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

wooden-train-2066492_1920_

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 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.”

Teacher-stress-lede

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.

wooden-train-2066492_1920_Couleur

WHEN Should You Retire?

The Skills and Models of a Happy Retirement

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

 

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Is It TIME to Retire?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do You Have What It Takes for a Happy Retirement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Should I or Shouldn’t I Go Now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

PKF

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

 

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

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Unconditional Love (Dogs!)

Pets + Retirees… They Go Together!

dog-2729805_1280_gdjHappy Valentine’s Day to all of my readers. I could not think of a better way to “celebrate” our appreciation of “heart-day” with reflections on what our pets bring us… adulation, affection, attachment, companionship, devotion, enjoyment, good will, involvement, passion, stimulation, tenderness, understanding…

“The power of love!” They say that all you have to do is look at the face of a sleeping baby, or cuddle up next to a puppy or kitten, and it will slow down your respiration rate, lower your blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood, and increase in your body the levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals that play big roles in the promoting feelings of calm and well-being.

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From personal experience, having two of the most adorable and loving dogs… If you’re contemplating retirement and you have never owned a pet, let me be the first to tell you:

“Pets can change your life.”

I invite you to peruse several other blogs I’ve written on this subject:

If you are almost ready to retire, or you’re going through your first couple years of your post-employment “internship,” there’s a good chance that psychologically it would be good for you to “get out of Dodge” as you adjust to your new status. This might be a good time for you to take a cruise, tour Europe, go ice fishing up north, or plan a long road trip out west. Pack up everything and takeoff. Celebrate all those years that you put your nose to the grind stone.

But eventually, you may want to come back “to nest,” and “taste” a little transitioning into things that seem to go well together, e.g. small doses of (human) babysitting, grandparent/child interaction, and/or rescuing a pet. Becoming a homebody may also suggest the consideration of planning small or large renovation projects: fix up your garden or backyard, design your ideal kitchen, remodel the bathrooms, do a garage remake, downsize and de-clutter, etc. After the first several years of simply resting and exploring the options of your self-reinvention, NOW might be the perfect moment to add a furry friend to your family!

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Why get a pet?

Goodnet (“Gateway to Doing Good”) summarizes nine reasons you should adopt a pet:

  1. Pets have their perks when it comes to your health. (More on that later.)
  2. A pet will love you unconditionally. (Thus the title of this blog!)
  3. Adopting a pet is easy on your wallet. (Pet rescue from a shelter is less expensive.)
  4. Adopting a pet means saving a life. (Millions of animals are euthanized per year.)
  5. By adopting a pet, you’re giving an animal a second chance. (Another go at life!)
  6. Pets keep you active. (Dog walking provides owner aerobic exercise.)
  7. Pets bring joy and fulfillment. (Pet care enhances a sense of purpose for retirees.)
  8. dog-3243734_1920_kandykandooPets boost your social life. (Research indicates pets decrease social isolation.)
  9. Besides, how could you possibly resist this face?

 

Medical benefits including psychological health

There’s an avalanche of online research that backs up claims that pet ownership is actually “good for you!”

Pet owners know how much their furry friend improves their quality of life. But it’s not all about unconditional love—although that actually provides a wellness boost, too. On an emotional level, owning a pet can decrease depression, stress and anxiety; health-wise, it can lower your blood pressure, improve your immunity, and even decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke.

— Alexandra Gekas

 

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Here are my “top dozen” reasons and resources to peruse:

  1. Having a pet decreases stress: Promises Treatment Centers
  2. Caring for a pet lowers your blood pressure: WebMD
  3. Owning a dog reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels: Harvard
  4. Pets keep you fit and active: Gerontologist
  5. Daily dog walking helps you to lose weight: Healthy People
  6. Owning a dog can help detect, treat, and manage disease and injuries: HuffPost
  7. Pet therapy eases pain management and reduces anxiety: Loyola University
  8. Pets may reduce doctor’s visits: American Psychological Association PsycNet
  9. Having a dog may make you (at least feel) safer: LifeHack
  10. Pets help you build friendships and find social support: Harvard
  11. Dog owners are less prone to depression: GrandParents.com
  12. Pet ownership adds meaning and purpose: BestFriends

 

Believe it or not, pets can be the best medicine, especially when a person is dealing with chronic pain such as migraines or arthritis. Just like Valium, it reduces anxiety. The less anxiety, the less pain…

People who have pets are less harried; there’s more laughter in their life. When you come home, it’s like you’re George Clooney. You’re a star. This is a primary reason pets are used in various forms of therapy.

