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!

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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!

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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

 

Living Your Legacy

Teacher Retirees: Not to be morose, but have you undergone a little soul-searching and introspection into how you want to leave your mark on this world? Since you’ve departed from your full-time career, do you feel your past/current goals and pursuits will make a difference?

How will you be remembered once you’re gone?

If someone else was to “put me on the spot” and ask me this, my quick rejoinder would be, “Music and education are my life!”

How about you?

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Let’s start with a review of the broad definition from Merriam-Webster:

legacy

noun: 1. a gift by will especially of money or other personal property, 2. something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past

adjective: of, relating to, associated with, or carried over from an earlier time, technology, business, etc.

synonyms: bequest, birthright, heritage, inheritance, patrimony

Legacy is [how] most people… want to be remembered, loved, and revered.

A legacy is not something that we have complete control over. After all, we cannot control how other people perceive us, we can only control our own actions.

So how can we leave the world with a legacy of our choosing?

What we must do is inspire through our own actions. If you go back through time and analyze the most influential legacies, you’ll see that they all inspired action through their own action. They didn’t just think about doing things, or tell others to do them; they went out and got things done on their own!

These legacies began while they were still alive, except I’m sure they weren’t thinking about them in those terms. Their ACCOMPLISHED GOALS became their legacy, which lives on today.

— Amy Clover in Strong Inside Out

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It may boil down to two thought-provoking inquiries posed in “What Will Be Your Legacy?” What do you want to leave for the world that will affect it when you are gone? AND How do you want to change the future?

Thanks to blogger Marelisa Fabrega, here’s more food for thought and self-examination:

  1. What do you want your life to stand for?
  2. How do you want to be remembered by your family and friends?
  3. What will those beyond your circle of family friends remember you for?
  4. What kind of impact do you want to have on your community?
  5. How will the world be a better place because you were in it?
  6. What contributions do you want to make to your field?
  7. Whose lives will you have touched?
  8. What lessons would you like to pass on to future generations?
  9. What do you want to leave behind?
  10. How can you serve?

 

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In her article “How to Leave a Lasting Legacy,” Fabrega also shares several activities for the creation of a personal legacy, everything from the Stephen Covey exercise on writing your own obituary or designing the words you want etched on your tombstone to adding your own “meaning of life” verse to the Walt Whitman poem Oh Me Oh Life as English teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams) taught in the film Dead Poets Society.

Your legacy is putting your stamp on the future. It’s a way to make some meaning of your existence: “Yes, world of the future, I was here. Here’s my contribution, here’s why I hope my life mattered.”

— Bart Astor in Forbes

 

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Getting Your Affairs in Order

A legacy is more than a large donation to your favorite church, foundation, or charity. Of course, this process should begin with self-reflection, advance planning, hiring an attorney, and making your financial intentions and final instructions clear in writing.

Do you have a legal will, ethical will, living trust, Power of Attorney, and advance directive? Have you updated your important documents to take care of the needs of your family? Have you notified your spouse, adult children, and other relatives where they can find these legal papers, passwords, and other digital files? If not, please review my blog “Estate Planning.”

But, legacy is so much more, including strategies for passing on your values and goals after you are no longer here!

Ethical Wills.png13 years ago, I first learned about an ancient tradition for passing on personal values, beliefs, blessings, and advice to future generations called an “ethical will.” At a subconscious level, I must remember the custom, because when my father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1990, I asked him to write a letter about the things that he valued. About a month before he died, my dad gave me two hand-written pages in which he spoke about the importance of being honest, getting a good education, helping people in need, and always remaining loyal to family. That letter – his ethical will – meant more to me than any material possession he could have bequeathed.

— Barry K. Baines in Ethical Wills

As we have also noted in a previous blog-post, you should reflect on what you would say to those nearest and dearest to you if you couldn’t (or didn’t) tell them in person. Consider writing individual letters to your partner, children, or other family members “as a way of leaving a few last words.” Check out Frish Brandt’s “Last[ing] Letters.”

 

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Your Contributions “In Memoriam”

The idea of leaving a legacy is the need or the desire to be remembered for what you have contributed to the world. In some cases, that contribution can be so special that the universe is unalterably changed. However, for most of us mere mortals walking this earth, we will leave a more modest legacy that doesn’t necessarily change the world but does leave a lasting footprint that will be remembered by those whose lives you touched.

You hope your life matters in some way. I know I do. I’ve been teaching since the age of 22 and teaching is my legacy, my contribution that hopefully enlightened the lives of my students whether they became actors, scientists, doctors, mothers or yogis. My teaching is a gift that keeps on giving because it leads me to other learning and knowing experiences that I share with others.

— Joan Moran in HUFFPOST

(I bolded “teaching is my legacy” in the above quote because I hope that will be considered as my own preeminent legacy.)

To borrow from the inspiration and expertise of others, I found this insightful and stimulating self-help article offering “Five Ways to Leave a Great Legacy” by Joan Moran.

Moran describes in detail these tips:

  1. ornament-1899065_1920_2_xsonicchaosSupport the people and causes that are important to you.
  2. Reflect and decide what is most important to you in your life.
  3. Share your blessings with others.
  4. Be a mentor to others.
  5. Pursue your passions because they are infectious.

She sums it up succinctly: “Leaving a legacy is an important part of your life’s work. A legacy develops from a life dedicated to self-reflection and purpose. What will be revealed and what will endure is a truthful and value driven body of living.”

The straightforward way to live a life of significance is simply to share your three t’s: time, talent, and treasure. Our lives are meant to give away – to significant causes, to loving families, to friends in need, to lasting relationships. Find a way that your gifts can serve others. Your time, energy, and money are precious resources – they are limited, and you are the sole owner. If you spend them in one area you can’t spend them in another. When we say “yes” to one thing, by default we saying “no” to something else. The key to winning is to say “yes” to the significant things in your life.

— Lee Colan in Inc.

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Giving Back… Getting Personal

eleemosynary

adjective: of, relating to, or supported by charity

synonyms: altruistic, beneficent, benevolent, charitable, do-good, good, humanitarian, philanthropic

Fancy SAT vocabulary term! No, we do not need a visit from Charles Dickens’ three ghosts to learn altruism! Everyone should want to be remembered as eleemosynary or generous souls! Especially during my retirement years (2013 to the present), I want to model volunteerism:

  • Fox_Paul_SHJODirecting the South Hills Junior Orchestra (non-salaried sharing of my teaching)
  • Serving as a volunteer escort for the St. Clair Memorial Hospital (three days/week)
  • Promoting communications and marketing strategies of the Community Foundation of Upper St. Clair
  • Supporting the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association in various projects including teacher training, recruitment, retention, and retirement prep.
  • Writing articles and presenting workshops/webinars that help other teachers

These wishes will need to be updated from time to time, just like revising mission/vision statements, goals and objectives.

In addition, future monetary bequeaths from “what’s left” of our remaining assets will serve as “random acts of kindness from the grave” in support our current values, funding hereafter projects and pursuits (subscribing Moran’s tips #1-3 above) that matter to us.

How to Make an Educator Smile

My wife and I never had kids, so admittedly we live vicariously when we “bump into” our former students and revel in their major life-passages and accomplishments. It warms a retired music teacher’s heart to “catch-up” with a combined 53+-year history of past pupils from our music classes, choirs, bands, orchestras, and musical/play productions, and learn that they are happy, healthy, prosperous, and thriving. It gives us a special thrill to hear they are still “making music” and/or passing on their love of the arts to their own kids. That is indeed part of every teacher’s wish for a lasting legacy.

During our retirement, we continue to attend many concerts, recitals, weddings, receptions, Eagle Scout ceremonies, etc. of our former “charges.” We feel blessed to be invited to participate in these special occasions to share in their joy, love, and success.

In some small way, we fervently hope our efforts to bring creative self-expression and the appreciation of the arts have made a difference to our students’ lives and their development into caring, responsible, and “artistic” adults.

In Conclusion: The Fox Vision and Values — “These Things I Believe”

  1. Equal-access to high quality and meaningful music education programs is an essential part to the intellectual, emotional, and artistic development of all children.
  2. The primary goal of an education in the arts is to nurture creative self-expression.
  3. Regardless of talent or privilege, every individual on earth can find inspiration and success in some form of music or the arts.
  4. Our life purpose involves relationships. It is more about people than about things.
  5. We were put on this planet to understand and help others, to foster more than a mere tolerance for diverse individuals and perspectives, rather to emphasize the values and practices of acceptance, respect, empathy, and collaboration.
  6. Our primary goal is to empower volunteerism, to make a difference in the lives of others less fortunate or experienced, and to give freely of our time, talents, passions, and resources.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

 

Photo of Robin Williams portraying John Keating in the movie Dead Poets Society was by bardfilm.blogspot.com

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Care of Music Teachers

Something New is a-Coming

You cry and you scream and you stomp your feet and you shout. You say, “You know what? I’m giving up, I don’t care.” And then you go to bed and you wake up and it’s a brand new day, and you pick yourself back up again.Nicole Scherzinger

Wellness seeks more than the absence of illness; it searches for new levels of excellence. Beyond any disease-free neutral point, wellness dedicates its efforts to our total well-being – in body, mind, and spirit. Greg Anderson

 

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What is that saying? “When you point at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you.” Or if you prefer the biblical reference (Jesus), “Don’t focus on the speck in your brother’s eye while ignoring the log in your own eye.”

