Storytelling, etc. – Part 2

More on Developing Employment Marketing Skills

If you have not read it, as a warm-up, check out our first blog-post: “When It Comes to Getting a Job, ‘S’ is for Successful Storytelling.”

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.

The Exercises

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:

  1. 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!)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!).
  7. 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!”

We found this excellent website “How to Effectively Use Storytelling in Interviews” by Bill Baker on “strategic storytelling” that is worth your perusal. It sums up everything above nicely.

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

Even the popular website indeed advises us on interview stories: “10 Storytelling Interview Questions With Sample Answers.” This STAR approach is discussed with specific examples of questions and anecdotes:

  • 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?

Enjoy! Now the ball is in YOUR court!

PKF

© 2022 Paul K. Fox

PMEA’s Unique “Together” Conference

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).

https://www.pmea.net/pmea-annual-in-service-conference/

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.

https://www.kalahariresorts.com/pennsylvania/

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):

  • Anaconda
  • Barreling Baboon
  • Bugs Burrow
  • Cheetah Race
  • Coral Cove
  • Elephant’s Trunk
  • Flowrider
  • Indoor Outdoor Spas
  • Kenya Korkscrew
  • Lazy RIver
  • Lost Lagoon
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Rippling Rhino
  • Sahara Sidewinders
  • Screaming Hyena
  • Shark Attack
  • Splashdown Safari
  • Tiko’s Watering Hole
  • Victoria Falls
  • VR Waterslide
  • Wave Pool
  • Wild Wildebeest
  • Zig Zag Zebra

Source: Pocono Mountains Visitor Bureau

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.
  • Check out this Poconos Mountains interactive map: https://www.poconomountains.com/interactivemap/.

Keynote speakers David Wish and Lesley Moffat

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:

  • Adjudication
  • Assessment
  • Career Development
  • Choral
  • Collegiate
  • Curriculum Development
  • Diversity/Equity/Inclusion
  • Exceptional Learners
  • Health and Wellness
  • Instrumental
  • Leadership/Mentoring
  • Modern Band
  • Music Technology

Draft of proposed 2022 PMEA Conference sessions

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.

Early-bird registration of 2022 PMEA Conference Exhibitors

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.

PKF

© 2022 by Paul K. Fox

New Year’s Resolutions for Retirees

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.

https://discoverhappyhabits.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/

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:

  1. Start with specific micro-goals. (Keep them small, simple, and easy to accomplish.)
  2. Set resolutions for the right reasons. (Choose what is important to you, not someone else’s expectations.)
  3. Document your progress. (Write it down.)
  4. Practice patience and forgiveness. (No one is perfect. Just keep at it despite the curve balls thrown at you.)
  5. Schedule time to achieve goals. (Dedicate the necessary resolve and resources to accomplish them.)
  6. Embrace the buddy system. (Share in collaborating on group goals. You don’t have to achieve them alone!)
  7. Consider your budget. (Finances may play a role. Stay within your means.)
  8. Slow down and meditate. (Breathe, refocus, and be mindful.)
  9. Reward yourself for achievements. (No matter how big or small, treat yourself for reaching your targets.)
  10. Ask others to keep you accountable. (Publicize your intentions. They might help you achieve your goals.)

https://www.uabmedicine.org/-/10-secrets-of-people-who-keep-their-new-year-s-resolutions

SAMPLE RESOLUTIONS

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
  • Stimulate Your Mind
  • Get Enough Sleep
  • Reach Out to Old Friends and Make New Ones
  • Kick Your Bad Habits
  • Maintain Your Purpose in Life as You Age
  • Give Back – Explore New Volunteer Opportunities

— Example sites: https://www.luthermanor.org/new-years-resolutions-for-seniors/ and https://www.healthinaging.org/tools-and-tips/tip-sheet-top-10-healthy-new-years-resolutions-older-adults 

Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA)

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.

In many past blog posts here and articles in PMEA News, Retired Member Network eNEWS, and NAfME Music in a Minuet, we have addressed ways that retirees can share their awesome “musical gifts,” know-how, and perspective to promote creative self-expression. If you are looking to adopt a 2022 New Year’s Resolution to “make a difference” in the music education profession, revisit this free archive here: https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/PMEA-Retired-Member-Network-eNEWS-s090721.pdf and also peruse this link: https://paulfox.blog/2021/11/10/giving-back-to-the-association/.

