If you are a frequent visitor to this blog site, you may have noticed that, for some reason, I haven’t posted anything for almost two whole months. Cat got my tongue? Nothing to add? Busy with other things?
We have been doing what comes naturally! The most important “stuff!” Although hectic at times and in a frenzied pace, all is well! My wife and I are healthy, happy, actively engaged in the projects that matter to us, and mastering those all-essential ingredients in a healthy lifestyle (retired or not): “finding purpose, structure, and community” (reference to the book How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by Ernie Zelinski).
Well, I can tell you I am still vested in volunteering my expertise, experiences, and services on a number of fronts. Normally extremely verbal, I just have not had a couple hours to spare to write anything down or contribute to the voluminous material to what has become a massive archive of articles (editorials and how-to’s), links, and other resources.
What have I been doing lately?
First off, we are just finishing up our marching band season. As the official admin and announcer for the “Pride of Upper St. Clair” Marching Band (I spend my time inside, not directing practices on the fields), I attend all rehearsals as attendance bookkeeper, forms manager, librarian, quasi-nurse, and when necessary, act as a sounding board or shoulder to lean on for “the band director.” This was our first year going “competitive,” participating in regional festivals of Pennsylvania Interscholastic Marching Band Association (PIMBA), and by all accounts, “we” achieved excellence. The band is unrecognizable from past years – the students are much more committed and focused – but we still have a ways to go!
Of course, all during this, our football team made it to the playoffs. On Friday, we will support our team in the “first round” WPIAL Class 5A match at Gateway HS. The extended season brings with it challenges of its own (keeping the band members on-task and embracing new goals), but the rewards outweigh the extra rehearsals. And, all through this, we are making plans (and building excitement) for the launch of the first-ever USCHS winter guard and drumline programs!
Funny thing! I’m now a part of the band’s “brand.” For 38+ years, I have been “the voice” announcing the pregame and halftime shows for Upper St. Clair High School. I’ve also emceed a couple dozen of the USCHS Marching Band Festivals, plus senior recognitions, USC Halls-of-Fame exhibitions in the stadium, and outside music invitationals. It is truly a joy to “cheerlead” our musicians… and my wife would tell you, I have a very loud broadcaster’s voice! And now, ladies and gentlemen…
In two weeks, I will conduct the fall concert of our community ensemble South Hills Junior Orchestra, now in its 40th year. Although COVID did its best to wipe out our enrollments and recruitment efforts, our online academy kept things going, and we now support a small but dedicated chamber group. (Surprisingly, I have a good balance of instrumentation including sometimes rarely-found musicians on French Horn, bassoon, bass clarinet, electric bass, and piano, but one of my trumpet players is having to read clarinet parts.) Our theme is in support of Ukraine. We just “stumbled upon” several appropriate folk songs from the region, including the tribal tunes of Russian Fantasy (Robert Bennett Brown), the ever-popular Ukrainian Bell Carol, Dance of the Slave Maidens from “Prince Igor” (by Borodin, part of the “Russian Five”), and Slovakian Folk Songs (bordering Ukraine).
After this concert, we will prepare a holiday program for a nearby assisted-living facility with most of the SHJO members each taking a turn to conduct the sing-along of carols and seasonal favorites.
If interested, we warehoused a lot of our old SHJO Online Academy media and lessons here. (Use the password symphony.)
Staying involved in my professional associations, I am happy to report I was accepted to present at two conferences, the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) Eastern Division event in Rochester, NY on April 13-16, 2023 and the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) Annual In-Service at the Kalahari Resort/Poconos on April 20-22, 2023. I have been asked to do my interview clinic session at both conferences and a workshop for PMEA on music educator burnout remediation, self-care, health and wellness.
In the meanwhile, not to let any grass grow under my feet (or more leaves to fall on my head), locally I have been giving teacher ethics presentations at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania (a wonderful class of 44 freshman music education majors – the future looks good!) and Washington & Jefferson College undergraduate and graduate education majors.
I open my session offering to give a hundred dollar bill to the first student who can correctly name the exact title of their educator’s code of conduct (PA Code of Professional Practice and Conduct – CPPC) and identify the agency which enforces it (PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission – PSPC). No one ever guesses it. (I could also likely get away with this challenge at any school faculty meeting in the Commonwealth! Educators seldom receive formal ethics training in our state – that’s why I am sharing these recent updates from the PA Department of Education!) Now that I have publicized “the big question,” I guess I’d better put away that C-note for good!
A sampling of my slides and handouts are available for perusal from the top section of the “Training/Jobs” menu bar link here,or you can find past blogs on the subject of educator decision-making presented in reverse chronological order here.
