Summer Reading

Teachers, you’re in the home stretch now! You are within weeks of a long vacation break and the chance to rest, refresh, recharge, rewind, and rejuvenate. After what COVID-19 dished out to us, you deserve some time off! Here comes much-anticipated trips, family visits, sleeping in, and going dormant for at least 2-3 weeks!

However, most music educators never totally shut down. We seek out new enrichment opportunities by attending conferences or music reading workshops, researching new methods, and “retooling” for our lessons ahead.

Modeling the annual Peanuts comic strip’s January theme of Lucy Van Pelt assigning Charlie Brown a long and unwanted list of New Year’s Resolutions, yours truly (a retired teacher with a lot less stress) is about to do the same and recommend YOU kick off your shoes, climb into a comfortable lounge chair, tune out all extraneous noise and media distractions, and crack open some “serious summer reading…”

Here are my three favorite books for the season to take with you when you go to the beach or sit by the pool!

In keeping with an alliteration of all those “r’s” to promote healing and health during this “recess,” take time to prepare for 2021-2022 and reflect on and restock your reservoir of resilience, robustness, and resourcefulness!

Teachers Pay Teachers SEL blog

S is for “SEL”

Yes, the values and life skills of emotional/mental/social “balance” begin at home. But the expectation is that schools and teachers are always relied upon to be the “safety net” – pick up the pieces or fulfill the needs not provided at home. And it should not have taken a pandemic for us to discover how important social emotional learning (SEL) is to the health, wellness, and success of every child (and their family members) we serve in our classrooms, ensembles, lessons, and after-school programs.

“Music educators are in a prime position to help students become socially and emotionally competent while at the same time develop excellent musicianship. For every child to be successful in the music classroom, teachers need to be aware of the whole student. How do music educators create success when students every day struggle with social awareness, bullying, communication, problem solving, and other challenges? This pioneering book by Scott Edgar addresses how music educators can utilize Social Emotional Learning (SEL) to maximize learning in the choral, instrumental, and general music classroom at all levels, and at the same time support a student’s social and emotional growth.”

— back cover of Music Education and Social Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music

“Finally! Thank you, Scott Edgar, for your willingness to walk boldly into this often trodden, but rarely addressed aspect of music education you have rightfully labeled social emotional learning. For every music educator, from preschool through a PhD program, we know the opportunity to “develop the whole person” is right in front of us each and every day. Where else in the academic community is there such a perfect forum that cultivates both the cognitive and effective growth of those involved? Ultimately, the rehearsal room/music classroom becomes a society within society, and the skills needed to grow and succeed at the highest levels are simultaneously offered in content and context. And yet, there are very few resources to guide the mentor in a positive, productive fashion. Now there is and this book is a powerful blueprint leading us to a worthy outcome and more.”

— Foreword by Tim Lautzenheiser for Music Education and Social Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music

Probably the most authoritative textbook on SEL for music teachers, it may be hard to believe that Scott Edgar wrote it in 2017, long before the crush of COVID-19. SEL is now coming to forefront due to the “pandemic-related” problems of students feeling disconnected, stressed, over- or underwhelmed, and unmotivated during their physical isolation from in-person schooling and remote learning (See Edutopia at https://www.edutopia.org/article/3-ways-support-students-emotional-well-being-during-pandemic and Education Week https://www.edweek.org/leadership/the-pandemic-will-affect-students-mental-health-for-years-to-come-how-schools-can-help/2021/03).

SEL sources

You have a wide variety of choices to explore this topic, and all of these are from Scott Edgar!