Increasingly common, I find that our colleagues in music education do not model habits of good health and work/personal life balance. All fingers point at both my wife and I, as when we were at the pinnacle of our full-time careers (prior to retiring in 2013), teaching strings grades 3-12 in multiple buildings, preparing for concerts and festivals, designing curriculum, producing musicals, running marching bands, etc. often felt like a “runaway train ride” — a stressful 24/7 schedule with the two of us squeezing in time to meet for dinner in between our after-school rehearsals, and later “falling into bed” to snatch 5-6 hours of sleep, three to four days per week, ten months a year.

That said, I “see” little research, pre-service, in-service, post-service training, or even online dialogue about the wellness problems associated with our profession:

  • Overwhelming workload, long hours, and challenging classroom situations
  • Inconsistent hydration and consumption of a balanced diet
  • Irregular amounts of daily aerobic physical exercise
  • Insufficient quantities (length, depth, and frequency) of rest and sleep
  • Infrequent use of sick days or vacations as needed for restorative health
  • Misuse of the voice at work
  • Inadequate hearing conservation and protection from over-exposure to sound
  • Deficient scheduling of opportunities for mindfulness, meditation, and/or reflection
  • Deprivation of personal outlets for creative self-expression (not related to the job)
  • Lack of time to explore hobbies, interests, and socialization with family, friends, and loved ones

With the simplistic title of “Care,” blogs archived within the new section of this blog-site here will dive into these issues, remedies towards fostering a better “life balance,” and suggestions for the development of a self-care plan. Quoting from the timely article in the June 2019 issue of NAfME Music Educators Journal, “Health and Wellness for In-Service and Future Music Teachers” by Christa Kuebel, “Those in our profession need to increase awareness of the prevalence of stress and mental health concerns in music education.” We need to address methods for reducing job-related depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness, feelings of impotency, and “burnout,” which can lead to negative student outcomes, lowered professional standards, absenteeism, illness, and teacher attrition.

 

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Definitions of Wellness

A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. — The World Health Organization

A conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential. — The National Wellness Institute

According to the Student Health and Counseling Services of the University of California, Davis Campus, “wellness” is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness; it is a dynamic process of change and growth.”

8 dimensions of wellness

Further elaboration of their eight dimensions of wellness is provided here:

  • Occupational
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Environmental
  • Financial
  • Physical
  • Social
  • Intellectual

They conclude: “Each dimension of wellness is interrelated with another. Each dimension is equally vital in the pursuit of optimum health. One can reach an optimal level of wellness by understanding how to maintain and optimize each of the dimensions of wellness.”

 

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It’s Time to Bring on the “Experts”

Even though I would have told you “I am loving every moment of it” during my 35+-year career in music education, I would be the last person anyone should turn to for helpful advice on self-care. I cannot say I ever “practiced what I preached” lectured to my music students on taking care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. So, for this forum, we will bring in leading authorities and even a few “frontier blazers” who have agreed to share new ideas in alleviating “the problem,” so well defined in the MEJ article by Christa Kuebel:

Music education has been shown to be a field in which stress and burnout are common. We must address this difficult realization in order to make changes for the health and success of our current and future teachers. Our concert seasons will continue to come and go, and our responsibilities will not decrease in number, but taking time to consider how to take care of ourselves may allow us to fulfill our responsibilities in safe and effective ways throughout our entire careers.

“Health and Wellness for In-Service and Future Music Teachers” by Christa Kuebel

 

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Coming Soon…

Already, we have found a wealth of people who have perspectives and “prescriptions” that may help. We are anticipating future submissions from (or reviews of) the following self-care advisors:

  • Aforementioned MEJ article, teacher self-care assessment, and excellent bibliography by Christa Kuebel
  • Contributions by Lesley Moffat including her book I Love My Job, But It’s Killing Me and details about her Band Directors Boot Camp, “Music Teacher Mojo Meter,” and her website “Building Better Band Programs Without Burning Out”
  • Recommended by NAfME member Jennifer Dennett, the book Exhausted – Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It by Paul Murphy, who also has an extensive website and other books on “teacher habits”
  • Future wellness research and writings by Theresa Ducassoux, who has been accepted into the Google Innovator Academy, a program for teachers to work on tackling challenges in education
  • Survey of “prioritizing teacher self-care” articles posted by Edutopia
  • Other online sources

 

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This is Where YOU Can Help!

If you find something interesting, please comment on it at this forum, or send an email to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Creativity in Education… More Updates

It’s been awhile since I have ventured back into searches for “creativity in education” with blogging on the philosophy and practice of creative learning and creative teaching, two of the most essential needs (and deficiencies) in public school education.

After being inspired by the likes of Sir Ken Robinson (especially from his TedTalks), Ronald A. Beghetto and James C. Kaufman, Curtis Bonk, Eric Booth, Susan M. Brookhart, Susan Engel, Daniel Pink, Robert J. Sternberg and Wendy M. Williams, Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein, Roger von Oechand, Peter Webster, and many others, I periodically try to fulfill my ongoing mission of spreading the importance of fostering creativity in education, and finding research (and hands-on) material on the related subjects of innovation, inventiveness, curiosity, flexibility, adaptability, critical thinking, artistry, and self-expression.

Here is the latest installment of newly found resources for your perusal.

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Creativity at Work

Linda Naiman, the founder of Creativity at Work, an international consortium of creativity and innovation experts, design thinkers, and arts-based learning practitioners, offers “trainings and workshops to help leaders and their teams develop the creativity, innovation and leadership capabilities required to adapt to change, stay competitive, improve business performance, and make a positive difference in the world. Clients include Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, educational institutions and government organizations.”

From a Creativity at Work blog, Seven Habits of Highly Creative People,  the following points are outlined in homage to Stephen Covey (Oct 24, 1932 – July 16, 2012):

  1. Prepare the ground
  2. Plant seeds for creativity
  3. Live in the question
  4. Feed your brain
  5. Experiment and explore
  6. Replenish your creative stock
  7. Play like a child: the secret to liberating your creativity

 

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The Creativity Crisis

I don’t know how I missed this… Bo Bronson and Ashley Merryman wrote an education article, The Creativity Crisis, for Newsweek, posted on their website on July 10, 2010. Selected excerpts:

Back in 1958, Ted Schwarzrock was an 8-year-old third grader when he became one of the “Torrance kids,” a group of nearly 400 Minneapolis children who completed a series of creativity tasks newly designed by professor E. Paul Torrance. Schwarzrock still vividly remembers the moment when a psychologist handed him a fire truck and asked, “How could you improve this toy to make it better and more fun to play with?” He recalls the psychologist being excited by his answers. In fact, the psychologist’s session notes indicate Schwarzrock rattled off 25 improvements, such as adding a removable ladder and springs to the wheels. That wasn’t the only time he impressed the scholars, who judged Schwarzrock to have “unusual visual perspective” and ‘an ability to synthesize diverse elements into meaningful products.”

Today, Schwarzrock is independently wealthy—he founded and sold three medical-products companies and was a partner in three more. His innovations in health care have been wide ranging, from a portable respiratory oxygen device to skin-absorbing anti-inflammatories to insights into how bacteria become antibiotic-resistant. His latest project could bring down the cost of spine-surgery implants 50 percent. “As a child, I never had an identity as a ‘creative person,’ ” Schwarzrock recalls. “But now that I know, it helps explain a lot of what I felt and went through.”

Creativity has always been prized in American society, but it’s never really been understood. While our creativity scores decline unchecked, the current national strategy for creativity consists of little more than praying for a Greek muse to drop by our houses. The problems we face now, and in the future, simply demand that we do more than just hope for inspiration to strike. Fortunately, the science can help: we know the steps to lead that elusive muse right to our doors.

Newsweek: Bo Bronson and Ashley Merryman

 

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Not to be outdone by Newsweek, TIME published a compilation The Science of Creativity – a series of articles divided into four large chapters:

  1. The Creative Animal
  2. The Creative Mind
  3. Creativity in Action
  4. Creativity at Any Age

The essays, penned by a myriad of authors, are eclectic and intriguing, many of which have appeared in past issues of TIME magazine:

  • The Science of CreativityIntroduction: Striving for the New
  • This Is Your Brain on Creativity
  • Learning from Leonardo
  • Under the Hood
  • Are Neurotics More Creative?
  • A Fine Madness
  • The Power of Sleep
  • Inside the Creative Space
  • Seven Secrets to Unleashing Creativity
  • Pushing Your Envelope
  • Does Screen Time Stunt Kids’ Creativity?
  • You’re Never Too Old
  • When Schools Get Creative
  • How Parents Can Excite and Inspire
  • Eureka Moments
  • The Last Word

Creativity is one of the most human of qualities. But what is creativity, and what makes us creative? The Science of Creativity takes a look at both the science and the art of this world-changing trait—how we define it, how we measure it and what encourages it. With insights from the editors of TIME, this new Special Edition features thought-provoking articles on the meaning of creativity, its part in human history and its role in our future. 

