Our Quest for the Training of Ethical Decision-Making
With thanks to Thomas W. Bailey, attorney-at-law, collaborator on ethics-in-education workshops
This blog is dedicated to pre- and in-service educators residing and working in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
News from the Pennsylvania Department of Education
In Pennsylvania (as well as the rest of the country), the statistics on school staff misconducts have been rising alarmingly. Sample data from Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE):
Involving more than 2545 PA school staff members since 2004 when they began reporting them, PDE maintains a database of all disciplinary infractions, the names of the offenders and their offenses here.
Immorality – Immorality is conduct which offends the morals of the Commonwealth and is a bad example to the youth whose ideals a professional educator or a charter school staff member has a duty to foster and elevate.
Incompetency – Incompetency is a continuing or persistent mental or intellectual inability or incapacity to perform the services expected of a professional educator or a charter school staff member.
Intemperance – Intemperance is a loss of self-control or self-restraint, which may result from excessive conduct.
Cruelty – Cruelty is the intentional, malicious and unnecessary infliction of physical or psychological pain upon living creatures, particularly human beings.
Negligence – Negligence is a continuing or persistent action or omission in violation of a duty. A duty may be established by law, by promulgated school rules, policies or procedures, by express direction from superiors or by duties of professional responsibility, including duties prescribed by Chapter 235 (relating to Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators).
“Typically, charges initiated against a teacher on any of the grounds listed above may result in a hearing before a Professional Standards and Practices Commission (PSPC) hearing officer. If an educator elects not to contest the charges, however, a decision on the matter may be made without a hearing. When charges are brought against an educator on non-criminal grounds, the PSPC has discretion to determine if the conduct occurred, if the conduct constitutes one of the grounds for discipline, and what discipline should be imposed, if any. In contrast to cases arising on criminal grounds, the PSPC maintains full adjudicatory discretion in cases filed on the above-described grounds.”
As a music teacher for nearly a half-century (35 years full-time involvement in the public schools), not once did I experience someone other than myself and retired social studies teacher Thomas Bailey present a course, class, or even an hour-long workshop on ethics. Obviously, the growing statistics are a concern, but what do you expect when almost no PA-certified teacher you ask can name the title or content of his/her “code of conduct?” Updated frequently, a comprehensive section on this blog-site is devoted to a much-needed exploration of the definitions, research, sample case studies, and “conundrums” in professional and ethical decision-making. Here are some highlights of past articles for your perusal:
Finally, it seems that the Pennsylvania Board of Education and PDE have also awakened to this “cause.” In the last several years, there’s been significant movement in the rewriting of statues and regulations, and mandating ethics training in future pre-service, induction, and in-service programs. Below is a quick look at the history (albeit a very slow progress) sponsored by our state government.
History of PA Legislative & Executive Branch Rules Revisions
Public School Code of 1949 was written by the PA General Assembly regulating PA educators. Section 11-1122 identifies conduct which allows school entities to terminate educator contracts for “…immorality; incompetency; unsatisfactory teaching performance… intemperance; cruelty and persistent negligence in the performance of duties….”
January 2020: The Commission recommended to the PA State Board of Education “the inclusion of professional ethics in educator preparation programs, induction, and continuing professional education… Professional ethics are the accepted and collectively agreed upon standards of behavior, values, and principles that, in conjunction with applicable laws and regulations, are meant to inform and guide professional decision-making.”
September 2021: Final amendments to Chapter 49 were approved by the Council of Higher Education and by the State Board of Education and transmitted to the Senate Education Committee, House Education Committee, and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission for the final steps in the regulatory review process.
What’s Needed for the Future? Let’s Renew the Mandate to Share Knowledge and Peer Engagement in Ethics Training
Based on Thomas Bailey’s and my experience in providing more than four years of local and state educator ethics and professional decision-making workshops, we recommend the following:
Presentations should be interactive, allowing time for group discussion, question/answer periods, and “empaneling the ethics jury” to review fact scenarios of identifying levels of ethical misconduct, violations of code and/or policies, and the possible negative consequences, risks, and harm to the students, school staff, and community-at-large.
Case studies should uncover all aspects of professional educator decision-making: pedagogy, enforcement, resource allocation, relationships, and diversity, and illuminate possible ethical conflicts, contradictions, or “conundrums.”
Content should include definitions of common vocabulary (e.g. “fiduciary”), and an in-depth examination of the PA Code of Professional Practices and Conduct, Public School Code of 1949 and the Educator Discipline Act, and PA Chapter 126.
In relation to the PDE Discipline Process, all educators in the Commonwealth should be made aware of PA “governance” and its three independent branches: legislative (statutes), executive (regulations), and judicial (case law), as well as their rights for due process.
Following the research of Troy Hutchings, the principles of educator “ethical equilibrium” and understanding the differences between a “code of conduct” (more explicit and well defined) vs. a code of ethics (more open-ended, based on the circumstances/context of the situation) should be discussed comparing representative examples.
Presenters should unpack and apply the standards in the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) Model Code of Ethics for Educators (MCEE). Since the PA Board of Education endorsed the NASDTEC MCEE in January 2017, little has been publicized (even on the PSPC website) about understanding and implementation of this national “teacher code of ethics.”
Thomas Bailey and I are available to present virtual or in-person workshops on professional and ethical decision-making of educators. Please email any interest or questions here.
Reviews of Court Cases on PA Education Regulations & School Staff Misconducts
Special thanks to guest blogger Thomas W. Bailey, current attorney-at-law and retired social studies teacher, who provides Act 48 courses of continuing education in professional decision-making, analyzing educator ethics, the law, PA Code of Professional Practices and Conduct, and discussion and interpretation of sample fact scenarios based upon classroom dilemmas.
Previously, this blog site (category = ethics) has offered numerous articles on defining issues of morality, ethics, regulations, professional aspirations, codes of conduct and codes of ethics, teacher-student relationships and boundaries, confidentiality, mandatory reporting, and reviews by “mock juries” of educator misconduct case studies. For my PMEA music education colleagues, PCMEA members, and education majors and newcomers to the profession throughout the Commonwealth, one area that still needs to be addressed is a discussion on Pennsylvania case law. One essential question is applicable to ALL pre- and in-service educators across the country: Have you informed yourself about the structure of YOUR state’s three branches of government, laws governing school staff responsibilities, prohibitions, and discipline, specific codes of conduct and/or ethics, and the judicial review process and case law?
“Ignorantia juris non excusat.”(Ignorance of the law excuses not.)
Thomas Bailey has provided an outstanding resource for learning more about PA regulations, court decisions, and putting into practice the values of ethical decision making. Below is a glimpse of his court case blog. Please visit his website for more detailed information and to sign-up for online classes: https://twbaileylaw.com/.
PA Commonwealth Court Case – Music Teacher Charged with Immorality
A male high school instrumental instructor and band director, M.T., began a romantic relationship with a 10th grade female band student (Student) in 2001 while employed for a Pennsylvania school district (District). M.T. continued the relationship with the Student to include sexual acts during her junior and senior years. The Student testified several sexual acts occurred within the District’s band room and band room office ending in 2004 with her graduation. M.T. continued to contact the Student when she attended college. Her parents complained to the District of continual communication by M.T. while their daughter was in college. In July, 2004 the District gave a written reprimand to M.T. to cease contact with the Student. M.T. continued contacting the Student after the reprimand.
The Student subsequently broke off the relationship with M.T. in the Spring, 2005 and told her parents of their sexual relationship. The parents then contacted the District where M.T. was still employed.
In April, 2005, M.T. was suspended without pay by District based upon the parent complaint.
On November 7, 2007, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) filed a Notice of Charges with the Professional Standards & Practices Commission (Commission) and served a copy to M.T. Charges from the Educator Discipline Act (EDA) included immorality, negligence, intemperance, cruelty, incompetence, sexual abuse or exploitation, and violations of the Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators (Code of Practices). The violations of the Code of Practices included provisions prohibiting the acceptance of gifts by teachers and prohibiting sexual conduct between a teacher and student. PDE also claimed that M.T. posed an immediate threat to the health, safety, and welfare of students and sought immediate suspension of his certificates.
The Commission appointed a Hearing Officer (HO) who heard three days of testimony from the Student, M.T. and others. M.T. was represented by counsel.
The HO’s recommendation to the Commission include his Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law which determined PDE had met its burden of proof on all but two charges. The Hearing Officer’s recommendation did not find M.T. to have given a prohibited gift to Student and that he was not an immediate threat to students. M.T. filed many exceptions with the Commission. M.T. claimed the technical rules of admissibility of evidence apply during Commission hearings, that his alleged, immoral conduct was not testified to by third party witnesses and that PDE did not offer sufficient evidence of professional incompetence, among other exceptions. PDE asserted M.T. remained an imminent threat to students.
Upon review, the Commission denied M.T.’s exceptions, found him to be responsible on all charges except the gift and immediately revoked his teaching certificates.
Issues Before the Commonwealth Court
Do the technical rules of courtroom evidence apply during an EDA hearing?
What educator conduct constitutes immorality in a relationship with a student?
What educator conduct constitutes lack of professional competence for an educator engaged in a sexual relationship with a student?
Commonwealth Court’S Opinion
Technical rules of evidence followed in courtroom litigation do not apply to a Commission Hearing Officer. The strict rules of evidence practiced in Pennsylvania Common Pleas Courts and US District Courts are not followed. All relevant evidence of reasonably probative value may be received.
Sexual intercourse with a student inside the band room office constituted educator immorality. “Immorality is conduct which offends the morals of the Commonwealth and is a bad example to the youth whose ideals a professional educator or charter school staff member has a duty to foster and elevate.” Third party testimony to the immoral acts was not necessary. Immorality with a student violated EDA Section 9c(1).