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:

PKF

© 2021 Paul K. Fox

iStockphoto.com graphic: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year by Tasha Art

Pixabay.com graphics:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Fox Household!

PA Educator Ethics Update

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.

Besides criminal prosecution, based on the Pennsylvania Code of Professional Practices and Conduct for Educators, conduct that can trigger professional discipline include behavior defined as:

  • 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.”

Professional Standards and Practices Commission

Ethics Training… on a Personal Note!

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:

For PMEA, I have directed numerous professional development webinars or sessions at conferences. Check out the “free” materials posted here.

An excellent perspective on the judicial process for educator ethics prosecutions and interpretation of the PA law can be found on Thomas Bailey’s website and this blog-post.

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

Professional development workshops for PA Act 48 credit are offered by Thomas Bailey here.

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.

PKF

© 2021 Paul K. Fox

Studies in PA Educator Ethics Case Law

Photo by Associated Press: Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court

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.)

Manitoba Law Journal, October 1885

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

M.T. v. PA Department of Education: Analysis written by Thomas W. Bailey

Background

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. 

PSPC website

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

  1. Do the technical rules of courtroom evidence apply during an EDA hearing?
  2. What educator conduct constitutes immorality in a relationship with a student?
  3. What educator conduct constitutes lack of professional competence for an educator engaged in a sexual relationship with a student?
The Commonwealth Court of PA was established in 1968 and is one of two statewide intermediate appellate courts.

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.

Importance

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

https://twbaileylaw.com/blog/court-cases-4

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.

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.”

Unit 1, The Ethics of Teaching (Ethics Tool Kit)

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.

PKF

© 2021 Paul K. Fox

Model Code of Ethics for Educators

Don’t you love this quote from TeachThought?

“Teaching isn’t rocket science; it’s harder!”

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?

  • Educational background
  • 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
  • Professional ethics

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.”

MCEE Framing Document

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.”

Troy Hutchings, Senior Policy Advisor, NASDTEC

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.

http://pimaregionalsupport.org/event-2610673

“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;

My comment: Keeping up-to-date and current, we are fortunate to avail ourselves with the exhaustive tools and resources of media, music, and methods provided by groups like the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association and National Association for Music Education.

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;

My comment: As professionals, we should volunteer to help write our school’s courses of study, content units, and learning goals for the subjects we teach, and take advantage of the National Core Arts Standards, the PMEA Model Curriculum Framework, and the state’s standards.

“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:

  • Intent
  • Setting
  • Length of time
  • Frequency or patterns of repetition
  • Comfort level of the student
  • Age level of the student
  • Happening in public
  • Who started it?
busyteacher.org

“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.

PKF

Resources

PIXABAY.COM GRAPHICS:

© 2021 Paul K. Fox

Teacher Self-Care During the Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Together, we are stronger!

books-4843726_1920_Myriams-Fotos

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

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

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

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

Navigating Uncertain Times: How Schools Can Cope With Coronavirus

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

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

burnout-4778253_1920_Tumisu

Avoiding Becoming Overwhelmed

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

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

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

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

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

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

desperate-5011953_1920_Peggy_MarcoFive tips for coaching overwhelm:

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

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

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

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Making Connections

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

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

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

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

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

Just more common sense? Right? Probably!

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

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

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

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

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Setting Boundaries

Something else I admit to NOT doing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mindfulness and “Living” in the Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

“Do as I Say… Don’t Do as I Do!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waterford.org

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

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

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

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

Please stay safe! PKF

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References

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order)

From Pixabay.com

 

Do You Always Feel Exhausted?

Our second in a series on publications and other resources for self-care, health, wellness, and remediation of stress and burnout of music educators addresses one of the core issues for all of us — chronic fatigue.

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The medical definition is comprehensive:

Fatigue is a lingering tiredness that is constant and limiting. With fatigue, you have unexplained, persistent, and relapsing exhaustion. It’s similar to how you feel when you have the flu or have missed a lot of sleep. If you have chronic fatigue, or systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID), you may wake in the morning feeling as though you’ve not slept. Or you may be unable to function at work or be productive at home. You may be too exhausted even to manage your daily affairs. — WebMD

In the NAfME community forum Amplify, another colleague turned me on to the book Exhausted — Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It by Paul Murphy (2017). Most of this blog will focus on a review of this work. I also recommend you visit his very informative website of blog-posts: Teacher Habits.

