful for every day.
  6. Limit “grass is greener” thinking… You will have challenges anywhere you go.
  7. Work smarter, not harder… Find ways to delegate some of your work, or invest in tools or technologies that will make your life easier. 
  8. Ask for help… doesn’t make you weaker, it makes you better at your job.
  9. Make a connection… When you connect with another person, your body produces oxytocin, which is a chemical that helps repair the heart. If you help your neighbors, family, etc., you’re much less likely to experience the negative effects of stress. 

 

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Just Breathe… According to the Navy SEALS!

The calming, deep-breathing practice (#1 above) can be learned by reviewing a host of resources, including the book Maximizing Your Human Potential and Develop the Spirit by former Navy SEAL Mark Divine, as well as these websites:

Examples of two different NAVY SEALS breathing exercises advise us on how to reach a more relaxed state:

TACTICAL BREATHING (to alleviate “fight or flight” tension)

Place your right hand on your belly, pushing out with a big exhale. Then breathe in through your nostrils, slowly drawing the breath upward from your belly to your upper chest.

Pause and exhale, starting from your chest and moving downward to the air in your belly. Imagine your belly button touching your spine.

Once you’re comfortable with a full, deep breath, repeat it, this time making the exhale navy SEALStwice as long as the length of the inhale. For example, inhale to the count of four, pause briefly, and exhale to the count of eight. Repeat three times.

Stephanie Vozza

BOXED BREATHING (to help ground you, sharpen concentration, and become more alert and calm)

Expel all of the air from your lungs
Keep them empty for four seconds
Inhale through your nose for four seconds
Hold for a four count (don’t clamp down or create pressure; be easy)
Exhale for a four count
Repeat for 10-20 minutes

Reuben Brody

 

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Mind Over Matter

Our own minds may be our own worst enemies. Have you read the insightful article “Sustaining the Flame – Re-Igniting the Joy in Teaching Music” by Karen Salvador in the December 2019 issue of Music Educators Journal? She offers research-supported strategies for nurturing courage, peace, and resilience as well as suggested habits of thinking and action. Samples of “cognitive distortions,” a term of which I had never heard previously defining “irrational beliefs,” is addressed by “reframing” our inner voice during specific incidents of emotional distress.

MEJ December 2019Her common examples of cognitive distortions include the following. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Disqualifying (discounting) the positive events
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Filtering (focusing entirely on the negative elements of a situation)
  • Double standard (placing unreasonable/unattainable expectations for ourselves)
  • Personalizing (or “taking something personally”)
  • Polarized (placing people or situations in unrealistic “either or” categories)

Additional recommendations by Nicole Stachelski for combating stress and burnout are listed in the article:

  1. Laugh with your students
  2. Eat your lunch (take a break or enjoy social time)
  3. Schedule regular physical activity
  4. Drink more water (and visit the bathroom as needed!)
  5. Prioritize your work and set boundaries
  6. Keep a consistent bedtime
  7. Delegate – don’t be afraid to ask for help
  8. Focus on what’s really important

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More Ideas — Just Pick One!

Take a gander at this excellent Scholastic.com teacher blog-post by Nancy Jang summarizing “15 Ways to Reduce Teacher Stress.” Can you try at least one new strategy this week that resonates with you and your life?

  1. Close the door during prep time.
  2. Make a SHORT and DOABLE “Must Do” and “May Do” lists.
  3. Delegate items to parent volunteers.
  4. Lay out your outfit and prepare your healthy lunch the night before.
  5. Get a full eight hours of sleep.
  6. Don’t correct every piece of paper.
  7. Work out!
  8. Get up early!
  9. Stay away from negativity.
  10. Don’t take things home.
  11. Plan time every week/day to enjoy something that is not remotely related to teaching.*
  12. meditate-1851165_1920_PexelsLearn something new.
  13. Plan a trip.
  14. Don’t over-commit.
  15. Take ten minutes a day and mediate.

*Probably one of my own worst habits was not modeling number 11 above. No matter how busy you are with your daily in-school teaching and extra-curricular music/coaching activities, the full recommendations are important to consider:

Spend time with your family and friends, travel, work on your garden, read for pleasure, take a hike. Learn how to turn off being a teacher. Balancing your time to just be YOU (not the teacher you) allows you to be renewed and have more mental energy for your students.