If you have a dog around, your blood pressure is lower. A lot of it goes back to reducing stress: You might lose your job, your house, your 401(k)—but you’ll never lose the unconditional love of your pet.

— Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, veterinary consultant for Good Morning America and author of the book Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual.

 

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Increasing your regular habits of exercise

The experts say that physical activity promotes flexibility, muscle strength, stamina, and balance, and helps us to remain mobile into our 70s and 80s. Caring for a pet may help! For example, studies from the National Center for Biotechnology of the U.S. National Library of Medicine (like this one) indicate that older adults who walked dogs with frequent moderate to vigorous exercise are associated with lower body mass index and faced fewer limitations to their daily living activities.

Having trouble sticking to an exercise program? Research shows that dogs are actually Nature’s perfect personal trainers—loyal, hardworking, energetic and enthusiastic. And, unlike your friends, who may skip an exercise session because of appointments, extra chores or bad weather, dogs never give you an excuse to forego exercising.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that only 16 percent of Americans ages 15 and older exercised at all on an average day! This is where your canine personal trainer can help.

—Dawn Marcus

walking-2797219_1280_mohamed_hassanHow much exercise is enough? Well, according to the World Health Organization, the “best practices” of a good health and wellness program includes:

  • 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily for children 5 to 17 years old
  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week for adults 18 to 65 years old, plus strengthening exercises two days per week
  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week, with modifications as needed in seniors over 65 years old, plus flexibility and balance exercises.

The good news? From Bark, “Researchers at the University of Western Australia found that seven in every 10 adult dog owners achieved 150 minutes of physical exercise per week, compared with only four in every 10 non-owners.” We already know that grabbing that leash, whistling for the pup, going for a brisk walk, and getting out to see what’s going on in your neighborhood, may help to reduce stress, depression, lethargy, the risks of obesity, and many other medical problems.

 

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The all-essential quest for “mattering” and “feeling needed”

In the past blog “Retiree Concepts,” I mentioned the book, Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose by Nancy Schlossberg (definitely an excellent buy), and reviewed the issues of “marginality” (bad) and “mattering” (good). The essential question is worth repeating here: “Do you feel “needed” and that you “make a difference” to others?”

Caring for a pet does a great job of fulfilling our need to find in our retired lives the “purpose, community, and structure” referred to Ernie Zelinski in his book, How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free.

As we grow older—especially after we retire—it can be difficult to find structure and meaning day in and day out. Dogs take care of that.

— Kristen Sturt

They force people to continue to do things. So, even if you’re not feeling well emotionally or physically, the dog doesn’t care. I mean, they care, but they still want you to feed them and take them for a walk.”

— Kristi Littrell, Adoption Manager at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah

At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, they’re using dogs to help soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. They’re finding the guys who have a pet are able to re-enter society a little bit easier. They’re showing a decreased suicide rate, one of the biggest health threats [veterans] face. These guys who have a pet have someone they’re responsible for, someone who cares about them. And they don’t have to explain what they’ve been through.

— Dr. Katy Nelson, associate emergency veterinarian at the VCA Alexandria Animal Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia

 

It’s not only about the tangibles – physical, medical, mental

It’s simple… every day, my pooches make me feel good!

Oh, we have all witnessed the “life-changing power of pets” (Psychology Today) and the tremendous social bond partnering a dog (or cat) with a human. We agree, “Pet owners have big hearts and bestow good feelings on both animals and people. Having a pet does not replace a human social network, but rather enhances and enlarges it. Cats, dogs, birds—and pets of all species, shapes, and sizes—bring wellness.”

our two pups 051216 - 1On personal observation, I can attest that walking my dogs in the neighborhood can be one of the most contemplative (almost meditative) experiences of the day. I commune with nature, let my imagination wander (dream “wide-awake”), notice things I have never before stopped to see, hear, or smell, and reflect on my life goals. I find the “pause” in my daily routine (or should I say “paws”) makes me feel refreshed, thoughtful, more calm, tolerant, and patient while at the same time more alert and focused, and always leaves me in a better mood.

Dr. John V. DiAscenzo, my talented friend and PMEA music education colleague with great background in research, would now demand of me, “Show me the specific studies that support your claim that walking dogs make people feel happy!” Got it! I found numerous references, including this article from the National Institutes of Health.