The NAfME Professional Learning Community: Music Education and SEL – An Advocacy Tool for Music Educators accessible as a video: https://vimeo.com/426070325

Music for All webinar series:

  • Episode 1Teaching Music Through Social Emotional LearningComposing with Heart hosted by Scott N. Edgar with guest presenters Brian Balmages, Brandon Boyd, Richard Saucedo, Alex Shapiro (composers) and Bob Morrison https://youtu.be/6HIbK23TmaE
  • Episode 10Teaching Music Through Social Emotional Learning Narwhals and Waterfalls hosted by Scott N. Edgar with guest presenters Paige Bell and Adrien Palmer: https://youtu.be/BlbxX1DP-5c

The NAfME Music in a Minuet blog: https://nafme.org/music-education-social-emotional-learning/

Music Education and Social Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music in book form is available from Amazon and https://giamusic.com/store/resource/music-education-and-social-emotional-learning-book-g9418?artist=tpVEu30fe0uy.

Check out his all-encompassing Table of Contents:

Section One – Teaching Music Beyond the Notes

  • Chapter 1: What is Social Emotional Learning
  • Chapter 2: Socialization in the Music Classroom by Jacqueline Kelly-McHale
  • Chapter 3: Bullying in the Music Classroom by Jared Rawlings
  • Chapter 4: Music Educators Are Not Counselors

Section Two – Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Music Education

  • Chapter 5: Self-Awareness and Self-Management in Music Education – Self-Discipline and the Music WIthin
  • Chapter 6: Social-Awareness and Relationship Skills in Music Education – Sharing and Communicating Through Music
  • Chapter 7: Responsible Decision-Making in Music Education – Problem Solving Through Music

Conclusion: The Heart of Music Education – Our Common Bond

SEL – the new “buzz word?” What is Social and Emotional Learning?

“Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” — Collaborative for Academic, Social, & Emotional Learning

Social emotional learning describes the development of skills in three domains: self, others, and responsible decision making.

“Self” includes:

  • Self-awareness skills such as ability to identify and recognize emotions
  • Self management skills such as perseverance in the ability to manage impulse control

“Others” includes:

  • Relationship skills such as cooperation, empathy, and respectful communication
  • Social awareness skills such as the ability to recognize diverse thoughts and opinions.

“Responsible decision-making” includes:

  • Behavioral skills such as situation analysis, anticipating consequences and generating alternative solutions.
  • Cooperative skills such as balancing personal in group expectations.

The three key pillars of SEL:

  1. identity
  2. belonging
  3. agency

Probably the best conclusion I have ever read about the value of SEL in the arts comes from Scott Edgar in the last section of his book:

“The music classroom is a melting pot of students from different backgrounds, musics of different cultures, varied personalities, and diverse values. All of this diversity is united under the common bond of music… Music classrooms, possibly more profoundly than any other academic setting, can help students and teachers cooperate to recognize diversity, engage in respectful dialogue to resolve conflict, and empathetically respect human dignity, because this is how music has functioned for centuries. Music classrooms are social because making music is, has, and always will be a social activity. In a time when there are so many divisive forces, music and music education can be a powerful uniting weapon. The tenets of SEL interwoven into a musical education strengthens both entities. Emphasizing self- and social-awareness makes music education richer and more personal. Music education brings humanity and culture into a world of personal and interpersonal interactions.”

Sunshine Parenting video by Audrey Monke featuring Dr. Michele Borba

Seven Teachable Skills to Cultivate & Nurture THRIVERS

The latest book by Michele Borba, Ed.D., Thrivers – The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine, is a definite must-read from cover-to-cover.

“Michele Borba has been a teacher, educational consultant, and parent for 40 years – and she’s never been more worried about kids than she is right now. The high-achieving students she talks with every day are more accomplished, better educated, and more privileged than ever before. But the old markers of success (grades, test scores) aren’t what these kids need to thrive in these uncertain times – and they know it. They’re more stressed, unhappier, and struggling with anxiety, depression, and burnout at younger and younger ages – “We’re like pretty packages with nothing inside,” said one teen. Thrivers are different: they flourish in our fast-paced, digital-driven, ever-changing world. Why? Dr. Borba combed scientific studies on resilience, spoke to dozens of researchers/experts in the field, and interviewed more than 100 young people from all walks of life, and she found something surprising: the difference between those who struggle and those who succeed comes down not to grades or test scores, but the seven character traits that set Thrivers apart (and set them up for happiness and greater accomplishment later in life).”


