The summertime academic break is essential for the health and wellness of every music educator. Hopefully you are enjoying a little TIME OFF and an emotional and intellectual break and release from thinking about your professional responsibilities and anything about school!
Europeans swear that it takes no fewer than three weeks of what we would call an extended vacation. They say we need that much time to totally unwind, de-stress, rest, and, if necessary, lick our wounds and even “heal ourselves!” Summer should allow us to focus on family, friends, and leisure activities FIRST – to re-adjust our “work/life balance.” After an appropriate interval, then we can get ready to re-charge and re-energize, to recommit emphasis on new music program goals and professional development.
If you are fortunate enough to live in Pennsylvania and be a member of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA), I have a wonderful “crosswalk” solution to accomplishing this REBOOT – a combined “refresh and re-invest” makeover – to first get out of dodge for a change in scenery and then take care of your own social-emotional learning to come back to school raring to go! It’s simple! Sign-up to participate in the 2022 PMEA Summer Conference to be held in-person at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Reading, PA on July 18-19, 2022.
Once again, PMEA is “crushing COVID” and returning to some level of normalcy to offer a face-to-face summer conference of many “awesome” professional development venues – everything from hands-on music reading, member “sharing” sessions, clinics on advocacy, band, choral, classroom music, community ensembles, conducting, curriculum writing, gender identity, health/wellness, mentor training, Modern Band, music technology, recruitment, strings, and so much more!
Check out this summary of wonderful workshops:
Approximately Nine (9) hours of Act 48 credit will be available.
This year’s event will include keynote speakers Suzanne Hall and Rollo Dilworth from Temple University as well as NAfME President and PA’s very-own super-star Scott Sheehan.
Feeling a little charitable, altruistic, or eleemosynary? (Great word – look it up!) On Tuesday, July 19, there will be a “Give-Back to the Community” event: PMEA’s Second Annual Day of Service at Goggle Works.
Now, what about that EXTRA FUN part? Well, you can turn your conference into a family vacation by just arriving a little early and/or leaving a little later.
First, how about attending a Minor League baseball game? PMEA acquired tickets to the Reading Fightin’ Phils vs. New Hampshire Fisher Cats contest on Sunday, July 17 at 5:15 p.m. at the FirstEnergy Stadium.
Berks County, a combination of rich farm country, industry, beautiful parks, lots of entertainment, and top-notch educational institutions, is home to one of Pennsylvania’s largest cities, Reading, as well as many small communities that offer a lot of history and natural beauty. For PMEA members going to the Summer Conference, it is the perfect opportunity to enjoy a wide variety of family-friendly attractions, recreation pursuits, touring of the landscape scenery, and other day trips. If you were to visit the area before and/or after the conference, here are at least 18 places-to-go before returning home:
Summertime Reading Suggestions for Music Directors
What do authors C.S. Forester, Simon Sinek, Jocko Willink, and Leif Babin have in common?
They offer a fresh perspective on leadership principles, reflections perfectly applicable for the skill-set development of music teachers who desire to better “lead” their music programs, students, and parent boosters.
It was no accident that I chose these books to help explore the truths of inspiring confidence and leading groups of people like we do daily in our classrooms, rehearsal halls, and on the stages or marching band fields. Their use of military (as well as company or government management) anecdotes defines and re-enacts the very essence of leaders, leadership concepts, goals, and public service.
“These [military group] organizations have strong cultures and shared values, understand the importance of teamwork, create trust among their members, maintain focus, and, most important, understand the importance of people and relationships to their mission success.”
Why do we admire music teacher “heroes” and most sought-after conference keynoters in our profession such as “Dr. Tim” Lautzenheiser, Peter Boonshaft, Scott Edgar*, and Bob Morrison* (*the latter two to be featured in the PMEA Summer Virtual Conference on July 20-24, 2020). They inspire us. They recharge us and pick up our spirits. They serve as models of visionaries and coaches. They challenge the status quo and help us to grow!
I believe these books will do the same, assist in your career development to morph into an even better leader and teacher. Since many of us are “stuck at home” during the pandemic for awhile, here is a new “reading list” for personal self-improvement.
Who is Horatio Hornblower?
To start with, how about a series of historical fiction from the Napoleonic-Wars era?
