Reference Letters: What To Do?

Reprinted from “A View from the Podium” (Upper St. Clair High School, 2015) for current South Hills Junior Orchestra members and other students seeking recommendation letters from their music teachers.

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If you are requesting a letter of recommendation from any teaching staff member, administrator, minister, coach, or activity sponsor for college entrance, scholarships, awards, or job placement, please follow the instructions of your school counselor AND review/complete the steps below.

Do you have an updated “me-file” on your computer’s desktop? Maintain a bulleted list of accomplishments with dates. Scan archives of awards, programs, commendations, special honors, and significant assessments. This will become the basis for the creation of résumés or portfolios, and background for your college or employment essays.

In person, ask the teacher from whom you want the letter if he/she is willing to do this. This should be an adult in whom you have a great deal of trust and with whom you have had frequent contact. If you have any doubt or misgivings like “Does this professional like me?” or “Will he/she give me a fair rating?” – then you should ask someone else. If you are a current member of SHJO, anyone asking Mr. Fox should have no fear. He will tell you immediately if there is any problem in writing a positive letter.

In my opinion, if you choose the right person to do your letter, you can sign-off your rights to see it before submission to the institution. A student checking “yes” to waiving his/her access to/examination of the reference may look better to the evaluator. Although not required, some may send you a copy of it for your files. That is my standard practice.

Know your deadlines. BY WHEN do you need the reference letters or common app teacher recommendations?

seriestoshare-logo-01As a courtesy to the writer (and modeling good preparation on your part), give at least two to three weeks’ notice (more is better). Remember: “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on the teacher’s part.” It would also be polite to “gently remind” the staff member about the final deadline of the recommendation (at least one weekend’s notice). For SHJO, one Saturday ahead of the final deadline would be ideal.

Unless it is an online application or digital reference, the individual requesting the recommendation should provide in advance a pre-stamped self-addressed envelope to be signed, sealed, and mailed directly to any school or organization.

To facilitate “anecdotal references” and confirm accurate data/details, email a mini-résumé of your achievements, particularly those things that can be mentioned in the letter. Try to complete as many of these as possible:

  1. When did you first begin your musical (or other academic specialty) study? When did you join SHJO or other music group?
  2. What classes, ensembles, and/or productions have you participated at school?
  3. What music or academic leadership positions have you served (give specific dates)?
  4. What are your outside activities?
  5. What have you done as community service?
  6. How are you unique? Describe yourself in three to five words.
  7. What qualities or strengths have you exhibited that the staff member, from working with you, could corroborate in the letter?
  8. Can you remember any funny or significant class or rehearsal anecdote that demonstrated growth in your musical technique, expressiveness, student leadership, “team” or ensemble building, or the 21st Century learning skills of creativity, communications, critical thinking, collaboration, and global understanding?
  9. What is your planned major or minor in college, and how did your association with the staff member (his/her classes or activities) help you gain the experience, insight, or confidence to go into this field?

Good luck! PKF  Revised 3/18/19

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

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

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

Click here for a printable copy of Reference Letters: What to Do?

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

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fireside” by pixeldust

 

3 Exit Lanes to Self-Help Retirement Guides

For Transitioning to a Happy, Healthy, and Meaningful Retirement, These Books Should Be REQUIRED Reading!

3arrowsI submit there are basically three ways to learn something new by reading about it. One is the tutorial format, a.k.a. an instrument of “programmed learning.” Another approach is the comprehensive reference manual or user guide. Finally, many people prefer a narrative story, perhaps a fictitious account that features characters exploring and revealing insights on the topic you are studying.

Do you recall the first time you had to learn a complicated new computer application? After installing it to your computer and some initial nail-biting, you trotted down to the bookstore to purchase “something” to teach you Corel WordPerfect for DOS or Adobe Pagemaker for Mac (two historic examples that are no longer available today). Usually, you were greeted with a choice… a comprehensive user manual or a tutorial workbook!

I am applying this concept to three mini book reviews of preparation for retirement. All you have to do is select your favorite “learning style.”

ZelinskiIf you were looking for the reference manual, I recommend Ernie Zelinski’s How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free (2016). The chapters are laid out by general concepts you need to understand. However, as in many user guides, you could turn to almost any page in the volume, jump around (in any order) to specific areas on which to focus, e.g. tips on travel (page 165)  to health/wellness (page 109), and not lose the overall meaning.

How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free is one of the most easy-to-read and humorous publications on the market and best resources for a frank discussion of the emotional aspects of coping with retiree life-style changes/altered expectations, and finding creative new ways to self-reinvent and thrive. Quoted from the book’s Preface:

Retirement can be both exciting and demanding, bringing new challenges, new experiences, and new uncertainties. Regardless of how it turns out, retirement normally turns out far different from what people first envision. For some, it is a big disappointment. For others, it is merely a big annoyance. And still for others – much to their delight – retirement becomes an opportunity to live life like never before.