 

You can’t buy this kind of shared love… a snapshot

  • No matter how good or bad my day is, the moment of my return to home, stepping into “puppy heaven,” Gracie and Brewster rushing up in full gallop to lick (kiss) and welcome me, jumping up as if to say, “Oh, we’re so glad he’s back!”
  • The vigorous wagging of her tail and the “happy dance” Gracie does when I reach for her favorite bone
  • The “nesting” impulse of Brewster as he paws his towel on top of our bed, just before he curls up in a small ball, leaning into the small of my back (giving me great lumbar support) and falling asleep
  • Gracie pushing Brewster out of the way when jockeying position to receive pats on the head from a visitor
  • canine club 2Expert cuddlier Brewster flipping on his back so you rub his tummy, and when you are distracted, gently pawing at you begging you not to stop
  • Gracie’s “happy barks” and squeals of excitement when mommy brings in the supper dish
  • Gracie jumping up onto the extra desk chair to watch daddy type on his computer (we even had to buy her own chair)
  • Brewster winning a contest for the most puppy-pushups (up/sit/down) in dog (people) training classes
  • Having totally original “dog-o-nalities” and never failing to amaze me every day, being awakened by them at 6 a.m.
  • But, after going out, all three of us climbing into the La-Z-Boy® combo recliners and falling back to sleep, Gracie between my legs with her chin on my ankle, and Brewster on my left shoulder like a violin shoulder pad

 

Lowering the numbers of neglected pets in overcrowded sanctuaries

Finally, although perhaps not the most significant rationale for a retiree to go rescue a pet, these are estimated animal shelter statistics from the ASPCA and the American Pet Products Association (source):

  • Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats.
  • Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats).
  • pit-bull-2047469_1920_rescuewarriorApproximately 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year (1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats).
  • About 710,000 animals who enter shelters as strays are returned to their owners. Of those, 620,000 are dogs and only 90,000 are cats.
  • It’s estimated that 78 million dogs and 85.8 million cats are owned in the United States. Approximately 44% of all households in the United States have a dog, and 35% have a cat.
  • According to the APPA, these are the most common sources from which primary methods cats and dogs are obtained as pets:

appa stats

LiveScience posted “A Blueprint for Ending the Euthanasia of Healthy Animals.”

Do you have Kleenex handy? Read “10 Shelter Stories That Will Make you Smile.”

Simply put, if you have it in you to consider pet adoption, your action will probably save the life of a sheltered animal and give it (and you) a second chance!

 

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Additional resources

Do you need more research? Be sure to visit the final link in the bulleted list below, which also has an exhaustive bibliography worth viewing.

 

CODA: The “‘last words” as a recap and a final website for you to check out:

Studies have shown that owning a pet can be physically and mentally beneficial for people of all ages. In the case of senior citizens, just 15 minutes bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone, cortisol, and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. The result: heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels immediately drop. Over the long term, pet and human interactions can lower cholesterol levels, fight depression and may even help protect against heart disease and stroke.

— Seniors and Pets

But, you knew all about this, right? So, what are you waiting for?

For me, I gotta go… and take Gracie and Brewster out for another walk!

Have a Happy PET Valentine’s Day!

PKF

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

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Besides the numerous pictures of Gracie and Brewster, photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “puppies” by kko699, “dog” by GDJ, “people” by Herney, “animals” by Gellinger, “dog” by kandykandoo, “dog” by maja7777, “walking” by mohamed_hassan, “dog” by haidi2002, “pit-bull” by RescueWarrior, “dog” by groesswang, “kitten” by creades, “pretty-girl” by TerriC, and “dog” by Leunert,

 

 

WHERE Should You Retire?

This article was first released in the Fall 2018 state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association, PMEA News.

 

Do you know where you’re going to?
Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Where are you going to, do you know?
Do you get what you’re hoping for?
When you look behind you there’s no open door.
What are you hoping for, do you know?

Lyrics to “Do You Know Where You’re Going To?” and the “Theme from Mahogany” by Michael Masser and Gerald Goffin

Sung and recorded by Diana Ross, Mariah Carey, and Tina Arena

 

What are the three most important factors to consider before choosing your retirement destination?

  1. Location
  2. Location
  3. Location.

 

people-3217855_1920_MabelAmber

Much has already been discussed and archived here at this blog-site about definitions (“the what”) and strategies (“the how”) for a happy retirement. And deciding to retire (“the when”) is a very personal issue, something in which only you and perhaps your closest family members may have a voice at the appropriate time and setting.

Now, what about “the where?”

According to many advisors, including Melissa Phipps in her The Balance blog-post “Find Out Where You Should Retire” (https://www.thebalance.com/where-should-i-retire-2894254), your deliberation may be affected by a number of influences:

  • Personal preference: stay local or go elsewhere?
  • Housing
  • Mortgage?
  • Taxes
  • Your health and mobility
  • Proximity to family, children/grandchildren?
  • Human services, recreation, history/cultural attractions, shopping, and transportation

The US Census Bureau reports that 49 out of 50 people over the age of 65 stay right where they are when they retire. Phipps advises, “If your current hometown is affordable, close to friends and family, and near activities and entertainment you most enjoy, why move for the sake of moving? Instead, consider whether the need for change can be satisfied through more frequent brief vacations, or by purchasing an inexpensive weekend getaway home.”