— from the front flap of Thrivers

The first thing you need to do (after you order and read both her original best-seller UnSelfie – Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World and this sequel) is to download her give-away “Core Assets Survey” from https://www.micheleborba.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Thrivers_CoreAssets.pdf. Here is a sample page of her assessment checklist for her seven character strengths.

How to use Borba’s book

Although it is generally marketed as a guide for parents (and grandparents), this is a perfect “program and process” for everyone who serves as youth caregivers and educational professionals. Borba prescribes these steps to use the book with the above evaluation tool:

  1. Assess your child’s character strengths: self-confidence, empathy, integrity, self-control, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism.
  2. Tally up the points, prioritize his needs, and address initially the one or two traits receiving the lowest score.
  3. Read each chapter of “evidence-backed strategies and skills” which can be easily transferred and taught to your child from preschool through high school.
  4. Motivate and help your child to adopt each character strength “as a lifelong habit to optimize his potential in thrive.”
  5. Choose one ability a month, focus on it, and “practice it with your child a few minutes a day until he can use it without reminders.”

For teachers, this is a wonderful “soft curriculum” for nurturing these seven essential personal traits, each broken down into “character strength description,” “abilities to teach,” and “outcomes.” It will become apparent to you that these are directly related to SEL.

Besides the character strengths (#1 above), the reader is introduced to several revised definitions and new acronyms that may help to reshape our perspectives for teaching kids (these are a few samples): C.A.L.M. (chill-assert-look strong-mean it – p. 239), C.A.R.E. (console, assist, reassure, empathize – p. 90), comebacks (p. 240), creativity (p. 178), C.U.R.I.O.U.S (child-driven-unmanaged-risky-intrinsic-open-ended-unusual-solitude, p. 175), digital limits (p. 78), emotions (p. 76), goals (p. 209), gratitude (p. 86), growth mindset (p. 205), micromanaging (p. 171), mindfulness (p. 133), moral identity (p. 148), multitask (p. 110), “the four P’s of peers, passion, projects, and play” (p. 163), parenting styles (dysfunctional) – “enabler,” “impatient,” “coddler,” “competitor,” “rescuer” (p. 127), triggers (p. 121), self-esteem (p. 33), T.A.L.E.N.T. (tenacity-attention-learning-eagerness-need-tone – p. 39), and well-rounded (p. 36).

Activities throughout the book are categorized for age-suitability: Y = young children, toddlers, and preschoolers; s = school-age; t = tweens and older; a = all ages.

In the final pages of the book, Borba poses some excellent group discussion questions to facilitate a thorough review of her work. A few of these especially resonated with me:

  • Do you think raising children who can thrive today is easier, no different, or more difficult than when your parents raised you? Why?
  • What influences children’s character and thriving development most: peers, media, education, parents, pop culture, or something else?
  • Which of the seven character strengths are more difficult to teach to children today? Why?
  • What kind of person do you want your child (or your student) to become? How will you help your child become that person?
  • What are some of the sayings, proverbs, or experiences you recall from your childhood that helped you define your values?
  • [As a teacher] what would you like your greatest legacy to be for your [students]? What will you do to ensure that your [children] attain that legacy?

Her specific anecdotes, object lessons, and research for each character strength are priceless!

Lesley Moffat at Carnegie Hall

LOVE the Job, LOSE the Stress

In my “New Year’s blog” posted on December 29, 2020, I shared my advice on “how to make a difference in 2021” and told readers to find their own good role models and “positive gurus” to sustain their vision, motivation, and drive throughout the year.

Someone who has recently become inspirational to me is the wonderfully uplifting Lesley Moffat, probably an expert on the search for “mindfulness” in personal life and even during her band warm ups. In my opinion, her transformative stories provide the roadmap for happiness and wellbeing! She now has published two books (you need to read both) – I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me, and Love the Job, Lose the Stress, and if you are still teaching music full-time, you need to peruse her website: https://mpowerededucator.com/.