Nancy Jang

A few more ideas are offered by Jennifer Gunn in her blog-post from Concordia University “How Educators Can (Really, Honestly) Unplug – And How Stress Affects Us.” As always, it is suggested that you read the entire article at the link provided.

  • Practice mindfulness
  • Get a change in scenery
  • Focus on some serious self-care
  • Make plans with friends
  • LOL
  • Unplug, literally
  • Schedule your work time and your fun time

 

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Balance

Work Life Balance ZelinskiIn almost every health and wellness article, we hear the emphasis of prioritizing and seeking a more equitable use of personal time, achieving what Ernie Zelinski, author of the best-selling book How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, refers to as “work/life balance.” Future blogs on samples of “super stress reducers” in “setting boundaries,” time management, and innovative organizational tools will be forthcoming.

Several books are also recommended readings for addressing the issues of teacher health and wellness. We have already reviewed several of these. More to come.

 

Our next journey to an in-depth look at music educator self-care will explore more fully TEACHER BURNOUT. To stay up-to-date on past and future articles, publications, and workshop presentations on this topic, be sure to revisit the “Care” section of this blog-site.

 

Resources

 

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

  • “laptop-woman-education-study-young” by Jan Vašek
  • “stress” by johnhain
  • “stress-despair-burden” by Davidqr
  • “boat-teamwork-training-exercise” by skeeze
  • “mental-health-wellness-psychology” by Wokandapix
  • “stress-relief-help-sign-relax” by Pete Linforth
  • “meditate-meditation-peaceful” by Pexels
  • “handstand-beach-sea-ocean-sand” by MatanVizel
  • “wooden-train-toys-train-first-class” by Couleur

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© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Do You Always Feel Exhausted?

Our second in a series on publications and other resources for self-care, health, wellness, and remediation of stress and burnout of music educators addresses one of the core issues for all of us — chronic fatigue.

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The medical definition is comprehensive:

Fatigue is a lingering tiredness that is constant and limiting. With fatigue, you have unexplained, persistent, and relapsing exhaustion. It’s similar to how you feel when you have the flu or have missed a lot of sleep. If you have chronic fatigue, or systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID), you may wake in the morning feeling as though you’ve not slept. Or you may be unable to function at work or be productive at home. You may be too exhausted even to manage your daily affairs. — WebMD

In the NAfME community forum Amplify, another colleague turned me on to the book Exhausted — Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It by Paul Murphy (2017). Most of this blog will focus on a review of this work. I also recommend you visit his very informative website of blog-posts: Teacher Habits.

If you’re like most teachers, being tired at the end of the day is a way of life. We’ve become so accustomed to it that it’s hard to imagine how things could be any different. We get through out mornings with coffee, our afternoons with Diet Coke, and the ends of our school days with the iron strength of our will. We leave the building exhausted, having so much at work that there’s little left over for our families or even ourselves.Paul Murphy

So, what is the scope of the problem? What can we do about it?

 

What Is a Teacher?

Are you a teacher? If so, are you also a classroom work foreman, logistics manager, guide, drill sergeant, disciplinarian, cheerleader, data entry clerk, cultural advocate, or analyst?  Maybe you are all of these things and more.  Maybe, we need to look at educators in a new context of what teaching really is in most schools, and whether it should be given cultural, economic and technological change.

Merriam-Webster’s says “teach” is a verb, with several simple definitions that repeat themselves but ideologically are these five things:

  • to cause to know something
  • to guide the studies of
  • to make known and accepted
  • to impart the knowledge of
  • to conduct instruction regularly.

LeiLani Cauthen

Personally, I have always glorified the mission and “calling” of becoming an educator.

Teachers model the “habits” of

  • ornament-1899065_1920_xsonicchaosFocus
  • Self-discipline
  • Self-motivation
  • Self-assessment and self-improvement
  • Work ethic
  • Highest standards of behavior, appearance, and ethics

We serve as

  • Fiduciaries, looking out for the welfare of students
  • Model exemplars, both on and off school time
  • Self-starters, intrinsically motivated and goal-oriented
  • Professionals 24/7 – always “on the job”

This bar is further raised by the public’s and our very own highest expectations of the “nine characteristics of a great teacher” by Maria Orlando in Faculty Focus:

  1. A great teacher respects students.
  2. A great teacher creates a sense of community and belonging in the classroom.
  3. A great teacher is warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring.
  4. A great teacher sets high expectations for all students.
  5. A great teacher has his own love of learning.
  6. A great teacher is a skilled leader.
  7. A great teacher can “shift-gears…”
  8. A great teacher collaborates with colleagues on an ongoing basis.
  9. A great teacher maintains professionalism in all areas…

I wouldn’t have it any other way! But these standards must take a toll on our health, wellness, and work/life balance!