Amazon review of TIME special edition

 

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Creativity in Orchestra

A recent NAfME article was written specifically for orchestral players and their music directors. Even after more than 43 years of conducting orchestras, I would have to admit that helping my instrumentalists to become more creative musicians has always been a challenge. In the Music Educators Journal, Volume 105, Number 3, March 2019, “Integrating Creative Practices into the Orchestra Classroom,” author Leon Park seeks to explore the realm of the “less traditional” in rationale, goals, and techniques to build the capacity of his students’ imagination, innovation, and creativity.

My primary objective as a high school orchestra educator is to help students develop and refine their perpetual and technical acuities as orchestra musicians – from understanding and applying proper instrument-playing technique in functional music theory as they relate to repertoire to reading and translating music notation with accuracy and confidence to interpreting musical compositions with an understanding of the composer’s intent and a sensitive sensitivity toward performing in an expressive manner.

The daily regime of helping my students of achieve these objectives is an extraordinarily enriching yet time-consuming endeavor. As such, I find that opportunities to engage students in experiences that reach beyond the purview of traditional orchestra musicianship – such as improvisation, songwriting, remixing, soundscape in, recording, and looping – are rare.

— Leo Park

After providing a list of hardware, devices, web apps, software, and iOS apps, Park proposes a series of exercises and other creative practices:

  • MEJDrone Improvisation
  • Circle Stringing
  • Soundscapes
  • Melodizing over Chords
  • Recontextualization
  • Songwriting

He also shares a video playlist of creative approaches, primarily string players engaging in creative music-making.

If you currently teach instrumental music, I recommend you read this piece. (You must be a member of the National Association of Music Education for access to its periodical Music Educators Journal.)

Creativity should be at the heart of all the affective areas of the curriculum. Its context is imagination, origination, and invention; but it goes beyond that to include interpretation and personalized imitation. Characteristically it calls upon preference and decision to a greater extent than other modes of thought. It is especially important as “a way of coming to know” through independent, innovative responses to ideas into means of expression.

— John Paynter in Sound and Structure

 

Educational Commission of the States

ECS_Vertical_Tag_1300pxIn a more recent release of EdNote (July 2018), How School Leaders Can Inspire Daily Creativity makes a good case that, “As building-level leaders, school principals play a key role in ensuring every student has access to high-quality and equitable arts learning as part of a well-rounded education,” citing numerous supportive sources:

The article concluded with the following salient statements:

From identifying the arts in a school’s budget to supporting student performances and gallery displays, principals can engage parents and the school community in the school’s educational goals.

While our [administrators’] daily routines may feel less inspired than other activities, it is through innovative ideas and acts of self-expression that shape everyday life as we know it. The arts can provide students with these same opportunities, setting them up for success in school, work and life.

EdNote: Cassandra Quille

 

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The Conversation

Check out What Creativity Really Is – and Why Schools Need It  by Liane Gabora from The Conversation.

Associate Professor of Psychology and Creative Studies, University of British Columbia, Gabora explores “the creative process” in studies from the Interdisciplinary Creativity Research Group.

She examines sorting out these apparently antipodal/opposing concepts:

  • The Conversationinventors vs. imitators
  • creators vs. conformers
  • innovation vs. over-stimulation
  • devaluation of creative personality attributes such as risk taking, impulsivity and independence vs. focus on the reproduction of knowledge and obedience at school

She shares three insightful suggestions on cultivating creativity in the classroom:

  1. “Focus less on the reproduction of information and more on critical thinking and problem solving.”
  2. “Curate activities that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries…”
  3. “Pose questions and challenges, and follow up with opportunities for solitude and reflection.”

 

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Additional Links

A couple more “finds” for your reading pleasure:

Hopefully, readers/followers of this website will send in their own “gems” on creativity. Please feel free to comment and share your own references… so we can collaborate on and re-energize this dialogue.

If you have not had the opportunity to read my past blog-posts on creativity, please take a moment and examine these:

Now go out there and… teach, learn, and be creative!

PKF

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

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Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com:

 

Unconditional Love (Dogs!)

Pets + Retirees… They Go Together!

dog-2729805_1280_gdjHappy Valentine’s Day to all of my readers. I could not think of a better way to “celebrate” our appreciation of “heart-day” with reflections on what our pets bring us… adulation, affection, attachment, companionship, devotion, enjoyment, good will, involvement, passion, stimulation, tenderness, understanding…

“The power of love!” They say that all you have to do is look at the face of a sleeping baby, or cuddle up next to a puppy or kitten, and it will slow down your respiration rate, lower your blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood, and increase in your body the levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals that play big roles in the promoting feelings of calm and well-being.

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From personal experience, having two of the most adorable and loving dogs… If you’re contemplating retirement and you have never owned a pet, let me be the first to tell you:

“Pets can change your life.”

I invite you to peruse several other blogs I’ve written on this subject:

If you are almost ready to retire, or you’re going through your first couple years of your post-employment “internship,” there’s a good chance that psychologically it would be good for you to “get out of Dodge” as you adjust to your new status. This might be a good time for you to take a cruise, tour Europe, go ice fishing up north, or plan a long road trip out west. Pack up everything and takeoff. Celebrate all those years that you put your nose to the grind stone.

But eventually, you may want to come back “to nest,” and “taste” a little transitioning into things that seem to go well together, e.g. small doses of (human) babysitting, grandparent/child interaction, and/or rescuing a pet. Becoming a homebody may also suggest the consideration of planning small or large renovation projects: fix up your garden or backyard, design your ideal kitchen, remodel the bathrooms, do a garage remake, downsize and de-clutter, etc. After the first several years of simply resting and exploring the options of your self-reinvention, NOW might be the perfect moment to add a furry friend to your family!

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Why get a pet?

Goodnet (“Gateway to Doing Good”) summarizes nine reasons you should adopt a pet:

  1. Pets have their perks when it comes to your health. (More on that later.)
  2. A pet will love you unconditionally. (Thus the title of this blog!)
  3. Adopting a pet is easy on your wallet. (Pet rescue from a shelter is less expensive.)
  4. Adopting a pet means saving a life. (Millions of animals are euthanized per year.)
  5. By adopting a pet, you’re giving an animal a second chance. (Another go at life!)
  6. Pets keep you active. (Dog walking provides owner aerobic exercise.)
  7. Pets bring joy and fulfillment. (Pet care enhances a sense of purpose for retirees.)
  8. dog-3243734_1920_kandykandooPets boost your social life. (Research indicates pets decrease social isolation.)
  9. Besides, how could you possibly resist this face?

 

Medical benefits including psychological health

There’s an avalanche of online research that backs up claims that pet ownership is actually “good for you!”

Pet owners know how much their furry friend improves their quality of life. But it’s not all about unconditional love—although that actually provides a wellness boost, too. On an emotional level, owning a pet can decrease depression, stress and anxiety; health-wise, it can lower your blood pressure, improve your immunity, and even decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke.

— Alexandra Gekas

 

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Here are my “top dozen” reasons and resources to peruse:

  1. Having a pet decreases stress: Promises Treatment Centers
  2. Caring for a pet lowers your blood pressure: WebMD
  3. Owning a dog reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels: Harvard
  4. Pets keep you fit and active: Gerontologist
  5. Daily dog walking helps you to lose weight: Healthy People
  6. Owning a dog can help detect, treat, and manage disease and injuries: HuffPost
  7. Pet therapy eases pain management and reduces anxiety: Loyola University
  8. Pets may reduce doctor’s visits: American Psychological Association PsycNet
  9. Having a dog may make you (at least feel) safer: LifeHack
  10. Pets help you build friendships and find social support: Harvard
  11. Dog owners are less prone to depression: GrandParents.com
  12. Pet ownership adds meaning and purpose: BestFriends

 

Believe it or not, pets can be the best medicine, especially when a person is dealing with chronic pain such as migraines or arthritis. Just like Valium, it reduces anxiety. The less anxiety, the less pain…

People who have pets are less harried; there’s more laughter in their life. When you come home, it’s like you’re George Clooney. You’re a star. This is a primary reason pets are used in various forms of therapy.

If you have a dog around, your blood pressure is lower. A lot of it goes back to reducing stress: You might lose your job, your house, your 401(k)—but you’ll never lose the unconditional love of your pet.

— Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, veterinary consultant for Good Morning America and author of the book Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual.

 

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Increasing your regular habits of exercise

The experts say that physical activity promotes flexibility, muscle strength, stamina, and balance, and helps us to remain mobile into our 70s and 80s. Caring for a pet may help! For example, studies from the National Center for Biotechnology of the U.S. National Library of Medicine (like this one) indicate that older adults who walked dogs with frequent moderate to vigorous exercise are associated with lower body mass index and faced fewer limitations to their daily living activities.

Having trouble sticking to an exercise program? Research shows that dogs are actually Nature’s perfect personal trainers—loyal, hardworking, energetic and enthusiastic. And, unlike your friends, who may skip an exercise session because of appointments, extra chores or bad weather, dogs never give you an excuse to forego exercising.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that only 16 percent of Americans ages 15 and older exercised at all on an average day! This is where your canine personal trainer can help.

—Dawn Marcus

walking-2797219_1280_mohamed_hassanHow much exercise is enough? Well, according to the World Health Organization, the “best practices” of a good health and wellness program includes:

  • 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily for children 5 to 17 years old
  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week for adults 18 to 65 years old, plus strengthening exercises two days per week
  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week, with modifications as needed in seniors over 65 years old, plus flexibility and balance exercises.

The good news? From Bark, “Researchers at the University of Western Australia found that seven in every 10 adult dog owners achieved 150 minutes of physical exercise per week, compared with only four in every 10 non-owners.” We already know that grabbing that leash, whistling for the pup, going for a brisk walk, and getting out to see what’s going on in your neighborhood, may help to reduce stress, depression, lethargy, the risks of obesity, and many other medical problems.

 

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The all-essential quest for “mattering” and “feeling needed”

In the past blog “Retiree Concepts,” I mentioned the book, Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose by Nancy Schlossberg (definitely an excellent buy), and reviewed the issues of “marginality” (bad) and “mattering” (good). The essential question is worth repeating here: “Do you feel “needed” and that you “make a difference” to others?”

Caring for a pet does a great job of fulfilling our need to find in our retired lives the “purpose, community, and structure” referred to Ernie Zelinski in his book, How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free.

As we grow older—especially after we retire—it can be difficult to find structure and meaning day in and day out. Dogs take care of that.

— Kristen Sturt

They force people to continue to do things. So, even if you’re not feeling well emotionally or physically, the dog doesn’t care. I mean, they care, but they still want you to feed them and take them for a walk.”

— Kristi Littrell, Adoption Manager at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah

At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, they’re using dogs to help soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. They’re finding the guys who have a pet are able to re-enter society a little bit easier. They’re showing a decreased suicide rate, one of the biggest health threats [veterans] face. These guys who have a pet have someone they’re responsible for, someone who cares about them. And they don’t have to explain what they’ve been through.

— Dr. Katy Nelson, associate emergency veterinarian at the VCA Alexandria Animal Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia

 

It’s not only about the tangibles – physical, medical, mental

It’s simple… every day, my pooches make me feel good!

Oh, we have all witnessed the “life-changing power of pets” (Psychology Today) and the tremendous social bond partnering a dog (or cat) with a human. We agree, “Pet owners have big hearts and bestow good feelings on both animals and people. Having a pet does not replace a human social network, but rather enhances and enlarges it. Cats, dogs, birds—and pets of all species, shapes, and sizes—bring wellness.”

our two pups 051216 - 1On personal observation, I can attest that walking my dogs in the neighborhood can be one of the most contemplative (almost meditative) experiences of the day. I commune with nature, let my imagination wander (dream “wide-awake”), notice things I have never before stopped to see, hear, or smell, and reflect on my life goals. I find the “pause” in my daily routine (or should I say “paws”) makes me feel refreshed, thoughtful, more calm, tolerant, and patient while at the same time more alert and focused, and always leaves me in a better mood.

Dr. John V. DiAscenzo, my talented friend and PMEA music education colleague with great background in research, would now demand of me, “Show me the specific studies that support your claim that walking dogs make people feel happy!” Got it! I found numerous references, including this article from the National Institutes of Health.

 

You can’t buy this kind of shared love… a snapshot

  • No matter how good or bad my day is, the moment of my return to home, stepping into “puppy heaven,” Gracie and Brewster rushing up in full gallop to lick (kiss) and welcome me, jumping up as if to say, “Oh, we’re so glad he’s back!”
  • The vigorous wagging of her tail and the “happy dance” Gracie does when I reach for her favorite bone
  • The “nesting” impulse of Brewster as he paws his towel on top of our bed, just before he curls up in a small ball, leaning into the small of my back (giving me great lumbar support) and falling asleep
  • Gracie pushing Brewster out of the way when jockeying position to receive pats on the head from a visitor
  • canine club 2Expert cuddlier Brewster flipping on his back so you rub his tummy, and when you are distracted, gently pawing at you begging you not to stop
  • Gracie’s “happy barks” and squeals of excitement when mommy brings in the supper dish
  • Gracie jumping up onto the extra desk chair to watch daddy type on his computer (we even had to buy her own chair)
  • Brewster winning a contest for the most puppy-pushups (up/sit/down) in dog (people) training classes
  • Having totally original “dog-o-nalities” and never failing to amaze me every day, being awakened by them at 6 a.m.
  • But, after going out, all three of us climbing into the La-Z-Boy® combo recliners and falling back to sleep, Gracie between my legs with her chin on my ankle, and Brewster on my left shoulder like a violin shoulder pad

 

Lowering the numbers of neglected pets in overcrowded sanctuaries

Finally, although perhaps not the most significant rationale for a retiree to go rescue a pet, these are estimated animal shelter statistics from the ASPCA and the American Pet Products Association (source):

  • Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats.
  • Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats).
  • pit-bull-2047469_1920_rescuewarriorApproximately 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year (1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats).
  • About 710,000 animals who enter shelters as strays are returned to their owners. Of those, 620,000 are dogs and only 90,000 are cats.
  • It’s estimated that 78 million dogs and 85.8 million cats are owned in the United States. Approximately 44% of all households in the United States have a dog, and 35% have a cat.
  • According to the APPA, these are the most common sources from which primary methods cats and dogs are obtained as pets:

appa stats

LiveScience posted “A Blueprint for Ending the Euthanasia of Healthy Animals.”

Do you have Kleenex handy? Read “10 Shelter Stories That Will Make you Smile.”

Simply put, if you have it in you to consider pet adoption, your action will probably save the life of a sheltered animal and give it (and you) a second chance!

 

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Additional resources

Do you need more research? Be sure to visit the final link in the bulleted list below, which also has an exhaustive bibliography worth viewing.

 

CODA: The “‘last words” as a recap and a final website for you to check out:

Studies have shown that owning a pet can be physically and mentally beneficial for people of all ages. In the case of senior citizens, just 15 minutes bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone, cortisol, and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. The result: heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels immediately drop. Over the long term, pet and human interactions can lower cholesterol levels, fight depression and may even help protect against heart disease and stroke.

— Seniors and Pets

But, you knew all about this, right? So, what are you waiting for?

For me, I gotta go… and take Gracie and Brewster out for another walk!

Have a Happy PET Valentine’s Day!

PKF

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

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Besides the numerous pictures of Gracie and Brewster, photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “puppies” by kko699, “dog” by GDJ, “people” by Herney, “animals” by Gellinger, “dog” by kandykandoo, “dog” by maja7777, “walking” by mohamed_hassan, “dog” by haidi2002, “pit-bull” by RescueWarrior, “dog” by groesswang, “kitten” by creades, “pretty-girl” by TerriC, and “dog” by Leunert,

 

 

A Collection of Collegiate “Treasures”

3 by 3: Essential Books + Websites for Music Ed Majors

By now, at least several weeks after the holiday/winter break, most of you have probably returned to school and are “back at it” fulfilling your studies in music and education methods. Welcome to the New Year (2019) and good luck on meeting your goals!

It has been my pleasure to present numerous workshops and conference sessions for pre-service, in-service, and retired music educators on a variety of topics: interviewing for a job, marketing professionalism, ethics, transitioning to retirement, supercharging the musical, etc., and have been asked on occasion, “Where do you find all of the information, research, and resources for your blog-posts and talks?

Well.. I’m glad you asked!

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It would be hard to credit one or a few sources on reliable data, insights, and recommendations for career development. The following “gems” – a few ideas from someone who has taught music for more than 40 years – are just my New Year’s “gifts” to you… hopefully useful in your undergraduate or advance degree studies. Please enjoy!

This is probably the wrong time to suggest making a few “buys” for the sake of educational enrichment. College students are bombarded with many required readings of their (often expensive) textbooks and handouts from their comprehensive higher education courses of study. It is somewhat daunting to “cover all the bases,” especially when you may want specific advice and “answers” as a result of being recently thrown into “the real world” of field observations and student teaching. What else would a prospective music teacher need or have time to read? How can we better prepare you for the challenges of our profession?