In a similar vein (and with equal passion), I have teamed-up with retired social studies teacher and attorney-at-law Thomas Bailey to sponsor continuing education classes for both educators and administrators. I am inspired by Tom’s knowledge of the PA regulation framework and school law. We just finished an excellent 25-hour approved non-PDE Act 45 course for school system leaders. You should visit his informative website here, and especially check out his court case blog here. If you are a school superintendent or administrator, our next series of online classes will begin on November 29; register for the course here.
Additional future projects include assisting on the PMEA Strategic Planning committee for “member engagement,” planning for the PMEA CRESCENDO virtual student conference scheduled for January 31, 2023 (more info here), and serving on the PMEA Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention (I am state chair) – “the life cycle of an educator.” A wealth of free information for music educators (which I try to revise frequently) is available on sections of the PMEA website: the Council TTRR focus area (click here) and Retired Members (click here).
Outside the scope of teaching profession, I have been active as Communications Director, Fine and Performing Arts Chair, and Trustee of the Community Foundation of Upper St. Clair (CFUSC). I publicize a weekly eUPDATE (samples on the website here) to announce our township events for donors and supporters, serve as “the duck maestro” – the mascot for the annual duck races on USC Community Day, and look forward to organizing “a really big party” in celebration of the CFUSC’s 30th anniversary on April 21, 2023 at the St. Clair Country Club… although I will be in the Poconos on the same date doing a PMEA workshop! The Fox calendar is bursting with a few overlapping dates!
Besides all of the above, I am still volunteering at the hospital several days a week, pushing wheelchairs to/from procedure rooms at St. Clair Health. One thing you realize helping out in your hometown (the place you taught all those years)… you will run into many of your former students now grown up with kids of their own. It is a real joy to see them again (albeit due to the need for a colonoscopy or surgical procedure), and catch up with all those memories, their life’s successes, and future dreams.
The only personal goal that remains unfinished is consideration on how I can better distribute (dare I say “promote”) the numerous blogs that remain timely and relevant at this website. It’s just a little too overwhelming (and dense) for some passersby. A few of the links in the earlier postings may have expired and need to be updated. However, a lot of my insight, hard earned perspective (with sweat and tears), and past experiences have been poured into these writings, and I could only hope many of them could become useful tools for college music education majors, the rookie educator, those feeling challenged by today’s post-COVID times, or anyone recently transferring into the profession. Here’s another list of menus… go ahead, sight-see and enjoy the journey!
As you can see, I am not really retired… perhaps a better term would be “refired” or “redirected” or “reinvented.” If you are already “living the dream” in your post-full-time employment years or anticipate this happening in the near future, that’s how it’s done. That’s what I wish for you, too! Do you want to live-it-up to Moses’ age – supposedly 120 years old? Then, you better plan to be physically and mentally active and engaged! After all, a mind is a terrible thing to waste!
More Tips, Tricks, & Techniques to Help You Organize
As you can see, it has been awhile since I shared a blog-post. It looks like I went on vacation and skipped the entire month of July!
Well, truth be told, familiar to many of my band director friends, we are hitting the streets with a plethora of summer clinics, rehearsals, and camps to prepare for and usher in the season of parades, halftime shows, pre-games, festivals, competitions, etc., and although I am officially “retired,” I chose to re-up as “admin” to the “Pride of Upper St. Clair” – the marching band of the school from which I left in 2013. Serving as announcer for now more than 37 years, I decided to “put the pedal to the metal” and join the “band leadership team” to discover the joy of watching our ensemble “hatch” their new shows from scratch, re-awaken and build on their technique, inspire and grow their membership, and focus on “practice-practice-practice” and “making music!” I just finished a grueling week of those 12-14 hour band camp days spent in close partnership with 100+ of my favorite high school musicians.
Fantastic? Yes. Exhausting? Absolutely! It reminds me of 30-years-worth of nonstop days and nights of leading the annual spring musical as director/producer, including missing meals, dragging myself home to re-acquaint myself with my wife (who went through this, too), and dropping into bed. I have always said, quoting Ernie Zeliniski in his book How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free, it is important to find PURPOSE, structure, and community in retirement… but this hectic pace of frenzied activity at times tests my endurance. And, it feels a little like I never left teaching….
Therefore, I thought it would be appropriate to share some “advice from the experts” in terms of organizational tools and quick fixes or “hacks.” (See Part 1 on this topic.) This is only a gourmet “taste” of their ideas to simplify your life, work, and teaching. You should do yourself a favor and take more time to research the websites below for a complete explanation of their recommendations. We appreciate their generosity and willingness to be “free and open” to permit us to repeat their ideas in this forum.
“Use rubber pencil grips as inexpensive thumb rest cushions on clarinets by cutting them in thirds. (see photo)
Pink erasers work well as emergency rock stops for your cello and bass players
Purchase golf pencils on the cheap to keep in the classroom so that forgetting a pencil never becomes an excuse. Kids won’t love using these short, little pencils, so they are less likely to walk away at the end of class.