Now her latest book ties in all of the above enrichment and enlightenment – “successful social and emotional learning in the modern music classroom” – and adds an essential focus on teacher self-care and wellness. What was that saying attributed to Molesey Crawford in Unlocking the Queen Code?

  • Know thyself.
  • Love thyself.
  • Heal thyself.
  • Be thyself.

Lesley Moffat has taught high school band for over 32 years in the Pacific Northwest, with her ensembles earning superior ratings and performing all over the US, Canada, and even in Carnegie Hall. She was planning to retire at the end of 2019-2020 when the pandemic hit. (As far as I know at this time, she has not retired yet – “for the sake of her kids” she stayed throughout this challenging time of COVID-19 and the slow reopening of schools!) She clarifies this in the introduction to her Love the Job, Lose the Stress book:

“I completed the first draft of this manuscript on March 3, 2020. Ten days later, schools across the world began shutting down as the coronavirus began sweeping the globe… The ultimate purpose of this book is to share the protocol I created that has become the basis of the social and emotional learning needs for my students (and truth be told, for me). Everything I talk about in this book was true before the pandemic, and it has proven to be as powerful in a virtual environment as it is in person… The great news is that you can give your students the gift of learning to self-regulate, calm down, and focus without distraction through intentional design and practice.”

She offers an intriguing set of easy-to-read chapters in her “hard to put down” 191-page work.

  1. My Life’s Work Is So Much More Than Just A Job
  2. I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me
  3. The Badass Band Director’s Bible
  4. Step One: The Moffat Music Teacher Mojo Meter
  5. Step Two: Identifying the Three C’s – Care, Clarity, and Consistency
  6. Step Three: Identifying Your Priorities
  7. Step Four: SNaP Strategies for Music Teachers
  8. Step Five: Tuning Our Bodies
  9. Step Six: Creating Your Own First Four Minute Protocols
  10. Coda
  11. Fine

Highlights of suggestions from Love the Job, Lose the Stress

Like her last book, the Moffat Music Teacher Mojo Meter returns. If you are ever privileged to have her as a clinician for a local workshop, it is likely she may send out this survey to the participants in advance. These fifteen questions will provide her an individualized needs assessment of the stressors attendees are experiencing so she can differentiate the planning of her “help session” (page 48).

You’ll have a lot more questions to answer in Chapter 5 (page 50). Read and identify (and define for yourself) her three C’s for success: care, clarity, consistency.

In Chapter 6 (page 67), she wants you to identify your priorities. This is your chance to dream big! You’ll have to read her story (with wide swings of emotion) about her Jackson HS Honors Wind Ensemble performing at Carnegie Hall.

Also returning from her previous book, Chapter 7 (page 81) shares her Start Now and Progress – or SNaP to it – strategies for music teachers. Revisit her amazing tale about doing (of all things) push-ups: “By taking small incremental steps that build upon what I did each day before, I was able to take a skill that was very difficult for me on April 1 and do it 60 times just 30 days later.” She sums up three SNaP Strategies “for busy band directors” (page 90).

  1. Gratitude for the attitude
  2. Time stealers
  3. Reset yourself

Don’t miss her Chapter 10 (page 156) and “Lesley’s Top Ten Badass Band Director Tips!”

Finally, probably worth 1000-times the price of the book and all the time you will put into it is her Chapter 8 “Tuning Our Bodies” (page 103) and Chapter 9 “Creating Your Own First Four Minute Protocol” (page 129). This is where you will take what you read, reflect on her philosophies and system of classroom management and warm-ups, and adapt it to your situation. Adding to your teacher’s toolbox the techniques of mindfulness, breathing exercises, and listening skills – and practicing them with your students daily – will make all the difference in the SEL of your own lessons and overall program.

BRAVO and thank you Lesley for being so intuitive, upfront, and personal… and being so generous in sharing your secrets!

