Graffiti for Our Time

Sometimes a picture tells a thousand words…

 

This month’s blog-post is for teachers, students, parents, and communities who have been facing countless challenges during the reopening of schools…

If you have been following my blog-posts, you know that I am seldom at a loss for words, but for now, the less said in text, the better!

Hopefully these images inspire and cheer you! Good luck!

Special thanks for the collective “genius” of Matthew Arau, Allen D. Lucas, Susan Medley, Bob Morrison, Merilee Ott, Scott Sheehan, Stacey Swanson, and a host of other individuals, and Facebook groups like Music Educators Creating Online Learning, Music Ed Advocates – PARENTS/Teachers/Industry, and Upbeat Leaders. PKF

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com by Gerd Altmann: “Help-Watch-Neighborhood”

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Teacher Self-Care During the Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Together, we are stronger!

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

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

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

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

Navigating Uncertain Times: How Schools Can Cope With Coronavirus

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

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

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Avoiding Becoming Overwhelmed

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

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

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

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

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

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

desperate-5011953_1920_Peggy_MarcoFive tips for coaching overwhelm:

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

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

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

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Making Connections

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

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

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

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

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

Just more common sense? Right? Probably!

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

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

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

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

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Setting Boundaries

Something else I admit to NOT doing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mindfulness and “Living” in the Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

“Do as I Say… Don’t Do as I Do!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waterford.org

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

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

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

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

Please stay safe! PKF

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References

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order)

From Pixabay.com

 

Virtual/Remote/Alternative Music Ed

Resources for Teaching Music Online During the COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19

The dreaded messages came to almost every educator:

EMERGENCY ALERT:

Out of an abundance of caution relating to the prevention of spreading the coronavirus, beginning on _____, all after-school, extra-curricular, and outside group meetings and rehearsals are postponed until further notice.

* * *

Dear Students, Parents, and Staff:

All ______ school programs such as sports, band and jazz concert, spring musical, choir festival, dance and voice recitals, booster meetings and fund-raisers, and the music department adjudication trip, are cancelled.

* * *

Important announcement:

The spring concert scheduled for March 28 at the Performance Hall will not take place. A decision about whether to cancel this performance or postpone it to another date will be made as the community health situation continues to evolve.

And then, the Governor closed the schools for two to eight weeks (or more?).

Governor Wolf
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf

Dear Families,

Thanks for your patience as we work through the events that have been occurring and planning for what lies ahead. We hope you and your family are staying well, and we know that many of you are looking forward to a Virtual Learning experience for your child.

We want to share some important information with all of you as we prepare this transition. While we do not know how long our buildings will be closed, we want to be prepared for ______ Virtual Learning for as long as it is necessary.

The immediate effect? Suddenly, our kids were sent home for an extra-early spring break, hopefully remembering to bring their instruments and music! Trying to “embrace” this world emergency (from a safe distance, of course), no one had a “crystal ball” to predict or even imagine the far-reaching effects, many of which we are still awaiting answers!

  • When will we be able to go back to school?
  • How can we collaborate, grow, and share our music learning, personal progress, repertoire and skills learned over the past year?
  • What will happen to everything all of us were forced to leave unscheduled, unfinished, or “in production?”
  • Will commencement be cancelled, too?
  • Worst yet, will our seniors fail to graduate, receive their diplomas, and start college on time next fall?

Every music teacher I know cried out, “How can I reach-out to my students to help them find alternative avenues to making music? The challenge is now thrust upon us to find ways to inspire our students to continue building on their “musical momentum” in daily practice, as well as stimulate other sources of artistic enrichment and the self-motivation to create new music goals.

My first act as a community youth director was to “fire up” my orchestra’s website and Facebook page. We regularly send out Fox’s Firesides of articles on practice tips, music problem-solving techniques, goal-setting, keeping a journal, developing teamwork, learning to conduct, acquiring college references, showing concert etiquette, etc. and other notices to the members and parents using a free-version of Mailchimp.

SHJOclips

In addition, we launched something called SHJO.clips, low-tech but hopefully effective in “exciting” future music enrichment and exploration: online music games, worksheets, sample recordings and videos, practice excerpts, music theory exercises, sight-reading and ear training assignments, and much more… a treasure chest of FUN things-to-do or c.l.i.p.s. to do ON THEIR OWN: Create, Listen, Inspire, Practice, Share.

Archives of both Fox’s Firesides and SHJO.clips are available by clicking the menu at the top or visiting http://www.shjo.org/ (look under “resources”).

Are we permitted access to our students and classes online during the official closures? Does your school use Canvas or other virtual educational environments to hold digital classes, post learning activities, make assignments, provide feedback, and/or assess your students’ achievement? (Are you even allowed to do so? I cannot answer this essential question because I do not know school law and I retired from the public schools in 2013.)

smartmusic and musicfirst

Are you one of the “lucky ones” who had previously set-up either the Smartmusic or MusicFirst online platforms (and the students know how to use the it) and can continue encouraging your band instrumentalists, string players, or vocalists to sight-read, practice, explore new literature, perform, record, and assess themselves?

Do you and your students need cheering up with a “pep-talk” by Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, the famous “music educator’s guru,” guest speaker and expert motivator often presented as the kick-off keynote session at music conferences. “Dr. Tim” challenges us all to focus on what’s important and how we can put our time to good use:

“Life is about 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

The pessimist sees the challenge in every opportunity, but the optimist sees the opportunity in every challenge.”

 

Set aside 17 minutes to recharge with this video. Then, share it with your students!

I am proud to admit that, in a single act, our profession has so far risen to the occasion. In an effort to help our “stranded” programs and motivate music educators and their students, so many tech experts jumped into the fray to post their recommendations and resources. At the end of this blog-post is a (very long) list of links from them, at least active as of today, for distance learning strategies and virtual music education.

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https://www.pmea.net/council-for-ttrr/

We have taken the time to compile many of these suggestions and warehouse them on the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association State Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention website here. Look under the heading “Virtual Music Learning – Engaging Students During the Break.” This is the impetus for this article. The samples provided below (probably only the “tip of the iceberg” and already out-of-date) are by no means all-comprising and fully comprehensive. With every minute of the day dragging on during this crisis and we are still “shut in” our homes away from our music students, new solutions are being posted to Facebook groups like Music Educators Creating Online Learning.

Click here if you would like a printable PDF file of this revision of resources.

Take the time to research what might work for you. At the very least, pass on the music games and puzzles offered at sites like Music Tech Teacher or Cornerstone Confessions. Venture into learning new apps like Zoom.com for webinar/meeting management.

Music does make a difference in all of our lives… and we need to keep our musicians and singers “at it” even during this catastrophe!