Since you have to order books (or borrow them from a library), we’ll start with the printed publications. Here are my “top three” for your immediate consideration.

 

My Many Hats

My Many HatsIn the category of “things I wishes someone would have told me before I was hired to be a school music educator,” the inspirational book, My Many Hats: Juggling the Diverse Demands of a Music Teacher by Richard Weymuth, is a recommended “first stop” and easy “quick-read.” Published by Heritage Music Press (2005), the 130-page paperback serves as an excellent summary of the attributes (or “hats”) of a “master music teacher.” Based on the photos in his work (great “props”), I would have loved to have seen Weymuth’s conference presentations in person as he donned each hat symbolizing the necessary skill-set for a successful educator.

A quote from the author in his Introduction:

“I want my hats to put a smile on your face as you read this book, just as they do for the airport security guards as they go through my bags at the airport. They ask, “Are you a magician? A clown? An entertainer?” My answer is, “Yes, I am a teacher.”

His Table of Contents tells it all:

  1. The Hat of a Ringmaster: Managing your classroom and your time
  2. The Hat of a Leader: Setting the direction and tone of your classroom
  3. The Hat of a Scholar: Learning when “just the facts” are just fine, and when they aren’t
  4. The Hat of a Disciplinarian: The Three C’s: Caring, Consistency, and Control
  5. The Hat of an Eagle: Mastering your eagle eye
  6. The Hat of a Crab: Attitude is everything; what’s yours?
  7. The Hat of a Juggler: Balancing a complicated and demanding class schedule
  8. The Hat of a Banker: Fund raising and budgeting
  9. The Hat of an Artistic Director: Uniforms and musicals and bulletin boards, oh my!
  10. The Hat of a Lobster: Establishing the proper decorum with your students
  11. The Hat of a Pirate: Finding a job you will treasure
  12. The Hat of a Bear: Learning to “grin and bear it” in difficult situations
  13. The Hat of a Peacock: Having and creating pride in your program
  14. The Hat of Applause: Rewarding and recognizing yourself
  15. The Hat of a Flamingo: Sticking out your neck and flapping your wings

Here are a couple sections that should be emphasized if you are currently a junior or senior music education major.

All student or first-year teachers should focus on his/her three C’s of class discipline in Chapter 4: “Caring, Consistency, and Control.” In order to resolve problems and seek advice from local mentors (especially help from second and third-year teachers who may have just gone through similar conflicts), he poses these questions:

  • What is the specific discipline problem that is currently bothering you?
  • Who could you interview in your educational community to help with this problem?
  • How did they handle the problem?
  • What discipline solutions worked and what didn’t work?

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Those getting ready for the job search and interviewing process this year must turn to Chapter 11 immediately! “Just like a pirate, you are searching for your treasure, or at least a job you will treasure.” Suggesting that first-year teachers should stay in their assignment for a minimum of three years (to show “you are a stable teacher and are dedicated to the district”), Weymuth offers guidance in these areas:

  • The Application Process
    • Cover Letter
    • Résumé
  • The Interview
    • Make a Good Impression
    • The First-Class Interview
    • Frequently Asked Questions
  • The Second Interview

The book is worth the $17.95 price alone for the interview questions on pages 85-88.

Once you “land a job” and are assigned extra-curricular duties like directing after-school ensembles, plays, and perhaps fund-raising for trips, shows, uniforms, or instruments, come back to Chapter 8 for “The Hat of a Banker” and Chapter 9 for “The Hat of an Artistic Director.” His guidelines for moneymaking and record-keeping include insightful sub-sections on:

  • Planning and Administering a Fund-Raising Activity
  • Possible Fund-Raisers
  • Motivating Students to Sell, Sell, Sell (Set Goals, Prizes, and Tracking)
  • Budgeting

Having previously posted a blog on “Supercharging the School Musical,”  I was impressed with his pages 65-69 on “Show and Concert Choir Dress” and The Musical,” and especially the “Appendix – Resources Books for Producing a Musical” in the back of the book.

 

Case Studies in Music Education

Case Studies in Music EducationNext, I would like to direct pre-service and new music teachers to Case Studies in Music Education by Frank Abrahams and Paul D. Head. This would be an invaluable aid to “facilitate dialogue, problem posing, and problem solving” from college students (in methods classes?) and “rookie” teachers to veteran educators.

Using the format of Introduction, Exposition, Development, Improvisation, and Recapitulation known by all music professionals, each chapter presents a scenario with a moral dilemma that many music educators face in the daily execution of their teaching responsibilities.

 

“How should a music teacher balance learning and performing? What is the best way to handle an angry parent? What are the consequences of the grades teachers assign? What are the best ways to discipline students? How should teachers relate to the administrators and to other teachers? The emphasis here is not on the solution, but on the process. There are many viable approaches to nearly every obstacle, but before any meaningful long-term solutions can be made, teachers must identify their own personal philosophy of music education and recognize those traits that are admirable in another’s style.”

―Excerpt from back cover of Case Studies in Music Education, Second Edition, by Frank Abrahams and Paul D. Head

Case Studies in Music Education provides a frank discussion about the critical real-world issues music teachers face but are rarely addressed in college courses:

  • Balancing the goals of learning and performing music
  • Communications and relationships with parents, administrators, and other staff
  • “Fair use” and other copyright laws

If you are seeking more reflection and peer review of ethical issues in the music education profession, good for you! Few music teachers ever talk about the “e” word. What’s important is not only becoming aware of your state’s/district’s statues on the “teacher’s code of conduct” and dress/behavior expectations, but developing your own ethical “compass” for all professional decision-making. A good companion to the Abrahams and Head book is to peruse my previous blogs on ETHICS (posted in reverse chronological order).

 

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Enhancing the Professional Practice of Music Teachers

“Book number three” is probably the most expensive, and I could only wish you were already exposed to it in one of your music education courses. If you have not seen it, go ahead and “bite the bullet” in the purchase of Enhancing the Professional Practice of Music Teachers: 101 Tips that Principals Want Music Teachers to Know and Do by Paul G. Young, published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2009. [Note: Be sure to give them your NAfME membership number for a 25% discount!]

“If you want to improve your professional performance and set yourself apart from your colleagues—in any discipline—these tips are for you. If you desire anything less than achieving the very best, you won’t want this book. Rather than addressing research and theory about music education or the “how-to’s” of teaching, Enhancing the Professional Practice of Music Teachers focuses on common-sense qualities and standards of performance that are essential for success-everywhere. Whether you’re considering a career in music education, entering your first year of teaching, or nearing the end of a distinguished tenure, this advice applies to musicians in any setting. Affirming quality performance for experienced teachers and guiding, nurturing, and supporting the novice, Young outlines what great music teachers do. Easy to read and straightforward, read it from beginning to end or focus on tips of interest. Come back time and again for encouragement, ideas, and affirmation of your choice to teach music.”

– https://nafme.org/reading-list-music-educators/

ENhancing the Professional Practice of Music TeachersHis chapters are organized into six tips:

  • Tips That Establish Effective Practice with Students
  • Tips That Support Recruitment
  • Tips That Enhance Instruction
  • Tips That Enhance the Profession
  • Tips for Personal Growth
  • Tips for Professional Growth

Paul Young is a musician and band director who later became an elementary school principal. His book is derived from his experience as a music student, music teacher, and educational leader. The intent of the publication is to guide both new and experienced teachers in continued personal and professional growth. He uses his experience as an administrator to point out to music teachers the traits he has seen in individuals who have become successful in the profession.

Now that you ordered at least one of these for personal research and growth, I should point out other sources of book recommendations for the budding music educator, courtesy of NAfME:

 

Online Resources

Okay, now comes the “easy-peasy” part, and even more importantly, it’s mostly FREE!

NAfME blogThe first thing I want you to do (and you don’t even have to be a member of NAfME yet, although you should be!) is to take at least a half-hour, scroll down, and read through numerous NAfME “Music in a Minuet” blog-posts, bookmarking any you want to return to at a later date. Go to https://nafme.org/category/news/music-in-a-minuet/. Get ready to be totally immersed into the music education profession in a way no college professor can do, with articles like the following (just a recent sampling):

 

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Hopefully you did receive a little cash in your Christmas stocking… or something from grandma! Now is time to “belly up to the bar” and pay your dues. Every professional school music educator should be a member of their “national association…” NAfME!

Once you do this, get ready to reap countless benefits! First, besides offering a discounted rate for all collegiate members, you will be eligible for a significant price break for full active membership renewal during your first-year of teaching! Then, the doors will open wide to you for all of the many NAfME member services such as classroom resources, professional development, news and publications, special offers for members, etc.

Amplify

Once you are a NAfME member, open up your browser, and go immediately to the NAfME AMPLIFY community discussion platform, instructions posted here. Getting started on AMPLIFY is easy:

  • Go to community.nafme.org.
  • Edit your profile using your NAfME.org member username and personal password.
  • Control what information is visible on your profile.
  • Join/subscribe to communities of your choice – you will automatically be enrolled in Music Educator Central, our general community for all NAfME Members.
  • Control the frequency and format of email notifications from Amplify.