Three ring binders with sheet protectors help students keep organized and also cut down on lost music. If you want to be super-organized, add a pencil pouch and tab dividers in the binder.
Strips of velcro on the carpeting work well as guides to where chairs should go and allow your students to quickly and easily straighten up the rows. (see photo)
Print a sign with important information that your students frequently need (music store phone number, website addresses, etc.) and have them take a picture with their phone so they won’t have to ask you in the future. Do the same for important dates, locker combinations or anything else that is easily forgotten.
Locker mirrors can be purchased cheaply during school supply sales. Buy a class set and use them to check embouchure and more!
Did a clarinet or sax player forget their ligature? Or worse. . . it got stepped on and now it is as flat as a pancake! Use a rubber band to hold the reed on the mouthpiece until the student can get a new one.
Does your baton get buried under all your conductor scores? Use a binder clip on the side of your music stand, and it will always be handy! (see photo)
Do your beginning flute players have trouble remembering which keys the fingers of their left hand go on? Use “Avery Dot” stickers to mark the keys. You can do the same with clarinet pinky keys. Color code the keys on the right and left hand to assist students in learning their alternate fingerings. (see photo)”
There are a lot more “why didn’t I think of that” time management hints throughout the article. Also, be sure to check out her interesting Microsoft Word and Excel templates to use for your seating and locker assignments.
Band Directors Collaborate!
The middle school band directors in South Carolina got together and created a brainstorming session to share teaching tips and strategies with each other in order to improve their music programs. According to Mike Doll, editor of one of the blog posts Band Directors Talk Shop, “After the success of the first meeting, we decided to continue this on a regular basis, and we now do this 2-3 times a year for the past 10 years. These ‘best practices’ gatherings have been very informative, and we always walk away with several new ideas to try in our classrooms.”
1. Music sorter stick “One of our directors shared a neat way to sort music back into score order without multiple piles of different parts scattered around them on the floor. If you go online and search for Plastic Sort All, you will find the tool they use for this trick.”
“The director then used a label maker and created labels for each instrument in score order and attached them to the sorter in place of the letters and numbers on the end. “
2. Lines/tape on the floor for easy chair placement “One director, with a tile floor, mentioned they would check with their maintenance folks and find out when the wax would be stripped from the floor. At that point, they would tie a string to their director stand and measure the distance to the first row. They would then attach a sharpie to the other end of the string and use it like a compass to draw arcs on the floor. Once the floor was waxed, the lines never came up. Gaffers tape also works on carpeted floors. At the end of each class, the director would have everyone look down to make sure the front chair legs were on the arc. Clean neat rows in seconds at the end of each period.”
5. SMART Band Student.
“Quick and clean set of expectations for your band students. A SMART band student is one who is:
The article’s “Tip #4” on Band Binders is reminiscent of what I had applied to my grades 5-8 string program. My wife utilizes something similar for her online music lessons. Rookie or new teachers, especially, check it out!
In addition, you should peruse their website for an inspiring collection of articles on a host of other topics:
How timely and appropriate! I stumbled on this Pinterest site, Band Room Hacks, a collection by Julia Arenas, and since I did not get advance permission to reprint her library of images, I will invite you to go explore them for yourself. At a quick glance, I see she has assembled from music colleagues a lot of excellent storage solutions as well as music teaching tools that may inspire you to modify/add your own new time-saving shortcuts.
Although productivity experts like Stephen Covey in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and the originators of the aforementioned (in Part 1) Priority Management System (a favorite of mine) may be most helpful, we can all learn from Ashley as she sums things up with these tips on supercharging ourselves in planning for a good start to the school year. (You’ll have to visit her post to get the full gist of what to do!)
Put all your to-do’s in one place.
Track your time.
Batch related tasks.
Limit social media.
Divide your work-day into time blocks.
Set aside time to send and respond to emails.
Close documents and browser tabs you are not currently using.
Go into meetings with an agenda or outline.
I particularly love this introduction to her article:
“One thing I hear over and over from church musicians and music educators (well, everyone, really) is that there never seems to be enough time to get it all done.”
Time to teach Time to rehearse Time to write Time to practice Time to be with family Time to be a good friend Time to read Time to exercise Time to learn
“We’re always looking for new ways to be more productive, get more done in the little time we seem to have, and save time in places where, like money, we might be overspending. Am I right?”
“That’s one of my favorite ways to think about time – as money. It’s a commodity. We all have the same number of hours in the day – it’s how we spend them that makes the difference.”
“Where (and how) do you want to spend your time? What’s important to you?“
“Once you can answer this question, you’ll be motivated to make it happen – to take control of how you’re spending your time and look for ways to save it, where you can.”