Best wishes to you and yours. Stay safe and healthy! Thank you for your dedication and contributions to music education!

(Editor’s Note: We have continued adding many more updates to the list below at the website of the PMEA Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention accessible from this link.)

PKF

 

 

Sources of Online Music Media and Instruction

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “child-play-game-technology-3264751” by ExplorerBob

© 2020 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

Creativity in Education… More Updates

It’s been awhile since I have ventured back into searches for “creativity in education” with blogging on the philosophy and practice of creative learning and creative teaching, two of the most essential needs (and deficiencies) in public school education.

After being inspired by the likes of Sir Ken Robinson (especially from his TedTalks), Ronald A. Beghetto and James C. Kaufman, Curtis Bonk, Eric Booth, Susan M. Brookhart, Susan Engel, Daniel Pink, Robert J. Sternberg and Wendy M. Williams, Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein, Roger von Oechand, Peter Webster, and many others, I periodically try to fulfill my ongoing mission of spreading the importance of fostering creativity in education, and finding research (and hands-on) material on the related subjects of innovation, inventiveness, curiosity, flexibility, adaptability, critical thinking, artistry, and self-expression.

Here is the latest installment of newly found resources for your perusal.

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Creativity at Work

Linda Naiman, the founder of Creativity at Work, an international consortium of creativity and innovation experts, design thinkers, and arts-based learning practitioners, offers “trainings and workshops to help leaders and their teams develop the creativity, innovation and leadership capabilities required to adapt to change, stay competitive, improve business performance, and make a positive difference in the world. Clients include Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, educational institutions and government organizations.”

From a Creativity at Work blog, Seven Habits of Highly Creative People,  the following points are outlined in homage to Stephen Covey (Oct 24, 1932 – July 16, 2012):

  1. Prepare the ground
  2. Plant seeds for creativity
  3. Live in the question
  4. Feed your brain
  5. Experiment and explore
  6. Replenish your creative stock
  7. Play like a child: the secret to liberating your creativity

 

Newsweek-Logo

The Creativity Crisis

I don’t know how I missed this… Bo Bronson and Ashley Merryman wrote an education article, The Creativity Crisis, for Newsweek, posted on their website on July 10, 2010. Selected excerpts:

Back in 1958, Ted Schwarzrock was an 8-year-old third grader when he became one of the “Torrance kids,” a group of nearly 400 Minneapolis children who completed a series of creativity tasks newly designed by professor E. Paul Torrance. Schwarzrock still vividly remembers the moment when a psychologist handed him a fire truck and asked, “How could you improve this toy to make it better and more fun to play with?” He recalls the psychologist being excited by his answers. In fact, the psychologist’s session notes indicate Schwarzrock rattled off 25 improvements, such as adding a removable ladder and springs to the wheels. That wasn’t the only time he impressed the scholars, who judged Schwarzrock to have “unusual visual perspective” and ‘an ability to synthesize diverse elements into meaningful products.”

Today, Schwarzrock is independently wealthy—he founded and sold three medical-products companies and was a partner in three more. His innovations in health care have been wide ranging, from a portable respiratory oxygen device to skin-absorbing anti-inflammatories to insights into how bacteria become antibiotic-resistant. His latest project could bring down the cost of spine-surgery implants 50 percent. “As a child, I never had an identity as a ‘creative person,’ ” Schwarzrock recalls. “But now that I know, it helps explain a lot of what I felt and went through.”

Creativity has always been prized in American society, but it’s never really been understood. While our creativity scores decline unchecked, the current national strategy for creativity consists of little more than praying for a Greek muse to drop by our houses. The problems we face now, and in the future, simply demand that we do more than just hope for inspiration to strike. Fortunately, the science can help: we know the steps to lead that elusive muse right to our doors.

Newsweek: Bo Bronson and Ashley Merryman

 

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Not to be outdone by Newsweek, TIME published a compilation The Science of Creativity – a series of articles divided into four large chapters:

  1. The Creative Animal
  2. The Creative Mind
  3. Creativity in Action
  4. Creativity at Any Age

The essays, penned by a myriad of authors, are eclectic and intriguing, many of which have appeared in past issues of TIME magazine:

  • The Science of CreativityIntroduction: Striving for the New
  • This Is Your Brain on Creativity
  • Learning from Leonardo
  • Under the Hood
  • Are Neurotics More Creative?
  • A Fine Madness
  • The Power of Sleep
  • Inside the Creative Space
  • Seven Secrets to Unleashing Creativity
  • Pushing Your Envelope
  • Does Screen Time Stunt Kids’ Creativity?
  • You’re Never Too Old
  • When Schools Get Creative
  • How Parents Can Excite and Inspire
  • Eureka Moments
  • The Last Word

Creativity is one of the most human of qualities. But what is creativity, and what makes us creative? The Science of Creativity takes a look at both the science and the art of this world-changing trait—how we define it, how we measure it and what encourages it. With insights from the editors of TIME, this new Special Edition features thought-provoking articles on the meaning of creativity, its part in human history and its role in our future. 

Amazon review of TIME special edition

 

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Creativity in Orchestra

A recent NAfME article was written specifically for orchestral players and their music directors. Even after more than 43 years of conducting orchestras, I would have to admit that helping my instrumentalists to become more creative musicians has always been a challenge. In the Music Educators Journal, Volume 105, Number 3, March 2019, “Integrating Creative Practices into the Orchestra Classroom,” author Leon Park seeks to explore the realm of the “less traditional” in rationale, goals, and techniques to build the capacity of his students’ imagination, innovation, and creativity.

My primary objective as a high school orchestra educator is to help students develop and refine their perpetual and technical acuities as orchestra musicians – from understanding and applying proper instrument-playing technique in functional music theory as they relate to repertoire to reading and translating music notation with accuracy and confidence to interpreting musical compositions with an understanding of the composer’s intent and a sensitive sensitivity toward performing in an expressive manner.

The daily regime of helping my students of achieve these objectives is an extraordinarily enriching yet time-consuming endeavor. As such, I find that opportunities to engage students in experiences that reach beyond the purview of traditional orchestra musicianship – such as improvisation, songwriting, remixing, soundscape in, recording, and looping – are rare.

— Leo Park

After providing a list of hardware, devices, web apps, software, and iOS apps, Park proposes a series of exercises and other creative practices:

  • MEJDrone Improvisation
  • Circle Stringing
  • Soundscapes
  • Melodizing over Chords
  • Recontextualization
  • Songwriting

He also shares a video playlist of creative approaches, primarily string players engaging in creative music-making.

If you currently teach instrumental music, I recommend you read this piece. (You must be a member of the National Association of Music Education for access to its periodical Music Educators Journal.)