 

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Stress and Data on Teacher Exhaustion

Do you find yourself tired most of the time? Quoted in Exhausted by Paul Murphy, does this sound like YOU?

  • “I’m exhausted, and every weekend, I spend at least one day in my pajamas.”
  • “I feel like work never ends.”
  • “I love my students, and I have a really good class this year, but I’m done and ready for a break.”
  • “I was so tired that I ended up missing out on family’s holiday dinner.”

Why is this so prevalent? According to Paul Murphy, “the answer, in a word, is STRESS! Teachers are incredibly stressed-out people, especially when they are at work.”

He shares some scary statistics:

Because our culture tendency to demand more of educators, that stress is on the rise. In 1985, 36% of teachers reported feeling great stress at least several days a week. Today, that number is 51%. Only doctors report higher levels of stress on the job.

The costs are high. A recent study of the U.S. Department of Education found a 10% of new teachers don’t return for second year. Nearly 185 new teachers are gone within five years. Many young people, perhaps persuaded by on his federal and Teacher should buy what they see on social media, won’t even entertain the thought of teaching. Between 2009 and 2014, enrollments in teacher preparation programs fell about 35% in the U.S., reducing the supply of available teachers by nearly a quarter-million. — Paul Murphy

These figures are supported by other sources as well. The American Federation of Teachers reported here that “61% of educators say their work is always or often stressful,” and, worse yet, “50% say they don’t have the same enthusiasm as when they started teaching.”

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In addition, according to James Anthony in “7 Conclusions from the World’s Largest Teacher Burnout Survey” posted here, 75% of teachers complained of health problems such as shortness of breath, dizziness, heart palpitations or chest pain, or regular headaches or stomach aches — symptoms often associated with a failure to deal with stress. His conclusion? “This is a worrying sign that pressure and workload of many teaching jobs is having a very real physical impact on many teachers.”

 

From the Back Cover of the Book

You should definitely grab a copy of Exhausted. Paul Murphy promises you will learn:

  • Exhausted by Paul MurphyWhy even good days with your students leave you drained.
  • What tired teachers have in common with doctors, major league baseball managers, and interview committees.
  • How Jeb Bush’s failure in the 2016 presidential primaries is related to your own fatigue.
  • What long distance runners, one of history’s greatest weightlifters, and a Stanford psychologist can teach you about the powerful influence of your mind.

He says you will find solutions to these problems and understand:

  • What teachers can learn from baristas and airline agents.
  • What supermarket layouts can teach us about the dangers of decision making.
  • Why AC/DC doesn’t belong in your classroom.
  • What an insurance agent’s plane crash can teach us about belief.

Who is this Paul Murphy guy? His own bio, the last section of the book, is unique:

Paul Murphy is a third-grade teacher in Michigan. This fall, he started his 20th year in the classroom. His writing focuses on improving the lives of teachers, both inside the classroom and out. He enjoys reading, writing, travel, exercise, craft beer, and Cheetos. His feet are perpetually cold, he bites his nails, and he regularly (and almost instinctively at this point) changes the lyrics to songs to make them inappropriate, much to the chagrin of his wife and daughter.

cat-3623703_1920_ Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto

 

The Science of Exhaustion

The best way to review the innards of a publication and get to the nitty-gritty may be to frame a few guiding questions, to follow an outline summary on which to reflect while reading many of the early chapters:

  1. How many decisions do you make before you ever teach a single class every morning? What effect do they have on you?
  2. What is the link of willpower (ego depletion* and delayed gratification) to exhaustion?
  3. What do doctors say about the constant exercise of self-control and blood glucose levels, and why is the time of the day critical?
  4. What is “morning morality” and what does it have to do with planning your day as a teacher?