We applaud your efforts, and agree with Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser who said in the Foreword to Love the Job, Lose the Stress:

“This latest-greatest contribution offers a tried-and-true blueprint for vocational success while embracing the critical importance of fueling one’s mental, emotional and physical health. Spot on! Bull’s eye!”

“This is not a book you read and then put on the shelf; rather it is a file cabinet of priceless data certain to boister the health, happiness, and good fortune of every (music) teacher.”

“As music teachers, we teach students how to develop all kinds of skills, from mental to physical, in order for them to be well-rounded musicians. We show them how to properly form and embouchure, the correct fingerings to use, how to read music, what proper posture looks like, how to be artistic and expressive, and so much more. And we always tell them to “pay attention and “focus.” But do we ever teach them how to pay attention and focus? The secret to getting students engaged, focused, and curious so you can teach them all the cool stuff about music is teaching them how to actually build those skills until they become habits. Once you’ve taught them how to learn, then everything else becomes a million times easier for you and for them.”

— from the back cover of the Love the Job, Lose the Stress

Now you have it… a collection of at least three potential life-changing inspirations for summer study.

In addition to these “finds,” I need to mention a couple other educational publications for your consideration (see picture below). But, first-things-first as Stephen Covey would say! Check out Music Education and Social Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music by Scott Edgar, Thrivers – The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine by Michele Borba, and Love the Job, Lose the Stress by Lesley Moffat. PKF

Future Book Reviews

© 2021 Paul K. Fox

Image by csharker from Pixabay

Burned Out or Bummed Out?

More on Teacher Self-Care: Diagnosis and Remediation

This is Part VI in a series of articles on educator health and wellness, following “Stressed Out!” and “Teacher Self-Care During the Pandemic.”

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Do you recognize these signs of burnout experienced  by yourself, a coworker, neighbor, or someone you love?

  • Physical: tired, lowered immunity, illnesses, aches and pains, loss of appetite or sleep
  • Emotional: sense of self-doubt, failure, helplessness, loneliness, cynicism, loss of satisfaction/motivation
  • Behavioral: withdrawal, isolation, skipping work, procrastination, frustration, overuse of food, drugs, alcohol

By the time it gets to that third bullet, probably everyone would be aware of the trouble.

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

Burnout Prevention and Recovery by Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Lawrence Robinson

 

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Gregory S. Perkins and Angela M. Guerriero, licensed Music Therapists from the Tempo! Music Therapy Services, provided much more detailed definitions of self-care in a session at the PMEA 2020 Virtual Summer Conference. (PMEA members may continue to register and view a video of this workshop until mid-September 2020.) You should know and be on the lookout for these terms:

The United Nations defines self-care as the actions that individuals take in order to develop, protect, maintain, and improve their own health and well being. Self-care involves a personal investment in maintaining physical, psychological and spiritual health, and pursuing a fulfilling, well-rounded life.

Brownout: “A practitioner essentially gives up or performs in a perfunctory manner when confronted with too much stress and too little gratification.” Guy, J. & Norcross, J. (2007). Leaving it at the office: a guide to psychotherapist self-care. New York, NY: Guilford Publications, Inc.

Burnout: “A syndrome of physical exhaustion including a negative self-concept, negative job attitude, and loss of concern and feelings.” Keidel, G. (2002). Burnout and compassion fatigue among hospice caregivers. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care, 19(3), 200-205

Recognizing the Need: Self-Care for Music Educators by Gregory S. Perkins, MT-BC, and Angela M. Guerriero, PhD, MT-BC

The Mayo Clinic offers numerous symptoms of “burnout.” How many of these have you “felt” too or noticed in someone else’s demeanor or behavior?

  1. Disillusionment over the job
  2. Cynicism at work
  3. Impatience with co-workers, administrators, and students
  4. Lack of satisfaction in accomplishments
  5. Dragging yourself to work and trouble getting started once you’re there
  6. Lack of energy
  7. Unexplained aches/pains
  8. Self-medicating with food, drugs, or alcohol
  9. Changes in sleep/eating patterns

 

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Education Week adds many more danger signs. Are any of these striking close to home?

Exhaustion. This is a fatigue so deep that there’s no way to “turn it off,” no matter how badly you want to. It’s deep in your bones. The kind of tired where you just want to ooze into your bed and disconnect from life.

Extreme graveness. Realizing you go hours without smiling or laughing, or days without a belly laugh.

Anxiety. The constant, nagging feeling that you can and should do more, while simultaneously realizing you need to unplug and spend more time with your family. But there are so many things to do.

Being overwhelmed. Questioning how they can possibly add one more task, expectation, or mandate to your plate. Compromising your values of excellence just so you can check-off 15 more boxes to stay in compliance. All the while knowing it still won’t be enough.

Seeking. Losing your creativity, imagination, patience, and enthusiasm for daily challenges. Craving reflection time and productive collaboration rather than group complaining.

Isolation. Wanting to head for the deepest, darkest cave where no one will see your vulnerability. A place where your limits are unseen and unquestioned and all is quiet.

— Six Signs of and Solutions for Teacher Burnout by Wendi Pillars 

 

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What about the causes of burnout or brownout? Where should we place the blame?

According to Paul Murphy in his book, Exhausted – Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It, the stress of a few problems may stand out as leading culprits at your place of employment:

  1. Lack of autonomy
  2. Dysfunctional work environment
  3. Inadequate social support
  4. Extremes of activity
  5. Poor work/life balance

But, you have no one else but yourself to blame! You must take responsibility for your own health and welfare. Most of the sources in this blog-post (including a few mentioned in past articles from this “care” category) suggest solutions to better self-care, many of which offer answers to address the issue and CAN BE DONE RIGHT NOW.

Here are a few more self-care tips from PsychCentral:

  • Create a “no” list, with things you know you don’t like or you no longer want to do. Examples might include: Not checking emails at night, not attending gatherings you don’t like, not answering your phone during lunch/dinner.
  • Promote a nutritious, healthy diet.
  • Get enough sleep. Adults usually need 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Exercise. In contrast to what many people think, exercise is as good for our emotional health as it is for our physical health. It increases serotonin levels, leading to improved mood and energy. In line with the self-care conditions, what’s important is that you choose a form of exercise that you like!
  • Follow-up with medical care. It is not unusual to put off checkups or visits to the doctor.
  • Use relaxation exercises and/or practice meditation. You can do these exercises at any time of the day.
  • Spend enough time with your loved ones.
  • Do at least one relaxing activity every day, whether it’s taking a walk or spending 30 minutes unwinding.
  • Do at least one pleasurable activity every day; from going to the cinema, to cooking or meeting with friends.
  • Look for opportunities to laugh!

What Self-Care Is and What It Isn’t by Raphailia Michael, MA

 

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We should also review “Five Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout” by Mary Beth Hertz, an Edutopia blog (read the entire article for greater depth and clarity):

  1. Maintain your “other” life.
  2. Be a stakeholder when changes are made.
  3. Find lessons and opportunities in everything.
  4. Nurture peer connections.
  5. Keep it light.

Edutopia, from the George Lucas Educational Foundation, is a wonderful resource. Most recently, three valuable “streams” of articles have been released on coping with the preparations and stress in the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 year:

I also recommend this blog-post of the Regional Education Laboratory Program which describes “teacher well being” as “the reaction to the individual and collective physical, environmental, and social events that shape how educators respond to their students and colleagues.” They discuss how three prominent human behavior frameworks— Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the Five Stages of Grief and Loss, and the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM)— can be used to address the challenges that teachers face when adapting to change and identify approaches to support teacher well being.

 

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In addition, the following perspectives come from a variety of self-proclaimed practitioners:

“One of Leonardo da Vinci’s seven essential elements of genius is known as Sfumato, Italian for ‘smoked,’ or ‘going up in smoke.’ This principle is the ability to embrace uncertainty, the unknown, and the unknowable. In my interpretation, it’s also an ability to ‘let go’ of everything that’s left undone when you know you’ve done your best. Embrace Sfumato.”  — Wendy Pillars

“Self-care needs to be something you actively plan, rather than something that just happens. It is an active choice and you must treat it as such.” — Raphailia Michael

“Remember that example about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others? This is where that analogy really comes in to play. It’s time for you to take a good hard look at your self-care versus your care for others and decide if you are in a place where you have a good balance or if you need to make this a priority… Why is self-care… such a critical component of your physical and mental health? Because in order for you to function at your peak, you need to meet the needs your body and mind have for rejuvenation, relaxation, and rebirth. If you are constantly putting out efforts toward other people and events but never taking time to refuel yourself, then you will run out of steam and it will manifest in your body as an illness, weight gain, acne, joint pain – you know the drill – again.” — Lesley Moffat in I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me

“It’s estimated that teachers make about 1,500 decisions every school day. When you combine those decisions with all the necessary self-regulation involved with teaching kids, it’s no wonder our willpower is gone by five o’clock. We are exhausted.” — Paul Murphy

The term “unprecedented times” has become a hallmark for describing the context in which leaders must respond to changing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Effective responses in education are dependent upon teachers as the front-line workers in classrooms, so it’s essential that administrators take care of teachers. When they do so, they also take care of students.

When teachers don’t have the resources they need, and especially when sustained job demands are high, teachers experience chronic stress — and eventually burnout.

Teachers who are burned out are less effective as teachers, have less supportive relationships with students and, in turn, the students they teach have lower academic and social outcomes.

How to Prevent Teacher Burnout During the Coronavirus Pandemic by Laura Sokal, Jeff Babb, and Leslie Eblie Trudel

 

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We should all read the above blog-post from The Conversation, which offers these conclusions based on a national Canadian education survey conducted in May 2020:

  1. Teachers’ concern for vulnerable students is one of the most stressful aspects of their jobs right now.
  2. Teachers are seeing magnified inequities.
  3. When giving teachers initial resources, less is more.
  4. Perceived support matters to teachers’ resiliency.
  5. Teachers are concerned about effectively engaging students through remote learning, and professional collaboration can help.

Finally, we’ll end this epistle on “things to do to avoid burnout” with a timely and practical article from Carlee Adams found on the We Are Teachers site: 15 Smart Ways to Prevent Teacher Burnout That Really Work. Repeating many of the suggestions above, these “find these” remedies resonated with me:

  • “Find someone you can be vulnerable with…”
  • “When you feel hopeless, find perspective…”
  • “Find your own voice and allow it to change over time…”
  • “Find your people; they get you!”

The bottom line? If you “feel” consistent periods of burnout, brownout, or being bummed out in your career as negative influences to your “calling” as a teacher, you cannot sit back and let things continue “as is!” Most professionals cannot self-diagnose this problem (but, perhaps a family member may clue you in!). If you notice that you are continually having trouble sleeping, difficulty with relationships or communicating your thoughts to others, or find yourself feeling significantly depressed or lethargic, it may be time to visit your health care professional.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com by Gerd Altmann

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Teacher Self-Care During the Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Together, we are stronger!

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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

 

Now What?

Guest blog-post by Colonel (Retired) Thomas H. Palmatier

 

 

Originally printed in the School Band and Orchestra (SB&O) Digital Magazine, June 2019. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. http://digitaleditiononline.com/publication/?i=593349#{%22issue_id%22:593349,%22page%22:26}

This was also featured in the August 2019 edition of the PMEA Retired Member Network eNEWS, archived at https://www.pmea.net/retired-member-network-enews-archive/.

Motor City Band Festival Palmatier

At some point, every band or orchestra director will either retire or move to another career. While there is much emphasis on mentorship and other ways to assist new directors, there are almost no programs to help us with the potential a more difficult transition. The U.S. Army has a mandatory program for anyone leaving the service to prepare them for the next phase of their life. Even without assistance, leaving a job that you love is tough for everyone. I want to share some lessons that I learned in the research I’ve done into this issue.

Pershing's OwnIn my case, I had over 37 years where I had established an identity as a music director and as a soldier. Prior to retirement from the army, I was the senior music director in the U.S. Armed Forces and was on speed dial of many officials in the department of defense, the Congress, and of course, the media. I received 500 to 600 emails daily from all over the world. By the way, I also was leader and commander of the US Army Band “Pershing‘s Own,” one of the largest (and busiest) military music units in the world. Then, one day I was no longer in the army, my phone wasn’t ringing constantly, the email stopped, and my schedule was mostly free. Sounds great, right? As a band or orchestra director, you were probably the most well-known and well liked person in your community. You have students, parents, and administrators who rely on you. And then suddenly, you are not that person any longer. For each of us there are emotional/psychological, social/family, and financial impacts of this transition.

MotorCityFestival Palmatier

The identity that you have developed over the years is now essentially gone. I was fortunate to have a colleague warm me up that about six months after retiring, I would hit a wall of depression, and he was so right. Because I have been warned about it, I was able to act with my health care provider.  Now, imagine if upon your transition, you are now spending more time with your spouse/partner then you would ever have before but then find yourself unhappy. Studied show increased divorce rates soon after retirement or a career transition because people make the mistake and assumption that their Brett_Favre_Super_Bowl_50depression is related to spending time with their spouse.

Brett Favre reportedly said when ending his first retirement from pro football that “the one thing about having nothing to do is that it doesn’t take long to do it.” To overcome boredom (and depression), it’s important that you know how you see yourself now and how you want others to see you. For many years, your identity was band/orchestra director. What’s your identity going to be now?

The impact on your social relationships can be equally challenging. Most of us develop the circle of friends in the music and education communities. When you are no longer in “the biz,” who will your friends be now? What will you talk about besides the awesome halftime show that you are no longer writing? This all goes back to who you are now, not who you used to be.

MidWest Clinic Palmatier

The financial impacts of retirement or transition are unique to every individual. However, if you intended to now be self-employed, be serious about it. Create a limited liability company (LLC). Most states let you do it online and it usually cost no more than $100. Keep meticulous records and don’t mess with the IRS. Done right, you can legally deduct lots of things as business expenses. Remember, you don’t have a music library anymore so you will be buying lots of scores (don’t be one of those folks whose library is full of illegal photocopies!).

If you’re going to follow the self-employed path, be aware of that self marketing, maintaining a website (see mine at ThomasPalmatier.com), and bookkeeping take a lot of time.

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There is one terrific way to stay relevant in our profession – being a mentor. I encourage you to read my article in the August 2018 issue of SBO Digital Magazine called “Be a Mentor – Get a Mentor.”

Here are my top five takeaways for those approaching retirement or a career transition:

  • Start preparing as far in advance as possible.
  • Be prepared for the inevitable challenges. If you were unhappy or depressed, get help!
  • You get to define yourself now.
  • Stay relevant – be a mentor.
  • Enjoy it!

 

 

Col. Thomas H. Palmatier
Colonel Palmatier served as guest conductor of the 2017 PA Intercollegiate Band Festival at Grove City College in PA

Colonel (retired) Thomas H. Palmatier is the former leader and commander of the U.S. Army Band “Pershing‘s Own” and commander and conductor of the United States Army Field Band. He holds degrees in music education from the Crane School of Music (State University of New York at Potsdam) and Truman State University, as well as a Master if Strategic Studies degree from the US Army War College. He is an active clinician, adjudicator, and guest conductor of concert bands, orchestras, British-style brass bands, jazz ensembles, and marching bands. He is a Conn-Selmer clinician and a member of the American Bandmasters Association.

© 2019 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

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,