Creativity should be at the heart of all the affective areas of the curriculum. Its context is imagination, origination, and invention; but it goes beyond that to include interpretation and personalized imitation. Characteristically it calls upon preference and decision to a greater extent than other modes of thought. It is especially important as “a way of coming to know” through independent, innovative responses to ideas into means of expression.

— John Paynter in Sound and Structure

 

Educational Commission of the States

ECS_Vertical_Tag_1300pxIn a more recent release of EdNote (July 2018), How School Leaders Can Inspire Daily Creativity makes a good case that, “As building-level leaders, school principals play a key role in ensuring every student has access to high-quality and equitable arts learning as part of a well-rounded education,” citing numerous supportive sources:

The article concluded with the following salient statements:

From identifying the arts in a school’s budget to supporting student performances and gallery displays, principals can engage parents and the school community in the school’s educational goals.

While our [administrators’] daily routines may feel less inspired than other activities, it is through innovative ideas and acts of self-expression that shape everyday life as we know it. The arts can provide students with these same opportunities, setting them up for success in school, work and life.

EdNote: Cassandra Quille

 

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The Conversation

Check out What Creativity Really Is – and Why Schools Need It  by Liane Gabora from The Conversation.

Associate Professor of Psychology and Creative Studies, University of British Columbia, Gabora explores “the creative process” in studies from the Interdisciplinary Creativity Research Group.

She examines sorting out these apparently antipodal/opposing concepts:

  • The Conversationinventors vs. imitators
  • creators vs. conformers
  • innovation vs. over-stimulation
  • devaluation of creative personality attributes such as risk taking, impulsivity and independence vs. focus on the reproduction of knowledge and obedience at school

She shares three insightful suggestions on cultivating creativity in the classroom:

  1. “Focus less on the reproduction of information and more on critical thinking and problem solving.”
  2. “Curate activities that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries…”
  3. “Pose questions and challenges, and follow up with opportunities for solitude and reflection.”

 

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Additional Links

A couple more “finds” for your reading pleasure:

Hopefully, readers/followers of this website will send in their own “gems” on creativity. Please feel free to comment and share your own references… so we can collaborate on and re-energize this dialogue.

If you have not had the opportunity to read my past blog-posts on creativity, please take a moment and examine these:

Now go out there and… teach, learn, and be creative!

PKF

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

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Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com:

 

Tips on Student Teaching

Digest of Resources for Pre-Service Music Teachers

Acknowledgments: Special thanks for the contributions of Blair Chadwick and  Johnathan Vest, who gave me permission to share information verbatim from their PowerPoint presentation, and to John Seybert (formerly of Seton Hill University), Ann C. Clements, Robert Gardner, Steven Hankle, Darrin Thornton, Linda Thornton, and Sarah Watt (Penn State University), Dr. Rachel Whitcomb (Duquesne University), and Robert Dell (Carnegie-Mellon University).

Photo credits: David Dockan, my former student, graduate of West Virginia University, now Choir Director / Music Teacher at JEJ Moore Middle School in Prince George, VA.

 

a field guide to student teaching in musicIf you are not fortunate enough to own a copy of A Field Guide to Student Teaching in Music by Ann. C. Clements and Rita Klinger (which I heartily recommend you go out and buy, beg, borrow, or steal), this blog provides a practical overview of field experiences in music education, recommendations for the preparation of all music education majors, and a bibliographic summary of additional resources. Representing that most critical application of in-depth collegiate study of music education methods, conducting, score preparation, ear-training, and personal musicianship and understanding of pedagogy on voice, piano, guitar, and band and string instruments, the student teaching experience provides the culminating everyday “nuts and bolts” of effective music education practice in PreK-12 classrooms.

Possibly the best definition of “a master music teacher” and the process for “hands-on” field training comes from the Penn State University handbook, Partnership for Music Teacher Excellence: A Guide for Cooperating Teachers, Student Teachers, and University Supervisors.

“The goal of the Penn State Music Teacher Education Program is to prepare exemplary music teachers for K-12 music programs. Such individuals can provide outstanding personal and musical models for children and youth and have a firm foundation in pedagogy on which to build music teaching skills. Penn State B.M.E. graduates exhibit excellence in music teaching as defined below.”

“As PERSONAL MODELS for children and youth, music teachers are caring, sensitive individuals who are willing and able to empathize with widely diverse student populations. They exhibit a high sense of personal integrity and demonstrate a concern for improving the quality of life in their immediate as well as global environments. They establish and maintain positive relations with people both like and unlike themselves and demonstrate the ability to provide positive and constructive leadership. They are in good mental, physipenn state university logocal, and social health. They demonstrate the ability to establish and achieve personal goals. They have a positive outlook on life.”

“As MUSICAL MODELS, they provide musical leadership in a manner that enables others to experience music from a wide variety of cultures and genres with ever-­‐‑increasing depth and sensitivity. They demonstrate technical accuracy, fluency, and musical understanding in their roles as performers, conductors, composers, arrangers, improvisers, and analyzers of music.”

“As emerging PEDAGOGUES, they are aware of patterns of human development, especially those of children and youth, and are knowledgeable about basic principles of music learning and learning theory. They are able to develop music curricula, select appropriate repertoire, plan instruction, and assess music learning of students that fosters appropriate interaction between learners and music that results in efficient learning.” — Penn State University School of Music

Making a smooth transition from “music student” to “music teacher” requires a focus on four goals:

  1. Preparation to your placement in music education field assignments
  2. Understanding of the relationships between your cooperating teacher(s) and the university supervisor (and you!) and promotion of positive communications
  3. Adjusting to new environments
  4. Development of professional responsibilities

As mentioned before, details of these should be reviewed in a reading of the introduction to A Field Guide to Student Teaching in Music by Ann. C. Clements and Rita Klinger.

Not to “toot my own horn,” but you are invited to peruse my past blogs on this subject:

 

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Observations

“Take baby steps,” they say?  Before your college music education professors release you to direct a middle school band, teach a general music class, or rehearse the high school choir, you will be asked to observe as many music programs as possible.