M.T.’s professional competence in teaching kids did not appear to suffer during the sexual relationship with the student. Incompetency is a continuing or persistent mental or intellectual inability or incapacity to perform the services expected of a professional educator or a charter school staff member. Absence evidence of failure to prepare for class or uphold assigned duties, the educator was not proven by the preponderance of evidence presented to be incompetent in his actions. PDE failed to carry its burden to prove this Charge.
Immorality of educator student sexual relationship defined in detail. Criteria for professional incompetence explained as well as PDE’s burden of proof before the Commission. PDE must prove elements by preponderance of the evidence: over 50% of the evidence produced exhibits culpability. 2-25-21
M.T. v. PA Department of Education 56 A3d 1 (Pa. Commonwealth Court 2010)
M.T. pro se
Attorney Nicole Werner for Pennsylvania Department of Education
Additional Court Case Summaries on the Thomas Bailey Blog Site
It behooves us to learn more about Pennsylvania case law. Read and share these additional analyses They will enlighten you and may foster additional discussion with colleagues. Feel free to post your own comments on Thomas Bailey’s website.
Slater v. PDE & Professional Standards Commission: If an educator is arrested for new criminal charges alleging conduct which appears to pose a threat to the welfare of students, will their certificate immediately be suspended pending outcome of the new charges?
The final court judgment (Horosko v. Mt. Pleasant Township SD above) is one of the oldest, dating back to 1939, and may be considered the foundation and precedent for current PA school employee regulations and discipline, especially in the confirmation of the following quote from the PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission of the Pennsylvania Department of Education:
“Professional expectations do not always distinguish between teachers’ on or off-duty conduct. Accordingly, teachers must act in their private lives in a way that does not undermine their efficacy in the classroom, demean their employing school entity, or damage their position as a moral exemplars in the community.”
What you say or do, both inside and outside the classroom, can and will affect your teaching effectiveness, professional reputation, and school employment status! But, if it is ever needed, be sure to know and exercise your rights, obtain the advice of a competent attorney, and avail yourself of due process.
Teachers make as many as 1,500 decisions a day for their classes and students… that’s as many as four educational choices per minute for the average teacher given six hours of class time. Surprised? (Not if you are an educator!) Check out this corroborating research:
Of course it can be exhausting… and as fast as “things” happen, even mind-numbing at times!
What do educators rely on for guidance, a sort of internal “ethical compass” for making these decisions, many of which are snap judgments?
Teacher “chops” (professional experience)
Peer and administrative support
Personal moral code (derived from one’s life experiences and upbringing)
Aspirations, values, and beliefs generally agreed upon by educational practitioners
State’s code of conduct and other regulations, statutes, policies, and case law
Or all of the above?
At this juncture during my workshops on ethics, I usually quote Dr. Oliver Dreon, Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Digital Learning Studio at Millersville University of Pennsylvania and one of the authors of the Educator Ethics and Conduct Tool Kit of the Pennsylvania Professional Standards and Practices Commission:
“From a decision-making standpoint, I tend to look at it from the perspective of Ethical Equilibrium (work by Troy Hutchings). Teachers weigh the moral (personal) dimensions with regulatory ones (the law) with the ethics of the profession… While focusing on consequences is important, I worry that teachers may interpret this to mean that as long as they don’t break the law, they can still be unprofessional and immoral.”
– Dr. Oliver Dreon
From college students participating in their first field observations to rookie teachers (and even veterans in the field), I recommend searching the term “ethics” on the website of your State Board of Education. In Pennsylvania, checkout the following:
Now enters probably the single most valuable document of our time, an all-encompassing philosophy for embracing the highest standards of what it means to be an ethical educator: the Model Code of Ethics for Educators (MCEE), developed under the leadership of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC). With the collaboration of numerous development partners including the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, Council of Chief State School Officers, and American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education – to name a few – MCEE is comprised of five core principles (like spokes in a wheel – all with equal emphasis), 18 sections, and 86 standards.
“The purpose of the Model Code of Ethics for Educators (MCEE) is to serve as a shared ethical guide for future and current educators faced with the complexities of P-12 education. The code establishes principles for ethical best practice, mindfulness, self-reflection and decision-making, setting the groundwork for self-regulation and self-accountability. The establishment of this professional code of ethics by educators for educators honors the public trust and upholds the dignity of the profession.”
Although pre- and in-service training on both are essential, the differences between a “code of conduct” and a “code of ethics” are vast. Codes of conduct like the Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Pennsylvania teachers are specific mandates and prohibitions that govern educator actions. A code of ethics is a set of principles that guide professional decision making, not necessarily issues of “right or wrong” (more shades of grey) nor defined in exact terms of law or policies. Codes of ethics are more open-ended, a selection of possible choices, usually depended on the context or circumstances of the situation.
“The interpretability of The Model Code of Ethics for Educators allows for robust professional discussions and targeted applications that are unique to every schooling community.”
The music teacher and administrator colleagues with whom I have been privileged to work for more than 40 years are highly dedicated and competent visionaries who focus on “making a difference” in the lives of their students, modeling “moral professionalism” and the highest ethical standards for their classes, schools, and communities, in support of maintaining the overall integrity of the profession.
However, let’s unpack some of “the wisdom” of MCEE as it addresses the rare “nay-sayers” and entrenched teacher attitudes, failing to understand “the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do…” (Potter Stewart) or “doing the right thing when no one else is watching – even when doing the wrong thing is legal” (Aldo Leopold).
Here are sample negative responses, MCEE “exemplars,” and proposed assimilations for thoughtful and interactive peer discussion. Bring these to your next staff meeting or workshop, and apply them to a few mock scenarios (like these from my past blog ).
Principle I: Responsibility to the Profession
The professional educator is aware that trust in the profession depends upon a level of professional conduct and responsibility that may be higher than required by law. This entails holding one and other educators to the same ethical standards.
“I didn’t know it was wrong…”
Section I, A, 1: Acknowledging that lack of awareness, knowledge, or understanding of the Code is not, in itself, a defense to a charge of unethical conduct;
My comment: The old adage, “ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
“What’s the problem? I didn’t break the law!
MCEE Section I, A, 5: Refraining from professional or personal activity that may lead to reducing one’s effectiveness within the school community;
My comment: Any on or off-duty conduct or inappropriate language that undermines a teacher’s efficacy in the classroom, damages his/her position as a “moral exemplar” in the community, or demeans the employing school entity may result in loss of job, suspension or revocation of license, and/or other disciplinary sanctions.
“I’m not a rat fink…”
MCEE Section I, B, 2: Maintaining fidelity to the Code by taking proactive steps when having reason to believe that another educator may be approaching or involved in an unethical compromising situation;
My comment: As a professional with “fiduciary” responsibilities, we must look out for the welfare of our students, proactively protecting them from harm by embracing all provisions of “mandatory reporting.”
“What’s in it for me?”
MCEE Section I, C, 3: Enhancing one’s professional effectiveness by staying current with ethical principles and decisions from relevant sources including professional organizations;
MCEE Section I, C, 4: Actively participating in educational and professional organizations and associations;
Principle II: Responsibility for Professional Competence
The professional educator is committed to the highest levels of professional and ethical practice, including demonstration of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions required for professional competence.
“What’s the big deal about standards?”
Section II, A, 1: Incorporating into one’s practice state and national standards, including those specific to one’s discipline;
“Not another ‘flavor-of-the-month’ in-service program!”
Section II, A, 5: Reflecting upon and assessing one’s professional skills, content knowledge, and competency on an ongoing basis;
Section II, A, 6: Committing to ongoing professional development
My comment: Always “raising the bar,” being a member of a “profession” (like medical personnel, counselors, attorneys, etc.) requires the loftiest benchmarks of self-regulation and assessment, ongoing training, retooling, and self-improvement plans, revision and enforcement of “best practices,” and application of 21st Century learning skills.
“I needed to give him credit?”
MCEE Section II, B, 1: Appropriately recognizing others’ work by citing data or materials from published, unpublished, or electronic sources when disseminating information;
My comment: Especially during this period of online/virtual/remote education brought on by COVID-19, we must reference the owners of intellectual property (including sheet music) that we use and abide by all copyright regulations. In general, it is always “best practice” to cite research or authorship “giving credit where credit is due!”
“I’m just a music teacher! Don’t ask me to do anything else!”
MCEE Section II, C, 2: Working to engage the school community to close achievement, opportunity, and attainment gaps;
My comment: We teach “the whole child,” not a specialty or specific content area! I believe our ultimate mission is to facilitate our students’ capacity and desire to learn, inspire self-direction and self-confidence, and foster future success in life.
Principle III: Responsibility to Students
The professional educator has a primary obligation to treat students with dignity and respect. The professional educator promotes the health, safety, and well being of students by establishing and maintaining appropriate verbal, physical, emotional, and social boundaries.
“It’s just a gift…”
MCEE Section III, A, 5: Considering the implication of accepting gifts from or giving gifts to students;
My comment: It is not appropriate to give a gift to a student lacking an educational purpose. In some cases, this may be defined as a “sexual misconduct.” It begs the larger question: “Do you ensure that all of your interactions with students serve an educational purpose and occur in a setting consistent with that purpose?” Also from the PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission: “Teachers should refrain from accepting gifts or favors that might impair or appear to impair professional judgment.”
“You should never touch a student!”
MCEE Section III, A, 6: Engaging in physical contact with students only when there is a clearly defined purpose that benefits the student and continually keeps the safety and well-being of the student in mind;
My comment: We were told this warning in methods classes. However, as I mentioned in a previous blog here, this “rule” has little support in research or common “best practices.” It has been my experience that on occasion, most elementary instrumental teachers assist their students in acquiring the correct playing posture and hand positions by using some (limited) physical contact. Consoling an upset student with a pat on the shoulder is not out-of-line either. The factors that may contribute to the moment being judged “okay” vs. “inappropriate” boil down to:
Length of time
Frequency or patterns of repetition
Comfort level of the student
Age level of the student
Happening in public
Who started it?
“My students are my friends!”