*Psychologist Roy Baumeister coined the term “ego depletion” after he found that humans have a limited supply of willpower.  He compares willpower to a muscle, which can strengthen but also wear out with use. Ego depletion has a general effect, meaning that using self-control in one area of your life erodes your ability to self-regulate in other parts of your life. Baumeister found that exerting self-control results in a significant drop in blood-sugar levels.  Low blood sugar leads to physical fatigue, which is why you’re so tired, even though the heaviest thing you lifted was a textbook. Paul Murphy

A few of my observations. Willpower is actually “won’t-do-power,” and represents the chronic stress teachers and other professionals place on themselves everyday: saying “NO” to such things as sleeping-in an extra 10-15 minutes, staying on your diet by passing by that Dunkin Donuts shop on the way to school, forgoing the idle chit-chat from the teacher’s room on the way to the photocopier, not allowing yourself to be distracted by a TV program instead of doing your own homework, delaying an update of your social media sites or reading personal email instead of finishing your lesson plans, grades, or the forms the principal requested for completion by the end of the week.

In other words, facing up to all of those grown-up expectations that grown-ups must do! There’s no room for youthful indulgences or “goof-off time” as an adult!

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Paul Murphy says, “Whatever you call it… resisting temptation, will power, self-control, self-discipline, grit, perseverance, self-regulation, or determination, science has proven that it exhausts us.”

Teachers endlessly self regulate. We hold back sarcastic rejoinders, walk away from lazy students when we what we really want to do is lecture them, keep her honest thoughts about the principles latest he’ll conceive ideas to ourselves, respond professionally to disrespectful emails from parents, work with students when we want to do anything but, plan the next day one would rather check Facebook, and bite our tongues when we’d like to drop F-bombs. We force ourselves to work when we feel like taking a break. We redirect students when we’d rather just let the behaviors go and avoid the resultant excuses and conflicts. We keep teaching even though we really, really have to pee. Teachers use a lot of willpower. — Paul Murphy

Couldn’t say it better myself!

Another personal observation also seems to be supported by Paul Murphy. I have found that “earlier is better” for doing creative tasks, solving problems, or completing highly detailed work. Most mornings (in retirement), I reserve my first two hours for writing. Others say that the AM is best for practicing or composing, when you feel the freshest! The closer to having a meal or having slept all night (which revitalizes our supplies of self-regulation and blood sugar), the better for tackling something hard… which for a teacher might mean facing the challenge of a “difficult parent” phone call, student discipline report, or conference with an “unhappy” administrator.

 

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Strategies for Releasing/Postponing Tension

Paul Murphy recommends that, instead of using up your willpower reserves to fight off the urge to snap at someone or suppressing your anger, “simply notice something else that requires less willpower” or distract yourself. Postponing can also be effective: Have your tantrum “not now, but later.” (Schedule your nervous breakdown for another day?) Often, once some time has passed, you may find your frustration has abated.

Another technique for alleviating stress is to actually do a deliberate exercise to release your emotions and desires… in a more controlled and constructive way.

I sometimes receive an email from a parent or supervisor that angers me. My instinct is to return fire. That’s a bad instinct, but it doesn’t mean I have to hold in those feelings. It also doesn’t mean I should vent to other teachers or my wife. They’ve got their own problems, and nobody really wants to hear mine. What I do instead is write my honest, no-holds-barred rebuttal. I let it all out, hammering the keyboard and plastering my screen with vitriol. I read it and re-read until it effectively conveys the righteous indignation I so strongly feel.

Then I don’t send it!

It released my anger, and it’s there for me to revisit. On those few occasions when I have gone back to reread these unsent missives, my anger is gone. I wonder why I was so outraged at the time. They’re actually embarrassing to read. If you do this a few times, you begin to realize that your initial feelings are often an overreaction (and also the result of depleted willpower and low blood sugar) and it becomes easier to avoid indulging them.Paul Murphy

 

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Intense Emotions = Model Teacher?

Who is a better teacher? An energetic, passionate, and always “fired-up” one, or a professional who exerts a calm, introspective, and less intense attitude? Some studies do show that an enthusiastic, engaging teacher who is passionate about his subject is more effective than a “dull” or less dynamic teacher who seems to dislike his job, but what of the costs? Again, in Murphy’s book, we have more research to the rescue: “…Science has proven that intense emotions tire us out!”