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However, are there advantages to downsizing and leaving your current abode?

You may want to read “Should You Downsize in Retirement?” by Casey Dowd of Fox Business at https://www.foxbusiness.com/features/should-you-downsize-in-retirement. I also recommend https://www.newretirement.com/retirement/your-complete-guide-to-downsizing-for-retirement-12-tips-for-a-happily-ever-after/.

Posted on The Motley Fool is Christy Bieber’s article “Where Should You Retire? These 5 Factors Will Help You Decide” (https://www.fool.com/investing/2017/09/19/where-should-you-retire-these-5-factors-will-help.aspx). She focuses on that scary “e” word – economics.

polynesia-3021072_1920_Julius_Silver

“The world is your oyster once you no longer need to work – you could technically move anywhere. But there are, of course, practical considerations in deciding where you’ll live – and while dreaming about a mega-mansion on the beach may be enjoyable, it’s also important to make a viable plan. Your choice of location can affect how much you need to save, how long your money will last, and even what happens to your health and to your legacy.”

Most of the online retirement gurus recommend careful and comprehensive research, even spending time to visit and “live awhile” in the places on your “short list,” and educate yourself in these areas:

  • Population, economy, attractions, and general info (visit the Internet sites of the local Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Agency, and visitor bureaus)
  • Climate (review interactive climate data tools from the National Climatic Data Center)
  • Cost of Living (see “cost of living comparison calculator” of the Council for Community and Economic Research)
  • Crime Rates (read the PBI’s annual “Crime in the United States: Uniform Crime Reports”)
  • Health Care (check out the U.S. News & World Report “Guide to the Best Hospitals” data base)

portugal-2423629_1920_larahcv

If you are looking for a book on the subject of “where to live in retirement,” there are many. At least, be sure to check out the 2007 revised edition of The New Retirement – The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life by Jan Cullinane and Cathy Fitzgerald (Rodale) with more than 30 new recommendations for specific communities to consider for retirement, plus updated home prices and cost-of-living figures for existing communities, new niche lifestyles including club living, spa living, communities that are also cities, and moving where there is free land, and an expanded section on second homes.

If you are still a little “unsettled on where to settle” and enjoy taking online quizzes, check out these links (to which, although fun, I cannot vouch for their validity):

Although geography may play a crucial role in this debate, so does your choice of floor plan. (One could argue that the other three most important factors in choosing a retirement destination are mobility, mobility, and mobility!) When I retired in 2013, I suffered severe pain in my Achilles heels requiring ten weeks of challenging physical therapy. During recovery, I walked my two puppies past numerous one-story ranch structures in my neighborhood, feeling a little jealous that I had to return to a split level with its multitude of stairs – four sets of five steps! The trend in our area for new construction for retirees is a one-floor patio home with a “great room” (kitchen, dining and family/game room areas) that incorporates the safety and ease of future “senior access” while accommodating the needs of multi-generational use of the residence, with these practical design elements:

  • Wheel chair access, especially in the bathrooms
  • Pull-out and pull-down shelving
  • Multi-level counters
  • Remote control blinds and windows
  • Slip resistance floors
  • Open floor plan
  • Bright, functional lighting
  • Flat-panel light switches

(Source: https://houseplans.co/articles/planning-for-retirement-house-plans-for-seniors/)

Miami panorama-2117310_1920_pixexid

Finally, this is too important an issue to “pull any punches” without a few more resources (below) for your consideration. Good luck, and happy trails, retirees!

 

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

venice-2476300_1920_kirkandmimi

Photo credits from Pixabay.com: “hands” by stokpic, “people” by MabelAmber, “early morning” by werner22brigitte, “polynesia” by Julius_Silver, “portugal” by larahcv, “panorama” by pixexid, and “venice” by kirkandmimi.