If you’re like most teachers, being tired at the end of the day is a way of life. We’ve become so accustomed to it that it’s hard to imagine how things could be any different. We get through out mornings with coffee, our afternoons with Diet Coke, and the ends of our school days with the iron strength of our will. We leave the building exhausted, having so much at work that there’s little left over for our families or even ourselves.Paul Murphy

So, what is the scope of the problem? What can we do about it?

 

What Is a Teacher?

Are you a teacher? If so, are you also a classroom work foreman, logistics manager, guide, drill sergeant, disciplinarian, cheerleader, data entry clerk, cultural advocate, or analyst?  Maybe you are all of these things and more.  Maybe, we need to look at educators in a new context of what teaching really is in most schools, and whether it should be given cultural, economic and technological change.

Merriam-Webster’s says “teach” is a verb, with several simple definitions that repeat themselves but ideologically are these five things:

  • to cause to know something
  • to guide the studies of
  • to make known and accepted
  • to impart the knowledge of
  • to conduct instruction regularly.

LeiLani Cauthen

Personally, I have always glorified the mission and “calling” of becoming an educator.

Teachers model the “habits” of

  • ornament-1899065_1920_xsonicchaosFocus
  • Self-discipline
  • Self-motivation
  • Self-assessment and self-improvement
  • Work ethic
  • Highest standards of behavior, appearance, and ethics

We serve as

  • Fiduciaries, looking out for the welfare of students
  • Model exemplars, both on and off school time
  • Self-starters, intrinsically motivated and goal-oriented
  • Professionals 24/7 – always “on the job”

This bar is further raised by the public’s and our very own highest expectations of the “nine characteristics of a great teacher” by Maria Orlando in Faculty Focus:

  1. A great teacher respects students.
  2. A great teacher creates a sense of community and belonging in the classroom.
  3. A great teacher is warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring.
  4. A great teacher sets high expectations for all students.
  5. A great teacher has his own love of learning.
  6. A great teacher is a skilled leader.
  7. A great teacher can “shift-gears…”
  8. A great teacher collaborates with colleagues on an ongoing basis.
  9. A great teacher maintains professionalism in all areas…

I wouldn’t have it any other way! But these standards must take a toll on our health, wellness, and work/life balance!

 

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Stress and Data on Teacher Exhaustion

Do you find yourself tired most of the time? Quoted in Exhausted by Paul Murphy, does this sound like YOU?

  • “I’m exhausted, and every weekend, I spend at least one day in my pajamas.”
  • “I feel like work never ends.”
  • “I love my students, and I have a really good class this year, but I’m done and ready for a break.”
  • “I was so tired that I ended up missing out on family’s holiday dinner.”

Why is this so prevalent? According to Paul Murphy, “the answer, in a word, is STRESS! Teachers are incredibly stressed-out people, especially when they are at work.”

He shares some scary statistics:

Because our culture tendency to demand more of educators, that stress is on the rise. In 1985, 36% of teachers reported feeling great stress at least several days a week. Today, that number is 51%. Only doctors report higher levels of stress on the job.

The costs are high. A recent study of the U.S. Department of Education found a 10% of new teachers don’t return for second year. Nearly 185 new teachers are gone within five years. Many young people, perhaps persuaded by on his federal and Teacher should buy what they see on social media, won’t even entertain the thought of teaching. Between 2009 and 2014, enrollments in teacher preparation programs fell about 35% in the U.S., reducing the supply of available teachers by nearly a quarter-million. — Paul Murphy

These figures are supported by other sources as well. The American Federation of Teachers reported here that “61% of educators say their work is always or often stressful,” and, worse yet, “50% say they don’t have the same enthusiasm as when they started teaching.”

Teacher-stress-lede

In addition, according to James Anthony in “7 Conclusions from the World’s Largest Teacher Burnout Survey” posted here, 75% of teachers complained of health problems such as shortness of breath, dizziness, heart palpitations or chest pain, or regular headaches or stomach aches — symptoms often associated with a failure to deal with stress. His conclusion? “This is a worrying sign that pressure and workload of many teaching jobs is having a very real physical impact on many teachers.”