The summertime academic break is essential for the health and wellness of every music educator. Hopefully you are enjoying a little TIME OFF and an emotional and intellectual break and release from thinking about your professional responsibilities and anything about school!
Europeans swear that it takes no fewer than three weeks of what we would call an extended vacation. They say we need that much time to totally unwind, de-stress, rest, and, if necessary, lick our wounds and even “heal ourselves!” Summer should allow us to focus on family, friends, and leisure activities FIRST – to re-adjust our “work/life balance.” After an appropriate interval, then we can get ready to re-charge and re-energize, to recommit emphasis on new music program goals and professional development.
If you are fortunate enough to live in Pennsylvania and be a member of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA), I have a wonderful “crosswalk” solution to accomplishing this REBOOT – a combined “refresh and re-invest” makeover – to first get out of dodge for a change in scenery and then take care of your own social-emotional learning to come back to school raring to go! It’s simple! Sign-up to participate in the 2022 PMEA Summer Conference to be held in-person at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Reading, PA on July 18-19, 2022.
Once again, PMEA is “crushing COVID” and returning to some level of normalcy to offer a face-to-face summer conference of many “awesome” professional development venues – everything from hands-on music reading, member “sharing” sessions, clinics on advocacy, band, choral, classroom music, community ensembles, conducting, curriculum writing, gender identity, health/wellness, mentor training, Modern Band, music technology, recruitment, strings, and so much more!
Check out this summary of wonderful workshops:
Approximately Nine (9) hours of Act 48 credit will be available.
This year’s event will include keynote speakers Suzanne Hall and Rollo Dilworth from Temple University as well as NAfME President and PA’s very-own super-star Scott Sheehan.
Feeling a little charitable, altruistic, or eleemosynary? (Great word – look it up!) On Tuesday, July 19, there will be a “Give-Back to the Community” event: PMEA’s Second Annual Day of Service at Goggle Works.
Now, what about that EXTRA FUN part? Well, you can turn your conference into a family vacation by just arriving a little early and/or leaving a little later.
First, how about attending a Minor League baseball game? PMEA acquired tickets to the Reading Fightin’ Phils vs. New Hampshire Fisher Cats contest on Sunday, July 17 at 5:15 p.m. at the FirstEnergy Stadium.
Berks County, a combination of rich farm country, industry, beautiful parks, lots of entertainment, and top-notch educational institutions, is home to one of Pennsylvania’s largest cities, Reading, as well as many small communities that offer a lot of history and natural beauty. For PMEA members going to the Summer Conference, it is the perfect opportunity to enjoy a wide variety of family-friendly attractions, recreation pursuits, touring of the landscape scenery, and other day trips. If you were to visit the area before and/or after the conference, here are at least 18 places-to-go before returning home:
If you walk through the heart of Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, you’ll find a rather imposing two-story mural painted by artist Brian Barnecio. It looks like a massive totem pole filled with abstract shapes that resemble lips and eyeballs and boxes of ping-pong balls, and in the middle of it all, there’s a single word: hack.
In the late ’80s and on into the ’90s and early 2000s, hack was a dirty word. It evoked danger and criminal activity. It was all about breaking into computer systems, telephone networks, and other vulnerable technology. People who knew their computer history disagreed, but the negative connotation took hold in the mainstream. But over the past decade, hacker has been rehabilitated. Today, it seems, everyone wants to be a hacker. Facebook has gone a long way towards renovating the word, building its massive successful company around the idea that hacking is a good thing, a way of transforming technologies into something better.
Referring to only positive interpretations of “hack,” we turn to the World Wide Web and our colleagues in collaboration to explore unique ways to streamline and make more efficient our personal organization, day-to-day routines, and management of our office and music teaching “best practices” in time/task management. Peruse through these insights “borrowed” from professionals in the field. Some may resonate within you and solve problems you may have; others may inspire you to create other “hacks” towards success.
If you haven’t done so already, please consult my past blog posts on similar topics at this site:
It may at first seem like a novel way to clean off your desk and desktop. But, in my opinion, it goes to the root of our problem in time management – PRIORITIZE and give rid of the (another “D”) DISTRACTIONS!
PM’s “WorkingSm@rt method” promises to help you “gain control over your day, find balance, prioritize your work, and reach your goals,” giving you time to focus on the tasks that are important to you. The bottom line – every digital or printed post-it-note, piece of mail, receipt, publication, email or other communication – must be “put in its place” on the spot – either completed instantly, deferred to another time, given to someone else to do, or THROWN OUT!
You could reverse the order of the D’s to make the workflow go even faster… “start with the end in mind” as Stephen Covey would say, and DELETE unnecessary “stuff” first. This “habit” is particularly suitable for email: clear out the spam and TRASH duplicate messages and things that do not need your response.