Hornblower is a courteous, intelligent, and skilled seaman, and perhaps one of my favorite examples of an adaptable “leader.” Although burdened by his (almost shy) reserve, introspection, and self-doubt (he is described as “unhappy and lonely”), the Forester collection illustrates numerous stories of his personal feats of extraordinary cunning, on-the-spot problem solving, and bravery. The first book spotlights an unpromising seasick midshipman who grows into a highly acclaimed, productive, and ethical officer of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, gaining promotion steadily as a result of his skill and daring, despite his initial poverty and lack of influential friends. And yet, the common thread throughout is that he belittles his achievements by numerous rationalizations, remembering only his fears.
“Hornblower’s leadership is thoroughly self-conscious: what makes him a great leader, morally, is that he assumes as a matter course that he must lead rather than he can lead; Hornblower’s pervasive sense of responsibility would be diminished if it all came to him naturally and that he acts therefore as each situation demands. He can be self-effacing or fierce, or obsequious, all depending on what is necessary to get the job done. As it happens, Hornblower‘s many other gifts, including a formidable diligence, always beyond the call of duty, and a supple intelligence, make him a man others trust and lean on; but for the reader, especially young reader, it’s his moral qualities that are most engaging, it is instructive.”
This set is a wonderful “chestnut” to acquire, sit back in your leather recliner, and devour over the coming months. Even though it may take you some significant time to finish Forester’s eleven novels (one unfinished) and five short stories, I promise you, it will all be worth it!
[If you like the Hornblower assortment, also checkout the works by Alexander Kent and Dudley Pope, all drawing parallels to the exploits of real naval officers of the time: Sir George Cockburn, Lord Cochran, Sir Edward Pellew, Jeremiah Coghlan, Sir James Gordon, and Sir William Hoste.]
Now, how can you personally glean new leadership habits from this treasure chest? Coincidental to doing some research for this blog, I bumped into the article on LinkedIn “Leadership Lessons Learned from Horatio Hornblower.” My sincere thanks and “attaboy” go to Amro Masaad, Education and STEM Leader at Middlesex County Academies, who gave me permission to share his documentation and insightful interpretation of the following leadership tips learned from Hornblower that we can all employ as “best practices” in the education profession:
Don’t be afraid to stand up to a bully.
Don’t insist that all of your successes be praised.
Don’t let employees sabotage your mission.
If you want excellence, you can’t look the other way.
Prove yourself when the situation demands it.
Take one for the team.
Show sacrifice and honor, even with your enemies.
I have always been inspired by the adventures of Hornblower, mostly because of his displays of humanity at a time in history when things were inhumane and primitive. Hornblower consistently modeled his intentions for the care and success of his subordinates while other officers “stepped on them” to get advancement, his unimpeachable moral code that guided his every action, and “taking it on the chin” when necessary for his shipmates and the good of “god and country.”
Leaders Eat Last
I was struck by this quote by Simon Sinek, the author of Start with Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Action, who posted a popular TedTalk lecture of the same name:
“There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold the position of power or authority, but those who lead, inspire us. Whether they are individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And, it’s those who start with ‘the why’ that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others to inspire them.”
His latest book, Leaders Eat Last, brings up the rationale of mutual collaboration and prioritizing the mission and the needs of your team members. Sinek observed that some teams were able to trust each other 100%, so much so that they would be willing to put their lives on the line for each other, while other groups, no matter what enticements or special incentives were offered, were “doomed to infighting, fragmentation and failure.” Why was this true?
“The answer became clear during our conversation with the Marine Corps general. ‘Officers eat last,’ he said. Sinek watched as the most junior Marines ate first while the most senior Marines took their place at the back of the line. What’s symbolic in the chow hall is deadly serious on the battlefield: great leaders sacrifice their own comfort – even their own survival – for the good of those in their care.”
Throughout his book of vivid narratives from armed conflicts to business “revolutions” of take-overs or new CEO transformations, Sinek dives into the precepts of what constitutes “great” leadership:
The value of empathy should not be underestimated.
Trust and loyalty exist on a two-way street – to earn them, leaders must first extent them to their team members.
The role of leadership is to look out for (and take care of) those inside their “circle of safety.”
For the success of the team, goals must be tangible, visible, collaborative, and written down.
Leaders know: There is power in “paying it forward.” It feels good to help people, or when someone does something nice to us, or even when we witness someone else doing something good.
It’s also a big deal when leaders express that final personal touch and shake hands.
Leadership is all about service… to the “real, living, normal human beings with whom we work every day.”
I have never found a better source for defining the four “chemical incentives” in our bodies (also known as hormones) and numerous actual examples of their daily use (and misuse): endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.