 

From the Back Cover of the Book

You should definitely grab a copy of Exhausted. Paul Murphy promises you will learn:

  • Exhausted by Paul MurphyWhy even good days with your students leave you drained.
  • What tired teachers have in common with doctors, major league baseball managers, and interview committees.
  • How Jeb Bush’s failure in the 2016 presidential primaries is related to your own fatigue.
  • What long distance runners, one of history’s greatest weightlifters, and a Stanford psychologist can teach you about the powerful influence of your mind.

He says you will find solutions to these problems and understand:

  • What teachers can learn from baristas and airline agents.
  • What supermarket layouts can teach us about the dangers of decision making.
  • Why AC/DC doesn’t belong in your classroom.
  • What an insurance agent’s plane crash can teach us about belief.

Who is this Paul Murphy guy? His own bio, the last section of the book, is unique:

Paul Murphy is a third-grade teacher in Michigan. This fall, he started his 20th year in the classroom. His writing focuses on improving the lives of teachers, both inside the classroom and out. He enjoys reading, writing, travel, exercise, craft beer, and Cheetos. His feet are perpetually cold, he bites his nails, and he regularly (and almost instinctively at this point) changes the lyrics to songs to make them inappropriate, much to the chagrin of his wife and daughter.

cat-3623703_1920_ Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto

 

The Science of Exhaustion

The best way to review the innards of a publication and get to the nitty-gritty may be to frame a few guiding questions, to follow an outline summary on which to reflect while reading many of the early chapters:

  1. How many decisions do you make before you ever teach a single class every morning? What effect do they have on you?
  2. What is the link of willpower (ego depletion* and delayed gratification) to exhaustion?
  3. What do doctors say about the constant exercise of self-control and blood glucose levels, and why is the time of the day critical?
  4. What is “morning morality” and what does it have to do with planning your day as a teacher?

*Psychologist Roy Baumeister coined the term “ego depletion” after he found that humans have a limited supply of willpower.  He compares willpower to a muscle, which can strengthen but also wear out with use. Ego depletion has a general effect, meaning that using self-control in one area of your life erodes your ability to self-regulate in other parts of your life. Baumeister found that exerting self-control results in a significant drop in blood-sugar levels.  Low blood sugar leads to physical fatigue, which is why you’re so tired, even though the heaviest thing you lifted was a textbook. Paul Murphy

A few of my observations. Willpower is actually “won’t-do-power,” and represents the chronic stress teachers and other professionals place on themselves everyday: saying “NO” to such things as sleeping-in an extra 10-15 minutes, staying on your diet by passing by that Dunkin Donuts shop on the way to school, forgoing the idle chit-chat from the teacher’s room on the way to the photocopier, not allowing yourself to be distracted by a TV program instead of doing your own homework, delaying an update of your social media sites or reading personal email instead of finishing your lesson plans, grades, or the forms the principal requested for completion by the end of the week.

In other words, facing up to all of those grown-up expectations that grown-ups must do! There’s no room for youthful indulgences or “goof-off time” as an adult!

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Paul Murphy says, “Whatever you call it… resisting temptation, will power, self-control, self-discipline, grit, perseverance, self-regulation, or determination, science has proven that it exhausts us.”

Teachers endlessly self regulate. We hold back sarcastic rejoinders, walk away from lazy students when we what we really want to do is lecture them, keep her honest thoughts about the principles latest he’ll conceive ideas to ourselves, respond professionally to disrespectful emails from parents, work with students when we want to do anything but, plan the next day one would rather check Facebook, and bite our tongues when we’d like to drop F-bombs. We force ourselves to work when we feel like taking a break. We redirect students when we’d rather just let the behaviors go and avoid the resultant excuses and conflicts. We keep teaching even though we really, really have to pee. Teachers use a lot of willpower. — Paul Murphy

Couldn’t say it better myself!

Another personal observation also seems to be supported by Paul Murphy. I have found that “earlier is better” for doing creative tasks, solving problems, or completing highly detailed work. Most mornings (in retirement), I reserve my first two hours for writing. Others say that the AM is best for practicing or composing, when you feel the freshest! The closer to having a meal or having slept all night (which revitalizes our supplies of self-regulation and blood sugar), the better for tackling something hard… which for a teacher might mean facing the challenge of a “difficult parent” phone call, student discipline report, or conference with an “unhappy” administrator.