If you prefer, they have created a video or quick-start guide here to set-up your account’s profile, demonstrate the features, and provide some help navigating through the AMPLIFY menus.

Once you familiarize yourself with the forum, find the “Music Educator Central” and “Collegiate” discussion groups… and start reading. If you have a question, post it. AMPLIFY connects you with as many as 60,000 other NAfME members… a powerful resource for networking and finding out “tried and true” techniques, possible solutions to scenarios or problems in the varied settings of school music assignments, and the sharing of news, trends, perspectives, and more!

Try it… you’ll like it! When you feel comfortable with the platform, contribute your own posts, thoughtful responses to comments from the reflections of your “colleagues,” teaching anecdotes, personal pet-peeves, and ???  – you name it! The sky is the limit!

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Tooting My Own Horn… the “Paulkfoxusc” Website (now paulfox.blog)

Finally, if you have indeed “blown the budget” over family holiday purchases, I can suggest one freebie website that archives a comprehensive listings of blog-posts, links, and books. Under the category of “marketing professionalism,” you can search through blogs placed online in reverse chronological order at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/category/marketing-professionalism/ or you can “take everything in” from one super-site entitled “Becoming a Music Educator” at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/becoming-a-music-educator/.

Of course, I have a few “favorite” articles which may provide you a great start to your journey of self-fulfillment:

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Best wishes on you continuing your advancement and personal enrichment towards the realization of a wonderful career in music education!

PKF

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “student” by geralt, “book” by PourquoiPas, “girl” by nastya_gepp, “fatigued” by sasint, “learn” by geralt, “brass” by emkanicepic, and “iPad” by fancycrave1

 

 

Stress, Burnout, & Stage Fright in College

Resources for Music and Music Education Majors

Increasingly,  in some parts of the country there are new shortages of qualified, experienced, skilled, and engaging public and private school teachers, even in the fields of Performing Arts. (For examples, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/08/28/teacher-shortages-affecting-every-state-as-2017-18-school-year-begins/?utm_term=.c599b1d39405.)

At the same time, although it may not seem to be hustle-and-bustle-1738072_1920_geraltdocumented to a great extent, stress, burnout, and stage fright have become real concerns for music education majors completing their coursework, juries/recitals/concerts, methods exams, student teaching, and other field experiences. This may be affecting statistics on college enrollments, graduation rates, and job placements!

It would seem we should be recruiting more music educators (not losing them as “failed” music/music education majors). Where should we look for answers to this problem?

“Burnout is fatigue and diminished interest caused by long-term stress. It is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of personal accomplishment. In the university music atmosphere, stress and burnout are prevalent accepted as part of the culture. Symptoms and causes of general stress and burnout have been well researched, but much less has been presented on college musicians’ burnout, let alone how to deal with it.” — Helen Orzel

 

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The purpose of this blog-post is to share studies, surveys, and articles of research on the causes for stress and “drop-outs” of music and music educator majors, along with proposals of remedies for reducing college student anxiety and recommendations for alleviating the problem of attrition.

An overview of collegiate performance anxiety elucidates numerous emotional triggers:

  1. anxiety-2019928_1920_WokandapixCollege funding
  2. Academic pressures: acquiring new knowledge, understandings, skills, etc.
  3. Competition (both in self-perception of achievement and in relation to peers)
  4. Trends in seeking perfectionism
  5. Coping with being away from home
  6. Sleep deprivation
  7. Challenges with personal relationships
  8. Development of new strategies and systems of personal organization and time management

If you find additional sources or statistics, please pass them on. Click on the above comment link so we can add them to this discussion.

 

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College Student Stress

The best summary I have found on this subject is from the recently released Fall 2018 issue of the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) – PMEA News. (For full access, become a member of PMEA.) Read the article on page 52, “Music Major Anxiety – Causes and Coping” by Kevin Shorner-Johnson, National Association for Music Education (NAfME) Society for nafme_society_research_music_edMusic Teacher  Education (SMTE) PA State Chair and Director of Music Education at Elizabethtown College. He talks about anxiety as “the leading mental health issue among adolescents and college students,” and examines the stressors of academic expectations, time management, “perfectionism,” and amygdala and cortex-rooted stress disorders, as well as cultivating practices of self-care and coping skills.

Shorner-Johnson recommends the book, Rewire Your Anxious Brain: How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic, and Worry by Catherine Pittman and Elizabeth Karle (2015).

“Pittman and Karle provide beautiful guides and checklists that may assist students in building coping skills such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, prayer, yoga, exercise, and chanting. Coping strategies can allow us to enter into tension, getting to know origins and triggers, and transforming anxieties into new forms of centered awareness. Like music, coping strategies are skills that can only be cultivated through practice. When we practice self-care, we rewire associated connections and empower new responses.”  — Kevin Shorner-Johnson

 

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For a comprehensive survey on the stressors of music majors, peruse the illuminating thesis of H.J. Orzel (2010) “Undergraduate Music Student Stress and Burnout.” She states that her study has a two-fold purpose:

  • Examine sources of stress and burnout for undergraduate music students, and
  • Examine existing methods of controlling stress and burnout.
  • This information can also be a tool for college music students needing
    help with stress and burnout.

“A college musician’s environment can significantly influence stress levels. Environmental stressors include overworked professors unable to provide support,
competitive peers, lack of resources such as practice space or counseling services,
overburdened schedules, and high standards and expectations set by institutions…
Developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the effects of environmental stress, promoting resilience.” — Helen Orzel

In her conclusion, she mentions these possible strategies to alleviate stress:

  1. stress-391657_1920_geraltLearning to “manage your burdens,” class schedules, assignments, calendar, etc.
  2. Improvement of personal time management towards greater work/life balance
  3. Development of coping skills for new environments
  4. Exploration of new practice venues and study routines
  5. Allocation of more time with supportive peers
  6. Learning to make manageable choices, setting of limitations and reasonable expectations for making future commitments
  7. Practice of relaxation, slow breathing, and meditation exercises
  8. Strategies for reduction of performance anxiety and “stage fright”
  9. Reflection on and rehash of personal mission, goals, and motivations, and “what first inspired them to pursue music”

 

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H. Christian Bernard II from the State University of New York at Fredonia offers his research-based article Contemplative Practices in Music Teacher Education, describing efforts to incorporate contemplative studies within a music curriculum (Sarath 2006), mindfulness instruction on the music listening experiences (Diaz 2013), mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention instruction (Shapiro, Schwartz, and Bonner 1998), short-term meditation practices on attention and self-regulation (Tang lonely-1510265_1920_PoseMuse2009), “deep listening” as “a way of hearing in which we are fully present with what is happening in the moment” (Barbezat and Bush 2014), contemplative movement activities including methodologies of Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze, and Gordon adapted for other music teaching contexts (Benedict, 2010), walking meditation, tai chi ch’uan, yoga, and labyrinth walking (Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, 2016), contemplative reading, writing, and other self-help practices.

“Contemplation is not the opposite of thinking but its complement. It is not the emptying of the mind of thoughts but the cultivation of awareness of thoughts within the mind. Through contemplation, the mind is open to itself.”                                               — D.P. Barbezat and M. Bush.

“Utilizing contemplative practices including meditation, reading and writing, movement, and listening can offer students and teachers opportunities for meaningful experiences while simultaneously reducing levels of stress and anxiety. While mindfulness is a prerequisite for all contemplative practices, this secular and academic application goes beyond deepening of awareness and compassion to also include deepening of thinking and learning. Care should be used when selecting resources and activities, as the use of contemplative practices should always serve as an aid to, not a replacement for, effective music teaching and learning.”   — H. Christian Bernard II

Bernard also provides an excellent bibliography for further study, and has also written many other related articles:

 

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Burnout

An outstanding series of YouTube video presentations dives into what “five different research studies have to say about burnout and the undergraduate music education major, and the implications these studies have for students, professors, and administrators when it comes to managing the stress often associated with this degree.” As a requirement for her graduate music psychology class, Meghan Johnson presented “Burnout and the Undergraduate Music Education Major: Surviving the Stress” in 2010:

Additional resources regarding pre- and in-service music teacher burnout:

 

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Performance Anxiety

Dr. Natalie Ozeas, formerly Professor and Head of Music Education at Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), shares a new local initiative for addressing the problem of stage fright by Anne Jackovic Moskal, a member of the Pittsburgh Benedum Orchestra and solfege teacher at the CMU School of Music.