Consider these PM Hacks:
In advance, set-up file folders labeled by months, weeks, or days, and one each of these: in-basket, out-basket, and (very important) PRO-TIME tray.
Designate a “PM Period” every day when you go through your in-basket of unsorted (e)mail and delete unnecessary stuff/tasks, date/delay for another time, delegate to others (out-basket), or… DO THEM NOW!
As part of your “delay file,” place journals, catalogs, or other professional readings in a professional read tray (PRO-TIME), but regularly schedule daily/weekly time to do “silent and sustained reading.”
Allow NO unsorted pieces of paper to ever infiltrate the surface of your desk.
How does PRO-TIME look for a music educator? We should intentionally focus on fostering our own creative self-expression, artistry, and professional development:
Read an article in a professional journal or digital newsletter.
Write your own article or blog post for a professional e-publication.
“Keep up your chops” on your instrument or voice. Practice every day!
Keep up with your “musicianship training” like ear training, sight-reading, and score reading. Pull out a copy of Elementary Training for Musicians by Hindemith and practice exercises that make you sing in syllables, tap a different rhythm independently with your left hand, conduct the beat pattern with your right hand, and beat your foot to the pulse. OR revisit your college solfeggio assignments, and of course, sight-singing or playing-at-sight anything new-to-your-eyes is most beneficial.
Take time to compose or arrange your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”
Perform or improvise on the piano or guitar, rotating weekly to different musical styles and forms.
Is it time to learn a new instrument? When was the last time you crossed the break on the clarinet, drilled in paradiddles on the snare drum, OR shifted to third position on the violin? Can you play as well as your beginning students?
If you’re not a piano wizard or an accomplished accompanist, try your hand at sight reading several different voice parts simultaneously from choral octavos. OR can you transpose and play “at-sight” a musical phrase from a full score? (Those French Horn parts always challenged this violist!)
Besides committing to regular scheduled PRO-TIME, you have to systemize your D-PLANNING by going over your DELAY files during your daily designated “PM Period.” (Yes., this will take discipline!) In addition, once a month (or whatever frequency you choose), you must to review and move things from longer-term goals to short-term or immediate action. Being conscientious and meticulous in the use of your very-limited planning time and scheduling what author of Fewer Things, Better Angela Watson targets for your “non-flexibles” is paramount for “taming the time tiger!” Her “aligning priorities” approach to time management echoes the philosophy of PM and First Things First by Stephen Covey:
Identify your non-flexibles
List your top priorities that you want to uncover more time for
Specify what life would look like if you prioritized these things
Add top priorities to the unallocated time in your schedule
Identify/schedule the in-betweens
Setting Priorities – How’s Your Work/Life Balance?
If you have been following this site, you know this blogger has retired from full-time public school music teaching. However, “preaching to the choir,” we all know how busy our schedules have become and how unbalanced things can get – no matter who you are – college music education majors, fully active music educators, even retirees. In fact, we should all be taking the advice of author Ernie Zelinski in his book How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free to set priorities and find equilibrium in our daily, weekly, monthly work/life to-do lists and tasks. How do your pie slices look (above)? Do you spend more time thinking of your school/job than your more pressing personal commitments. Do you commit adequate time for your own self-care?
Angela Watson helps us engineer “a plan” that will foster balance. Or, if you have a few moments, visit the website(s) of the late great Stephen Covey, author of the book and series Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, in many ways one of the most renown experts on time management. I would start with this clever YouTube video excerpt of him hosting a workshop on the merits of “finding the big rocks” in your life: https://youtu.be/zV3gMTOEWt8. He summed it up with the quote: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
The next step might be to consume Covey’s First Things First book and corresponding website here.
Before you get started with planning your 2022-23 school year, we recommend taking a “time out,” pulling up a comfortable lawn chair or Lazy-Boy, and diving into these personal tutors – “gems.”
Since posting a plethora of resources on the job search, interview preparation and questions, branding, and networking, we came upon a few more perspectives, tips, and hands-on exercises you can use to “practice – practice – practice” landing gainful employment as a school music teacher – especially on building your capacity to “tell your own story,” who you have become, what unique qualities you bring to the mix, and how/why you have chosen music education as your “calling!”
Probably the most extensive set of links ever compiled on the subject can be downloaded from here:
But, be warned! It may take you days to read and absorb all of these past blog-posts and articles! They represent the ideal prerequisite – knowledge is power! Before going any further, take the afternoon off, find an easy chair, and focus your attention on creating a successful “action plan” for handling your upcoming employment screenings.