MCEE Section III, A, 7: Avoiding multiple relationships with students which might impair objectivity and increase the risk of harm to student learning or well-being or decrease educator effectiveness;
My comment: You cannot be their “friend.” You are their teacher, an authority figure that is looking out for them and doing what is necessary (“fiduciary” responsibilities) for their health and welfare… perhaps at times things they do not want you to do. Crossing the teacher/student boundary with familiarity, informality, and being their “confidant” or “friend” are more than just unprofessional acts – they can foster a dual relationship where roles are less defined, an ambiguity that may lead to additional inappropriate actions and educator misconduct.
“He’s weird…” or “He’s not one of us!”
MCEE Section III, B, 2: Respecting the dignity, worth, and uniqueness of each individual student including, but not limited to, actual and perceived gender, gender expression, gender identity, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and culture;
My comment: Check your prejudices and personal biases at the door. Being a teacher is all about sensitivity and caring of all individuals – students, parents, staff, etc. Embracing today’s focus on reprogramming community attitudes on “diversity,” an educator daily models the values of empathy, compassion, acceptance, and appreciation, not just settling with the “lower bar” of tolerance, allowance, and compliance!
“Wait ’til you hear what happened in class today!”
MCEE Section III, C, 1: Respecting the privacy of students and the need to hold in confidence certain forms of student communications, documents, or information obtained in the course of practice;
My comments: Gossiping about and “carrying tales” home or in the teachers’ room are serious breaches of the care and trust as well as your fiduciary responsibilities assigned to you on behalf of your students. As for “regulations,” your indiscretion may be a violation of your students’ confidentiality rights (“a federal crime” according to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Grassley Amendment, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). You are only permitted to share information about a student with another teacher, counselor, or administrator who is on a “needs-to-know” basis or is actively engaged in helping this student.
Principle IV: Responsibility to the School Community
The professional educator promotes positive relationships and effective interactions with members of the school community while maintaining professional boundaries.
“Don’t tell my parents!”
MCEE Section IV, A, 1: Communicating with parents/guardians in a timely and respectful manner that represents the students’ best interests;
My comment: I wish I had a nickel every time a student plead with me, “Don’t call my mom!” It is part of “moral professionalism,” your “code,” and good ethical standards to originate meaningful two-way dialogue, and if necessary, confront the parents of underachieving children. I also believe it goes on long way to nurture your relationships in the community if you notify parents when their kid has done something remarkable… “I caught him being good” or “The improvement has been extraordinary!”
“Did you hear what a staff member said about you… in front of the kids?”
MCEE Section IV, B, 1: Respecting colleagues as fellow professionals and maintaining civility when differences arise;
MCEE Section IV, B, 2: Resolving conflicts, whenever possible, privately and respectfully, and in accordance with district policy;
My comment: Before you bring up the matter with your supervisor or building administrator (which you have the right and even responsibility to do, especially if the students hear any improper speech first-hand or that the incidents rise to the level of bullying or aggressive behavior), first confirm the story. Talk to the unhappy team member one-on-one. Be calm and sensitive, but hold your ground: you must assert that his/her behavior/language is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the future.
“Not another TEAM meeting?”
MCEE Section IV, B, 4: Collaborating with colleagues in a manner that supports academic achievement and related goals that promote the best interests of students;
My comment: We work together to insure that all educational goals are met. Open and interactive peer partnerships are helpful in the review, design, and application of new lessons, methods, media, and music.
“I was just teasing her…”
MCEE Section IV, B, 8: Working to ensure a workplace environment that is free from harassment.
My comment: Be extremely careful in the practice of any behavior or language of a kidding, sarcastic, cynical, or joking manner. It can be misinterpreted regardless of your intentions… and it can hurt someone’s feelings. And it is never appropriate or “professional” to “put down” another person.
“Don’t ask for permission… beg for forgiveness.”
MCEE Section IV, C, 3: Maintaining the highest professional standards of accuracy, honesty, and appropriate disclosure of information when representing the school or district within the community and in public communications;
My comment: Yes, I have heard this “view” a lot, advocates of whom will tell you to go ahead and stick your neck out to do something “for the good of the order,” and if needed later, “beg for forgiveness” if you decision is met with disapproval from administration. My advice? Less experienced teachers, run everything through your fellow colleagues (informally) and principal (formally). Don’t fall back on the lame “oops” and “beg for forgiveness.” I may have felt differently when I had three times as many years of experience under my belt than the supervisors who were assigned to “manage” me… but, even then, “venturing out without a paddle” usually did not serve the best interests of the students. There’s no reason to place “the teacher’s convenience” over the safety/welfare of the students. Besides, why not take advantage of the legal and political backup of your bosses if they are kept “in the loop?”
“He’s our preferred dealer and always takes care of us.”
MCEE Section IV, D, 4: Considering the implications of offering or accepting gifts and/or preferential treatment by vendors or an individual in a position of professional influence or power;
My comment: Formerly called “sweetheart deals” with music companies, you are on “shaky” ethical ground (and may also have “crossed the line” violating state laws/statutes) if you negotiate the rights of exclusive access to your school’s or booster’s purchasing. If you have any questions about your school’s policy on outside vendors, seek advice from your district’s business manager.
Principle V: Responsible and Ethical Use of Technology
The professional educator considers the impact of consuming, creating, distributing, and communicating information through all technologies. The ethical educator is vigilant to ensure appropriate boundaries of time, place, and role are maintained when using electronic communication.
“Isn’t use of social media forbidden?”
MCEE Section V, A, 1: Using social media responsibly, transparently, and primarily for purposes of teaching and learning per school and district policy. The professional educator considers the ramifications pf using social media and direct communications via technology on one’s interactions with students, colleagues, and the general public.
My comment: Professional educators’ use of a dedicated website or other social network application enables users to communicate with each other by posting information, comments, messages, images, etc. and “learn” together. However, using social media for sharing social interactions and personal relationships with your students, parents, and staff is unethical and dangerous. As they say, “a post (or snap) is forever.” Communicating digitally or electronically with students may lead to the blurring of appropriate teacher-student boundaries and create additional challenges to maintaining and protecting confidentiality.
The Final Word
In Pennsylvania (as well as the rest of the country), the statistics on school staff misconduct reports are rising alarmingly. Your own state’s “code of conduct” and the MCEE should help to clarify misunderstandings, but it has been my experience that the majority of educators do not receive regular collegiate, induction, or in-service training on educator ethics or moral professionalism. Luckily, we are fortunate to have access to many mock scenarios (see below) from state departments of education to review/discuss among ourselves common ethical conflicts and “conundrums” dealing with pedagogy, enforcement, resource allocation, relationships, and diversity. We all need to “refresh” our understanding of these issues from time to time and revisit “our codes” frequently to help “demagnetize” (and re-adjust) our decision-making compass.
Please peruse the ethics category of this blog-site for other articles and sample references below.
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.”
“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.”
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!
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.”
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!”
Don’t obsess. Calm yourself. Set priorities.
Connect and communicate often with your family members and your students.
Set and maintain boundaries.
Take the necessary steps to maintain your own physical and mental health!
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.
For 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!
Go 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!)
Five tips for coaching overwhelm:
Recall previous experiences.
Identify one tiny next step.
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
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!
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.
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!
“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
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.
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
Her 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!
Make self-care PRIORITY ONE for YOU! I know, you have heard all of these before:
Eat a balanced diet.
Get enough sleep.
“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 exampleshere,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:
“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.”
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:
Relying on a team reduces work and stress.
Connecting with students boosts morale.
Learning new technology isn’t so bad.
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.
Our second in a series on publications and other resources for self-care, health, wellness, and remediation of stress and burnout of music educators addresses one of the core issues for all of us — chronic fatigue.
The medical definition is comprehensive:
Fatigue is a lingering tiredness that is constant and limiting. With fatigue, you have unexplained, persistent, and relapsing exhaustion. It’s similar to how you feel when you have the flu or have missed a lot of sleep. If you have chronic fatigue, or systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID), you may wake in the morning feeling as though you’ve not slept. Or you may be unable to function at work or be productive at home. You may be too exhausted even to manage your daily affairs. —WebMD
In the NAfME community forum Amplify, another colleague turned me on to the book Exhausted — Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It by Paul Murphy (2017). Most of this blog will focus on a review of this work. I also recommend you visit his very informative website of blog-posts: Teacher Habits.
If you’re like most teachers, being tired at the end of the day is a way of life. We’ve become so accustomed to it that it’s hard to imagine how things could be any different. We get through out mornings with coffee, our afternoons with Diet Coke, and the ends of our school days with the iron strength of our will. We leave the building exhausted, having so much at work that there’s little left over for our families or even ourselves. — Paul Murphy
So, what is the scope of the problem? What can we do about it?
What Is a Teacher?
Are you a teacher? If so, are you also a classroom work foreman, logistics manager, guide, drill sergeant, disciplinarian, cheerleader, data entry clerk, cultural advocate, or analyst? Maybe you are all of these things and more. Maybe, we need to look at educators in a new context of what teaching really is in most schools, and whether it should be given cultural, economic and technological change.
Merriam-Webster’s says “teach” is a verb, with several simple definitions that repeat themselves but ideologically are these five things:
A great teacher creates a sense of community and belonging in the classroom.
A great teacher is warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring.
A great teacher sets high expectations for all students.
A great teacher has his own love of learning.
A great teacher is a skilled leader.
A great teacher can “shift-gears…”
A great teacher collaborates with colleagues on an ongoing basis.
A great teacher maintains professionalism in all areas…
I wouldn’t have it any other way! But these standards must take a toll on our health, wellness, and work/life balance!
Stress and Data on Teacher Exhaustion
Do you find yourself tired most of the time? Quoted in Exhausted by Paul Murphy, does this sound like YOU?
“I’m exhausted, and every weekend, I spend at least one day in my pajamas.”
“I feel like work never ends.”
“I love my students, and I have a really good class this year, but I’m done and ready for a break.”