Also intriguing is an expanded Chapter 24 and Appendix section in the book called “A Practical Guide to Leading Millennials.” Similar to another suggestion for summer perusal, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borba, Ed.D (Simon & Schuster, 2017) which focuses more on our current young “charges,” Sinek’s differentiation is provided to inspire and educate the ultimate multitaskers of the “distracted generation.”
“This is what it means to be a leader. It means they choose to go first into danger, headfirst toward the unknown. And when we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march behind them and work tirelessly to see their visions come to life and proudly call ourselves their followers.”
“The biology is clear: When it matters most, leaders who are willing to eat last are rewarded with deeply loyal colleagues who will stop at nothing to advance their leaders vision and their organization’s interests. It’s amazing how well it works.”
This next leadership philosophy, the core premise of the book Extreme Ownership – How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, will not surprise anyone who has ever taken on the inherently risky task of programming a student concert, marching field show, dance recital, or musical/play: the music director assumes full responsibility for the failures and faux pas that may occur during the performance, but instrumentalists, singers, actors, and/or dancers should get all the credit for a successful production.
“Combat, the most intense and dynamic environment imaginable, teaches the toughest leadership lessons with absolutely everything at stake. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin learned this reality firsthand on the most violent and dangerous battlefields in Iraqi. As leaders of SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser, their mission was one many thought impossible: help US forces secure Ramada, a violent, insurgent-held city deemed “all but lost.“ In gripping, firsthand accounts of heroism, tragic loss, and hard-won victories, they learned that leadership – at every level – is the most important factor in whether a team succeeds or fails.”
This is a comprehensive textbook on Leadership 101. Admittedly, the rehash of their battle scenes are scary. This is a world so far apart from anything I have ever experienced. We do owe all our veterans a massive depth of gratitude to face such dangers to defend our freedoms and way of life. (As an inexperienced teacher, the worst fear I ever had to face was a homeroom of 99 excitable and talkative Freshman girls in my first year as the high school choral director.)
When possible, I try to share the Contents (chapter titles) of my book recommendations, giving you a broad glimpse of the outline of their publication:
No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
Check the Ego
Cover and Move
Prioritize and Execute
Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
Decisiveness Amid Uncertainty
Discipline Equals Freedom – the Dichotomy of Leadership
From these sections, we can explore these fundamental building-blocks and mindsets necessary to lead and win.
Part I: Winning the War Within (Chapters 1-4)
Leaders must own everything in the world. There is no one else to blame.
A leader must be a true believer in the mission.
Even more important then “the how” and “the what” is “the why” of any plan. Not knowing the rationale of a decision or goal is a recipe for failure. It is a leader’s job to understand the mission and communicate it to his/her team members.*
During situations lacking clarity, leaders ask questions.
Leaders temper overconfidence by instilling culture within the team to never be satisfied and to push themselves harder to continuously improve performance.
Leaders know that over-inflated egos cloud judgment and disrupt everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to except constructive criticism.
* Who said “great minds think alike?” (Answer: Carl Theodor von Unlanski.) The concept of “the why” is also described in great detail in the aforementioned TedTalk by Simon Sinek.
Part II: Laws of Combat (Chapters 5-8)
Elements within the “greater team” are crucial and must work together to accomplish the mission, mutually supporting one another for that singular purpose.
In life, there are inherent complexities. It is critical to keep plans and communication simple. Complex goals and plans add to confusion which can compound into disaster.
Competent leaders can utilize their own version of the SEAL’s prioritize and execute. It is simple as, “relax, look around, and make a call.” Prioritize your problems and take care of them one at a time, the highest priority first. Don’t try to do everything at once or you won’t be successful.
Leaders delegate responsibility, trust and empower junior leaders to make decisions on their own as they become proactive to achieve the overall goal or task.
Part III: Sustaining Victory (Chapters 9-12)
Effective planning begins with an analysis of the mission’s purpose, definition of the goals, and communication of clear directives for the team.
Effective leaders keep the planning focused, simple, and understandable to all of the team members and stakeholders.
Leadership doesn’t just go down the chain of command, but up as well. Communication to your supervisors is also key.
Leaders must be decisive, comfortable under pressure, and act on logic, not emotion.
In challenging situations, there is no 100% right solution, and the picture is never complete.
Leaders have self-control and “intrinsic self-discipline,” a matter of personal will. They “make time” by getting up early.
Self-discipline makes you more flexible, adaptable, and efficient, and allows leaders and team members alike to be creative.
A leader must lead, but also be ready to follow.