In a recent session for the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association Annual Conference in Kalahari/Poconos, we explored the following reflective/interactive activities. These work best in pairs or small groups, but you can adapt/individualize them for self-study:
Close your eyes. Who had the greatest influence on you becoming a music educator? (Do you see his/her face?) What did your “model” musician or music educator have or exhibit… name at least three attractive personality or professional traits he/she had and that you would desire to develop in yourself? WRITE THEM DOWN – LIST #1. In a group setting, share at least one of these with your neighbor. (Swap!)
Now it’s time to turn the attention on YOU. On a separate piece of paper, WRITE DOWN (LIST #2) YOUR three most redeeming qualities, unique professional/personal traits that any employer would be proud to know about you. Again, in a group setting, share at least one of these with your neighbor.
For now, put these lists aside. There are no RIGHT or WRONG answers, but in past interview workshops, these terms often get repeated (for both Lists #1 and #2): Charisma, Creativity, Dedication, Dynamo, Excitement, Expertise, Humor, Intuition, Kindness, Leadership, Musicianship, Problem-Solver, Sensitivity, Tirelessness, Versatility, Virtuosity, and Visionary. On another piece of paper, add 1-3 more of these you may not have originally thought were among your positive attributes – WRITE THEM DOWN ON LIST #3.
According to “The California BTES – Overview of the Ethnographic Study” by David Berliner and William Tikunoff, effective teachers (the ones for whom HR/employers are searching) score high on these skill sets/characteristics: Accepting, Adult Involvement, Attending, Consistency of Message, Conviviality, Cooperation, Student Engagement, Knowledge of Subject, Monitoring Learning, Optimism, Pacing, Promoting Self-Sufficiency, Spontaneity, Structuring. Do a self-assessment and apply these to yourself. WRITE DOWN 3-4 OF THESE ON LIST #4. Pick new ones you have not mentioned in #1 through #3.
Now comes the FUN part. It’s time to generate stories about past experiences you have had that would model these terms. For this exercise, we recommend writing down at least one unique anecdote from each list which would “show not say” your ability, new learning, or achievement. The “plot” of your story should be concise, focused on the one trait, and when told out loud, not take longer than a minute. Instead of “bragging” you are a problem-solver or adaptable, tell that story of how you had to instantly initiate a “plan b” lesson when it was obvious that the students needed more work on a concept you thought they had already mastered. Remember how you handled your first discipline problem or a child in crisis? If you feel you have the qualities of a leader or a team player, share specific examples of your interactions with children in high school, college, field observations/student teaching, church or community groups, volunteer jobs, etc. If you have trouble coming up with these, try to remember the funny or surprising moments, or even the challenging miscues or big boo-boo’s – all okay to share as long as you resolved the situation positively, created a solution that resolved the problem, or learned a new insight or skill to handle future episodes. No one expects perfection from a new teacher, just enthusiasm, professionalism, willingness to self-assess, and commitment to the cause.
Now you should have a library of stories ready to practice on your roommate, friends and fellow collegiates. You cannot bring the scripts with you, so these have to be at your fingertips: memorized, well-rehearsed, short and sweet (and if you can make them humorous, go for it!).
Every week from now through the job search process, add new stories to your collection. Scan your (e-)portfolio for more ideas. These are the criteria used by my former school district (from where I retired) to evaluative prospective candidates. Ideally, you should have anecdotes that cover each area:
My Favorite Rubric
At some point, you are going to have to “face the music” and practice swapping these stories with family members, friends, and/or fellow job seeking students. We’re all in this together! At your next college chapter of NAfME, music education methods class, or student teachers’ wrap-up meeting, try to schedule some “down time” to appoint each other to serve as interviewers/ees. At first, it may not be easy. Using randomly selected questions from the Ultimate Interview Primer above (pull numbers out of a hat), tell a story or two to exemplify your past history, competencies, and professional traits. Your “buddy” (who will be on the hot seat next) could evaluate your performance using the following rubric. Apply the Oreo cookie format (something good first/top cookie, something needing improvement/cream in the center, and end with something positive/bottom cookie) to avoid crushing anyone’s ego. Consider recording your mock interviews for future assessment. Here is a copy of the form with sample questions.
More Odds and Ends on Storytelling
These outside sources focus on the essential skill of storytelling, the whole point of the above exercises. After reading these, you may be able to assemble more meaningful anecdotes that truly model your positive qualities and experiences by telling “short stories” – and “actions do speak louder than words!”
On the Media from NYC Public Radio offered an interesting radio show, coincidentally aired during my 5.5 hour drive back from the 2022 PMEA Annual Conference in Kalahari/Poconos. They dove into the geometric shapes of stories… and what they have to do with reporting on the pandemic AND perhaps (my perspective) considerations for telling better narratives (including ups and downs) at job interviews: https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/otm/segments/kurt-vonnegut-and-shape-pandemic2
Situation: Describe a situation you experienced in the workplace relevant to the question.