My advice to all pre-service teachers is, regardless of your formal assignments by your music education coordinator, try to find time to observe a multitude of different locations, levels, and socioeconomic examples of music classes. Do not limit yourself to those types of jobs you “think” you eventually will seek or be employed:

  • Urban, rural, and suburb settings in poor, middle, and upper-middle socioeconomic areas
  • Large and small school populations
  • Both private and public school entities
  • Elementary, middle, and high school grades
  • General music, tech/keyboard, guitar, jazz, band, choral, and string classes
  • Assignments as different from your own experiences in music-making

Ann Clement and Rita Klinger make the distinction between simply observing and analyzing what you see:

“Observation is a scientific term that means to be or become aware of a phenomenon through careful and directed attention. To observe is to watch attentively with specific goals in mind. Inference is the act of deriving logical conclusions from premises known or assumed to be true. Inference is the act of reason upon an observation. A good observation will begin with pure observation devoid of inference. After an observation of the phenomenon being studied has been completed, it is appropriate to infer meaning to what has been observed. Adding inference after an observation completes the observation cycle — making it a meaningful observation.”A Field Guide to Student Teaching in Music

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Some tips (from Student Teaching in Music: Tips for a Successful Experience by Blair Chadwick and Dr. Johnathan Vest):

  1. Have a specific goal for the observation in mind before you begin
  2. Make copious notes, but don’t write down everything.
  3. Write down techniques, quotes, musical directions or teacher behaviors that seem important.
  4. Don’t be overly critical of your master or cooperating teacher during the observation process.  Remember, they are the expert, you are the novice.  Your perspective changes when you are in front of the class.
  5. Hand-write your notes. An electronic device, although convenient, is louder and can provide distraction for the teacher and students, and you. Write neatly so you can transcribe the notes later.
  6. An small audio recorder can be very useful in case you want to go back and hear something again.

It is appropriate to mention something here about archiving your notes and professional contacts. It is essential that you organize and compile all of the data as you go along… catalog the information in your “C” files (don’t just stuff papers in a drawer somewhere):

  1. Contacts (cooperating/master teachers and administrators’ phone/email addresses)
  2. Course work outlines and class observation journals
  3. Concerts (your own solo and ensemble literature and school repertoire)
  4. Conferences (session handouts, programs)

Why is this important? Don’t be surprised if/when you are asked to teach in a specialty or grade level outside your “major emphasis,” and you want to find that perfect teaching technique or musical selection previously observed that would be a help in your lesson.

 

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Student Teaching

The success of the student teaching experience depends on all its parts working together. They include:

  • The Student Teacher
  • The Cooperating Teacher
  • The University Supervisor
  • The Students
  • The Administration and other teachers and personnel in the building

First, check out your university’s guidelines (of course), but here are “The Basics.”

  • Punctuality (Early = on time; On time = late; Late = FIRED)
  • Dress and Appearance: Be comfortable yet professional.  Be aware of a dress code if one exists, as well as restrictions on tattoos, piercings, and long hair length (gentlemen.)
  • Parking/Checking-In: Know this information BEFORE your first day
  • Materials and Paperwork: Contact your Cooperating Teacher  BEFORE the first day. Know what you need and bring it with you on the first day.

Teacher Hub in “A Student Teaching Survival Guide” spelled out a few more recommendations:

  1. teachhub.comDress for success (professionally)
  2. Always be prepared (checklists, planner, to-do’s)
  3. Be confident and have a positive attitude (if needed, “fake” self-confidence)
  4. Participate in all school activities (everything you can fit into your schedule: staff meetings, extra-curricular activities assigned to the cooperating teacher, and even chaperone duties for a school dance, etc.)
  5. Stay clear of drama (no gossip!)
  6. Don’t take it personally (embracing constructive feedback and criticism)
  7. Ask for help (that’s why you and mentor teachers are there)
  8. Edit your social media accounts (privacy settings and no school student contacts)
  9. Approach student teaching as a long interview (always, throughout the student teaching assignment: “best foot forward” and showcase of all of your qualities)
  10. Stay healthy (handling stress, good sleep, and other positive health habits)

Common questions that may be asked by the student teacher (Chadwick and Vest):

  • Will my cooperating teacher (CT) and school be a good fit for me?
  • Will I “crash and burn” my first time in front of the class?
  • What if  my CT won’t let me teach?
  • What if my CT “throws me to the wolves” on the first day?
  • Will the students respect me?
  • How will I be graded?
  • Will I pass the Praxis??

 

national core arts standards

Planning

Chapter 2 “Curriculum and Lesson Planning” in A Field Guide to Student Teaching in Music provides 12 pages covering scenarios, discussions, and worksheets on all aspects of instructional planning, including the topics of philosophy of music teaching, teaching with and without a plan, long-term planning, and assessment and grading.

If you are unfamiliar with the terms “formative,” “summative,” “diagnostic” and “authentic” assessment, or other educational jargon, or are not fully aware of your state’s arts and humanities standards and the National Core Arts Standards, don’t panic. (Many of us “veteran” music teachers were in the same boat at the beginning of student teaching, regardless of how much material was introduced in our education methods courses.) Do some “catch-up” by visiting  the corresponding websites. For example, in pmeaPennsylvania, you should be a member of PCMEA and take advantage of the research of the PMEA Interactive Model Curriculum Framework. Some educational “buzz words” and acronyms were explored in a previous blog here. It should be noted that, although you won’t be expected to know the full PreK-12 music curriculum while student teaching, when you are hired as “the music specialist,” you would likely be the professional who will be assigned to write and update that same curriculum… so get to know it ASAP. (On my second day in my first job, my JSHS principal came to me and said a course of study for 8th grade music appreciation was due on his desk by the last week of the semester! No, like you, I was not trained in writing curriculum in college!)

From the Penn State University Partnership for Music Teacher Excellence: A Guide for Cooperating Teachers, Student Teachers, and University Supervisors, the following criteria are recommended to be used by the cooperating teacher and the student teacher to assess the effectiveness of a long-term course of study. (Sample plans are provided here.)

  1. Stated learning principles are related to specific learner or student teacher
    activities.
  2. The importance of the course of study is explained in terms learners would likely
    accept and understand.
  3. Each goal is supported by specific objectives.
  4. The sequence of the objectives is appropriate.
  5. The goals and objectives are realistic for this group of learners.
  6. The objectives consider individual differences among learners.
  7. The content presentation indicates complete and sequential conceptual
    understanding.
  8. The presentation is detailed enough that any teacher in the same field could
    teach this unit.
  9. The amount of content is appropriate for the length of time available.
  10. A variety of teaching strategies are included in the daily activities.
  11. The teaching strategies indicate awareness of individual differences.
  12. The daily plans include a variety of materials and resources.
  13. The objectives, teaching strategies, and evaluations are consistent.
  14. A variety of evaluative techniques is employed.
  15. Provisions are made for communicating evaluative criteria to learners.
  16. The materials are neatly presented.

It is important sit side-by-side with your cooperating teacher and discuss some of these “essential questions” of instructional planning and assessment of student teaching:

  • What is the purpose of the learning situation?
  • What provision have you made for individual differences in learner needs, interests, and abilities?
  • Are your plans flexible and yet focused on the subject?
  • Have you provided alternative plans in case your initial planning was not adequate for the period (e.g. too short, too long, too easy, too hard)?
  • Can you maintain your poise and sense of direction even if your plans do not go as you anticipated?
  • Can you determine where in your plans you have succeeded or failed?
  • On the basis of yesterday’s experiences, what should be covered today?
  • Have you provided for the introduction of new material and the review of old material?
  • Have you provided for the development of musical understanding and attitude as well as performance skills?