“The text that I use for my class is Musician’s Yoga by Mia Olson. We work a lot with meditation, especially focused towards the music we are currently working on. We practice by either listening to recordings or simply thinking of the whole work in their mind and how to continuously breath through it. The thought is that they will be able to move past anxious moments in performances and feel the constant breath instead. Additionally, we take meditation walks and practice the same method. Some of these methods are addressed in this book. We also have a physical practice to reinforce breathing through challenges. However, a significant part is to stretch, repair, restore, and strengthen our bodies from the damage of long practice sessions.”                            — Anne Jackovic Moskal

There are a myriad of sources on the web geared to performers for lessening stage fright, including blogposts like “A Few Things Every Musician Should Know About Stage Fright” by Noa K Kageyama from BulletproofMusician.

 

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NAfME members have free access to numerous articles on performance anxiety. Several articles published in the Music Educators Journal (MEJ) include “Stress in the Lives of Music Students” by David J. Sternbach (January 2008), “The Other Side of Stage Fright” by Donald L. Hamann (April 1985), and “Stage Fright – Its Cause and Cure” by Rowland W. Dunham (1953).

“To help your students reduce stress, address the ways they critique their practice and prepare for performance… Excessive self-criticism in practicing can be a predisposing factor for performance anxiety.” — David J. Sternbach

nafme“When musicians think about performing, they eventually think about performance anxiety — ‘stage fright.’ Performance anxiety can be defined as a physical and mental deviation from a ‘normal state’ and is perhaps one of the most misunderstood areas of performance practice… A reduction in anxiety levels especially with musicians with extensive formal training may actually diminish performance quality. For musicians with low mastery skills, the prudent approach would seem to be to undertake more formal training.” — Donald L. Hamann

“Here is the cure for stage fright. If you have strength of mind and a conscientious determination, you can walk onto the stage for a solo with almost the same certainty you have in practicing. There is the added and thrilling incentive now of an audience. By ignoring what you may fancy to be their opinion of you — which does not matter anyway — you have a new angle: giving emotional joy, spiritual nobility, or dramatic stimulation.With an honest artistic outlook, stage fright goes out the window. In its place you have the pleasure of adding something to he lives of your listeners.”               — Rowland W. Dunham

 

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Additional resources on stage fright and other anxiety issues:

 

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Finally, even though there is so much more to cover, a good “coda” on the subject of stress in music school might be to look at the article “Reality 101” by Gary C. Mortenson in the December 1991 issue of Music Educators Journal. Citing the University of Massachusetts student Erin Martin’s column “Real World 101: A Needed Course” in the October 1990 issue of U. — The National College Newspaper, college students could use help in areas not traditionally included in undergraduate curriculum:

  1. hurry-2119711_1920_TeroVesalainenJob placement
  2. Financial planning
  3. Raising a family
  4. Stress management

Mortenson creates several excellent “mock scenarios” fostering critical thinking and problem solving of teacher-student relationships, teacher-parent relationships, and criticism and stress that are issues in every teaching career.

“Life would be much easier if we could learn to handle real-world problems before we have to face them on our own.” — Erin Martin

“Teaching requires the ability to manage a variety of challenging situations. It is as complex and changeable as the society we live in. In college, future teachers assimilate a great deal of information that prepares them to share knowledge with their students. No one, however, can teach all of the skills needed to make complex decisions on all possible future real-life circumstances. These must ultimately be arrived at on an individual basis according to one’s own instincts and conscience. By giving more thought to how the problems and issues that confront students, parents, and colleagues will affect us, however, we can better equip ourselves to respond in an intelligent way to these challenges.” — Gary C. Mortenson

 

UPDATE (January 3, 2019):

Just after the release of this blog-post, the timely article “The Mindful Music Educator – Strategies for Reducing Stress and Increasing Well-being” by Dana Arbaugh Varona came out in the NAfME Music Educators Journal, Volume 5 Issue 2, 2018. (See https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0027432118804035.) You must be a member of NAfME to read the December 2018 issue in its entirety.

PKF

© 2018 and 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

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Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “stress” by TheDigitalArtist, “hustle and bustle” by geralt, “people” by tweetyspics, “anxiety” by Wokandapix, “woman” by Comfreak, “stress-2883638” by geralt, “stress-391657” by geralt, “woman” by Pexels, “lonely” by PoseMuse, “stress-22670” by geralt, “cello” by enbuscadelosdragones0, “trumpeter” by klimkin, “marching-band” by skeeze, “hug” by markzfilter, “hurry” by TeroVesalainen, and “laptop” by JESHOOTScom.

Happy Thanksgiving, Newbies!

“I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning.” — Plato

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Things for Which Prospective Music Teachers and Students Majoring in Music Education Should Be Thankful… and on Which to Reflect Over This Holiday Season!

Music educators and those training for this honorable career have many reasons to feel blessed. This Thanksgiving 2016 blog is another one of my “pep talks” and an ongoing goal to share resources for pre-service professional development. Lets begin with a classic “top-ten” list — the fruits and cornerstones of our profession:

  1. prospective-music-student-1440071-1Music is one of life’s greatest treasures!
  2. You will always have your music. Your future employment is also your hobby, and even after 35 or more years, you will inclined to continue your music throughout the “golden years” of retirement.
  3. There are so many ways you can make a difference in the lives of children with music. Whether it is singing, playing an instrument, composing, listening, feeling, or moving in response to music, music fills a basic need!
  4. Although music is an excellent vehicle for developing 21st Century learning skills (the four C’s of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication), participating in music for music’s sake is paramount. To find true meaning and personal artistry, you cannot review the arts without “doing” (or creating) the arts.
  5. parade-band-1421028Your joy of creative self-expression and “making music” will sustain you through almost anything… and will transfer to your students’ success in life.
  6. In many settings of school music courses and extra-curricular activities, your students make a conscious effort to choose you and the study of music in order to spend as much time together. “They may have to take math and English, but they also want their daily dose of music!”
  7. Newcomers to this field, you do not have to be right or perfect all the time in class. During your student teaching and early years on the job, if you are enthusiastic, dedicated, and respectful of the feelings of your students, youkids-singing-christmas-songs-1438089r mistakes (and there will be many) will be forgiven. Besides, there are usually no “single right answers” in music and art – only opportunities for divergent and flexible thinking, adaptability, and personal expression.
  8. You’ll never forget your students… and when you bump into them after graduation, they will remind you all about “those good times!” Don’t be surprised when they tell you were the best part of their education.
  9. Your band, orchestra, and/or choral director back home (school district and university) are rooting for you… and want you to succeed. If you have questions, go see them. They would appreciate you asking for their advice.unwritten-solo-2-1314639
  10. Good news! Help is on the way! On this blog-site, there is a single link to all of the articles, handouts, PowerPoint slides, etc., everything from branding yourself to a review of the interview questions you will need to answer at job screenings. To help you market your professionalism, develop a philosophy of music education, learn the basics of networking, dive into making a business card, professional website or e-portfolio, or practice taking interviews, go to the link above or https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/becoming-a-music-educator/.

Why Music? Why Do You Want to Become  a Music Educator?

It never hurts to embrace and share the excellent voices of our music education advocates. Check out these interesting online sources:

Ten Goals for the Holiday Break

After you finish your fall semester finals, juries, concerts, writing assignments, and other projects, you may have several weeks before you have to return to full-time classes at the university. Besides catching up on your sleep and visiting your family and friends, how many of these enrichment activities can you accomplish?

  1. Share your gifts. Play your instrument, accompany concert-1435286someone else, or sing solos at a local nursing home or senior center.
  2. Sit in with a church or community choir, band, or orchestra. Just ask the conductor if you could participate in a few rehearsals over your break.
  3. Learn something new about music… a different instrument, recent releases in sheet music or recordings, unique composer/arranger in your major area, music education article from a professional journal, innovative music software or interactive online programs (often free trials are available to future teachers), etc. For example, have you perused SmartMusic and MusicFirst?
  4. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpend a lot of time sight-reading… especially on the piano. To take your ear-training training a step further, pull out your old folk-song sight-reading series  or Hindemith’s Elementary Training for Musicians and practice musicianship exercises.
  5. To improve your score reading, take a choral arrangement and play the individual vocal parts at sight (soprano + bass, alto + tenor, soprano + tenor + bass, etc.). Or, perform on the piano 2-4 parts of a string quartet score.
  6. Volunteer to assist coaching a sectional or large ensemble at your local public school.
  7. Attend as many local concerts as you can: school, amateur adult, and professional.
  8. Compose or arrange a short holiday, folk, or classical song for unusual instrumentation (e.g. flute, viola, baritone sax, and tuba). Who knows? Someday you may have to conduct an ensemble with such unique membership.flute-player-1567317
  9. Record video/audio excerpts of your major instrument/voice for placement on your professional website. Begin preparations on or update your e-portfolio.
  10. Read all of the “marketing professionalism” articles on this blog-site. Take notes or print the things to which you want to refer back. Make a list of the possible interview questions, and put yourself through several “mock job screenings” (alone or with one or more college buddies) with you answering these randomized questions in front of a camera. Assess your performance. During your”free time” over the holiday break, assemble your “personal stories” – anecdotes revealing your skills, personality traits, teaching experiences, and accomplishments that could be shared at future employment interviews. Most important article on this subject? Look at thanksgiving-turkey-1521430https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2016/02/27/interview-questions-revisited/.