A Leadership Recap for Music Teachers
I am probably not doing justice to these incredible resources. They offer an exhaustive body of knowledge and examples on leadership ideology as well as a dazzling array of practical advice on what habits/skills are essential to become an effective leader. You need to sit back and devour these books one-by-one, apply their relevance to your situation, and come to your own conclusions about prioritizing the needs for your own personal leadership development.
To sum up a few of the theories from all this literature, we could revisit page 277 in Extreme Ownership and quote “The Dichotomy of Leadership” by Jocko Willnick.
“A good leader must be:
confident but not cocky;
courageous but not foolhardy;
competitive but a gracious loser;
attentive to details but not obsessed by them;
strong but have endurance;
a leader and follower;
humble not passive;
aggressive not overbearing;
quiet not silent;
calm but not robotic;
logical but not devoid of emotions;
close with the troops but not so close that one becomes more important than another or more important than the good of the team; not so close that they forget who is in charge;
able to execute Extreme Ownership while exercising Decentralized Command.”
“A good leader has nothing to prove but everything to prove!”
Many years ago, my wife and I were fortunate to participate in almost all of those early PMEA Summer Conferences that were basically leadership training workshops. Initiated and inspired by our first guest clinician Michael Kumer (who was then “modeling leadership” first-hand as Dean of Music for Duquesne University), we were exposed to a rich curriculum of “the greats” on leadership, team building, time management, and professional development. If you have not consumed them yourself, a few of these resources from the first couple years should be added to your reading list:
One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
First Things First and other sections from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People series by Stephen Covey
A Kick in the Seat of the Pants: Using Your Explorer, Artist, Judge, and Warrior to Be More Creative and A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative by Roger Von Oech
As a part of fulfilling “total ensemble experience” and to make the learning meaningful, I have always “taught” leadership to my students. The settings may have varied, whether it was as a part of the longstanding tradition of training marching band leaders, student conductors or principals’ who ran sectionals, our spring musical “leadership team” of directors, producers, and crew heads, elected high school choir officers, participants (grades 6-12) in a six-day string camp seminar, or even booster parents in a “chaperone orientation.” Many of my own often-repeated leadership quotes were passed down:
“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” – Vince Lombardi
“You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” – Ken Kesey
“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” – Abraham Lincoln
“The very essence of leadership is you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” – Rev. Theodore Hesburgh
“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” – Stephen R. Covey
Finally, to close this seemingly-endless essay, I would share one of my regular but more unique lessons: “leaders flush.” We advise our plebe leaders-in-training that when anyone on the team sees an opportunity to take care of something that’s not right, or someone who needs help, or a problem that can be resolved on their own, they should take it upon themselves to do what is necessary for the greater good. We cite the example that, if you visit a restroom and discover someone before you did not flush the toilet, you do what’s right. Leaders flush.
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?
Let’s start with a review of the broad definition from Merriam-Webster:
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.
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.
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:
What do you want your life to stand for?
How do you want to be remembered by your family and friends?
What will those beyond your circle of family friends remember you for?
What kind of impact do you want to have on your community?
How will the world be a better place because you were in it?
What contributions do you want to make to your field?
Whose lives will you have touched?
What lessons would you like to pass on to future generations?
What do you want to leave behind?
How can you serve?
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.”
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!
13 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.”
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.
Support the people and causes that are important to you.
Reflect and decide what is most important to you in your life.
Share your blessings with others.
Be a mentor to others.
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.
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:
Directing 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”
Equal-access to high quality and meaningful music education programs is an essential part to the intellectual, emotional, and artistic development of all children.
The primary goal of an education in the arts is to nurture creative self-expression.
Regardless of talent or privilege, every individual on earth can find inspiration and success in some form of music or the arts.
Our life purpose involves relationships. It is more about people than about things.
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.
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.
Reprinted from “A View from the Podium” (Upper St. Clair High School, 2015) for current South Hills Junior Orchestra members and other students seeking recommendation letters from their music teachers.
If you are requesting a letter of recommendation from any teaching staff member, administrator, minister, coach, or activity sponsor for college entrance, scholarships, awards, or job placement, please follow the instructions of your school counselor AND review/complete the steps below.
Do you have an updated “me-file” on your computer’s desktop? Maintain a bulleted list of accomplishments with dates. Scan archives of awards, programs, commendations, special honors, and significant assessments. This will become the basis for the creation of résumés or portfolios, and background for your college or employment essays.