“I was so tired that I ended up missing out on family’s holiday dinner.”
Why is this so prevalent? According to Paul Murphy, “the answer, in a word, is STRESS! Teachers are incredibly stressed-out people, especially when they are at work.”
He shares some scary statistics:
Because our culture tendency to demand more of educators, that stress is on the rise. In 1985, 36% of teachers reported feeling great stress at least several days a week. Today, that number is 51%. Only doctors report higher levels of stress on the job.
The costs are high. A recent study of the U.S. Department of Education found a 10% of new teachers don’t return for second year. Nearly 185 new teachers are gone within five years. Many young people, perhaps persuaded by on his federal and Teacher should buy what they see on social media, won’t even entertain the thought of teaching. Between 2009 and 2014, enrollments in teacher preparation programs fell about 35% in the U.S., reducing the supply of available teachers by nearly a quarter-million. — Paul Murphy
These figures are supported by other sources as well. The American Federation of Teachers reported here that “61% of educators say their work is always or often stressful,” and, worse yet, “50% say they don’t have the same enthusiasm as when they started teaching.”
In addition, according to James Anthony in “7 Conclusions from the World’s Largest Teacher Burnout Survey” posted here, 75% of teachers complained of health problems such as shortness of breath, dizziness, heart palpitations or chest pain, or regular headaches or stomach aches — symptoms often associated with a failure to deal with stress. His conclusion? “This is a worrying sign that pressure and workload of many teaching jobs is having a very real physical impact on many teachers.”
From the Back Cover of the Book
You should definitely grab a copy of Exhausted. Paul Murphy promises you will learn:
Why even good days with your students leave you drained.
What tired teachers have in common with doctors, major league baseball managers, and interview committees.
How Jeb Bush’s failure in the 2016 presidential primaries is related to your own fatigue.
What long distance runners, one of history’s greatest weightlifters, and a Stanford psychologist can teach you about the powerful influence of your mind.
He says you will find solutions to these problems and understand:
What teachers can learn from baristas and airline agents.
What supermarket layouts can teach us about the dangers of decision making.
Why AC/DC doesn’t belong in your classroom.
What an insurance agent’s plane crash can teach us about belief.
Who is this Paul Murphy guy? His own bio, the last section of the book, is unique:
Paul Murphy is a third-grade teacher in Michigan. This fall, he started his 20th year in the classroom. His writing focuses on improving the lives of teachers, both inside the classroom and out. He enjoys reading, writing, travel, exercise, craft beer, and Cheetos. His feet are perpetually cold, he bites his nails, and he regularly (and almost instinctively at this point) changes the lyrics to songs to make them inappropriate, much to the chagrin of his wife and daughter.
The Science of Exhaustion
The best way to review the innards of a publication and get to the nitty-gritty may be to frame a few guiding questions, to follow an outline summary on which to reflect while reading many of the early chapters:
How many decisions do you make before you ever teach a single class every morning? What effect do they have on you?
What is the link of willpower (ego depletion* and delayed gratification) to exhaustion?
What do doctors say about the constant exercise of self-control and blood glucose levels, and why is the time of the day critical?
What is “morning morality” and what does it have to do with planning your day as a teacher?
*Psychologist Roy Baumeister coined the term “ego depletion” after he found that humans have a limited supply of willpower. He compares willpower to a muscle, which can strengthen but also wear out with use. Ego depletion has a general effect, meaning that using self-control in one area of your life erodes your ability to self-regulate in other parts of your life. Baumeister found that exerting self-control results in a significant drop in blood-sugar levels. Low blood sugar leads to physical fatigue, which is why you’re so tired, even though the heaviest thing you lifted was a textbook. — Paul Murphy
A few of my observations. Willpower is actually “won’t-do-power,” and represents the chronic stress teachers and other professionals place on themselves everyday: saying “NO” to such things as sleeping-in an extra 10-15 minutes, staying on your diet by passing by that Dunkin Donuts shop on the way to school, forgoing the idle chit-chat from the teacher’s room on the way to the photocopier, not allowing yourself to be distracted by a TV program instead of doing your own homework, delaying an update of your social media sites or reading personal email instead of finishing your lesson plans, grades, or the forms the principal requested for completion by the end of the week.
In other words, facing up to all of those grown-up expectations that grown-ups must do! There’s no room for youthful indulgences or “goof-off time” as an adult!
Paul Murphy says, “Whatever you call it… resisting temptation, will power, self-control, self-discipline, grit, perseverance, self-regulation, or determination, science has proven that it exhausts us.”
Teachers endlessly self regulate. We hold back sarcastic rejoinders, walk away from lazy students when we what we really want to do is lecture them, keep her honest thoughts about the principles latest he’ll conceive ideas to ourselves, respond professionally to disrespectful emails from parents, work with students when we want to do anything but, plan the next day one would rather check Facebook, and bite our tongues when we’d like to drop F-bombs. We force ourselves to work when we feel like taking a break. We redirect students when we’d rather just let the behaviors go and avoid the resultant excuses and conflicts. We keep teaching even though we really, really have to pee. Teachers use a lot of willpower. — Paul Murphy
Couldn’t say it better myself!
Another personal observation also seems to be supported by Paul Murphy. I have found that “earlier is better” for doing creative tasks, solving problems, or completing highly detailed work. Most mornings (in retirement), I reserve my first two hours for writing. Others say that the AM is best for practicing or composing, when you feel the freshest! The closer to having a meal or having slept all night (which revitalizes our supplies of self-regulation and blood sugar), the better for tackling something hard… which for a teacher might mean facing the challenge of a “difficult parent” phone call, student discipline report, or conference with an “unhappy” administrator.
Strategies for Releasing/Postponing Tension
Paul Murphy recommends that, instead of using up your willpower reserves to fight off the urge to snap at someone or suppressing your anger, “simply notice something else that requires less willpower” or distract yourself. Postponing can also be effective: Have your tantrum “not now, but later.” (Schedule your nervous breakdown for another day?) Often, once some time has passed, you may find your frustration has abated.
Another technique for alleviating stress is to actually do a deliberate exercise to release your emotions and desires… in a more controlled and constructive way.
I sometimes receive an email from a parent or supervisor that angers me. My instinct is to return fire. That’s a bad instinct, but it doesn’t mean I have to hold in those feelings. It also doesn’t mean I should vent to other teachers or my wife. They’ve got their own problems, and nobody really wants to hear mine. What I do instead is write my honest, no-holds-barred rebuttal. I let it all out, hammering the keyboard and plastering my screen with vitriol. I read it and re-read until it effectively conveys the righteous indignation I so strongly feel.
Then I don’t send it!
It released my anger, and it’s there for me to revisit. On those few occasions when I have gone back to reread these unsent missives, my anger is gone. I wonder why I was so outraged at the time. They’re actually embarrassing to read. If you do this a few times, you begin to realize that your initial feelings are often an overreaction (and also the result of depleted willpower and low blood sugar) and it becomes easier to avoid indulging them. — Paul Murphy
Intense Emotions = Model Teacher?
Who is a better teacher? An energetic, passionate, and always “fired-up” one, or a professional who exerts a calm, introspective, and less intense attitude? Some studies do show that an enthusiastic, engaging teacher who is passionate about his subject is more effective than a “dull” or less dynamic teacher who seems to dislike his job, but what of the costs? Again, in Murphy’s book, we have more research to the rescue: “…Science has proven that intense emotions tire us out!”
I’ll explain why teachers should aim for a feeling of inner calm for large chunks of their day. I’ll argue that the expectation we have for ourselves and other teachers to be constantly enthusiastic is counterproductive in the short-term and ultimately damaging to the education system in the long-run. And I’ll explain how being calm will not only conserve your energy, but will make your classroom a better learning environment for your students. — Paul Murphy
Another reason to buy his book!
The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste!
Finally, our very own thoughts are amazingly powerful tools. Our brain can either help or make things worse! “If you believe a task is going to be difficult, it will be.” We all know that “positive talk” can alleviate the effects of stress, and can inspire greater levels of achievement. But, what about the relationship of negative thoughts to fatigue?
Almost every distance runner talks of hitting a wall. In 2012, Spanish researchers wanted to know what went through runners’ minds as they neared exhaustion, and they found exactly what you’d expect: the harder the runners work and the longer they run, the more negative their thoughts become. No surprise there.
But then a group of British and dutch researchers asked an interesting question. They wondered if everyone had it backwards. Did the discomfort of physical fatigue cause the runners to think negatively, like everyone assumed, or did the runners negative thoughts make them more physically tired and sore? It was a chicken and egg question.
The researchers found 24 healthy adults and had each complete a grueling ride on a stationary bike until they were exhausted. Then they were sent home for two weeks. During that time, half of the subjects were trained in positive self talk, a technique many sports psychologist coaches teach athletes to combat negative thinking that can lead to poor performance. The other 12 subjects were left alone. Then the researchers called them all back to hop on the bikes again.
On average, those who receive positive self talk training performed more than 17% better on their second ride than they had on their first. There was no improvement among members of the control group. — Paul Murphy
He goes into great detail that the driving force behind our exhaustion may not even be the hours we work, the challenges we face in the classroom, or the lack of support we perceive from administration or parents. It may rest in our thoughts. And, he analyzes the negative effects of “worrying” and the concept of “mind over matter!”