Unique Retiree Resources

It is always a privilege to receive email or comments from many of you regarding my past blog-posts at this site. I truly appreciate hearing from you – agree or disagree – and, whenever possible, I will “pass along” your recommendations and perspectives.

hospice-1793998_1920_unclelktThe “mission” is to help you with the transition to retirement and, when they are relevant, to communicate links to helpful sources of information. Many of these are not applicable to every retiring music teacher. However, if not issues for a family member, you might know of a friend, neighbor, colleague, or someone else who could use some direction in these eclectic topics:

  • Housing purchases/rentals, maintenance, and improvements
  • Personal security
  • Downsizing
  • Health care, eldercare, and physical fitness
  • Disabilities
  • Advance care planning
  • Medical Alert systems
  • Mattress purchase recommendations
  • Sleep guides and disorders
  • Grieving and coping with loss

We started this exposé with a previous blog, “Seniors Helping Seniors” at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2017/05/28/seniors-helping-seniors/.

grandparents-1969824_1920_sylviebliss

 

Elmer George invited all of us to peruse his new website: elderville.org. It is called Resources for All Elders, and it shares lists of websites, blogs, and fact sheets on numerous senior-related themes – everything from “daily safety tips” to “volunteering.”

elderville.comSeveral great examples, his set of February 2018 articles (https://elderville.org/blog/) discuss “Five Ways Seniors Can Avoid Stress and Hassle During This Tax Season” and “Three Ways Seniors Can Get Healthy at Church.”

Specific to housing concerns, Elmer emailed me these additional avenues of help:

 

granny-1280445_1920_brenkee

 

Elizabeth Reynolds reached out to me with research on criteria for choosing the best medical alert system: https://www.reviews.com/medical-alert-systems/.  She said, “After hearing that there are 800,000 fall-related hospitalizations each year, our team created this resource in an effort to change that number.” Elizabeth added, “Our hope is that our guide may assist readers navigating their options to minimize this risk in the event of a fall.” At first, I thought her posting was a well-concealed advertisement for a particular company, until I explored her entire www.reviews.com website. Knowledge is power. Elizabeth has assembled a wide variety of resources in these areas worth further reading:

  • Reviews.comHome Services
  • Insurance
  • Financial Services
  • Home Products
  • Health and Fitness
  • Beauty
  • Pets

 

bed-1846251_1920_pexels

 

Speaking of reviews, something on which you would not probably seek advice is what mattress to purchase or finding other aids for improving your sleep. Well, if you know anyone who has had trouble getting to sleep or is seeking methods of being well-rested, let me be the first to recommend https://www.bestmattressreviews.com/, shared by Jenny Thompson. She claims her “team” has been researching the science behind sleep and reviewing sleep products to see if they really have the effects that the companies claim to have. I admit, her extensive online resource first sounded a lot like a very large commercial, but I have never known such detail and vast criteria could be involved in assessing the merits of different mattresses and sleep accessories:

  • Types: foam, innerspring, latex, and hybrid
  • Sleep position: side sleepers, back sleepers, stomach sleepers, couples
  • Other benchmarks: firm, soft, cooling, crib, organic, pain management, and user type (mattresses for pet owners, runners, people with disabilities, etc.)

It is definitely worth your time to examine the article section on specific sleeping guides:

  • bestmattressreviewsSleep disorders
  • New and expecting mothers
  • Advice for children, teenagers, and college students
  • Mental health and sleep
  • Sleep and anxiety
  • P.T.S.D. and other problems

We may all know someone who has suffered the effects of Alzheimer’s. This one recently hit home to me as I just discovered one of my long-time music teacher friends was enrolled in a memory unit.

dementia-3051832_1920_geralt

According to this website, “Alzheimer’s disease affects as many as 5 million Americans. Scientists still don’t know how to prevent, slow, or cure the disease. Meanwhile, the death rate has increased 55% over the past decade and a half, and with the silver tsunami on the horizon, the number of patients is expected to explode. Sleep problems and Alzheimer’s are interconnected. People living with Alzheimer’s experience difficulty sleeping, while people who have sleep issues earlier in life are at greater risk for developing the disease.” We should all be aware of this link for more information: https://www.bestmattressreviews.com/alzheimers-and-sleep/.

 

spiritfinderFinally, out of the blue, Jennifer Scott contacted me with “healthy ways to cope with a loss” with these resources to help grieving families:

Reaching out to those who may be suffering with anxiety and depression, her helpful hints will go far to alleviate stress. I found parts of her website, http://spiritfinder.org/, are also very illuminating. Thank you, Jennifer!

beach-2090091_1920_qimono

 

Bookmark the URL of this blog-post for future use. You never know when you might need some guidance on these miscellaneous subjects. Revisit past writings at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/for-retirees/.  Also, please stay “connected,” communicate your “views and news” in blog comments (click at the top of the page), submit your responses to the NAfME discussion platform Amplify (we have a special “retired member” community forum, or just send an email to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.  As Tom Bodett said in commercials for a well-known motel chain: “We’ll leave the light on for you.”  

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “countryside” by sasint, “hospice” by unclelkt, “grandparents” by sylviebliss, “granny” by brenkee, “bed” by pexels, “dementia” by geralt, and “beach” by qimono.