In person, ask the teacher from whom you want the letter if he/she is willing to do this. This should be an adult in whom you have a great deal of trust and with whom you have had frequent contact. If you have any doubt or misgivings like “Does this professional like me?” or “Will he/she give me a fair rating?” – then you should ask someone else. If you are a current member of SHJO, anyone asking Mr. Fox should have no fear. He will tell you immediately if there is any problem in writing a positive letter.
In my opinion, if you choose the right person to do your letter, you can sign-off your rights to see it before submission to the institution. A student checking “yes” to waiving his/her access to/examination of the reference may look better to the evaluator. Although not required, some may send you a copy of it for your files. That is my standard practice.
Know your deadlines. BY WHEN do you need the reference letters or common app teacher recommendations?
As a courtesy to the writer (and modeling good preparation on your part), give at least two to three weeks’ notice (more is better). Remember: “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on the teacher’s part.” It would also be polite to “gently remind” the staff member about the final deadline of the recommendation (at least one weekend’s notice). For SHJO, one Saturday ahead of the final deadline would be ideal.
Unless it is an online application or digital reference, the individual requesting the recommendation should provide in advance a pre-stamped self-addressed envelope to be signed, sealed, and mailed directly to any school or organization.
To facilitate “anecdotal references” and confirm accurate data/details, email a mini-résumé of your achievements, particularly those things that can be mentioned in the letter. Try to complete as many of these as possible:
When did you first begin your musical (or other academic specialty) study? When did you join SHJO or other music group?
What classes, ensembles, and/or productions have you participated at school?
What music or academic leadership positions have you served (give specific dates)?
What are your outside activities?
What have you done as community service?
How are you unique? Describe yourself in three to five words.
What qualities or strengths have you exhibited that the staff member, from working with you, could corroborate in the letter?
Can you remember any funny or significant class or rehearsal anecdote that demonstrated growth in your musical technique, expressiveness, student leadership, “team” or ensemble building, or the 21st Century learning skills of creativity, communications, critical thinking, collaboration, and global understanding?
What is your planned major or minor in college, and how did your association with the staff member (his/her classes or activities) help you gain the experience, insight, or confidence to go into this field?
Good luck! PKF Revised 3/18/19
The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.
The Metamorphosis and Integration of Philosophy, Maturity, and Teacher Preparation
To “wrap-up” our final segment, we will review the development of a professional “marketing plan.” This is blog #3 out of 3. (Be sure to also check out #1 and #2, too.)
These are three critical skills you need to foster in the search for a school music position, marketing yourself, interviewing, and landing a “good” job:
Personal branding (who are you, what makes you unique, and what do you have to offer?)
Story telling (anecdotes) of your positive attributes and personal brand, including a record of your habits of “engagement” in music education, and
Networking (associating with other professionals and getting your positive stories “out there”).
“Personal branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands. While previous self-help management techniques were about self-improvement, the personal-branding concept suggests instead that success comes from self-packaging… Personal branding is essentially the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the mind of others about an individual, group, or organization.”
During these waning months for college music education seniors, now is the time to finalize the preparations for personal branding and beginning the employment search! Personal branding is critical to help you “stand above the rest,” showing that you have what it takes and would be a major asset to a prospective employer, and defining and marketing your own unique qualities that would make you “a good fit” for the specific job openings.
The branding process involves first developing your philosophy of music education, archiving your awards and accomplishments, documenting your grades and experiences, and collecting stories/personal anecdotes of your strengths. The next steps include the creation of a written and electronic portfolio, business card, resume, and website. Finally, you must compile/assemble everything together and practice (and self-assess) your “story-telling skills” to answer those important questions at well-rehearsed “mock interviews.”
You will likely not have enough time to complete all of these tasks during methods classes or student teaching seminars. That’s okay. If you are serious about prepping yourself to find a great music teaching job, the valuable links (see below) and articles are out there… just manage your time and start reading.
“Networking simply refers to finding job-related contacts. Most teachers who are just beginning their careers may feel that they have few, if any, networking contacts in the teaching field. It is important to consider the many different areas of networking as you create your own group of networking contacts to help you secure a teaching job. It is interesting to note that many of the teaching positions that are filled each year are filled by those who came to the attention of personnel managers by recommendation.”
“Always think about adding to your teaching network. When meeting new people, be certain to add them to your network. Talk to them about your skills, education, experience, and learn about their jobs. Make sure that you always ask for a business card.”
Do you have a business card? Is your résumé updated and available online on your professional website?