 

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Strategies for Releasing/Postponing Tension

Paul Murphy recommends that, instead of using up your willpower reserves to fight off the urge to snap at someone or suppressing your anger, “simply notice something else that requires less willpower” or distract yourself. Postponing can also be effective: Have your tantrum “not now, but later.” (Schedule your nervous breakdown for another day?) Often, once some time has passed, you may find your frustration has abated.

Another technique for alleviating stress is to actually do a deliberate exercise to release your emotions and desires… in a more controlled and constructive way.

I sometimes receive an email from a parent or supervisor that angers me. My instinct is to return fire. That’s a bad instinct, but it doesn’t mean I have to hold in those feelings. It also doesn’t mean I should vent to other teachers or my wife. They’ve got their own problems, and nobody really wants to hear mine. What I do instead is write my honest, no-holds-barred rebuttal. I let it all out, hammering the keyboard and plastering my screen with vitriol. I read it and re-read until it effectively conveys the righteous indignation I so strongly feel.

Then I don’t send it!

It released my anger, and it’s there for me to revisit. On those few occasions when I have gone back to reread these unsent missives, my anger is gone. I wonder why I was so outraged at the time. They’re actually embarrassing to read. If you do this a few times, you begin to realize that your initial feelings are often an overreaction (and also the result of depleted willpower and low blood sugar) and it becomes easier to avoid indulging them.Paul Murphy

 

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Intense Emotions = Model Teacher?

Who is a better teacher? An energetic, passionate, and always “fired-up” one, or a professional who exerts a calm, introspective, and less intense attitude? Some studies do show that an enthusiastic, engaging teacher who is passionate about his subject is more effective than a “dull” or less dynamic teacher who seems to dislike his job, but what of the costs? Again, in Murphy’s book, we have more research to the rescue: “…Science has proven that intense emotions tire us out!”

I’ll explain why teachers should aim for a feeling of inner calm for large chunks of their day. I’ll argue that the expectation we have for ourselves and other teachers to be constantly enthusiastic is counterproductive in the short-term and ultimately damaging to the education system in the long-run. And I’ll explain how being calm will not only conserve your energy, but will make your classroom a better learning environment for your students.Paul Murphy

Another reason to buy his book!

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The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste!

Finally, our very own thoughts are amazingly powerful tools. Our brain can either help or make things worse! “If you believe a task is going to be difficult, it will be.” We all know that “positive talk” can alleviate the effects of stress, and can inspire greater levels of achievement. But, what about the relationship of negative thoughts to fatigue?

Almost every distance runner talks of hitting a wall. In 2012, Spanish researchers wanted to know what went through runners’ minds as they neared exhaustion, and they found exactly what you’d expect: the harder the runners work and the longer they run, the more negative their thoughts become. No surprise there.

runner-808932_1920+skeeze.jpgBut then a group of British and dutch researchers asked an interesting question. They wondered if everyone had it backwards. Did the discomfort of physical fatigue cause the runners to think negatively, like everyone assumed, or did the runners negative thoughts make them more physically tired and sore? It was a chicken and egg question.

The researchers found 24 healthy adults and had each complete a grueling ride on a stationary bike until they were exhausted. Then they were sent home for two weeks. During that time, half of the subjects were trained in positive self talk, a technique many sports psychologist coaches teach athletes to combat negative thinking that can lead to poor performance. The other 12 subjects were left alone. Then the researchers called them all back to hop on the bikes again.

On average, those who receive positive self talk training performed more than 17% better on their second ride than they had on their first. There was no improvement among members of the control group.Paul Murphy

He goes into great detail that the driving force behind our exhaustion may not even be the hours we work, the challenges we face in the classroom, or the lack of support we perceive from administration or parents. It may rest in our thoughts. And, he analyzes the negative effects of “worrying” and the concept of “mind over matter!”