The Schedule That Doesn’t Help
Tiger Woods was known for so many “firsts” and breaking numerous golfing records in his early career. Many credited his success to his extreme focus, perseverance, and self-discipline. It was documented that he practiced golf 7-8 hours every day and worked out two or three hours more:
6:30 a.m. an hour of cardio
7:30 a.m. one hour of lower-body weight training
8:30 a.m. high protein/low-fat breakfast
9:00 a.m. two hours on the driving range
11:00 a.m. practicing putting
11:30 a.m. playing nine holes
2:00 p.m. healthy lunch
2:30 p.m. two to four more hours on the golf course
6:00 p.m. back in the gym working on upper-body
7:00 p.m. dinner and relaxation
Then we learn about his personal “crash of 2009” when everything seemed to unravel:
Personal calls to escort services
Wife, discovering his “extra-curricular” activities, assaulting him
Destruction of his reputation
Poor golf play
Certainly, Tiger had some deep-seated psychological issues. But I can’t help wondering if his remarkable self-discipline left him depleted to the point that he was unable to fight off his most distracted urges at the close of his ego-depleting days. Yes, he only had to focus for five hours during a round of golf, but Tiger Woods used will power from the time he woke up to the time he started texting port stars. His is a cautionary tale for anyone who spends large parts of the day exercising self-control. As teachers, there are lessons to be learned. — Paul Murphy
Your own strict daily regiment may also contribute to your feelings of “total exhaustion.” Music teachers are usually their own worst enemies. We take on responsibilities for the sake of the music program, add a new ensemble, schedule after-school time to teach a solo or instrumental part, and plan more weekend and evening “learning activities” or events beyond the scope of most other academic subject teachers. It was not unusual for me to be at school by 6:45 a.m., eat lunch in my car on the way to my second or third assignment as an itinerant, stop for a quick “date” and dinner out with my wife, return to school for band, orchestra, or musical practices, and not get home until 9 or or 10 p.m. As a retiree, I now ask, “What ever happened to all of this stamina and endurance?” Pushing wheel chairs only four hours a day three times a week at a local hospital, I sometimes find myself wanting to take a “power nap” when I get home! Never you fear: the healthy “calendar of a retired music teacher” is as busy (and hectic) as full-time employment… We always say, “I wonder how I ever had the time to do all of these things and work at the same time!”
However, to put it in perspective, here is a copy of my former professional schedule that I was (mostly self-) assigned to teach grades 5-12 strings in three buildings, manage the fall play and spring musical, assist the marching band, work with the superintendent on school district public relations projects, prepare for PMEA and NAfME music festivals, and serve as my district’s Performing Arts Curriculum Leader.
As an administrator, the number of “contact hours” over the maximum was irrelevant; it was never an option to submit a grievance to the teacher’s union. Actually, I accepted the responsibility of planning what I thought was necessary for the success of my program, my students, and my music staff… no matter what the cost! Sound familiar?
Other Remedies to Lower Tension and Exhaustion
This is just “the tip of the iceberg” for an analysis of the book Exhausted. Part two which we have not covered here is entitled “What To Do About It.”
More recommendations for better time management, remediation of teacher burnout, development of a self-care plan, and techniques for stress reduction will be addressed in future blogs. At this point, from three excellent sources, these tips may steer you towards improved rest, personal life/work balance, and general health/wellness. Stay tuned for more at https://paulfox.blog/care/.
One of my goals after retiring from 35 years as an educator and administrator in the public schools was to reach-out to college music education majors and offer some tips and techniques for preparing for this honorable career.
Discounted NAfME + PMEA first-year membership: only $90. (If you are a recent college graduate in your first year of teaching, or if you are the spouse of a current or retired NAfME member, contact NAfME at 800-336-3768 or email firstname.lastname@example.org) to find out if you qualify for a reduced rate.
PMEA Mentor or other state’s MEA support program for new teachers.
Check out the online resources on the PMEA Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention website, free/open to all music teachers. Especially take note of the supplemental links on a variety of topics posted here.
A summary of my re-occurring themes on marketing your professionalism and a few “pet peeves” include the following:
Create a multi-media digital portfolio, video recording excerpts of your memorable solo, chamber, and ensemble performances, teaching experiences, and other opportunities you have had in working with children of all ages. To the interviews, bring both a printed version and jump drive (the latter to leave with the screening committee) of these artifacts and a list of your other activities, awards, accomplishments, mission/vision, transcripts, music education and class management philosophies, recommendations, etc.
Take the time to assemble “the stories of your life, work, and teaching experiences” (both successes and the “glitches” or “snags” along the way which you had to resolve) that demonstrate your competencies, relationships with students, personality traits, acquired skills, problem-solving, and maturity.
Bring to any employment screening your resume, business card, and an e-portfolio referencing a professional website which archives everything in #1 and #2 above.
Avoid one-word responses or short answers to most interview questions. Instead, seek ways to incorporate the anecdotes you have made ready at your fingertips (#1 above) that model those characteristics a prospective employer is seeking in a music teacher.
If you want to be the one “in control” of the possible jobs that may come your way, avoid marketing your skills as a “music specialist” (e.g. band director or elementary music teacher). Most degree programs prepare the students for teaching certification in “Music Grades Pre-K to 12.” If you are looking to expand your opportunities, don’t limit your capabilities or options upfront. You CAN teach all forms and levels of music!
Clean-up and curate your social media sites, treating your Facebook pages as another “personal branding resource.” Experts recommend that “your profile information should reflect integrity and responsibility… You should expand or add content that projects a professional image, shows a friendly, positive personality, demonstrates that you are well-rounded with wide range of interests, and models… great communication skills.” Source: https://paulfox.blog/2019/03/01/collegiates-clean-up-your-social-media/.
How to your get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice! How do you ace your interview? Practice, practice, practice! Put yourself through “mock interviews” and record and later assess your “performance.” Sample questions are posted at my blog-site.
Empaneling the “Ethic Jury” to Review Mock Case Studies
The study of morality in professional decision-making is essential to pre- and in-service training of music teachers. Our goal should be to reinforce recommendations for the avoidance of inappropriate behavior (or even the appearance of impropriety), and defining and modeling the “best practices” of a “fiduciary” by promoting trust, fostering a safe environment for learning, acting in the best interests of our students, and upholding the overall integrity of the profession.
Full discussions and samples of “the codes” (ethics and conduct), professional aspirations, and government policies/statutes – a proverbial “curriculum” exploring ethics for music educators – have been posted at this blog-site. You should peruse these first before proceeding further:
All of these should be “required” reading. Few of us have ever received a full-blown class or induction program on ethics. Now is the time to study this topic, and as ethics expert Dr. Troy Hutchings would say, to view it through multiple perspectives – “the lens of…”
“Ethos of care”
The purpose of this blog is to provide supplemental materials for personal reflection, possibly inspiring thought-provoking group dialogue during methods classes, professional development workshops, or music staff meetings.
It is more important to know why something is wrong, rather than simply labeling the degree of misconduct or likely discipline action. However, for the purpose of introspection during this exercise, we will first recognize “the problem” presented in each re-enactment. We will use these “color-coded” criteria, and allow “snap judgments” in the simulated evaluation by a “jury of our peers.” Put on your thinking caps! You may be surprised with the incongruities of your first impressions once the likely outcomes of these stories are revealed!
Use this tool to judge the severity of the upcoming case studies.
DEGREES OF MISCONDUCT (from bad to worst)
GREEN (not illustrated) = not a misconduct
BLUE (not illustrated) = inappropriate, unwise, or “bad for appearances” – but no consequences
PURPLE = “Unprofessional” – unlikely to result in serious consequences except possible damage to one’s professional reputation
GOLD = “Immoral” – no guarantee of consequences except may result in lowering the year-end teacher evaluation score, earning a “warning” or “write-up” by the principal/supervisor, or consideration for a job re-assignment
ORANGE = “Unethical” – which will result in discipline action and possible loss or suspension of certificate
RED = “Illegal” – which may add criminal penalties, fines, jail time, etc. All it takes is a felony or misdemeanor conviction to lose your job… and your certificate… even if it is unrelated to your employment or taking place at school.
Essential Ethical Questions
It is important to analyze your response to these reflections during your assessment of each ethical dispute:
What possible issues/concerns might this scenario raise?
How could this situation become a violation of the law, the “Code” or other school/district policies?
In this situation, what are some potential negative consequences for the teacher, students, parents, and/or school staff?
How would this episode affect a teacher’s efficacy in his/her classroom, demean the employing school entity, or damage her position as a moral exemplar in the community?
Melissa S. was a 23-year-old high school music teacher who also supervised the production of the school musical. After months of practices, Miss S. became very close to several seniors including David, the male lead in the musical. She and David began sharing emails and texts with one another. Most of the communications were playfully flirtatious but not overtly sexual. Immediately after graduation, however, Miss S. and David began dating and became sexually intimate. After discovering the relationship, David’s parents filed a complaint against Miss S. with the district superintendent.
My drum major was suspended because she smoked pot and was caught. I needed her to run the half time show we had been practicing for months and so I attempted to convince administration that she had to participate because it was part of my curriculum and part of her grade. I decided the other kids shouldn’t be punished because of her idiocy so I worked hard to keep her in the show.
This assumes the principal will make the ethical decision in allowing or prohibiting the student leader to participate.
Let’s put this choice squarely on your shoulders (where it usually sits). What would you do if you were the one that discovered your soloist, lead, accompanist, or drum major was drinking on a school music trip? What if he or she was the one performer you counted on for an outstanding adjudication?
You walk into the Disney World cafeteria, see your student has a wine cooler on his/her tray sitting at the tables. Since no one else sees you standing there, you walk out as if nothing has happened.
You are taking your high school music department to Orlando. Because of the size of the trip, you have to put it out on bid. One company offers a generous “under the table” deal: “If you choose our travel agency for the Florida trip, we will throw-in the gift of a new conductor’s podium and set of two dozen music stands.” You decide to go with them.
James C. is a middle school music teacher who was arrested for drunk driving. After several months, the teacher goes to court and is convicted of the offense. When the district moves to have Mr. C fired for his conviction, he argues that this offense has no influence over his ability to instruct his students. Also, the episode happened during the weekend on his private time.
Mrs. K is a high school choral director whose husband recently divorced her. During a lesson one day, she breaks down in front of her class. In an attempt to calm the students, she explains her emotional state and discusses the end of her marriage. After school that day, a male student visits Mrs. K to see if she has recovered. The student explains that his parents are also divorcing and he understands her feelings. The student begins stopping in to see Mrs. K more frequently and the pair begins spending more time outside of class supporting each other. Mrs. K’s colleagues start to become suspicious of her relationship with the student and report the teacher’s actions to their principal.