I’ll explain why teachers should aim for a feeling of inner calm for large chunks of their day. I’ll argue that the expectation we have for ourselves and other teachers to be constantly enthusiastic is counterproductive in the short-term and ultimately damaging to the education system in the long-run. And I’ll explain how being calm will not only conserve your energy, but will make your classroom a better learning environment for your students.Paul Murphy

Another reason to buy his book!

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The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste!

Finally, our very own thoughts are amazingly powerful tools. Our brain can either help or make things worse! “If you believe a task is going to be difficult, it will be.” We all know that “positive talk” can alleviate the effects of stress, and can inspire greater levels of achievement. But, what about the relationship of negative thoughts to fatigue?

Almost every distance runner talks of hitting a wall. In 2012, Spanish researchers wanted to know what went through runners’ minds as they neared exhaustion, and they found exactly what you’d expect: the harder the runners work and the longer they run, the more negative their thoughts become. No surprise there.

runner-808932_1920+skeeze.jpgBut then a group of British and dutch researchers asked an interesting question. They wondered if everyone had it backwards. Did the discomfort of physical fatigue cause the runners to think negatively, like everyone assumed, or did the runners negative thoughts make them more physically tired and sore? It was a chicken and egg question.

The researchers found 24 healthy adults and had each complete a grueling ride on a stationary bike until they were exhausted. Then they were sent home for two weeks. During that time, half of the subjects were trained in positive self talk, a technique many sports psychologist coaches teach athletes to combat negative thinking that can lead to poor performance. The other 12 subjects were left alone. Then the researchers called them all back to hop on the bikes again.

On average, those who receive positive self talk training performed more than 17% better on their second ride than they had on their first. There was no improvement among members of the control group.Paul Murphy

He goes into great detail that the driving force behind our exhaustion may not even be the hours we work, the challenges we face in the classroom, or the lack of support we perceive from administration or parents. It may rest in our thoughts. And, he analyzes the negative effects of “worrying” and the concept of “mind over matter!”

 

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The Schedule That Doesn’t Help

Tiger Woods was known for so many “firsts” and breaking numerous golfing records in his early career. Many credited his success to his extreme focus, perseverance, and self-discipline. It was documented that he practiced golf 7-8 hours every day and worked out two or three hours more:

  • tiger-woods-79694_1920_ David Mark6:30 a.m. an hour of cardio
  • 7:30 a.m. one hour of lower-body weight training
  • 8:30 a.m. high protein/low-fat breakfast
  • 9:00 a.m. two hours on the driving range
  • 11:00 a.m. practicing putting
  • 11:30 a.m. playing nine holes
  • 2:00 p.m. healthy lunch
  • 2:30 p.m. two to four more hours on the golf course
  • 6:00 p.m. back in the gym working on upper-body
  • 7:00 p.m. dinner and relaxation

Then we learn about his personal “crash of 2009” when everything seemed to unravel:

  • Extra-marital affairs
  • Personal calls to escort services
  • Wife, discovering his “extra-curricular” activities, assaulting him
  • DUI arrest
  • Divorce
  • Destruction of his reputation
  • Injuries
  • Poor golf play

Certainly, Tiger had some deep-seated psychological issues. But I can’t help wondering if his remarkable self-discipline left him depleted to the point that he was unable to fight off his most distracted urges at the close of his ego-depleting days. Yes, he only had to focus for five hours during a round of golf, but Tiger Woods used will power from the time he woke up to the time he started texting port stars. His is a cautionary tale for anyone who spends large parts of the day exercising self-control. As teachers, there are lessons to be learned. Paul Murphy

Your own strict daily regiment may also contribute to your feelings of “total exhaustion.” Music teachers are usually their own worst enemies. We take on responsibilities for the hurry-2119711_1920_TeroVesalainensake of the music program, add a new ensemble, schedule after-school time to teach a solo or instrumental part, and plan more weekend and evening “learning activities” or events beyond the scope of most other academic subject teachers. It was not unusual for me to be at school by 6:45 a.m., eat lunch in my car on the way to my second or third assignment as an itinerant, stop for a quick “date” and dinner out with my wife, return to school for band, orchestra, or musical practices, and not get home until 9 or or 10 p.m. As a retiree, I now ask, “What ever happened to all of this stamina and endurance?” Pushing wheel chairs only four hours a day three times a week at a local hospital, I sometimes find myself wanting to take a “power nap” when I get home! Never you fear: the healthy “calendar of a retired music teacher” is as busy (and hectic) as full-time employment… We always say, “I wonder how I ever had the time to do all of these things and work at the same time!”