 

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The Schedule That Doesn’t Help

Tiger Woods was known for so many “firsts” and breaking numerous golfing records in his early career. Many credited his success to his extreme focus, perseverance, and self-discipline. It was documented that he practiced golf 7-8 hours every day and worked out two or three hours more:

  • tiger-woods-79694_1920_ David Mark6:30 a.m. an hour of cardio
  • 7:30 a.m. one hour of lower-body weight training
  • 8:30 a.m. high protein/low-fat breakfast
  • 9:00 a.m. two hours on the driving range
  • 11:00 a.m. practicing putting
  • 11:30 a.m. playing nine holes
  • 2:00 p.m. healthy lunch
  • 2:30 p.m. two to four more hours on the golf course
  • 6:00 p.m. back in the gym working on upper-body
  • 7:00 p.m. dinner and relaxation

Then we learn about his personal “crash of 2009” when everything seemed to unravel:

  • Extra-marital affairs
  • Personal calls to escort services
  • Wife, discovering his “extra-curricular” activities, assaulting him
  • DUI arrest
  • Divorce
  • Destruction of his reputation
  • Injuries
  • Poor golf play

Certainly, Tiger had some deep-seated psychological issues. But I can’t help wondering if his remarkable self-discipline left him depleted to the point that he was unable to fight off his most distracted urges at the close of his ego-depleting days. Yes, he only had to focus for five hours during a round of golf, but Tiger Woods used will power from the time he woke up to the time he started texting port stars. His is a cautionary tale for anyone who spends large parts of the day exercising self-control. As teachers, there are lessons to be learned. Paul Murphy

Your own strict daily regiment may also contribute to your feelings of “total exhaustion.” Music teachers are usually their own worst enemies. We take on responsibilities for the hurry-2119711_1920_TeroVesalainensake of the music program, add a new ensemble, schedule after-school time to teach a solo or instrumental part, and plan more weekend and evening “learning activities” or events beyond the scope of most other academic subject teachers. It was not unusual for me to be at school by 6:45 a.m., eat lunch in my car on the way to my second or third assignment as an itinerant, stop for a quick “date” and dinner out with my wife, return to school for band, orchestra, or musical practices, and not get home until 9 or or 10 p.m. As a retiree, I now ask, “What ever happened to all of this stamina and endurance?” Pushing wheel chairs only four hours a day three times a week at a local hospital, I sometimes find myself wanting to take a “power nap” when I get home! Never you fear: the healthy “calendar of a retired music teacher” is as busy (and hectic) as full-time employment… We always say, “I wonder how I ever had the time to do all of these things and work at the same time!”

However, to put it in perspective, here is a copy of my former professional schedule that I was (mostly self-) assigned to teach grades 5-12 strings in three buildings, manage the fall play and spring musical, assist the marching band, work with the superintendent on school district public relations projects, prepare for PMEA and NAfME music festivals, and serve as my district’s Performing Arts Curriculum Leader.

Schedule 2013

As an administrator, the number of “contact hours” over the maximum was irrelevant; it was never an option to submit a grievance to the teacher’s union. Actually, I accepted the responsibility of planning what I thought was necessary for the success of my program, my students, and my music staff… no matter what the cost! Sound familiar?

 

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Other Remedies to Lower Tension and Exhaustion

This is just “the tip of the iceberg” for an analysis of the book Exhausted. Part two which we have not covered here is entitled “What To Do About It.”

More recommendations for better time management, remediation of teacher burnout, development of a self-care plan, and techniques for stress reduction will be addressed in future blogs. At this point, from three excellent sources, these tips may steer you towards improved rest, personal life/work balance, and general health/wellness. Stay tuned for more at https://paulfox.blog/care/.

Numbers 1-6: Paul Murphy: Exhausted: Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It http://teacherhabits.com/about/

Numbers 7-15: Raphailia Michael: “What Is Self-Care, and What It Isn’t” at PsychCentral https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-self-care-is-and-what-it-isnt-2/

Numbers 16-22: Lesley Moffat: I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me https://squ.re/2TaXoAr and (also see this blogpost)