Here is Zelinski’s Table of Contents:

  • Chapter 1: Thank Heaven for Retirement!
  • Chapter 2: Retirement – A Time to Become Much More Than You Have Ever Been
  • Chapter 3: So Many Worlds, So Much to Do!
  • Chapter 4: Take Special Care of Yourself – Because No One Else Will
  • Chapter 5: Learning Is for Life
  • Chapter 6: Your Wealth Is Where Your Friends Are
  • Chapter 7: Travel for Fun, Adventure, and More
  • Chapter 8: Relocate to Where Retirement Living Is Best
  • Chapter 9: Happiness Doesn’t Care How You Get There

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The tutorial’s approach is a logical progression of chapters/how-to sections that must be read and completed in order. There are often worksheets, exercises, or activities to complete at the end of each chapter. The hierarchy of these “units” build a sequential set of competencies for which you must master one by one, a prerequisite before going on to the next section. Julia Cameron’s book It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again (2016) is a perfect example of this method. Actually, it is based on her earlier work, The Artist’s Way (also a tutorial), plus 25 years of teaching artists to “unblock their creativity” using her tools “Morning Pages” (stream-of-consciousness writing) and “Artist Date” (reserved weekly block of time to nurture your creativity). Perhaps both editions should be consumed/and worked chapter by chapter.

In It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, Cameron’s introduction sets the tone for her “lessons” on “defining and creating the life you want to have as you redefine and recreate yourself.”

In this book you will find the common problems facing the newly retired: too much time, lack of structure, a sense that our physical surroundings suddenly seem outdated, excitement about the future coupled with a palpable fear of the unknown. As a friend of mine worried recently, “All I do is work. When I stop working, will I do… nothing?”

The answer is no. You will not do “nothing.” You will do many things. You will be surprised and delighted by the well of inspiration that lies within you – a well that you alone can tap. You will discover you are not alone in your desires, and that there are creativity tools that can help you navigate the specific issues of retirement.

quiet-read-1496189The contents of It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again are divided into a weekly course of study:

  • Week One: Reigniting a Sense of Wonder
  • Week Two: Reigniting a Sense of Freedom
  • Week Three: Reigniting a Sense of Connection
  • Week Four: Reigniting a Sense of Purpose
  • Week Five: Reigniting a Sense of Honesty
  • Week Six: Reigniting a Sense of Humility
  • Week Seven: Reigniting a Sense of Resilience
  • Week Eight: Reigniting a Sense of Joy
  • Week Nine: Reigniting a Sense of Motion
  • Week Ten:: Reigniting a Sense of Vitality
  • Week Eleven: Reigniting a Sense of Adventure
  • Week Twelve: Reigniting a Sense of Faith

Finally, in the usual Ken Blanchard inspirational style of creating characters that act out a story, the book Refire! Don’t Retire (2015) sets the stage for an easy-to-understand narrative, specifically how to “make the rest of your life the best of your life.”

the-story-1243694The fictitious “Larry and Janice Sparks” share anecdotes of their experiences, modeling potential opportunities of retirees enhancing their relationships, stimulating their minds, revitalizing their bodies, growing spiritually… basically rekindling passion in every area of their lives.

Co-authors Ken Blanchard and Morton Shaevitz relate their chance first meeting on a business trip:

“So what are you into and what’s new in your life,” was the beginning of our plane conversation. For the next fifteen minutes, we spoke with growing enthusiasm and animation. We talked about the things we were doing, and especially what we were excited about. When Morton mention he was working in the area of older adults and looking at aging from a new and different perspective, Ken piped up and said he’d been thinking about similar issues. The term he was using was “refire” – an attitude of embracing the years ahead with enthusiasm rather than apathy. At that moment, this book was born.

Their story, a “parable” on coming to grips with retirement, is organized in five sections:

  • The First Key: Refiring Emotionally
  • The Second Key: Refiring Intellectually
  • The Third Key: Refiring Physically
  • The Fourth Key: Refiring Spiritually
  • Putting It All Together

book-eyes-1251357You will notice that all three texts cover many of the same subjects, but are vastly different in methodology, style/design, and overall structure.

If you need additional ideas, I can also recommend these three fairly recent releases on retirement preparation:

  • Disrupt Aging: A Bold New Path to Living Your Best Life at Every Age by Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP (2016)
  • Happy Retirement – The Psychology of Reinvention: A Practical Guide to Planning and Enjoying the Retirement You’ve Earned by Kenneth S. Shultz (2015)
  • How to Survive Retirement: Reinventing Yourself for the Life You’ve Always Wanted by Steven Price (2015)

With a focus on music educator retirees, all of my past articles are archived on this blog-post: https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/category/retirement-resources/.

Finally, feel free to peruse the ultimate retiree resource guide rev 071416,  a handout for the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association Summer Conference session entitled “Surviving and Reveling in Retirement,” which was held pages-1426262at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania on July 11-13, 2016.

More critical than any instruction manual for using a computer program that will likely “come and go” over a short period of time, making sense of the “awesome” passage to retirement and finding satisfaction and meaning in your “golden years” are essential. These 5-star rated books provide excellent insight in facing this issue squarely, and taking steps to plan for your retirement. I recommend getting your hands on and browsing all of these resources.

To sum it up, I will echo Ernie Zelinski’s final thoughts:

The way I see it, you will have attained true freedom in this world when you can get up in the morning when you want to get up; go to sleep when you want to go to sleep; and in the interval, work and play at the things you want to work and play at – all at your own pace. The great news is that retirement allows you the opportunity to attain this freedom.

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© 2016 Paul K. Fox