However, to put it in perspective, here is a copy of my former professional schedule that I was (mostly self-) assigned to teach grades 5-12 strings in three buildings, manage the fall play and spring musical, assist the marching band, work with the superintendent on school district public relations projects, prepare for PMEA and NAfME music festivals, and serve as my district’s Performing Arts Curriculum Leader.

Schedule 2013

As an administrator, the number of “contact hours” over the maximum was irrelevant; it was never an option to submit a grievance to the teacher’s union. Actually, I accepted the responsibility of planning what I thought was necessary for the success of my program, my students, and my music staff… no matter what the cost! Sound familiar?

 

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Other Remedies to Lower Tension and Exhaustion

This is just “the tip of the iceberg” for an analysis of the book Exhausted. Part two which we have not covered here is entitled “What To Do About It.”

More recommendations for better time management, remediation of teacher burnout, development of a self-care plan, and techniques for stress reduction will be addressed in future blogs. At this point, from three excellent sources, these tips may steer you towards improved rest, personal life/work balance, and general health/wellness. Stay tuned for more at https://paulfox.blog/care/.

Numbers 1-6: Paul Murphy: Exhausted: Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It http://teacherhabits.com/about/

Numbers 7-15: Raphailia Michael: “What Is Self-Care, and What It Isn’t” at PsychCentral https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-self-care-is-and-what-it-isnt-2/

Numbers 16-22: Lesley Moffat: I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me https://squ.re/2TaXoAr and (also see this blogpost)

  1. Work less/fewer hours
  2. Time before school is worth more than twice as much as time after school
  3. Use class time to check student work
  4. Leverage technology
  5. Don’t grade everything
  6. Stop assigning things
  7. Create a “NO” (I will not do) list
  8. Promote a nutritious, healthy diet
  9. Get enough sleep
  10. Follow-up with medical care as needed
  11. Use relaxation exercises and/or practice meditation
  12. Spend enough time with loved ones
  13. Do at least one relaxing activity every day, whether it’s spending 30 minutes unwinding, listening to music, or taking a walk
  14. Do at least one pleasurable activity every day, from going to the cinema, cooking, or meeting friends
  15. Make opportunities to laugh
  16. Take a break from social media
  17. Seek out ways to compliment others
  18. Allow someone to go ahead of you in line at the store
  19. Set your alarm for nine minutes earlier and use those nine minutes to listen to an inspiring song
  20. Turn off notifications on your phone and/or avoid electronic devices for the first hour of your day
  21. Take deep breaths when you encounter spped bumps and stop signs/lights during your daily commute
  22. Stay hydrated

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

© 2019 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

Care of Music Teachers

Something New is a-Coming

You cry and you scream and you stomp your feet and you shout. You say, “You know what? I’m giving up, I don’t care.” And then you go to bed and you wake up and it’s a brand new day, and you pick yourself back up again.Nicole Scherzinger

Wellness seeks more than the absence of illness; it searches for new levels of excellence. Beyond any disease-free neutral point, wellness dedicates its efforts to our total well-being – in body, mind, and spirit. Greg Anderson

 

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What is that saying? “When you point at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you.” Or if you prefer the biblical reference (Jesus), “Don’t focus on the speck in your brother’s eye while ignoring the log in your own eye.”

Increasingly common, I find that our colleagues in music education do not model habits of good health and work/personal life balance. All fingers point at both my wife and I, as when we were at the pinnacle of our full-time careers (prior to retiring in 2013), teaching strings grades 3-12 in multiple buildings, preparing for concerts and festivals, designing curriculum, producing musicals, running marching bands, etc. often felt like a “runaway train ride” — a stressful 24/7 schedule with the two of us squeezing in time to meet for dinner in between our after-school rehearsals, and later “falling into bed” to snatch 5-6 hours of sleep, three to four days per week, ten months a year.