Task: Mention a task you had to complete in this situation.
Action: Summarize the actions you took to complete the task.
Result: Discuss the outcome of your actions.
Finally, here are a handful of YouTube videos… just the tip of the iceberg. Remember that iceberg metaphor? The part that you see above the ocean is the performance, the show, the interview, the product… while the mandatory practice, rehearsals, preparations, and planning take up much more space and are almost never seen. ARE YOU READY TO TELL YOUR STORIES?
The return of in-person gatherings of PA music educators and students!
Here’s a “sneak preview” of the upcoming annual professional development convention for members of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) and Pennsylvania Collegiate Music Educators Association (PCMEA).
After being “hunkered down” for two years of online workshops, virtual conferences, digital music industry exhibits, and Zoom rehearsals of PMEA All-State ensembles, we can now “crush COVID-19” with “face-to-face” meetings of the PMEA TOGETHER CONFERENCE on April 6-9, 2022 at the Kalahari Resort in the Poconos.
Not just a “play on words,” this LIVE event brings TOGETHER the awesome and inspiring vision and efforts of the PMEA Professional Development Council, state officers, and staff, along with a twist from tradition – offering a place to getaway from it all!
Ask your spouse or “significant other,” children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews, other fun-loving family members, or close friends if they are available to join you for a three-day escape to the Poconos – “the world’s largest indoor waterpark” at Kalahari Resort! Experience great music, career development sessions, catching-up with colleagues, reconnection with your loved-ones, and entertainment for all ages – all wrapped up in one location.
Bring the family? Each spacious hotel room comes equipped with two double beds, a pullout sofa, microwave, and refrigerator, and the discounted $149/night conference rate allows you to register up to four people with access to all the resort’s amenities for no extra charge!
What resort amenities? Enjoy rides and slides (lots to “splash in” or just relax on the lazy river), a “big game” room, mini golf, mini bowling, 7-D motion theater, gourmet restaurants, spa, salon, fitness center, and amazing shopping and sightseeing excursions in PA’s northeastern region. While YOU are attending PMEA keynote sessions, clinics, concerts, and exhibits, the rest of your party could be “living it up” on as many as 29 waterpark thrills (from “mild” to “wild,” check out all of them on their website):
Indoor Outdoor Spas
Tiko’s Watering Hole
Zig Zag Zebra
A joyful car trip to local scenes and attractions? The word “Pocono” means “the stream between two mountains.” This region encompasses 2,400 square miles of lakes, rivers, and woodlands just waiting to be discovered. Just how adventurous are you?
Explore numerous opportunities to hike, bike, bird watch, ski, fish, and photograph the wildlife, waterfalls, and other breathtaking landscapes.
Peruse the various exhibits of local artists at the White Mills Art Factory, 736 Texas Palmyra Highway (Route 6) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Wednesdays).
Try your luck at the Mount Airy Casino Resort Spa.
Or be a “wandering tourist” and visit nearby Stroudsburg, Milford, Jim Thorpe Honesdale, Lake Wallenpaupack, Hawley, Skytop, Bushkill, Lake Harmony, or Tannersville.
Now down to the business of professional development! In your free time from the above refreshing and re-invigorating moments of “down time,” you won’t want to miss the PMEA general sessions featuring keynoters David Wish of Little Kids Rock and Lesley Moffat, author of Love the Job, Lose the Stress. After opening the music industry and collegiate exhibits, numerous workshops, interactive demonstrations, and panel discussions will be hosted on a variety of “state-of-the-art” and timely topics:
Sandwiched in between these clinics and meetings of PCMEA, PA Society for Music Teacher Education, PMEA Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention, PMEA Retired Members, Pennsylvania-Delaware String Teachers Association, and others will be opportunities to observe rehearsals and performances of the PMEA All-State Band, Chorus, Jazz, Orchestra, and Vocal Jazz, and attend concerts of guest performing ensembles – among “Pennsylvania’s finest.” Congratulations to:
Looking for that new classroom accessory, concert selection, educational travel group, fundraiser, instrument, technology tool, or uniform, or seeking to talk to representatives from music schools? Take time to visit the exhibits. PMEA thanks the continuing support of its PMEA Corporate Sponsors.
Yours truly (blogger) is proud to announce he is presenting three sessions at the conference:
CODES, CASE STUDIES, and CONUNDRUMS – The Challenges of Ethical Decision-Making in Education
THE INTERVIEW CLINIC – Practicing and Playacting to Improve Your Performance at Employment Screenings
RETIREMENT 101 – The Who, What, When, Where, Why, & How of Preparing for Post-Employment
PMEA will need volunteers to assist as presiding chairs or to serve at the INFO BOOTH near registration. In addition, the PMEA Retired Member Coordinator is seeking retirees to help serve on a guest panel of “semi-experts” for the retirement session.