  1. Work less/fewer hours
  2. Time before school is worth more than twice as much as time after school
  3. Use class time to check student work
  4. Leverage technology
  5. Don’t grade everything
  6. Stop assigning things
  7. Create a “NO” (I will not do) list
  8. Promote a nutritious, healthy diet
  9. Get enough sleep
  10. Follow-up with medical care as needed
  11. Use relaxation exercises and/or practice meditation
  12. Spend enough time with loved ones
  13. Do at least one relaxing activity every day, whether it’s spending 30 minutes unwinding, listening to music, or taking a walk
  14. Do at least one pleasurable activity every day, from going to the cinema, cooking, or meeting friends
  15. Make opportunities to laugh
  16. Take a break from social media
  17. Seek out ways to compliment others
  18. Allow someone to go ahead of you in line at the store
  19. Set your alarm for nine minutes earlier and use those nine minutes to listen to an inspiring song
  20. Turn off notifications on your phone and/or avoid electronic devices for the first hour of your day
  21. Take deep breaths when you encounter spped bumps and stop signs/lights during your daily commute
  22. Stay hydrated

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Becoming a School Music Educator

[A quick summary, portions reprinted from the April 17, 2019 posting on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/becoming-school-music-teacher-paul-fox/]

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.

I have assembled a library of blog-posts on a variety of topics at my website (https://paulfox.blog/), and invite you to peruse the section “Becoming a Music Educator” at https://paulfox.blog/becoming-a-music-educator/.

If you are a junior or senior in college, assigned to field experiences or student teaching, or a recent graduate or transfer looking for a job or otherwise unemployed, I hope I can help you!

Please review the following categorized outlines of links to articles and other resources.

big-band-1608691_1920_KeithJJ

 

Student Teaching

First stop: Tips on Student Teaching.

Also check out these past issues of PMEA Collegiate Communique:

 

“Secrets” for that First Year

  1. maestro-3020019_1920_mohamed_hassanDiscounted 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 memberservices@nafme.org) to find out if you qualify for a reduced rate.
  2. PMEA Mentor or other state’s MEA support program for new teachers.
  3. R3 = Retiree Resource Registry for PA music teachers.
  4. PMEA Webinars.
  5. NAfME Academy of numerous videos (only a $20 annual subscription).
  6. Professional development credits just for reading an article in NAfME Music Educators Journal
  7. Model Curriculum Framework (Have to be a PMEA member)
  8. What a deal! PMEA summer conference  as little as $30/person. Check out your own state’s MEA discounts and offers for collegiate members and new teachers!
  9. Numerous helpful blog posts from NAfME Music in a Minuet and paulfox.blog.

 

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Everything… Including the Kitchen Sink

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.

 

Job Seekers

A summary of my re-occurring themes on marketing your professionalism and a few “pet peeves” include the following:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. woman-613309_1920_jsotoBring to any employment screening your resume, business card, and an e-portfolio referencing a professional website which archives everything in #1 and #2 above.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. music-818459_1920-thedanwClean-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/.
  7. 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.

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 Collegiates, welcome to the profession!

“Break a leg” at your employment interviews!

PKF

 

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com:

 

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Ethical Scenarios

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.

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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:

In addition, articles cautioning educators’ use of social media are offered:

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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”
  • “Educator risks”
  • “Consequences”

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.

 

Degrees of Misconduct

The Rubric

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.

 

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Essential Ethical Questions

It is important to analyze your response to these reflections during your assessment of each ethical dispute:

  1. What possible issues/concerns might this scenario raise?
  2. How could this situation become a violation of the law, the “Code” or other school/district policies?
  3. In this situation, what are some potential negative consequences for the teacher, students, parents, and/or school staff?
  4. 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?

 

Mock Scenarios

CASE #1

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.

CASE #2

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.

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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.

CASE #3

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.

CASE #4

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.

CASE #5

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.

 

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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 #
  1. 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?
  2. 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?”
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

 

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More ethical dilemmas and case studies for discussion are available here, the second page of a handout distributed at one of my teacher ethics workshops.

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.

 

business-1753098_1280_ Mary Pahlke

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.”

 

MCEE

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.”

PKF

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:
“ethics-right-wrong-ethical-moral” by Tumisu
“mobile-phone-smartphone-keyboard” by Gerd Altmann
“question-mark-pile-question-mark” by Arek Socha/qimono
“choice-arrow-question-mark-path” by Eric Leroy/Kingrise
“business”-idea-style-concept-goals” by Mary Pahlke
“wooden-train-toys-train-first-class” by Couleur.

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox