Embracing the Intangibles

Teaching Empathy and Engagement

Admittedly, if we keep piling on more mandates for earning a teaching degree and professional certificate, our music education majors would have to continue several more years at the university. What has been added to the forefront of education? You name it: “backwards-designed curriculum,” ethics, the “four C’s” (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication), Common Core, social-emotional learning, special education, new technology, etc. We are already wrestling with the limits of time to cover a mastery of personal musicianship and artistry to find space to “squeeze in” at least a cursory study of the other more abstract but important “soft skills” of character development, cultural diversity and sensitivity training, nurture of emotional health and wellness, stress management, “charismatic” leadership, time management, and… humanity!

“Back in the dark ages” when I attended Carnegie-Mellon University, the pathway for becoming a teacher was to complete (and pay full-tuition!) five years to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and license to teach in the public schools. The fifth year was when we did our student teaching along with additional graduate credits applied towards a Master of Fine Arts in Music Education. This was conferred after a full year’s employment “in the field” (Year #6) and completion of additional summer courses of Philosophy in Music Education, Administration of Music Education, several more credits, and a master’s thesis addressing a self-targeted educational problem at our job. For my entire time at CMU, 80% of the coursework on my transcript was singularly focused on performance classes (lessons on piano and the “major” – mine was on viola – as well as chamber and large group ensemble rehearsals), conducting, instrumental and vocal methods, music history, sight-reading/ear training, harmony, orchestration, etc.

What’s Missing in Music Teacher Training?

It is amazing what we must learn “on our own” after we receive our diploma. Yes, I was competent to read a score, assess a solo, band, chamber group, choral, orchestra, or theatrical performance, compose/arrange and accompany a piece for a string class, coach a vocalist on warming up her voice, apply my knowledge of a composer’s life and music to interpret a masterwork, and start a new student on the cello or flute or tuba or drum! However, a quick reminiscence of “the ABCs for the 2009 opening day” agenda I presented to my music staff as their Performing Arts Curriculum Leader had little bearing on the pre-service training all of us received in higher education:

  • Assessment “of” (“Summative”) and “for” (“Formative”) Learning
  • Blackboard and Blended Schools
  • Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge
  • Curriculum Mapping and the Rubicon Atlas web program
  • Customization and Differentiation of Instruction
  • Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings
  • Multiple Intelligences Theory
  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Standards-Aligned System
  • Teaching the “Whole Child”

So, if I became a “superintendent for a day” (or much longer), what would I now prioritize for induction and/or in-service training of educators?

We’ll start out with a taste of the inspiration led by my mentor and former superintendent of schools of Upper St. Clair School District where I taught for 33 years, the man who probably had the greatest influence for my getting hired and seeing something in me to channel my energy towards succeeding in several challenging assignments: Dr. William A. Pope. Way back in the 90’s, Bill was a proponent for studying “the stuff of human relationships,” including the introduction of elementary and middle level units on caring/compassion, courage, empathy, honesty, kindness, sensitivity, trust, among many others. Yes, you CAN teach values and acquiring a “moral compass” in the public schools!

I recently recalled many of these terms as they resonated within me during a motivating “The Presence of a Teacher” session presented by Penn State University Associate Professor of Theater Dr. Susan Russell. She opened the Pennsylvania Collegiate Music Educators Association Region III Virtual Workshop on November 1, 2020 with a “Zoom discussion” brainstorming the essential tools for building every teacher’s “presence” and “connectivity” with his/her students:

  • empathy
  • engagement
  • enthusiasm
  • listening
  • personal story-telling
  • self-care
  • sharing
  • vulnerability (acceptance to show)

A Different Kind of “Bucket List!’

Next, let’s add to this mix the easy-to-read book How Full Is Your Bucket by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton, organized around the simple metaphor of a dipper and a bucket. Their work is grounded in 50 years of research and will show you how to greatly increase the positive moments in your work and your life – while reducing the negative – which, of course, can be applied to benefit your interactions with students (of paramount importance!), their parents, and school staff.

Admittedly, at times, this may be difficult. As I sit here putting on the finishing touches to a lesson plan for a virtual rehearsal of my online music academy – a “best I can do” replacement to in-person practices of our community youth orchestra’s 39th season, while absorbing the awful media broadcasts of recent spikes in the coronavirus across my region and the country, and trying to ignore the very angry rhetoric of a divided nation in the yet unresolved presidential election: How does one find “positivity” or project an image of hope? What’s that saying? “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”

A “Thoughtful Drop” from a “Full Bucket” would emphasize the

  • Focus on the positive
  • Sharing of frequent small positive acts daily
  • Positive reinforcement to motivate learning
  • Promotion of positive emotions for your own good health

“How did you feel after your last interaction with another person?”

“Did that person – your spouse, best friend, coworker, or even a stranger – “fill your bucket” by making you feel more positive? Or did that person “dip from your bucket,” leaving you more negative than before?”

https://www.gallup.com/press/176132/full-bucket.aspx
https://crystalecho.com/gallup-profiling/

You can even take their Gallup Clifton Strengths poll to understand your “personality DNA” (above) and assess your potential: https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/home.aspx

Raising Caring, Successful Kids in a “Plugged-In, Trophy-Driven World”

In any discussion on what children need most, are you surprised that the word “empathy” keeps coming up? We turn to, in my opinion, “the single most revolutionary book of our time,” UnSelfie – Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Dr. Michele Borba, Ed.D., with her framework of nine essential habits of empathy:

  1. Emotional Literacy (recognition of the feelings and needs of self and others)
  2. Moral Identity (adoption of caring values that guide integrity and activate empathy)
  3. Perspective Taking (appreciation of another person’s feelings, thoughts, and views)
  4. Moral Imagination (use of literature, films, and emotionally charged images as a source of inspiration to feel with others)
  5. Self-Regulation (management of strong emotions and reduction of personal distress)
  6. Practicing Kindness (increased concern about the welfare and feelings of others)
  7. Collaboration (working together in the achievement of shared goals)
  8. Moral Courage (resolution to speak out, step in, and help others)
  9. Altruistic Leadership (motivation to make a difference for others)

Michele Borba emphasizes that the “selfie syndrome” is leading to excessive “self-promotion, personal branding, and self-interest at the exclusion of others’ feelings, needs, and concerns. It’s permeating our culture and slowly eroding our children’s character.” In short, she charges educators and parents alike to focus on enhancing the children’s “social-emotional competencies, resilience, academic success, leadership, healthy relationships, moral courage, happiness and mental health.”

I wrote this article for PMEA News about this phenomenon, examples of my impressions of the “dumbing down” or numbing of emotional quotient, less focus on “team” orientation, omission of studying “character” in our schools, and the seemingly increased emphasis on “the me – not the we!”

“Social-emotional learning” (SEL) was not a part of a college music education course catalog, even a few years ago. And yet, today more than ever, it is probably the single most valued “teaching skill” necessary for the care and engagement of students during the pandemic. Educators are “leaders” and often have a lasting influence (maybe only second to their parents) on the social-emotional health of their “charges!” Let’s review the principles of emotional intelligence (EI):

“Most effective leaders have a high degree of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.”

United Nations Staff College https://www.unssc.org/ and What Makes a Leader? by Daniel Goleman https://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader

Why is SEL so important?

SEL provides a foundation for safe and positive learning, and enhances our students’ ability to succeed in school, careers, and life.

https://casel.org/sel-framework/

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

https://casel.org/overview-sel/

SEL can provide students with the SKILLS to confront their challenges by being self-aware, socially-aware, and to make responsible decisions. According to Associate Professor of Music, Music Education Chair, and Director of Bands at Lake Forest College Dr. Scott Edgar, this may take the form of reflection, discussion, and lecture, but to be most effective, it needs to be embedded in curriculum.

“For me, the music teacher can do this in a much more authentic way—through music… SEL should not feel like one more thing; it is THE thing. We teach music; we teach self-discipline; we teach collaboration. SEL is in our classrooms already; our job is to make it explicit, consistent, and structured.”

Dr. Scott Edgar https://nafme.org/music-education-social-emotional-learning/

According to Edgar, music teachers can help teach SEL by:

  • encouraging students to set their own musical goals
  • devising solutions for individual or group errors (instead of us always giving the answers)
  • navigating performance anxiety
  • understanding the power of music for social change

One more purchase recommendation:
Music Education and Social and Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music
by Scott N. Edgar

“Music education helps our students learn how to be dedicated, to persevere, and to work together. It is our job to help students see that these skills are not isolated to the music classroom. These are the skills they need to be successful outside of music and to confront their challenges with strength and skill. Music can be the preventative mental health our students need so they have the skills to confront the life challenges ahead of them.”

Dr. Scott Edgar https://nafme.org/music-education-social-emotional-learning/

For a full understanding of SEL, it might be best to review the well-known “CASEL Wheel” (shown above) online at https://casel.org/sel-framework/. I also suggest you download this PDF file.

We have many additional resources to peruse for developing SEL:

When COVID-19 crashed into our lives wrecking havoc to almost all forms of live/in-person instruction, quarantining elements of the population, enforcing isolation and social-distancing requirements, closing schools and even cancelling most close-collaborative artistic ventures (music lessons, rehearsals, concerts, musicals, etc.), educators everywhere looked for a way to reconnect with their kids… and settled for the less-than-satisfactory, latency-prone, desensitizing virtual-conference environment! Overnight, schools and teachers resorted to “very” remote models of online learning only to view rows and rows of “trapped,” emotionally-detached, mummy or wax-museum-like faces of their students in windows of Zoom, Google Meet, or GoToMeeting platforms.

It’s time to retool and revamp. The most important thing we can do right now is to reach-out to, re-engage, and re-energize our music students, find out how they are doing, foster moments of meaningful dialogue, and share (there’s that word again) empathy… and that we care. We need to immerse ourselves into and apply the principles of human relationships, teacher presence, “bucket drops,” and recommended habits of empathy, EI and SEL explored above by a few wise educational leaders (a.k.a. “our models”).

PKF

Photo credits from Pixabay.com:

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

3 Simple Words – KEEP AT IT!

How Are You Spending YOUR Time?

 

FoxsFiresides

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

learn-3653430_1920_geralt

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

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

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

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

dual graphics

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

The answer is… now only one word: NOW! 

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

SHJOclips

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

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

(Download the interactive CLIP JOURNAL here!)

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

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

PKF

 

hi-res logo 2018The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow players.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of this article and the Interactive Clip Journal.

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

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits from Pixabay.com:

“Campfire Stick Fire Flame Camping” by Free-Photos

“Learn Student Laptop Internet” by geralt

“Crying Smiley Emotion Sad” by OpenClipart-Vectors

Where Are the Models, Mentors, and Motivators?

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Peter C.

 

Are You Listening to Solo, Chamber, and Orchestral Music?

foxsfiresidesWhen I was teaching full-time school orchestra music grades 5-12, the following conversation by students in my program may have been shared at the dinner table. “He wants me to spend time and listen to several outstanding players. I was a little embarrassed when he called on me in class and asked, ‘Who is your favorite violinist?’ and I could not identify a single principal string player or even the current Concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra!”

I was dismayed that as many as 80% of my instrumentalists could not respond with the name of a famous classical musician who is currently playing their instrument! This brings the issue to the forefront of my greatest concern: DOES ANYONE LISTEN TO GOOD MUSIC ANYMORE?

Obviously, most people learning how to play golf, tennis, ballet, ice skating, gymnastics or any of the contact sports, could instantly name their “hero” and leading examples in their field. Can you imagine not watching a professional athlete model his/her technique? For example, if you wanted to learn how to be a high-diver or competitive swimmer, would you simply read a book on the subject, study the moves, take a few lessons, practice in the pool, and not once attend a local swim meet or watch the Olympic event when it appeared on TV?

seriestoshare-logo-01Pittsburgh has a strong cultural base, providing a home for the world-class Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Pops, the Pittsburgh Ballet and Pittsburgh Opera companies, and the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera productions, to name a few venues. We are also most fortunate that many amateur or semi-professional groups such as the Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra, Washington Symphony, and River City Brass Band are local (some concerts presented conveniently next door in the Upper St. Clair HS Theatre). Professional soloists and chamber groups visit our city nearly every month, and opportunities to enjoy free concerts are limitless on cable/FiOS television and WQED.

This revelation motivated me to bring my laptop computer to every music lesson and ensemble rehearsal to share musical examples. With truly “basic” technology, there is really no excuse for not exploring a sea of masterpieces, watching a virtuoso performing his craft up-close – thanks especially to online resources such as www.youtube.com. Here are just a few “totally free” audio examples:

Here is the musicianship prescription – tips on providing meaningful motivation, momentum, and exposure to GREAT works of art in order to become more culturally connected and musically literate:

  • Families: Take the music break and listen to Classical (all styles/eras), folk, pop/jazz music at least once a week.
  • Encourage your musician to regularly use his/her computer/tablet to watch performances on the web.
  • Choose several favorite soloists playing the same instrument you are studying, and follow them.
  • Buy CDs of music or download movements of concertos, sonatas, or symphonies from iTunes, etc.
  • Go to a live professional concert at least once a year – more often in the summer, if possible.

Take a trip to the South Hills Junior Orchestra website… Under “Resources,” check out the two sets of free “Series to Share…” additional “Fox’s Fireside” issues by Paul K. Fox, and “Music Enrichment Workshop” presentations by Donna Stark Fox. In particular, download and read the Listening Enrichment Session, the perfect companion to this article.

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.