Food for Thought – Suggestive Answers
Please keep in mind my disclaimer, “I am not an attorney, a member of a human resource staff, nor a research scholar or expert on school ethics.” However, although retired, I continue to teach (part-time) and face day-to-day decision-making… now for more than 40 years. These are my responses to the above cases. I welcome your comments, and any input from highly respected leaders in the field of educator ethics like Dr. Troy Hutchings (Chair of Education, University of Phoenix) and Dr. Oliver Dreon (Associate Professor, Millersville State University of Pennsylvania).
RESPONSE TO CASE #
ETHICS VIOLATION:In my opinion, this would likely result in loss of employment and revocation of her certificate. The debate in some areas of the world supports that it may be permissible to have an intimate relationship with a former student as long as it did not start while the student was at school. We have learned that the American Psychological Association has an ethical guideline of non-fraternization for at least two years post-treatment, while the National Association of Social Workers has a one year moratorium for sexual involvement with a client. However, frankly, in the teaching profession, due to the inherent power imbalance that can influence inappropriate relationships between teachers and students or former students – even after graduation: Are either of these models relevant?
ETHICS VIOLATION:Most would say this was a serious noncompliance with the school district’s drug and alcohol policy, violation of the local laws governing underage consumption, and likely breach of your fiduciary responsibility. No decision is a decision… walking away means you condone the behavior. What if the drinker becomes sick or has an accident and gets hurt “on your watch?”
ETHICS VIOLATION:Better check your state’s code of ethics. From the Pennsylvania Code of Professional Practices and Conduct, “No educator is permitted to accept personal or financial gain or advantage (other than their contractual compensation package) through their work in a school system.” Interpretations may disagree on a “true-life” experience: At a music conference, I was invited to a special dinner celebrating the “best clients” by a vendor representative who insisted on picking up the tab. Minimal infraction? Would you change your misconduct rating if the party took place at Hooters? How about at a strip club?
ETHICS VIOLATION:The convicted drunk driver did not win his argument. He probably would lose his job and faced criminal penalties! Although he may still hold his teaching certificate, it is unlikely he will ever be considered for employment as a teacher in any state.
ETHICS VIOLATION:Did you initially interpret this as the choral director being misguided, emotionally immature, and only exhibiting unprofessional conduct by allowing the sharing their mutual feelings and experiences? According to the author of this scenario, after investigation, she was asked to resign from her position, and she complied. She did not lose her certificate… but could have depending on state or district regulations and the extent of her off-school behavior.
Of course, ETHICAL ISSUES are not always black and white… no one will ever agree on one definitive set of moral standards. My purpose here was only to inspire thinking and a fresh perspective on this topic… probably succeeding in creating more questions than answers in your mind.
Definitions and Revisiting MCEE
To summarize, lets review the well-stated foundations of “right or wrong” making up our “ethical equilibrium,” and these concepts that represent the compass of decision-making in education:
Personal Morality: “Personal values and beliefs derived from one’s life experiences… subjective and may or may not align with community mores.”
Regulations of Law: “Policies, statues, and judicial activity that articulate conduct absolutes.”
Professional Ethics: “Professional ethical standards that assist practitioners within situation and systemic contexts in choosing the best course-of-action.”
Professional Dispositions: “Agreed upon professional attitudes, values and beliefs to be held by educational practitioners.”
Finally, at this juncture, it would be most appropriate for you to recap your thoughts and correlate your “judgments” of the above scenarios with the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification Model Code of Ethics for Educators. If you have not read this comprehensive document, “do it now!” You should also review your own state’s code of ethics.
This is all about BALANCE and exercising extreme care and sensitivity in meeting the needs of our students. Keep “fighting the good fight” and your commitment to ETHICS and the highest standards of what E.A. Wynn refers to as “moral professionalism” in his research article, “The Moral Dimension of Teaching.”
Special Thanks to These Sources of Mock Scenarios
Pennsylvania Educator Ethics and Conduct Toolkit by Dr. Oliver Dreon, Sandi Sheppeard, and the Professional Standards and Practices Commission
Nebraska Professional Practices Commission
Connecticut Teacher Education & Mentoring Program
Featured photo credit from FreeImages.com:
“Ethics” by Olivier Le Moal
Remaining photo credits in order from pixabay.com:
New Teachers’ Guide for Fostering Positive Relations & Good Interactions with School Administrators
Conventional wisdom suggests that the initial school staff you should get to know immediately on a first-name basis in your new teaching job are 1) the building secretary, 2) head custodian, and 3) cafeteria workers. (The first one keeps you out of trouble, the second cleans up your messes, and the last group makes sure you’re well-fed!)
However, even more influential, the principal “assigned to you” will literally “make or break” a smooth transition and orientation into the workplace. Especially if this person was partially responsible for hiring you (a member of the screening committee which chose you out from all of the other qualified candidates), he/she should be your penultimate “mentor!” To validate the administrator’s judgment (and you continuing to be the “hero”), he/she will likely be highly motivated to foster your success!
So… once you land your new position, your first move should be to learn everything you can about “your champion!” Find out his/her goals, needs, and “pet-peeves,” and while you’ll at it, get off on the right foot with relations with all of your school supervisors.
Here are some tips for “rookie” or new music teachers to cultivate these relationships.
According to the article, “The Principal’s Role in the Music Program” by Orville Aftreth in the Music Educators Journal (Vol. 46, No. 3, January 1960, pp. 41-44), “A successful music program requires a principal who enables the following basic attitudes:
A belief in the value and importance of music;
A desire to grow his ability to enjoy, appreciate, and produce music;
A willingness to vitalize school activities through music.”
But, unfortunately, it seems that few administrators have significant and ongoing experiences in making music.
A principal’s musical background influenced their view of music as a key part of a quality education. Most of the principals’ formal experience in the arts ended early in their life, and none took classes on how to be an effective administrator for an arts program. Principal certification courses typically deal with finance, special education, and general leadership and administration.
—D. Benjamin Williams
My own history (35 years of teaching in the public schools with 30+ administrators) was to serve with only one principal who was a former music teacher, and perhaps 10% of the remaining administrators had any real arts education experience (or even regularly played an instrument or sang in a choir).
Williams shared the purpose of his case study: “to gain an understanding of school administrators’ thoughts on their school’s music program in regards to music’s role and value.” He documented the comments of five principals in their advocacy of the arts.
The research questions posed in this study centered on the following:
What are common values and/or themes among administrators when it comes to music in their schools?
Are there common points of advocacy administrators find themselves making in support of their school’s music program?
What do administrators see as benefits of having a music program in their schools?
Where does music fit in the overall vision of a school?
What is music’s role in a quality education?
They mentioned how the arts are an opportunity to plug in, be engaged, and earn scholarships; that they create an identity for the individual and for the school; that they make a whole student and contribute to a whole education; and that they provide opportunities for higher-order thinking, such as critical or creative thinking and problem solving, that are encouraged in core-content areas as well. The pressure placed on education institutions in the 21st century are focused on these concepts, and the principals saw that music helped and encouraged students to develop these abilities. This is why they chose to support, advocate, and build up their school’s music programs.
—D. Benjamin Williams
I repeat: the first advice we give to newcomers to the profession is know your bosses! And, intentionally invite, “educate,” include, and engage them in your music classes and ensembles’ activities! Draw a circle around him/her to become a member of your team!
He drew a circle to shut me out,
heretic rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win,
we drew a circle that took him in.
Learn techniques to make your principal work for you and your program.
Learn how to think like a principal.
Each year when I return from honor bands or other music related field trips, I make it a habit to purchase my administrators a small token of appreciation to let them know the trip was a great success. Students must write an essay, and they present the administrators with the gift. In the essay, students are required to write what they learned, what the field trip meant to them, and how they will use this experience to make the school better. Praise is effective.
Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.
— Henry Ford
Remember that even though you are not taking the role of administrator, you are a leader. You lead a program. You lead a musical family. You are the leader of a superior sound. You are the leader of inspiration for your community. In the most genuine way, lead your administrator to a music education crescendo.
— Lori Schwartz Reichl
After a little brainstorming, I recalled my own working “top-ten list” of techniques for building harmonious interactions and collaborations with your school leaders.
Be the first to arrive and the last to leave, and you will earn their respect! Professionals, especially music teachers who participate in co- and extra-curricular activities, are not “clock watchers” and need to “put in the time” before and after school to prepare and achieve meaningful learning experiences for their students.
Learn what makes them tick! Is your principal a site-based manager? Is he/she a stickler for “chain of command.” I had an administrator who would go bonkers if he thought you back-copied a memo to the superintendent or called a central office manager first. Be sure you conform to the management style of your chief. This is a way of showing him/her respect and cooperation, which in all likelihood, will be returned to you in spades.
Keep your principal “in the loop” and “in your corner,” and make sure you communicate any serious disputes that come up (especially with unhappy parents) that could blow up in your/his/her faces in the future. This also which means you don’t subscribe to the philosophy, “Don’t ask for permission, beg for forgiveness.” Proponents of this belief will tell you to go ahead and stick your neck out, perhaps do something “for the good of the order,” and later declare “oops!” if it goes south and your administrators disapprove. I cannot vouch for the ethics of this position, and “venturing out without a paddle” usually did not serve the best interests of the students. There’s no reason to place “the teacher’s convenience” over the safety and welfare of the children, and you should first try to obtain the legal and political endorsement of your boss(es) as you keep them appraised about what you are doing. Don’t be a nag, just “cc:” when appropriate, and “ask,” don’t “tell!”
Give them credit! Publicly, you make it clear: you and your students’ awards and accomplishments are also your administrators’ awards and accomplishments. If it is possible, have your principal join you on stage to accept any ensemble honors.