It’s still a little early for much additional detail. However, check out this MOVIE TRAILER preview of the 2022 Conference, featuring The Pennsylvania March composed by PMEA retired member Ron DeGrandis.
As of January 17, 2022 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), Kalahari Resort room reservations are open! The link to conference registration will be coming soon. For more information, please visit the PMEA website. Keep your eye out for revisions in future PMEA News, UPDATES, and other e-publications.
Do you believe in formulating annual goals or drafting a couple “New Year’s Resolutions?”
THE STATS DON’T LIE
Every year around this time, the web highlights many so-called experts touting the benefits of making personal improvement plans… and is just as quick to admonish us for breaking them. The statistics are not encouraging:
Success/Failure rates over the first 6 months
Of those who make a New Year’s resolution, after 1 week, 75% are still successful in keeping it.
After two weeks, the number drops to 71%.
After 1 month, the number drops again to 64%.
And after 6 months, 46% of people who make a resolution are still successful in keeping it.
In comparison, of those people who have similar goals but do not set a resolution, only 4% are still successful after 6 months.
Overall success/failure rates
According to a 2016 study, of the 41% of Americans who make New Years resolutions, by the end of the year only 9% feel they are successful in keeping them.
An earlier study in 2007 showed that 12% of people who set resolutions are successful even though 52% of the participants were confident of success at the beginning.
Reasons for failure
In one 2014 study, 35% of participants who failed their New Year’s Resolutions said they had unrealistic goals.
33% of participants who failed didn’t keep track of their progress.
23% forgot about their resolutions.
About one in 10 people who failed said they made too many resolutions.
Of course, it does not have to be this way! Last year, yours truly made a promise to “practice what music teachers preach” and “make meaningful music” at least a little every day on his instrument. How did it go? Success! I made it to the middle of July without missing a day (until I sprained my left hand). But the goal led me to playing better than I have for decades, more self-confidence, a lot of fun polishing off movements from my favorite sonatas and concertos, and even the purchase of a new viola. Now? It is time for me to find a tuba, dive into my past “brass flame,” and join a community band!
As we succeed in everything else for our lives, the process of setting aside time to analyze our personal pathways, assessing our needs, and making new goals is healthy. For the eternal pursuit of happiness and self-fulfillment in retirement, I found these secrets to a ”winning” set of New Year’s Resolutions in the “Top-10 List” by the UAB School of Medicine:
Start with specific micro-goals. (Keep them small, simple, and easy to accomplish.)
Set resolutions for the right reasons. (Choose what is important to you, not someone else’s expectations.)
Document your progress. (Write it down.)
Practice patience and forgiveness. (No one is perfect. Just keep at it despite the curve balls thrown at you.)
Schedule time to achieve goals. (Dedicate the necessary resolve and resources to accomplish them.)
Embrace the buddy system. (Share in collaborating on group goals. You don’t have to achieve them alone!)
Consider your budget. (Finances may play a role. Stay within your means.)
Slow down and meditate. (Breathe, refocus, and be mindful.)
Reward yourself for achievements. (No matter how big or small, treat yourself for reaching your targets.)
Ask others to keep you accountable. (Publicize your intentions. They might help you achieve your goals.)
You probably do not need someone to suggest things-to-do in 2022 or ways to self-improve. Effective goals and action plans must come from within yourself. However, there are countless advisors “out there” offering ideas to motivate you:
Keep a Positive Mindset
Commit to at least 10 Minutes of Exercise Daily
Make Better Dietary Choices
Stay Young-at-Heart – Surround Yourself with Young People
ENGAGEMENT, ADVOCACY, & ASSOCIATION IN MUSIC EDUCATION
Modeling PROFESSIONALISM, these terms promote the power of “collaboration” and connections among music education colleagues and stakeholders (music students, parents, and the general public). To foster a broader picture and devise “bigger than self” New Year’s Resolutions, we should embrace forming partnerships throughout our pre-service, in-service, and retirement years with enhanced goals of active engagement, advocacy, and support of our professional associations.
On a personal note, besides getting back to my viola practice and resuming my love of playing the tuba, I resolve to continue a focus on “giving back” whenever possible to my local community, PMEA, and the music education profession. How will I do this in 2022? By bestowing the gifts of SERVICE:
Chair of the PMEA Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention
Coordinator of PMEA Retired Members
Artistic Director of the South Hills Junior Orchestra
Trustee and Communications Director of the Community Foundation of Upper St. Clair
Volunteer Escort for the St. Clair Health
Author, clinician, and workshop presenter on the topics of educator ethics, interviewing and job search, professional standards, retirement, and self-care
Additional blog posts on the topic of New Year’s Resolutions and helping others in retirement:
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.