That said, I “see” little research, pre-service, in-service, post-service training, or even online dialogue about the wellness problems associated with our profession:

  • Overwhelming workload, long hours, and challenging classroom situations
  • Inconsistent hydration and consumption of a balanced diet
  • Irregular amounts of daily aerobic physical exercise
  • Insufficient quantities (length, depth, and frequency) of rest and sleep
  • Infrequent use of sick days or vacations as needed for restorative health
  • Misuse of the voice at work
  • Inadequate hearing conservation and protection from over-exposure to sound
  • Deficient scheduling of opportunities for mindfulness, meditation, and/or reflection
  • Deprivation of personal outlets for creative self-expression (not related to the job)
  • Lack of time to explore hobbies, interests, and socialization with family, friends, and loved ones

With the simplistic title of “Care,” blogs archived within the new section of this blog-site here will dive into these issues, remedies towards fostering a better “life balance,” and suggestions for the development of a self-care plan. Quoting from the timely article in the June 2019 issue of NAfME Music Educators Journal, “Health and Wellness for In-Service and Future Music Teachers” by Christa Kuebel, “Those in our profession need to increase awareness of the prevalence of stress and mental health concerns in music education.” We need to address methods for reducing job-related depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness, feelings of impotency, and “burnout,” which can lead to negative student outcomes, lowered professional standards, absenteeism, illness, and teacher attrition.

 

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Definitions of Wellness

A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. — The World Health Organization

A conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential. — The National Wellness Institute

According to the Student Health and Counseling Services of the University of California, Davis Campus, “wellness” is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness; it is a dynamic process of change and growth.”

8 dimensions of wellness

Further elaboration of their eight dimensions of wellness is provided here:

  • Occupational
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Environmental
  • Financial
  • Physical
  • Social
  • Intellectual

They conclude: “Each dimension of wellness is interrelated with another. Each dimension is equally vital in the pursuit of optimum health. One can reach an optimal level of wellness by understanding how to maintain and optimize each of the dimensions of wellness.”

 

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It’s Time to Bring on the “Experts”

Even though I would have told you “I am loving every moment of it” during my 35+-year career in music education, I would be the last person anyone should turn to for helpful advice on self-care. I cannot say I ever “practiced what I preached” lectured to my music students on taking care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. So, for this forum, we will bring in leading authorities and even a few “frontier blazers” who have agreed to share new ideas in alleviating “the problem,” so well defined in the MEJ article by Christa Kuebel:

Music education has been shown to be a field in which stress and burnout are common. We must address this difficult realization in order to make changes for the health and success of our current and future teachers. Our concert seasons will continue to come and go, and our responsibilities will not decrease in number, but taking time to consider how to take care of ourselves may allow us to fulfill our responsibilities in safe and effective ways throughout our entire careers.

“Health and Wellness for In-Service and Future Music Teachers” by Christa Kuebel

 

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Coming Soon…

Already, we have found a wealth of people who have perspectives and “prescriptions” that may help. We are anticipating future submissions from (or reviews of) the following self-care advisors:

  • Aforementioned MEJ article, teacher self-care assessment, and excellent bibliography by Christa Kuebel
  • Contributions by Lesley Moffat including her book I Love My Job, But It’s Killing Me and details about her Band Directors Boot Camp, “Music Teacher Mojo Meter,” and her website “Building Better Band Programs Without Burning Out”
  • Recommended by NAfME member Jennifer Dennett, the book Exhausted – Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It by Paul Murphy, who also has an extensive website and other books on “teacher habits”
  • Future wellness research and writings by Theresa Ducassoux, who has been accepted into the Google Innovator Academy, a program for teachers to work on tackling challenges in education
  • Survey of “prioritizing teacher self-care” articles posted by Edutopia
  • Other online sources

 

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This is Where YOU Can Help!

If you find something interesting, please comment on it at this forum, or send an email to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

The Importance of Music Education

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

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

 

The Edge Episode 45

 

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

In short: music for music’s sake.

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

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

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

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Initial Questions and Responses

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

 

Statistics in Support of Music Education

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

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

Other skills:

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More attitudes:

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

 

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Learning Styles and “Intelligences”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ever Heard of the Four C’s?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Creativity is Number One!

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

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

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

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

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

 

Flexible Thinking, Adaptability, and Problem Solving

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

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

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

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

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

— Proverb quoted by Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly

 

Are You of the “Right Mind?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Herald Paladium, September 10, 2000

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

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

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

PKF

 

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com:

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Retirees: It’s Not YOUR Sandbox!

It's Not Your Sandbox!

It is time that this saying should be made into a bumper sticker, added to a t-shirt design, or automatically displayed on the home page (or screen-saver) of all retired music teachers’ smartphones, tablets, and computers.

I first mentioned this notion as “surrendering your urge to be an agent of change” in a previous blog, entitled “Retiree Concepts.”

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As observed in many unhappy incidents involving fellow retirees, this deserves a repeat mention here with much greater emphasis.

[Teachers] consistently seek ways to reform “the system,” much like efficiency experts. In other words, ‘break it if it needs fixed,’ or seek new practices or approaches to solve problems or improve the student learning. This means we seldom accept the status quo or “that’s the way it’s always have been done.”

I found that in my volunteer work, when I come up to a challenge like a policy that isn’t working, I look for better ways of doing it. Teachers always self-assess and seek changes for “the good of the order,” but these “systems” are not our classrooms. Educators were expected to “modify and adjust,” revise our lesson targets, rip down old bulletin boards and put up new with more exciting media, re-write curriculum, etc., always with the mission to “build a better mouse trap” for the more efficient delivery of instruction to all.

In retirement, this can be frustrating. You can’t tell somebody else how to run their operation. Some people do not want to hear criticism, nor do they care what your opinion is, nor do they want to change their traditions or fine-tuned (?) step-by-step procedures. You on the other hand want things to improve, e.g. better training, more consistent application of the rules, etc., and therefore you feel “unrequited” stress.

Throughout my whole “professional life,” I never looked the other way. I try to fix things. But that’s not everybody’s inclination, and the world is not going to come to end if someone doesn’t take your advice. As retirees, remove the unnecessary hassle. You have two choices. Resign from the activity, or step back from being its self-appointed critic, accept the situation, and let everyone go back to playing their own way in their sandbox. — Paul Fox in “Retiree Concepts”

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My own personal hands-on experience with this has to do with volunteering to push wheelchairs at a local hospital. Taking it very seriously, I was thoroughly trained on all aspects of the transport of patients, including the mandated safety rules for locking both wheels on the wheelchair, going down backwards on ramps and into elevators, and the avoidance of hazards like discharging someone to their car “over a curb” or other obstacles. We knew the hospital policies for contact precautions (isolation), carrying oxygen tanks, and moving overweight patients.

But, almost daily, we watch other medical personnel pushing wheelchairs failing to adhere to these “basics” – resulting in safety infractions too numerous to count!

Yep, it’s not our sandbox!

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Retiring professionals have to learn to de-stress and take ourselves “out of the loop” for every organizational decision, training program, and generation/enforcement of an practices, policies, and regulations of an institution. The reason we retired in the first place was to enjoy the privilege of leaving all of this behind.

As teachers, we embraced “moral professionalism.” That meant, according to E.A. Wynne in “The Moral Dimension of Teaching (Teaching: Theory into Practice, 1995), we were charged with the responsibility to “follow to the letter” school policies and procedures, and if we saw somebody who wasn’t compliant or “on board,” we were supposed to instruct or intervene. (As “fiduciaries” looking out for the students’ best interests and welfare, we were required by law to report serious misconducts.)

Wynne also confirmed that, when a rule was simply not working, we were also obligated to firmly but tactfully suggest a better way of do something.

Past tense! Now that we’re retired, we no longer need to solve these kinds of problems – they belong to the head-honchos. The people who have the privilege (or curse) of “running the show” may not appreciate hearing from us. What was that saying by Robert Heinlein? “Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.”

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More importantly, stressing over someone else’s poorly run “sandbox” will cause you to waste energy, become irritated and short tempered, lower your mood, raise your blood pressure, withdraw from socialization and the things you like doing, or begin to hate with whom you are interacting. No, it’s not worth trying to teach that pig to sing!

Finally, here’s a little more sage advice from “the experts” on stress and retirement. Please pardon any of their references to the term “senior.” GOOD LUCK!

PKF

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “sandbox” by RAMillu, “children” by qimono, “doctor” by geralt, “children” by Ben_Kerckx, “young” by vinsky2002, and “wooden-train-toys-train-first-class” by Couleur.

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