Serve on a non-music related committee or project. Principals are always looking for volunteers to help fulfill the overarching goals of the district. This might mean signing up for the strategic planning committee, Middle States accreditation evaluation team, school renovation planning meetings with the architect, etc.
Engage your principal as a participant in your program: concert appearances as guest conductor or solo/ensemble performer, featured narrator or announcer, limited-engagement as a walk-on part in the musical, judge of talent show, etc.
Model professionalism and good time management skills. Be prompt in the completion of all deadlines assigned by administration. Don’t turn your principal (or his secretary) into a “nag” requiring numerous follow-up reminders.
Understand the importance of public perceptions and “appearances.” Many school leaders spend an inordinate amount time trying to defend the sometimes questionable actions of their staff. Don’t make this necessary! Be responsible for your “public brand.” If it looks bad, it is bad… and that’s always up to you!
Don’t just bring up problems, have answers! At odds with an existing policy or practice? Suggest a solution and a Plan B to an issue you would like to address. Upholding “moral professionalism,” tactfully but firmly point out what is not working (and why). But, do your homework first. Share the “facts and stats” and try to propose several different directions to consider (even a Plan C and a Plan D). You will impress the “head honcho” by modeling the traits of flexibility, creative problem solving, and sensitivity to the needs of other staff and programs.
Think long term and back-up your requests with numbers! When you submit your budget for the next school year, include the “tangibles” and statistics that your principal could use to “fight for you.” Include data on and percent changes in student enrollments, per-pupil costs, history of past purchases, etc. and separate your proposals into one, two, three, and/or five-year “plans” to spread out the expense for big-ticket items. Be specific and prioritize! When asked to “cut” my sheet music amounts, I assembled a set of sample folders with all of the music I used in the current year and broke down each selection’s current (replacement) price, each concert’s overall value, percentage of the repertoire used from my library, projected losses, etc. In one case, I predicted that if the district went through with its reduction of the music budget by 20% and (at the time) the cost of sheet music was rising 15%, I would be forced to schedule one fewer public performance in the school year. (It never happened!)
If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples, then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.
— George Bernard Shaw
Another resource worth reading is “A Teacher’s Guide to Working With Your Principals” by Kristy Louden. She reflects: “But aside from the obvious factor that your principal is your boss, and you want your boss to think well of you, I have found my relationship with my principal has helped in more ways than I probably realize. Here’s why:
They’ll think of you… (when an opportunity comes up that you might want).
Tip #41: Continuously improve classroom management
Tip #62: Make ethical decisions
Tip #80: Write notes, return phone calls, reply to email
Tip #93: Perform (satisfy your own pursuit of creative self-expression)
Tip #97: Improve your leadership skills (quotes from the book Leadership 101 by John Maxwell)
This final point is an excellent one. You are “in charge” of your own self-improvement projects and professional development. Administrators want to see staff members who seek growth experiences. Don’t wait for the annual implementation of the district’s “latest flavor of the year” in-service program (as it is sometimes referred to by teachers) or your supervisor’s year-end conference. Do your own self-assessment and plan specific and measurable goals and tasks to fulfill them. Always strive to do your best and be harder on yourself than anyone else (even administration) can ever be. Model the concepts of focus, cooperation, self-discipline, and a positive attitude in the workplace.
Now, take a deep breath. It’s all about one step at a time. Soak up these ideas. You can and will nurture happy and productive relationships with your principal and other school administrators, enhance your professional image and effectiveness, and foster opportunities of achievement and self-fulfillment for you and your music students!
3 by 3: Essential Books + Websites for Music Ed Majors
By now, at least several weeks after the holiday/winter break, most of you have probably returned to school and are “back at it” fulfilling your studies in music and education methods. Welcome to the New Year (2019) and good luck on meeting your goals!
It has been my pleasure to present numerous workshops and conference sessions for pre-service, in-service, and retired music educators on a variety of topics: interviewing for a job, marketing professionalism, ethics, transitioning to retirement, supercharging the musical, etc., and have been asked on occasion, “Where do you find all of the information, research, and resources for your blog-posts and talks?
Well.. I’m glad you asked!
It would be hard to credit one or a few sources on reliable data, insights, and recommendations for career development. The following “gems” – a few ideas from someone who has taught music for more than 40 years – are just my New Year’s “gifts” to you… hopefully useful in your undergraduate or advance degree studies. Please enjoy!
This is probably the wrong time to suggest making a few “buys” for the sake of educational enrichment. College students are bombarded with many required readings of their (often expensive) textbooks and handouts from their comprehensive higher education courses of study. It is somewhat daunting to “cover all the bases,” especially when you may want specific advice and “answers” as a result of being recently thrown into “the real world” of field observations and student teaching. What else would a prospective music teacher need or have time to read? How can we better prepare you for the challenges of our profession?
Since you have to order books (or borrow them from a library), we’ll start with the printed publications. Here are my “top three” for your immediate consideration.
My Many Hats
In the category of “things I wishes someone would have told me before I was hired to be a school music educator,” the inspirational book, My Many Hats: Juggling the Diverse Demands of a Music Teacher by Richard Weymuth, is a recommended “first stop” and easy “quick-read.” Published by Heritage Music Press (2005), the 130-page paperback serves as an excellent summary of the attributes (or “hats”) of a “master music teacher.” Based on the photos in his work (great “props”), I would have loved to have seen Weymuth’s conference presentations in person as he donned each hat symbolizing the necessary skill-set for a successful educator.
A quote from the author in his Introduction:
“I want my hats to put a smile on your face as you read this book, just as they do for the airport security guards as they go through my bags at the airport. They ask, “Are you a magician? A clown? An entertainer?” My answer is, “Yes, I am a teacher.”
His Table of Contents tells it all:
The Hat of a Ringmaster: Managing your classroom and your time
The Hat of a Leader: Setting the direction and tone of your classroom
The Hat of a Scholar: Learning when “just the facts” are just fine, and when they aren’t
The Hat of a Disciplinarian: The Three C’s: Caring, Consistency, and Control
The Hat of an Eagle: Mastering your eagle eye
The Hat of a Crab: Attitude is everything; what’s yours?
The Hat of a Juggler: Balancing a complicated and demanding class schedule
The Hat of a Banker: Fund raising and budgeting
The Hat of an Artistic Director: Uniforms and musicals and bulletin boards, oh my!
The Hat of a Lobster: Establishing the proper decorum with your students
The Hat of a Pirate: Finding a job you will treasure
The Hat of a Bear: Learning to “grin and bear it” in difficult situations
The Hat of a Peacock: Having and creating pride in your program
The Hat of Applause: Rewarding and recognizing yourself
The Hat of a Flamingo: Sticking out your neck and flapping your wings
Here are a couple sections that should be emphasized if you are currently a junior or senior music education major.
All student or first-year teachers should focus on his/her three C’s of class discipline in Chapter 4: “Caring, Consistency, and Control.” In order to resolve problems and seek advice from local mentors (especially help from second and third-year teachers who may have just gone through similar conflicts), he poses these questions:
What is the specific discipline problem that is currently bothering you?
Who could you interview in your educational community to help with this problem?
How did they handle the problem?
What discipline solutions worked and what didn’t work?
Those getting ready for the job search and interviewing process this year must turn to Chapter 11 immediately! “Just like a pirate, you are searching for your treasure, or at least a job you will treasure.” Suggesting that first-year teachers should stay in their assignment for a minimum of three years (to show “you are a stable teacher and are dedicated to the district”), Weymuth offers guidance in these areas:
The Application Process
Make a Good Impression
The First-Class Interview
Frequently Asked Questions
The Second Interview
The book is worth the $17.95 price alone for the interview questions on pages 85-88.
Once you “land a job” and are assigned extra-curricular duties like directing after-school ensembles, plays, and perhaps fund-raising for trips, shows, uniforms, or instruments, come back to Chapter 8 for “The Hat of a Banker” and Chapter 9 for “The Hat of an Artistic Director.” His guidelines for moneymaking and record-keeping include insightful sub-sections on:
Planning and Administering a Fund-Raising Activity
Motivating Students to Sell, Sell, Sell (Set Goals, Prizes, and Tracking)
Having previously posted a blog on “Supercharging the School Musical,” I was impressed with his pages 65-69 on “Show and Concert Choir Dress” and The Musical,” and especially the “Appendix – Resources Books for Producing a Musical” in the back of the book.
Case Studies in Music Education
Next, I would like to direct pre-service and new music teachers to Case Studies in Music Education by Frank Abrahams and Paul D. Head. This would be an invaluable aid to “facilitate dialogue, problem posing, and problem solving” from college students (in methods classes?) and “rookie” teachers to veteran educators.
Using the format of Introduction, Exposition, Development, Improvisation, and Recapitulation known by all music professionals, each chapter presents a scenario with a moral dilemma that many music educators face in the daily execution of their teaching responsibilities.
“How should a music teacher balance learning and performing? What is the best way to handle an angry parent? What are the consequences of the grades teachers assign? What are the best ways to discipline students? How should teachers relate to the administrators and to other teachers? The emphasis here is not on the solution, but on the process. There are many viable approaches to nearly every obstacle, but before any meaningful long-term solutions can be made, teachers must identify their own personal philosophy of music education and recognize those traits that are admirable in another’s style.”
―Excerpt from back cover of Case Studies in Music Education, Second Edition, by Frank Abrahams and Paul D. Head
Case Studies in Music Education provides a frank discussion about the critical real-world issues music teachers face but are rarely addressed in college courses:
Balancing the goals of learning and performing music
Communications and relationships with parents, administrators, and other staff
“Fair use” and other copyright laws
If you are seeking more reflection and peer review of ethical issues in the music education profession, good for you! Few music teachers ever talk about the “e” word. What’s important is not only becoming aware of your state’s/district’s statues on the “teacher’s code of conduct” and dress/behavior expectations, but developing your own ethical “compass” for all professional decision-making. A good companion to the Abrahams and Head book is to peruse my previous blogs on ETHICS (posted in reverse chronological order).