 

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Getting Your Feet Wet… Becoming an “Educator”

[Source: Chadwick and Vest]

Be attentive to the needs of the students and your cooperating teacher. If you see a need that arises that the CT cannot or is not addressing, then take action. Don’t always wait to be told what to do. These situations may include:

  • Singing or playing with students who are struggling
  • Work with a section or small group of students
  • Helping a student with seat/written work
  • Attending to a a non-musical problem (such as student behavior)

Your supervising teacher or music education coordinator will probably instruct you on how much and when to teach, but each school and CT is different. In general, you should start teaching a class full-time by week 3 and have at least two weeks of full-load teaching per placement. (This is not always possible.)

Remember that any experience is good experience, so be grateful if you are asked to teach early-on in your experience.

What the supervising and/or cooperating teachers are looking for during an observation:

  1. The Lesson Plan
    • Lesson organization (components, logical flow, pacing, time efficiency)
    • Required components included
    • National and State Standards Included—and these have/are changing!!!!
    • Objectives stated in observable terms and tied directly to your assessment(s)
    • What the US/CT is looking for during an observation
  2. Teaching Methods
    • Questioning techniques (stimulate thought, higher order, open-ended, wait time)
    • Appropriate terminology use
    • Student activities that are instructionally effective
    • Teacher monitoring of student activities, assisting, giving feedback
    • Opportunities for higher order thinking
    • Teacher energy/enthusiasm
  3. Classroom Management
    • Media and materials are appropriate, interesting, organized and related to the unit of study.
    • Teacher “with-it-ness”
    • Student behavior management (consistency, classroom procedures in place, students understand expectations)
  4. Student Involvement/Interest/Participation in the Lesson
    • Student verbal participation
    • Balance of teacher talk/student talk
    • Lots of  “musicing” (singing, playing, listening, moving)
    • Student motivation
    • Student understanding of what to do and how to do it
  5. Classroom Atmosphere
    • Positive, “can-do” atmosphere
    • Student questions, teacher response
    • Helpful feedback
    • Verbal and non-verbal evidence that all students are accepted and feel that they belong

Student teaching is the opportunity of a lifetime. This is when you get to practice your pedagogical skills, make invaluable professional connections,  and learn lifelong lessons. Sure, it will take a lot of hard work and dedication. As TeacherHub concluded, “Use this time to learn and grow and make a great impression. Stay positive and remember student teaching isn’t forever – if you play your cards right, you will have a classroom of your own very soon.”

PKF

 

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Bibliography

A Field Guide to Student Teaching in Music, Ann C. Clements and Rita Klinger

A Guide to Student Teaching in Band, Dennis Fisher, Lissa Fleming May, and Erik Johnson, GIA 2019

Handbook for the Beginning Music Teacher, Colleen Conway and Tom Hodgman, 2006

Including Everyone: Creating Music Classrooms Where All Children Learn, Judith A. Jellison, 2015

Intelligent Music Teaching, Robert Duke

Music in Special Education, Mary S. Adamek and Alice Ann Darrow, 2010

Partnership for Music Teacher Excellence: A Guide for Cooperating Teachers,
Student Teachers, and University Supervisors,
Penn State University Music Education Faculty Ann Clements, Robert Gardner, Steven Hankle, Darrin Thornton, Linda Thornton, Sarah Watts  https://music.psu.edu/sites/music.psu.edu/files/music_education/pmte-student_teaching_handbook.pdf

Remixing the Classroom: Toward an Open Philosophy of Music Education, Randall Everett Allsup, 2016

A Student Teaching Survival Guide, Janelle Cox https://www.teachhub.com/student-teaching-survival-guide

Student Teaching in Music: Tips for a Successful Experience, Blair Chadwick and Dr. Johnathan Vest https://www.utm.edu/departments/musiced/_docs/NAfME%20%20Student%20Teaching%20in%20Music.pptx

Teaching Music in the Urban Classroom, Carol Frierson-Campbell, ed.

Teaching with Vitality: Pathways to Health and Wellness for Teachers and Schools, Peggy D. Bennett, 2017

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

How Retirement Has Changed Me… Revisited

Part II: The reinvention continues… new perspectives, recent renovations, fun pathways, and more technology

Happy Thanksgiving to all! Enjoy your time with your family and friends next week!

I feel very blessed and thankful for my health, happiness, economic stability, and relative comfort. My wife and I have “weathered” the so-called “passage to retirement” with success and grace, and continue to explore finding life’s meaning to fulfill the three most important things a job usually provides (according to best-selling author Ernie Zelinski): purpose, community, and structure.

Back in July 2015, I wrote the introduction to this “personal trek” of post-employment transitioning, coping with life-style changes/altered expectations, and personal metamorphosis to “living the dream!” (You can review all of these articles by clicking on the “For Retirees” above.) Specifically on “how retirement has changed me,” nine months ago, I wrote “Part I – One retiree’s quest for learning technology, science, and history” (https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2017/02/13/how-retirement-has-changed-me/), and can report “all is good” in progress on all of these fronts.

We all know personal growth is about curiosity, exploration and acceptance of change… so, now’s the time to report back. What have you been up to, Paul, since then?

 

WordPress

Writing, Collaborating, and Becoming a Better Techie

Here are a few quick check-marks to add to my post-employment technology portfolio:

  • I learned how to create a blog site and write blog articles
  • I learned how to use Zoom online and hold committee meetings on the web
  • I learned how to make a webinar video

To all current and future retirees, I strongly recommend venturing into the creative process of writing… and building a website to archive all of your “treasures.” Posting a blog is a perfect vehicle for getting something off your chest, promoting discussion on almost any topic, researching areas you always wanted to unearth, sharing your thoughts and experiences, and stating your opinion for the record using the Internet.

“The sky’s the limit” for the subjects you could present. What do you like to write about? It is probably easier to dive into the things that are closest to you, your “pet peeves” and passionate viewpoints, or perhaps drawing from the vast store of knowledge and competencies you developed in your music education career. My own “categories” on my website are “Becoming a Music Educator” (for pre-service and new music teachers), “Creativity,” “Ethics,” “Firesides” (epistles I have given to my students), and “For Retirees.”

Look into one of the free, “do-it-yourself” online sites like WordPress, Wix, Web, or Weebly.com. Unless you really want to, it is not necessary to pay for a domain name. However, if you want an easy-to-remember tagline (something everyone can remember), be creative with the title of a new Google email account (from which these web-creation services usually generate your website’s domain name). My professional email is paulkfox.usc@gmail.com, so WordPress removed the dot and created my website moniker as “paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com.”

My quest for further education in stimulating personal technological advances have included using services like “Doodle,” “Wufoo,” “Zoom” or “Go to Meeting” for collaborating with members of the Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention, and submission of several videos which have been archived in the NAfME Academy Professional Development library (of which I am most proud):

nafme

  • Marketing Your Professionalism for Collegiate Music Education Majors: Tips and Strategies to Prepare and Present Yourself for Interviewing and Landing That First Music Teacher Job (two-part video)
  • Preparing for a Smooth Transition to Retirement
  • Supercharge the School Musical

 

Non-Technological Developments

No, I’m not dead yet. Retirement has provided me many rich new set of pursuits and brain-stimulating activities. Some of these activities are intellectual, some physical, and some just wear out my wallet!

How to spend large amounts of our monthly pension? In other dimensions of personal development, my wife and I are slowly renovating our house, finally getting around to making decisions on colors, styles and its overall presentation. When I was a full-time music teacher, I didn’t spend a lot of time at my home. Now in retirement, I have discovered how much it costs to frame a picture, especially if the only criteria when choosing a frame is the beauty of the wood grain and how well you match the double matting to the lithograph. (Without asking the price, I bought a $800 frame for my $125 Charles Wysocki print!)  Taking the high road, we hired a professional to securely hang things on the wall, another very expensive process when your interior decorator ($75/hour) accompanies your installer ($50/hour) to do the job, but all is “perfect” and no marital disputes erupted! After refinishing the floors, installing new windows, painting all the walls, “staging” several rooms (new transformations), and finally finishing the wall-hangings, it looks like the Foxes have a “showcase” residence.

gracie - 1

Raising two cute dogs have become a centerpiece of my life. We need to walk them several times a day, something on which you can’t procrastinate. One would think this regular physical exercise is part of an aerobic routine that is keeping me super-fit!

I have learned so much from my day-to-day dealings with my pups Gracie and Brewster (see previous blog-post https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/what-i-have-learned-from-my-dogs-in-retirement/), although inspiring a few questions:

  1. How do they always know my mood and needs better than I?
  2. No matter when you glance at them, what moves them to show you unconditional “love at first sight,” instantly lowering your blood pressure, nurturing your peace-of-mind, and improving your disposition?
  3. Since dogs have no lips, how are they so aptly able to express a loving kiss with a simple lick of our hands?
  4. How is it that they are always available (24/7) to cuddle, play, sleep in your lap, explore the mysterious ends of their leashes, and follow you everywhere?
  5. Regardless of the mistakes you make, why are they the first to forgive you?

And all they ask in return is to “hang around with you!”

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Just for fun, check out illustrator Kelly Angel’s representation of “how your dog views you” at https://www.boredpanda.com/how-you-see-yourself-vs-how-your-dog-sees-you/.

Although I volunteer as the founding director of the South Hills Junior Orchestra and teach “kids of all ages” on Saturdays every week, one of my other volunteer pursuits centers around pushing wheelchairs at the local hospital. The good news? I see so many of my students and their families at St. Clair Hospital. My favorite trip is going to the family birth center and discharging a new mother and her baby… and with surprising frequency, reuniting a former student or colleague with their “old” school music teacher or community orchestra director. Any bad news? Well, I am still puzzled why I have lost a little of my stamina and endurance since retiring. After only a little more than 3 1/2 hours of pushing wheelchairs (some of whom contain very large patients), I notice I am ready for a power nap! This does not mesh well with my employment days when I was teaching full-time, arriving to school by 6:45 in the morning, and often did not make it home until 9 PM (after-school rehearsals, meetings and performances of the marching band, fall play, and spring musical. What’s up about that?

 

pmea

Philosophy of Post-Employment Professional Engagement

“Ask not PMEA can do for you, but what you can do for PMEA.”

Where have you heard that before? Sounds like something from the soapbox of the PMEA Retired Member Coordinator? (Check out “PMEA in Retirement”).

The most important part of my long-term goals is to try to make a difference in other people’s lives… colleagues, collegiate or pre-service educators, and others.  As for PMEA, I’m throwing my hat in the ring as your Coordinator of Retired Members. In addition, I accidentally walked into a summer meeting a little more than a year ago and was voted in as chair of the Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention. This is an exciting time in during PMEA’s new governance and recently ratified five-year strategic plan. We have the opportunity of doing some real meaningful work for music education in the state of Pennsylvania.

I hope that you continue to participate in PMEA and NAfME yourself. Obviously, once we “Cross the Rubicon” into retirement, we need not to worry about the hectic day-to-day schedule, politics, and stress of a full-time teaching position. However, we can make a difference, acting less engaged but still on-board helping our professional associations and advocating for the success of music education. PA music teachers (the focus of many of these blogs), please consider keeping your membership up-to-date, joining the PMEA Retiree Resource Registry, volunteering for guest conducting, presenting sessions, doing other jobs for PMEA, an/or attending official events.

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In a recent Retired Member Network eNEWS, I mentioned that as unofficial mentors and sage advisers, there are many ways retired members can “return the favor” of a career full of wonderfully enriching professional development and music festival resources, simply by helping PMEA out a little:

  1. Review the five-year PMEA Strategic Plan – posted online at https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/PMEA-Strategic-Plan-2017-21-Final-1.pdf. Focus on possible things in which you may have the skills or interests to contribute to our profession, and propose something new “for the good of the order.” Here are sample objectives – any of these “strike a chord” with you?
    • 1E. Continue to improve and find new and innovative ways to engage PMEA members in advocacy efforts including Advocacy Day in Harrisburg and Music in Our Schools Month activities (“team-up” with retiree Chuck Neidhardt, PMEA State MIOSM Coordinator).
    • 2A. Explore topics of lifelong learning (music therapy, community music, service learning…)
    • 2E. Focus on topics of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access by providing space for dialogue, reaching more students beyond traditional ensembles, and identifying and promoting success stories and appropriate practices.
    • 3B. Investigate possibilities of various partnerships with other music associations.
    • 3E. Develop leadership (e.g. retreat and training sessions).
    • 4B. Promote and expand the Music Performance Assessment program (e.g. solo and chamber ensemble opportunities, virtual MPA’s, and traveling adjudicators).
  2. Still have your “conductor chops?” One way to encourage your colleagues to think of you in becoming a guest director or accompanist of a PMEA festival is to join the PMEA Retiree Resource Registry (see the retired member section of the website at https://www.pmea.net/retired-members/) and send an email sharing your interest and availability to the District President and the local Festival/Fest Coordinator.
  3. Did you know that anyone can suggest a session for a local workshop or PMEA spring and summer conference? (See the PMEA website.) What’s on your mind? What do you think is important to explore, collaborate, or exhibit? I know of few PMEA retired members who do not have a “special expertise” and passion about an area in music and education. Go ahead, “let the cat out of the bag” while it is still “fresh” in your mind!
  4. Submit articles or reviews to our PMEA News editorial committee chair Doug Bolasky (also a retiree) for publication consideration in our state journal. Like #3 above, this is an excellent outlet to “get something off your chest,” promote discussion on almost any topic, research areas you always wanted to unearth, share your thoughts and experiences, and state your opinion “for the record.”
  5. Offer to serve on a PMEA committee. For example, volunteer to serve on the listening or session evaluation committee. Prefer to stay “close to home?” Ask your District President if you can be appointed to (or be placed on the ballot for) one of the many leadership positions in need of caring, committed, and competent representatives. Also, PMEA always needs guest lecturers, panel discussion members, presiding chairs, and info booth volunteers for the spring conference.

 

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In short… we need you, your collective wisdom, experience, and the ability to dodge problems before they become big. Sure, relax a little, personally reflect, refocus, and revitalize your goals during your retirement, but don’t retreat from “doing your bit” for “making a difference” in music education.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits from Pixabay.com: “grandparents” by Marvin Roaw and “senior” by RitaE.

Pizza, Batting Averages, and the “Ten Times Rule!”

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Sean Myers

More Practice Tools for Musical Preparation and Building Self-Confidence

foxsfiresidesInstrument lessons and orchestra practices provide opportunities for the music teacher to impart a few “tricks of the trade” in reading and then practicing music. I call these my “Craftsmen Tools” for successful musical construction… one note or one line of music at a time.

Take it from a world-famous maestro! According to Itzhak Perlman, practicing effectively “comes down to listening. What are you listening for when you practice?” He advises, “Just reduce it to small increments, two or three bars, and try to get a hold of everything at the same time… You can accomplish a lot more in less time. Practicing slowly is extremely important. Then you can figure out what’s going on. Nothing escapes you.”

You may have heard my reference to “cutting pizza” for the focus on a specific section, passage or “slice” in the music in order to repetitively drill to learn the notes. I suggest to my students that they should “take it small and take it slow,” and then gradually speed up the excerpt. Psychologists and education experts know that humans cannot absorb/retain/recite huge amounts of data at one time. (That is one of the reasons, for example, we separate long numbers with hyphens, like phone numbers, zip codes, and the social security identification. We CAN remember two, three and four digits at a glance, but most of us feel a little overwhelmed to memorize five or more numbers or places!)

In learning a new piece of music, the recommendation is to divide the work into segments. Our fast-paced life-style and hectic schedules do not usually allow for “gulping the whole thing” at one sitting (or playing through the entire folder of music, every note including the easy whole notes and rests). It is equally important to prioritize the “hard spots” in the music, and use slowed-down echo practice to our advantage. Labeling each section, and even going as far to marking the date each time it is practiced, will help our instrumentalists to focus on things that seem hard, logically plan (at first out-of-sequence), problem-solve, learn the day’s “goal,” and eventually put the pieces back together.

seriestoshare-logo-01At lessons, some music teachers refer to batting averages, and point out how a .333 baseball hitting average is outstanding in the Major Leagues (when big-league pitchers are throwing 90-mile hour balls at you), but terrible for a musician who plays one note right to two notes wrong. Since each practice session builds neural-connections across brain cells (physical “memory” to do the skill again), in order to “play it right” consistently, we have to repeat it accurately over and over again, thus “the Ten Times Rule.” Musicians have to achieve a .950 or better average, and practicing their challenging musical “slice” ten times in a row will do the most good. Cumulative effort over different sessions or days is also the key to success! If a hard passage is played 10-20 times today, repeated 10-20 times tomorrow, another set of 10-20 drills the next day, etc. until the part can be played perfectly “in a row” every time, the player will have NO WORRIES when it comes time to perform it at the concert.

Several months prior to my senior viola recital at Carnegie-Mellon University, I told my professor I was a bit nervous. He said I was not practicing enough (on the hard sections). What I did not understand at the time was I lacked this drill-method of practicing to build my self-confidence and improve my “batting average.” If nothing but perfect sounding or “reruns” of music comes from your practice session, you are not properly focusing on “one slice at a time” nor winning with “the ten times rule!”

Take a trip to the South Hills Junior Orchestra website. Under “Resources,” check out the three sets of free “Series to Share…” additional “Fox’s Fireside” issues by Paul K. Fox, and “Music Enrichment Workshop” presentations by Donna Stark Fox.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

 

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This “Series to Share” is brought to you by… the Founding Directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO), “a community orchestra for all ages” based in Western Pennsylvania. Feel free to download a printable copy and distribute to music students, parents, teachers, and fellow amateur musicians.

SHJO rehearses most Saturdays in the band room of the Upper St. Clair High School, 1825 McLaughlin Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15241. New members are always welcome! For more information, please go to www.shjo.org.

Goals for the Musical Road to Success

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Matt Hains

Making mature and meaningful decisions to plan personal practice

As the school concert season draws to a close and summer is almost upon us, now is the perfect time to reflect on a little musical goal-setting, complete a personal inventory and needs assessment (in what areas do I need help?), foxsfiresidesprioritize what’s the most important, and define several new “practice plans.”

Do you recall a cartoon with Lucy van Pelt bossing Charlie Brown around and handing him his own very long list of New Year’s resolutions? Except for your parents and the music teachers who know YOU, it isn’t usually effective for someone else to pick your goals. (Of course, if you don’t listen to the suggestions from your music directors and private teachers, there’s a good chance you will never improve!) Sitting around doing nothing, accepting things as they are now, and randomly floating from one task to another accidentally “making music” without foresight or planning are not likely to work. Inattention and osmosis are slow ways to achieve anything in life. Obviously, you must be motivated, ambitious, focused, and committed to “whatever it takes” on the pathways towards self-improvement and musical mastery!

According to “goals experts” (such as the One Minute Manager book by Kenneth Blanchard and the Utah State University recommendations below), to create meaningful personal goals, they should:

  • Be written down (Take the time and post them in your room!);
  • Be specific (Keep it focused, simple, and to the point!);
  • Be concrete (Exactly what/how do you need to do?);
  • Be measurable (How do you know when you’ve succeeded?);
  • Be viewed and reviewed often (Look at them daily/weekly/monthly, and every time you practice!);
  • Be shared (Show them to your music teacher and/or parents/spouse!);
  • Be flexible and change as needed (Modify and adjust – set new goals!);
  • Have a time frame (When will these have to be completed?).

ALL students, parents, and teachers – CLICK ON THIS LINK! Download, print, and read Getting What You Want – How to Make Goals: https://www.usu.edu/asc/assistance/pdf/goal_setting.pdf

seriestoshare-logo-01Your practice should have well-defined goals. What do you want to learn as a musician? Are there particular pieces of music, styles, or technical skills you would like to be able to play? Knowing what you want to accomplish will help you decide what work is needed and assist defining specific learning targets. If you have a private teacher, he/she will automatically prescribe objectives for you, based on your present strengths and weaknesses. But if you desire to join the local youth symphony, participate in a music festival, play in a pit orchestra, perform solos or chamber music, become a conductor, help coach your peers, or want to improve a specific technical skill or general musicianship, make sure your teachers know it! They may be able to share warm-ups, strategies, or practice materials that will help you improve and expand your knowledge, technique, expressiveness, sight-reading and ear training.

Here are some goal-related questions to ask yourself (consider several of these):

  1. Have you signed up for the local band or string camp?
  2. Have you made arrangements to take a few lessons on your instrument or even on piano or music theory over the summer?
  3. What was the last method book you used? Did you finish it? How many pieces can you memorize from it?
  4. When was the last time you performed a solo or two and recorded yourself? Wouldn’t it be fun to video yourself playing a mini-recital and sending the DVD to your grandmother or grandfather?
  5. One of the greatest challenges in performance is sight reading. Can you pull-out a random piece of music (even something written for a different instrument) and play it straight through without stopping?
  6. Pick your greatest weakness or problem on the instrument. What needs your attention? New keys, rhythms, articulations?
  7. Ask your teacher what would be an appropriate exercise book. Can you define several new challenging goals in playing scales, arpeggios, other warm-ups, or études specifically geared for your instrument?
  8. For Western Pennsylvania residents, did you know the South Hills Junior Orchestra is always open to new instrumentalists? SHJO begins its Saturday practices a week after Labor Day (USCHS Band Room 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.). Everyone is welcome to play in 2-4 free-trial practices!

Take a trip to the South Hills Junior Orchestra website. Under “Resources,” check out the three sets of free “Series to Share…” additional “Fox’s Fireside” issues by Paul K. Fox, and “Music Enrichment Workshop” presentations by Donna Stark Fox.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

This “Series to Share” is brought to you by… the Founding Directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO), “A Community Orchestra for All Ages” based in Western Pennsylvania. Feel free to download a printable copy and distribute to music students, parents, teachers, and fellow amateur musicians.

SHJO rehearses most Saturdays in the band room of the Upper St. Clair High School, 1825 McLaughlin Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15241. New members are always welcome! For more information, please go to www.shjo.org.

What is the National Creativity Network?

Part V: The Ultimate Resource for Creativity News, Methodology, Research, and Contacts

NCN

If you have not done so previously, drop everything, knock off a couple hours, and visit and consume a heaping portion of the National Creativity Network website: http://nationalcreativitynetwork.org/.

the-author-5-1166957It can’t get any better than this! Probably the most comprehensive one-stop vault of articles and “friends of NRN” sources for further study, the NCN provides an extensive collection of creativity tools: news stories (still current as of the week of April 7, 2017), quotes, webinars, blog-posts, past competitions like the USA Creative Business Cup, and a Board of Directors from across North America including many “giants in the field” like one of my heroes Sir Ken Robinson (California),  along with George Tzougros (Wisconsin), Margaret Collins (North Carolina), Steve Dahlberg (Connecticut), Carrie Fitzsimmons (Massachusetts), Peter Gamwell (Ottawa, Canada), Jean Hendrickson (Oklahoma), Wendy Liscow (New Jersey), Susan McCalmont (Oklahoma), Robert Morrison, Scott Noppe Brandon, David O’Fallon (Minnesota), Andrew Ranson, Susan Sclafani (Washington D.C.), and Haley Simons (Alberta, Canada).

dennis_cheek_4_09_5x7_02According to their website, Dennis Cheek is the Executive Director of the National Creativity Network (right).

Since it so large and links will lead to many different websites, I recommend revisiting their site often. Start with their news feed section (http://nationalcreativitynetwork.org/?page_id=18).

The following is reprinted directly from the National Creativity Network website, and should be used as a model or “food for thought” towards the infusion and prioritizing creativity in education and business settings. Bon appétit!  PKF

National Creativity Network

OUR VISION:

A vibrant and flourishing North America where imagination, creativity, and innovation are routinely valued, skillfully applied, and continuously expanded.

OUR MISSION:

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The National Creativity Network engages, connects, informs, promotes, and counsels cross-sector stakeholders who skillfully use imagination, creativity and innovation to foster vibrant and flourishing individuals, institutions and communities across North America.

OUR CORE BELIEFS:

  • Imagination is the bedrock of human creativity and remains an underdeveloped and under-utilized resource.
  • Creativity is present in every human being and can be further nurtured and developed.
  • Innovation entrepreneurially figures out how to make creative ideas function well in the real world at a scale that matters.
  • A desirable future for institutions, communities, and societies depends upon continuously finding imaginative, creative, and innovative solutions to profound and complex challenges.
  • Supportive environments are essential to the unleashing of imagination, expression of creativity, and realization of innovation.

NCN’s EXISTS TO:

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpark local, regional, state and provincial, and national movements to create environments—in homes, schools, workplaces, communities and public offices—where every person is inspired to grow creatively.
  • Develop grassroots networks of organizations and regions to facilitate the exchange of ideas, models and “best questions” as well as providing support and processes for those who want to take part.
  • Serve as a national and international thought leader and influential policy voice for matters related to imagination, creativity, and innovation.
  • Seek new national and global partners whom we can engage, connect, understand, and promote.
  • Provide high quality, synthesized, and timely information across geographies, sectors, problems, activities, and needs.
  • Facilitate cross-sectoral (education, commerce, culture, and government) and cross-regional work that tackles difficult and perennial obstacles to progress in North America.

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We accept the following working definitions for our work, adapted with permission from the book imagination first: Unlocking the Power of Possibility by Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon (Jossey-Bass, 2009):

Imagination is the capacity to conceive of what is not yet present or manifest.

Creativity is imagination applied (“imagination at work”) to do or make something that flows from the prior capacity to conceive of the new.

Innovation consists of further creative actions that advance the form, depth, reach, and richness of that which has been brought into being.

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits: artist palette-John Nyberg, imagination-Svilen Milev, photographer-Bob Knight, clay artist-Stefano Barni, and musician-Rita Mezzela at FreeImages.com