As I laid out in a previous blog “Networking Niceties: The ‘How-To Schmooze’ Guide for Prospective Music Teachers” at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/networking-niceties/, the concept of networking is two-way communications. Just like collective sets of nerve synapses, two-way connections are expected to fire repeatedly in all directions. That’s actually the science behind memory. For professional networking, it is your “charge” to create multiple pathways to/from school HR managers and secretaries, administrators, music supervisors and department heads, and music teachers… and YOU – your skills, accomplishments, unique qualities, experience, education, and personality traits.
The above blog-post also explores setting up a good organizational system to manage your professional contacts.
If you are a Pennsylvania collegiate member (PCMEA), I heartily recommend the article “Networking 101” by Dr. Kathleen Melago, PCMEA State Advisor and Associate Professor of Music Education at Slippery Rock University, published in the Summer 2017 issue of the state journal PMEA News (pages 40-42). Here are several quotes from her work:
“One of the most common ways music educators can plan to network is at conventions. First, try to avoid interacting only with people from your school or people you already know from other schools. Go to sessions that interest you and look for opportunities to meet people there. Before the session starts, introduce yourself to people sitting around you. Use your social skills to assess whether they seem like they want to engage in a conversation or not. After the session, go up and meet the presenter.”
“Of course, social media is another great way to build your network. Networking with professionals already in the field can help you see what they are doing and help you build ideas of what you would like to do in your program someday.”
“Sometimes, you might find yourself networking unexpectedly. For example, you might go into school to work with their clarinet section during band camp and just happened to meet the choir teacher. That is networking!”
“To help your networking be most effective you need to have good communication skills. When interacting with others in a networking situation, be sure to focus on the person with whom you are speaking. Avoid looking off into the distance as if you were to anticipating someone else more important coming by. But your cell phone away and be present to the conversation.”
“Be yourself in your networking interactions. If you pretend that you are someone you are not, you will either end up unhappy or you’ll be discovered is someone who is not genuine.”
Dr. Melago goes on to provide a myriad of excellent examples of networking skills and opportunities.
Teachers model effective learning. They identify their own learning needs and analyze, evaluate and expand their professional learning, both collegially and individually.
Teachers demonstrate respect and professionalism in all their interactions with students, colleagues, parents/carers and the community. They are sensitive to the needs of parents/carers and can communicate effectively with them about their children’s learning.
Teachers value opportunities to engage with their school communities within and beyond the classroom to enrich the educational context for students. They understand the links between school, home and community in the social and intellectual development of their students.
Engagement for prospective music teacher may include synonyms like “participate,” “enroll,” “join,” “be active,” “volunteer,” “seek experience,” and “make a difference!”
Are you a member of your professional music education associations?
NAfME National Association for Music Education
PCMEA Pennsylvania Collegiate Music Educators Association, or another state’s local NAfME collegiate chapter
PMEA Pennsylvania Music Educators Association, or another state’s NAfME-affiliated MEA
ACDA American Choral Directors Association
ASTA American String Teachers Association
NBA National Band Association
Did (or will) you attend your state music teachers’ conference and local workshops on music education and professional development?
To prove you are “professionally engaged,” I would expect to see a consistent record of modeling in the following areas:
Self-reflection of the professional’s teaching practices and modification of these as needed to match changes in the environment and circumstances
Self-assessment of the professional’s methods and approaches, as well as the progress of the students’ learning, using both formative and summative methods for constant and ongoing improvement
Identification and planning of professional learning needs.
Unsupervised (or unplanned by school administration) goal-setting and self-guided implementation of opportunities for professional development
Association with professional learning communities, school and community meetings, and other collaborative projects
Volunteer service in music and music education
Membership and subscription to music education journals and participation in online professional community discussion groups
Many have said that aspiring to be a music educator is a lot like a calling. One school superintendent I know said he expected prospective new recruits to show high energy, enthusiasm, sense of purpose, and dedication during the interview… even a supposed willingness to “lay down in front of a school bus” or “do what ever it takes” to make the students (and the educational program) successful. That’s engagement!
In summary, becoming a music educator is about finding your inner confidence, a mindset that you know what you’re doing, and that you’re ready for that real world experience. You’ve learned those essential skills in conducting, piano accompaniment, arranging, student behavior modification and discipline, music diagnosis and remediation, and even how to market your professionalism. Now… drum roll, please! Here’s… a master music teacher!
Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “tutor” by nrjfalcon1, “trumpet” by congerdesign, “skills” by diwou, “phone” by Robin-Higgins, “OK” by Robin-Higgins, “feedback” by geralt, “young” by Robin-Higgins, “music” by ricardo-vasquez, “excited” by Robin-Higgins, and “classical-music” by pexels.