Enhancing the Professional Practice of Music Teachers
“Book number three” is probably the most expensive, and I could only wish you were already exposed to it in one of your music education courses. If you have not seen it, go ahead and “bite the bullet” in the purchase of Enhancing the Professional Practice of Music Teachers: 101 Tips that Principals Want Music Teachers to Know and Do by Paul G. Young, published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2009. [Note: Be sure to give them your NAfME membership number for a 25% discount!]
“If you want to improve your professional performance and set yourself apart from your colleagues—in any discipline—these tips are for you. If you desire anything less than achieving the very best, you won’t want this book. Rather than addressing research and theory about music education or the “how-to’s” of teaching, Enhancing the Professional Practice of Music Teachers focuses on common-sense qualities and standards of performance that are essential for success-everywhere. Whether you’re considering a career in music education, entering your first year of teaching, or nearing the end of a distinguished tenure, this advice applies to musicians in any setting. Affirming quality performance for experienced teachers and guiding, nurturing, and supporting the novice, Young outlines what great music teachers do. Easy to read and straightforward, read it from beginning to end or focus on tips of interest. Come back time and again for encouragement, ideas, and affirmation of your choice to teach music.”
Tips That Establish Effective Practice with Students
Tips That Support Recruitment
Tips That Enhance Instruction
Tips That Enhance the Profession
Tips for Personal Growth
Tips for Professional Growth
Paul Young is a musician and band director who later became an elementary school principal. His book is derived from his experience as a music student, music teacher, and educational leader. The intent of the publication is to guide both new and experienced teachers in continued personal and professional growth. He uses his experience as an administrator to point out to music teachers the traits he has seen in individuals who have become successful in the profession.
Now that you ordered at least one of these for personal research and growth, I should point out other sources of book recommendations for the budding music educator, courtesy of NAfME:
Okay, now comes the “easy-peasy” part, and even more importantly, it’s mostly FREE!
The first thing I want you to do (and you don’t even have to be a member of NAfME yet, although you should be!) is to take at least a half-hour, scroll down, and read through numerous NAfME “Music in a Minuet” blog-posts, bookmarking any you want to return to at a later date. Go to https://nafme.org/category/news/music-in-a-minuet/.Get ready to be totally immersed into the music education profession in a way no college professor can do, with articles like the following (just a recent sampling):
Hopefully you did receive a little cash in your Christmas stocking… or something from grandma! Now is time to “belly up to the bar” and pay your dues. Every professional school music educator should be a member of their “national association…” NAfME!
Edit your profile using your NAfME.org member username and personal password.
Control what information is visible on your profile.
Join/subscribe to communities of your choice – you will automatically be enrolled in Music Educator Central, our general community for all NAfME Members.
Control the frequency and format of email notifications from Amplify.
If you prefer, they have created a video or quick-start guide here to set-up your account’s profile, demonstrate the features, and provide some help navigating through the AMPLIFY menus.
Once you familiarize yourself with the forum, find the “Music Educator Central” and “Collegiate” discussion groups… and start reading. If you have a question, post it. AMPLIFY connects you with as many as 60,000 other NAfME members… a powerful resource for networking and finding out “tried and true” techniques, possible solutions to scenarios or problems in the varied settings of school music assignments, and the sharing of news, trends, perspectives, and more!
Try it… you’ll like it! When you feel comfortable with the platform, contribute your own posts, thoughtful responses to comments from the reflections of your “colleagues,” teaching anecdotes, personal pet-peeves, and ??? – you name it! The sky is the limit!
Tooting My Own Horn… the “Paulkfoxusc” Website (now paulfox.blog)
Food for Thought for “Getting Your Stuff Together”
Once in awhile, someone suggests an article that might be suitable for everyone who stumbles upon this website… retired (but very busy) music teachers, active music educators, collegiates, and music students of all ages. Of course, I cannot resist putting together my own list of ways to become a better time manager and efficiency expert… mainly because I was never that organized when I taught classes in three buildings, assisted in marching band, produced plays and musicals, and served as a curriculum leader during my 35+-year career. (“Do as I say, don’t do as I do…” or did!) It’s now easy to recommend… and after trolling the Internet a little, backing up this advice with numerous “expert” protagonists.
1. Throw out the “to-do list” and use a calendar
“Millionaires don’t use to-do lists. If something truly matters to you, put it on your calendar. You’ll be amazed at how much the likelihood of getting it done increases.”
Srinivas adds, “Just the act of putting these things on the calendar for some reason seems to significantly increase the likelihood that I actually do them.”
2. But there’s still a good reason for keeping your a note-taking app.
Combine a virtual assistant like Apple “Siri” or Amazon “Alexa” with an application like “Evernote” for “brainstorming” to get your thoughts organized.
Perhaps creating to-do lists may or may not work in your day-to-day environment, but the use of note-taking apps with voice-activated personal assistants may be the ticket to sketch out your short to long-term planning and even respond to email or other forms of writing drafts. Basically, I find I talk faster than I can type!
She reviews Evernote (my personal favorite), Microsoft OneNote, Paper, Quip, and Simplenote for day-to-day use.
A lot of my blog writing is generated using voice recognition by Siri dropped into the Evernote app. It has worked well for me. However, if you are running errands in the car, or even taking a longer trip on the highway, it is not recommended to dictate your manuscript while driving! Your attention is drawn away from watching the road to check on the status of your “writings,” and Siri does not always hear things right the first time! Even if you do not look at your phone while talking to your device, you will find that your distracted “brainstorming out-loud” may cause you to miss an exit or even sit unresponsive at a green light. Never note-take and drive at the same time!
3. Of course, you have to set priorities!
I was never good at going from brainstorming to finalizing the goals and action plans! It seems easier to “think outside the box” than to construct that multi-leveled box of jobs!
Benjamin Brandall contributes additional insight on systems for prioritizing at https://www.process.st/how-to-prioritize-tasks/, defining “the Four D’s” (see section #5) and my favorite concept, “When you have two frogs to eat, eat the ugliest one first.”
As musicians and music teachers, this suggestion may hit home: Do something that stimulates your “right brain” with acts of personal self-expression or artistry every day, and schedule it both intentionally and early!
What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning? Playing an instrument or singing? Composing? Writing? Painting or drawing?
I have previously blogged about ways to enhance your daily creativity quotient:
“Here is what I’ve learned from these creative warm-ups: my thinking continues to be more flexible and multi-dimensional throughout the day. I approach work challenges with less fear and more playfully; I’m more open to see things in new and unexpected ways… And that makes all the difference.”
– Ayse Birsel, author of Design the Life You Love
5. Adhere to the “four D’s” system of productivity.
“In the busy teaching day, it can often be the last thing on your mind to dive into some professional reading. So, why should you make it a priority and how can you utilize your time effectively to fit it in?”
It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Teachers have to “keep up” with their “craft,” explore developing innovations, trends, and movements in their field, and embrace better instructional techniques and use of media for their students!
“I don’t have time” means you are not a true professional. Doctors and other medical care providers, lawyers, investment counselors, clergy, etc. – you name the “profession” – must continually renew their knowledge-base and “sharpen their saws.” Regular reading and attending conferences help motivate you, “recharge your batteries,” retool for the formation of new goals, review better strategies, and introduce improved teaching methods, materials, literature, and technologies.
The aforementioned Teacher Toolkit website scripts tips on how to get started:
Focus your topic of interest.
Know where to look.
Listen instead of reading!
Set aside a regular time slot in your week.
Find a quiet place.
7. Cut back on your “screen time,” especially closer to your bedtime.
“There’s a lot of debate about how much screen time is too much screen time, specifically for children, but also for adults. Likely you’ve heard about how it’s a good idea to stop using our electronics in the evening so you can wind your brain down for bed. But when it comes to screen time, the only thing that seems conclusive is that there’s such a thing as too much and that it may be different for everyone and depend on the circumstances.”
I remember when I taught full-time and was in the middle of a full-blown musical production, I sometimes laid awake feeling “stirred up” inside trying to think of all the things I needed to do the next day. #5 of Brittney’s list is solved by putting a legal pad and a good pen by your bed stand, and without awakening your spouse, roll over and jot down a few of your “don’t forgets.” Or if you prefer to use the magic of technology, you can do this digitally… take a minute or so and use your tablet or smartphone, but don’t stay up very long and let the screen’s blue-light make your insomnia worse. Revisit title heading #2 above for note-taking apps.
It’s absolutely amazing the number of sources you can find on the web for additional advice for improving your sleep habits:
“Now and again, everyone faces a big life transition. For me, it was when I lost my father — right around the time I realized my kids were rapidly growing up (funny how that sneaks up on you, huh?). I started to think about how I really wanted to live my day-to-day life. From the clothes on my body to stuff in my home, I wanted to stop perpetuating things that made me feel bad about myself.”
“Much like Gilligan and his infamous “three hour tour,” what I thought might be a quick clean-out extravaganza turned into an epic, six-month journey through the nether reaches of my closets and my psyche. Along the way, I learned many things from Maeve about organization — and more than a few things about myself that changed my relationship with my stuff.”
“This is tough for anyone, but it’s a crucial step in regaining control over your stuff. I was really honest with myself, and resolved to not beat myself up over getting rid of (or donating) things we didn’t need — even if they were in good shape. When you start to think of your things as part of an ecosystem for your life, it becomes easier to pare down to only the stuff you really love.”
Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “young” by kaboompics, “checklist” by TeroVesalainen, “paper” by rawpixel, “important” by geralt, “cello” by enbuscadelosdragones0, “board”by rawpixel, “mobile” by kaboompics, “iPhone” by JESHOOTScom, “male” by Engin_Akyurt, “spiral-notebook” by kathrin, “minimalism” by bohemienne, “clutter” by Kasman, and “ring-binders” by AbsolutVision.