Best wishes for a healthy, peaceful and fulfilling holiday. Please enjoy lots of turkey with your loved ones, but if you can, “catch up” on your long term preparation for becoming a music educator. Make every day count over the recess. Reflect on why you are becoming a music educator, and be grateful for the multitude of benefits! Finally, never forget your own creative roots… make time for music every day!

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

Photos are licensed by FreeImages.com (all rights reserved)

Reflections on the Glory Days

Reconciliation: Somber Ruminations of a Retiree

And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it
but I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days…
Glory days, well they’ll pass you by
          —Bruce Springsteen

Okay, admittedly, this blog may be a little on the “dark side” – so before and after you read this, be sure to go out and take a long walk, hug your spouse or your grandchild or a dog, find something fun to do, indulge in some ice cream – anything to recharge, bolster your mood, and “come back to life!”

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Reconciling with and Redefining Retirement

According to Merriam Webster, the full definition of “reconcile” is the following:

“…to restore to friendship or harmony, settle, resolve, make consistent or congruous, cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant…”

Also referring to online dictionaries like Webster, the terms retiring and retirement mean “seclusion from the world, privacy, withdrawal, the act of going away, retreating, or disappearing.”

bucketlistNope. I cannot accept these archaic definitions! My translation for what it means to face this life-style shift of changing perspectives and expectations, “Crossing the Rubicon” into retirement, is finding alternative but purposeful pursuits, fulfilling “bucket lists,” and reshaping fresh new goals leading to creative ways to self-reinvent and thrive.

The Stages and Emotions of Retirement

In the July 25, 2016 PMEA Retired Member Network eNEWS, I reflected on a few of the ups-and-downs of post-employment transitioning and the emotional journey of re-adjustment, “reinventing” yourself, or as Ken Blanchard and Morton Shaevitz advise in their book (by the same name), “Refire! Don’t Retire!”

In which “stage of retirement” do you find yourself? Are you resting and taking an extended vacation, or currently mapping out your post-employment “plans,” or already diving into your “golden years” with a full schedule of activities, or seeking new goals and your “life’s purpose,” or retreating from everything just to “get your head together?”  —Paul Fox

In a USA TODAY article (2014), Ken Dychtwald (gerontologist, psychologist, educator and CEO of Age Wave, a research think-tank on aging issues) labels the logical progression of Ken Dychtwaldfive stages of retirement that he predicts most people go through after leaving their full-time job. (See http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/10/12/five-stages-of-retirement/16975707/).

  1. Imagination
  2. Anticipation
  3. Liberation
  4. Re-engagement
  5. Reconciliation

I think every retired person should read these, figure out on which step they are, diagnose their feelings, and “move on” toward the final stage of reconciliation.

“Thanks to the ever-increasing longevity, many of us will have decades to learn, teach, play, work and re-invent ourselves again and again after our core career has ended. Perhaps it’s time to retire retirement.”  —Ken Dychtwald

However, I hear from many retirees that, at some point, they experience a period of depression or sadness after they retire, even a profound sense of loss or grief. There are hosts of articles about this phenomenon:

It boils down to coping with a few of these emotional “bumps” along the way:

  • Loss of professional identity
  • Loss of goals, daily routine, and purposeful activity
  • Loss of social network and interaction with co-workers

In my article, “Surviving Retirement: Avoiding Turmoil, Traumas, Tantrums, and Other Transitional Problems” in the Winter 2015 issue of PMEA News, I mentioned how quickly we retired teachers seemingly become forgotten and obscure.

Someone wise once told me not to be alarmed when even your own music students forget you after two or three years. Not having you in class, nor hearing your name on the public address, nor seeing you in the halls, nor watching you direct an assembly, ensemble or musical, it is perfectly natural that your identity will likely fade away as the “graduates” leave and the new enrollees enter the building.

However, since I was still working with the marching band (and had been involved in so many other extra-curricular activities), I figured I might have a year or two before disappearing into obscurity. Surprise! One month from stepping down, I was walking my dogs at the high school and came upon a junior girl and her mother in a “driving training session.” I shouted out “hello” (my Yorkie-poo didn’t even bark), and the girl immediately rolled up her windows and moved away… “Stranger danger?” A few minutes later, when the opportunity presented itself (mom and driver switched seats), I introduced myself and received a blank look when I reassured them, “I just retired from this school. Surely you remember Mr. Fox?” Nope. Don’t expect it. Anyway, there are advantages to losing the spotlight and becoming totally anonymous.  —Paul Fox

This is normal. “Type-A” personalities and “peak performers” must make a concerted effort to limit linking the majority of their self-worth and identity to their employment! Echoed by author Sydney Lagier in “Seven Secrets to a Happy Retirement” at US News and World Report (http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/on-retirement/2010/07/20/7-secrets-to-a-happy-retirement), we should not be addicted to achievement. “The more you are defined by your job, the harder it will be to adjust to life without.”

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This is my favorite reflection implying our failure to let go of “our glory days,” used with permission from the very gifted poet Nancy Ellen Crossland (see her other writings at http://www.voicesnet.com/allpoemsoneauthor.aspx?memberid=1022350010):

Reflections on an Autumn Day

Where once they hung in glorious array
Golden tinged, copper swirled
Russet swatches
Now trodden and dampened;
What a sad display!

Where once waving and twirling
In crisp autumn days
Clinging to the ground
Plastered on soles of shoes
Forever appear to be bound,

Ah, but a few stalwart leaves hang
Grasping on for life
Another gust, a downpour or two
They also shall join those
trampled leaves askew,

So bid farewell, oh hearty ones
Another season shall again pass
You shall have your days in the sun,

Your brilliance shall never slip away
For always shall be remembered
Your autumn glory days. 

—Nancy Ellen Crossland    11/04/2010

 

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In addition, I noticed feeling these “retirement blues” when I attended the viewing of the late PA music educator Andrew Ruzzini. To be honest, at every funeral, the concept of facing our own mortality becomes more and more difficult. But, even worse, very few people attended Andy’s service, most of his students were unaware of his passing, and my heart ached witnessing the dismal response to the death of one of the most influential band directors in the early years of my former school district! We will all be forgotten?

The Legacy of Heroes and Mentors

The movie Mr. Holland’s Opus lays out a beautiful theme for music teacher retirees: that last scene and the speech of his former student, a clarinet player who struggled to get a good sound, now the governor of the state, was so moving.

Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life and on a lot of lives I know. But I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.  —Adult Gertrude Lang, character in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus
My own idol (ensemble director and violin/viola instructor), the “father of strings in the East Hills of Western Pennsylvania,” Eugene Reichenfeld lived to a ripe old age of 103 years. In spite of a few health issues, he was still teaching privately up to two weeks before he passed on. He was a tireless, very physical, extremely active, fullprospective-music-student-1440071y engaged man. One example, he transformed his backyard by moving a truckload of large rocks around his garden when he was 80 years old. I attended his 100th birthday party where he played an hour-plus recital with three generations of the Reichenfelds. He always told prospective teachers, “Surround yourself with young people and you’ll never grow old.” The comment I wrote in memory of Eugene Reichenfeld in the online guest book (legacy.com) came from the heart: “With our mentor’s passing, orchestra music and education in our area will never be the same. However, thankfully, Maestro Reichenfeld’s legacy is that he ‘passed on the baton’ and inspired so many future teachers to follow in his footsteps… sharing his love of and skill in strings for eternity! The music lives on!”

Three More Reflections for the Road…

I am grateful for finding the final column of Maryellen Weimer, Penn State Professor and Editor of the The Teaching Professor, sharing her thoughts on the things she will and won’t miss after 33 years of teaching: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-careers/retirement-reflections-things-i-will-and-wont-miss/.

If you have the time (and the intellect – he is very deep), you should also read the “retirement notes” of Gary T. Marx: Hither and Thither No More: Reflections on a Retired, But Not Shy, Professor at http://web.mit.edu/gtmarx/www/hitherthither.html#note2.

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And, thank you, Corita Kent, for summing up the prescription to a happy, healthy, rewarding, and meaningful life… before, during, and after employment!

If you look too far ahead, living only for dreams, or too far back, living only to repeat the past, you will miss the fullness of the present. This is a lesson for both your professional life and your personal life. It is important to have balance in one’s life, so find the time to do the things that you enjoy — athletic or physical activities, the beautiful outdoors, visiting with friends, reading books, volunteering in your community. May you find the satisfaction of living a well-balanced and healthy life. —Corita Kent
PKF
© 2016 Paul K. Fox

More on Retirement…

For additional articles on retirement at this site, please click on “retirement resources” to the right, or one of the following links to other blog-posts:

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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PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox