Are you retiring soon? Thinking about “taking the plunge” and “Crossing the Rubicon” into your “second beginnings” or “next chapter” of senior life?
No matter how busy you are now, you need to “take five” from your work or personal to-do’s and review the following recommendations from past blog posts at this site. Consider this a personal toolbox for the retired and soon-to-retire professional… and assigned HOMEWORK!
It is agreed that a period of adjustment will occur during the first years of “interning” as a retiree, especially critical during the “pre-retirement” stage (believe-it-or-not, as many as six to ten years prior to “taking the big leap” to FREEDOM!). The solution to a smooth transition is to be prepared: communicate your intentions with your family members, and reflect on the vast considerations of the “who, what, when, where, how, and why” of retirement. This prep to your “golden years” is the perfect time for a little self-assessment and self-reinvention in finding new purpose, meaning, and fulfillment in your life.
2. Identify and take steps to alleviate the stress of leaving your job: “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”
The phases of retirement are discussed in greater depth here, as well as different departure scenarios and the usual post-employment “cycles of emotions.” This piece is particularly good if you have ever felt pushed into early retirement or experienced being unappreciated, disrespected, uninspired, unsupported, or “burned out” in your career.
3. Are you really ready? “Signs it is time to retire… OR “Signs is NOT okay.”
This “countdown to retirement” article poses the essential question “Are you psychologically (or emotionally) prepared to retire?” and offers a “road map” of seven easy steps towards closure for prospective music teacher retirees.
This early blog post proposed several factors to consider for the choice of where you want to live in retirement… both geography and floor plans. Another good source to read on this topic is the book that was published two years later by the retirement guru and former PMEA session presenter Dave Hughes:The Quest for Retirement Utopia – How to Find the Retirement Spot That’s Right for You.
5. Maintain your professional associations: “Ask not what PMEA can do for you, but what you can do for PMEA!”
A retired educator is a valuable resource. If you care about the profession, there are many ways you can continue to contribute your experience and wisdom, albeit less stressful and time-consuming moments, but still assist your colleagues who continue to “fight the good fight” in the field.
6. Acquire a more carefree attitude: “It’s Not Your Sandbox”
It may be at times a challenge to surrender your urge to continue as “an agent of change” or, as E.A. Wynne has written in “The Moral Dimension of Teaching” (Teaching: Theory into Practice, 1995), habits of “moral professionalism.” Learn how chill out and NOT to stress out over someone else’s supposedly poorly run “sandbox” and limit the need to provide unsolicited advice or major problem-solving for other organizations.
7. Make music: “Dust off your chops” and 8. “Sing your heart out…”
What led you to select a career in (and the “calling” of) music education? Retirement is the perfect place and time to expand on your love and skills in creative self-expression. When a music educator retires, among the many joys and fruits of his/her career in the arts is a sudden life-style change – the glorious transformation of being set free from those things you no longer want nor need to do (routine day-to-day drudgery, paperwork, meetings, etc.), embarking on new journeys to explore and embrace revised personal goals – hopefully including a renewed refocus on making your own music!
9. Explore mind-stimulating engagements: “Have you fed your brain today?”
In the scheduling our free time in retirement, it is important to feel “needed” and find activities that foster “mattering” to promote a positive self-esteem, good mental health, and stable life balance. Are you making choices to contribute to the musical and personal success and welfare of others? For the realization of the mission of this blogger’s retirement pastime: “I refuse to sit idle, binge-watch movies on Netflix, or view hours of boring TV.” To quote the song’s lyrics, this “senior citizen” will never lament…
Life is so unnerving For a servant who’s not serving He’s not whole without a soul to wait upon Ah, those good old days when we were useful Suddenly those good old days are gone Ten days we’ve been rusting Needing so much more than dusting Needing exercise, a chance to use our skills Most days we just lay around the castle Flabby, fat, and lazy You walked in and oops-a-daisy!
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!
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
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 1 – Teaching Music Through Social Emotional Learning – Composing 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 10 – Teaching 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
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-awareness skills such as ability to identify and recognize emotions
Self management skills such as perseverance in the ability to manage impulse control
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:
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.”
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).”
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:
Assess your child’s character strengths: self-confidence, empathy, integrity, self-control, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism.
Tally up the points, prioritize his needs, and address initially the one or two traits receiving the lowest score.
Read each chapter of “evidence-backed strategies and skills” which can be easily transferred and taught to your child from preschool through high school.
Motivate and help your child to adopt each character strength “as a lifelong habit to optimize his potential in thrive.”
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!
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?
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.
My Life’s Work Is So Much More Than Just A Job
I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me
The Badass Band Director’s Bible
Step One: The Moffat Music Teacher Mojo Meter
Step Two: Identifying the Three C’s – Care, Clarity, and Consistency
Step Three: Identifying Your Priorities
Step Four: SNaP Strategies for Music Teachers
Step Five: Tuning Our Bodies
Step Six: Creating Your Own First Four Minute Protocols
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).
Gratitude for the attitude
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
Admittedly, if we keep piling on more mandates for earning a teaching degree and professional certificate, our music education majors would have to continue several more years at the university. What has been added to the forefront of education? You name it: “backwards-designed curriculum,” ethics, the “four C’s” (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication), Common Core, social-emotional learning, special education, new technology, etc. We are already wrestling with the limits of time to cover a mastery of personal musicianship and artistry to find space to “squeeze in” at least a cursory study of the other more abstract but important “soft skills” of character development, cultural diversity and sensitivity training, nurture of emotional health and wellness, stress management, “charismatic” leadership, time management, and… humanity!
“Back in the dark ages” when I attended Carnegie-Mellon University, the pathway for becoming a teacher was to complete (and pay full-tuition!) five years to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and license to teach in the public schools. The fifth year was when we did our student teaching along with additional graduate credits applied towards a Master of Fine Arts in Music Education. This was conferred after a full year’s employment “in the field” (Year #6) and completion of additional summer courses of Philosophy in Music Education, Administration of Music Education, several more credits, and a master’s thesis addressing a self-targeted educational problem at our job. For my entire time at CMU, 80% of the coursework on my transcript was singularly focused on performance classes (lessons on piano and the “major” – mine was on viola – as well as chamber and large group ensemble rehearsals), conducting, instrumental and vocal methods, music history, sight-reading/ear training, harmony, orchestration, etc.
What’s Missing in Music Teacher Training?
It is amazing what we must learn “on our own” after we receive our diploma. Yes, I was competent to read a score, assess a solo, band, chamber group, choral, orchestra, or theatrical performance, compose/arrange and accompany a piece for a string class, coach a vocalist on warming up her voice, apply my knowledge of a composer’s life and music to interpret a masterwork, and start a new student on the cello or flute or tuba or drum! However, a quick reminiscence of “the ABCs for the 2009 opening day” agenda I presented to my music staff as their Performing Arts Curriculum Leader had little bearing on the pre-service training all of us received in higher education:
Assessment “of” (“Summative”) and “for” (“Formative”) Learning
Blackboard and Blended Schools
Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge
Curriculum Mapping and the Rubicon Atlas web program
Customization and Differentiation of Instruction
Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings
Multiple Intelligences Theory
The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Standards-Aligned System
Teaching the “Whole Child”
So, if I became a “superintendent for a day” (or much longer), what would I now prioritize for induction and/or in-service training of educators?
We’ll start out with a taste of the inspiration led by my mentor and former superintendent of schools of Upper St. Clair School District where I taught for 33 years, the man who probably had the greatest influence for my getting hired and seeing something in me to channel my energy towards succeeding in several challenging assignments: Dr. William A. Pope. Way back in the 90’s, Bill was a proponent for studying “the stuff of human relationships,” including the introduction of elementary and middle level units on caring/compassion, courage, empathy, honesty, kindness, sensitivity, trust, among many others. Yes, you CAN teach values and acquiring a “moral compass” in the public schools!
I recently recalled many of these terms as they resonated within me during a motivating “The Presence of a Teacher” session presented by Penn State University Associate Professor of Theater Dr. Susan Russell. She opened the Pennsylvania Collegiate Music Educators Association Region III Virtual Workshop on November 1, 2020 with a “Zoom discussion” brainstorming the essential tools for building every teacher’s “presence” and “connectivity” with his/her students:
vulnerability (acceptance to show)
A Different Kind of “Bucket List!’
Next, let’s add to this mix the easy-to-read book How Full Is Your Bucket by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton, organized around the simple metaphor of a dipper and a bucket. Their work is grounded in 50 years of research and will show you how to greatly increase the positive moments in your work and your life – while reducing the negative – which, of course, can be applied to benefit your interactions with students (of paramount importance!), their parents, and school staff.
Admittedly, at times, this may be difficult. As I sit here putting on the finishing touches to a lesson plan for a virtual rehearsal of my online music academy – a “best I can do” replacement to in-person practices of our community youth orchestra’s 39th season, while absorbing the awful media broadcasts of recent spikes in the coronavirus across my region and the country, and trying to ignore the very angry rhetoric of a divided nation in the yet unresolved presidential election: How does one find “positivity” or project an image of hope? What’s that saying? “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”
A “Thoughtful Drop” from a “Full Bucket” would emphasize the
Focus on the positive
Sharing of frequent small positive acts daily
Positive reinforcement to motivate learning
Promotion of positive emotions for your own good health
“How did you feel after your last interaction with another person?”
“Did that person – your spouse, best friend, coworker, or even a stranger – “fill your bucket” by making you feel more positive? Or did that person “dip from your bucket,” leaving you more negative than before?”
Raising Caring, Successful Kids in a “Plugged-In, Trophy-Driven World”
In any discussion on what children need most, are you surprised that the word “empathy” keeps coming up? We turn to, in my opinion, “the single most revolutionary book of our time,” UnSelfie – Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Dr. Michele Borba, Ed.D., with her framework of nine essential habits of empathy:
Emotional Literacy (recognition of the feelings and needs of self and others)
Moral Identity (adoption of caring values that guide integrity and activate empathy)
Perspective Taking (appreciation of another person’s feelings, thoughts, and views)
Moral Imagination (use of literature, films, and emotionally charged images as a source of inspiration to feel with others)
Self-Regulation (management of strong emotions and reduction of personal distress)
Practicing Kindness (increased concern about the welfare and feelings of others)
Collaboration (working together in the achievement of shared goals)
Moral Courage (resolution to speak out, step in, and help others)
Altruistic Leadership (motivation to make a difference for others)
Michele Borba emphasizes that the “selfie syndrome” is leading to excessive “self-promotion, personal branding, and self-interest at the exclusion of others’ feelings, needs, and concerns. It’s permeating our culture and slowly eroding our children’s character.” In short, she charges educators and parents alike to focus on enhancing the children’s “social-emotional competencies, resilience, academic success, leadership, healthy relationships, moral courage, happiness and mental health.”
I wrote this article for PMEA News about this phenomenon, examples of my impressions of the “dumbing down” or numbing of emotional quotient, less focus on “team” orientation, omission of studying “character” in our schools, and the seemingly increased emphasis on “the me – not the we!”
“Social-emotional learning” (SEL) was not a part of a college music education course catalog, even a few years ago. And yet, today more than ever, it is probably the single most valued “teaching skill” necessary for the care and engagement of students during the pandemic. Educators are “leaders” and often have a lasting influence (maybe only second to their parents) on the social-emotional health of their “charges!” Let’s review the principles of emotional intelligence (EI):
“Most effective leaders have a high degree of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.”
SEL provides a foundation for safe and positive learning, and enhances our students’ ability to succeed in school, careers, and life.
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.
SEL can provide students with the SKILLS to confront their challenges by being self-aware, socially-aware, and to make responsible decisions. According to Associate Professor of Music, Music Education Chair, and Director of Bands at Lake Forest College Dr. Scott Edgar, this may take the form of reflection, discussion, and lecture, but to be most effective, it needs to be embedded in curriculum.
“For me, the music teacher can do this in a much more authentic way—through music… SEL should not feel like one more thing; it is THE thing. We teach music; we teach self-discipline; we teach collaboration. SEL is in our classrooms already; our job is to make it explicit, consistent, and structured.”
According to Edgar, music teachers can help teach SEL by:
encouraging students to set their own musical goals
devising solutions for individual or group errors (instead of us always giving the answers)
navigating performance anxiety
understanding the power of music for social change
One more purchase recommendation: Music Education and Social and Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music by Scott N. Edgar
“Music education helps our students learn how to be dedicated, to persevere, and to work together. It is our job to help students see that these skills are not isolated to the music classroom. These are the skills they need to be successful outside of music and to confront their challenges with strength and skill. Music can be the preventative mental health our students need so they have the skills to confront the life challenges ahead of them.”
When COVID-19 crashed into our lives wrecking havoc to almost all forms of live/in-person instruction, quarantining elements of the population, enforcing isolation and social-distancing requirements, closing schools and even cancelling most close-collaborative artistic ventures (music lessons, rehearsals, concerts, musicals, etc.), educators everywhere looked for a way to reconnect with their kids… and settled for the less-than-satisfactory, latency-prone, desensitizing virtual-conference environment! Overnight, schools and teachers resorted to “very” remote models of online learning only to view rows and rows of “trapped,” emotionally-detached, mummy or wax-museum-like faces of their students in windows of Zoom, Google Meet, or GoToMeeting platforms.
It’s time to retool and revamp. The most important thing we can do right now is to reach-out to, re-engage, and re-energize our music students, find out how they are doing, foster moments of meaningful dialogue, and share (there’s that word again) empathy… and that we care. We need to immerse ourselves into and apply the principles of human relationships, teacher presence, “bucket drops,” and recommended habits of empathy, EI and SEL explored above by a few wise educational leaders (a.k.a. “our models”).
This special feature reviews something all music teachers, performers, and consumers already know that’s in our DNA… the need for music to sustain our lives! Guest authored by Trishna Patnaik, this poignant message is essential during these challenging times of COVID-19 and in support of many school music/art programs currently under siege.
Can you envision a life without music?
A world where your favorite musician is a doctor or lawyer, or construction worker because music doesn’t exist?
A life where you can’t turn on your favorite workout playlist while going for a run? Or the pump-up song to boost your confidence right before your big presentation cannot happen?
If you can’t, you are definitely not alone.
Music tends to hit on us a deep level. Whether it is sad music that helps us feel relatable when we are going through hard times or joyful music that adds an extra bounce to your step, music is incredibly powerful!
But, then why is this case? Why does music impact your brain and mood so deeply?
Music is a Universal Language…
…but we don’t always pay enough attention to what it’s saying and how it’s being understood. We wanted to take an important first step toward solving the mystery of how music can evoke so many nuanced emotions. Music has a special ability to pump us up or calm us down.
Listening to music can be entertaining, and it might even make you healthier. Music can be a source of pleasure and contentment, but there are many other psychological benefits as well. Music can relax the mind, energize the body, and even help people better manage pain.
Brain regions involved in movement, attention, planning, and memory consistently showed activation when participants listened to music—these are structures that don’t have to do with auditory processing itself. This means that when we experience music, a lot of other things are going on beyond merely processing sound.
Knowing better how the brain is organized, how it functions, what chemical messengers are working, and how they’re working—that will allow us to formulate treatments for people with brain injury, or to combat diseases or disorders or even psychiatric problems.
The notion that music can influence your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors probably does not come as much of a surprise. If you’ve ever felt pumped up while listening to your favorite fast-paced rock anthem or been moved to tears by a tender live performance, then you easily understand the power of music to impact moods and even inspire action!
The psychological effects of music can be very powerful and wide-ranging. Music therapy is an intervention sometimes used to promote emotional health, help patients cope with stress, and boost psychological well-being. Your taste in music can provide insight into different aspects of your personality.
Why Do People Listen to Music?
Over the past several decades, showcase numerous functions that listening to music might fulfill. Different theoretical approaches, different methods, and different samples have left a heterogeneous picture regarding the number and nature of musical functions.
Principal component analysis suggested three distinct underlying dimensions. People listen to music to regulate arousal and mood, to achieve self-awareness, and as an expression of social relatedness. The first and second dimensions were judged to be much more important than the third—a result that contrasts with the idea that music has evolved primarily as a means for social cohesion and communication. The implications of these results are discussed in light of theories on the origin and the functionality of music listening and also for the application of musical stimuli in all areas of psychology and for research in music cognition.
The psychology of music seeks to interpret musical phenomena in terms of mental function; that is, it seeks to characterize the ways in which people perceive, remember, perform, create, and respond to music. While centred on the empirical findings and theoretical approaches of psychology, the field is highly interdisciplinary, with input from neuroscientists, linguists, geneticists, computational modellers, physicists, anthropologists, music theorists, music performers, and composers.
While the study of music has a long history, dating from the ancient Greeks, the psychology of music as an empirical science did not emerge as a full-fledged discipline until the second part of the 20th century. During the last few decades the field has advanced rapidly, and it interfaces strongly with other branches of psychology, such as the studies of perception, cognition, performance, human development, personality psychology, psycholinguistics, clinical neuropsychology, evolutionary psychology, ability testing, and artificial intelligence.
Musical activity combines perceptual, cognitive, and motor skills in real time and it can offer social and health benefits for diverse populations. While psychologists and neuroscientists probe musical activity for insights about the human mind and brain, music scholars examine its cultural, pedagogical, and theoretical aspects. Though these approaches can complement each other, scientific and humanistic studies of music are often disconnected.
This can result in experiments with flawed musical stimuli and musicological writings with problematic assumptions about human cognitive processes. The human brain contains neural mechanisms specific to music perception. It has identified a neural population in the human auditory cortex that responds selectively to sounds that people typically categorize as music, but not to speech or other environmental sounds. It has been the subject of widespread speculation.
The Benefits of Listening to Music
Brain Focus is Enhanced
Any music listener will agree that music can evoke emotions such as pride, elation, or relaxation. That music does more than that for humans: it stimulates various parts of the brain and bodily responses. How do different kinds of music affect the human body physiologically and psychologically? Is the unconscious experience elicited by the autonomic nervous system analogous to what is experienced consciously through emotions?
Background music, or music that is played while the listener is primarily focused on another activity, can improve performance on cognitive tasks in older adults. One study found that playing more upbeat music led to improvements in processing speed, while both upbeat and downbeat music led to benefits in memory.
So the next time you are working on a task, consider turning on a little music in the background if you are looking for a boost in your mental performance. Do consider choosing instrumental tracks rather than those with complex lyrics, which might end up being more distracting!
Music Can Reduce Stress
It has long been suggested that music can help reduce or even manage stress. Consider the trend centred on meditative music created to soothe the mind and inducing relaxation. Fortunately, this is one trend supported by research. Listening to music can be an effective way to cope with stress.
Listening to music had an impact on the human stress response, particularly the autonomic nervous system. Those who had listened to music tended to recover more quickly following a stressor.
Music Can Help You Eat Less
One of the most surprising psychological benefits of music is that it might be a helpful weight-loss tool. If you are trying to lose weight, listening to mellow music and dimming the lights might help you achieve your goals.
Music and lighting help create a more relaxed setting. Since you are more relaxed and comfortable, then you may consume food more slowly and be more aware of when you began to feel full.
You might try putting this into practice by playing soft music at home while you eat dinner. By creating a relaxing setting, you may be more likely to eat slowly and, therefore, feel fuller sooner!
Music Can Improve Your Memory
Some feel like listening to their favourite music improves memory, while others contend that it simply serves as a pleasant distraction.
It depends upon a variety of factors, including the type of music, the listener’s enjoyment of that music, and even how musically well-trained the listener may be. Musically naive students learned better when listening to positive music, possibly because these songs elicited more positive emotions without interfering with memory formation.
However, musically trained students tended to perform better on learning tests when they listened to neutral music, possibly because this type of music was less distracting and easier to ignore. If you tend to find yourself distracted by music, you may be better off learning in silence or with neutral tracks playing in the background.
Music Can Help Manage Pain
Music can be very helpful in the management of pain. The effects of music on pain management found that patients who listened to music before, during, or even after surgery experienced less pain and anxiety than those who did not listen to music.
While listening to music at any point in time was effective, noted that listening to music pre-surgery resulted in better outcomes. Music listeners require less medication to manage their pain. There was also a slightly greater, though not statistically significant, improvement in pain management results when patients were allowed to select their own music.
Music May Help You Sleep Better
Insomnia is a serious problem that affects people of all age groups. While there are many approaches to treating this problem, it has been demonstrated that listening to relaxing classical music can be a safe, effective, and an affordable remedy. Sleep quality is enhanced for those who listened to soothing music before going to sleep over a period of time without any intervention or breakages.
Music Can Improve Motivation
There is a good reason why you find it easier to exercise while you listen to music. Listening to fast-paced music motivates people to work out harder.
Speeding up the tracks resulted in increased performance in terms of distance covered, the speed of pedalling, and power exerted. Conversely, slowing down the music’s tempo led to decreases in all of these variables.
So if you are trying to stick to a workout routine, consider loading up a playlist filled with fast-paced tunes that will help boost your motivation and enjoyment of your exercise regimen!
Music Can Improve Mood
Another of the science-backed benefits of music is that it just might make you happier! People who listen to music knew an important role in relating arousal and mood. Participants rated music’s ability to help them achieve a better mood and become more self-aware as two of the most important functions of music.
Listening to music is not directed to become happier intentionally! However, if you do so by working to determine your own levels of happiness, you will show improvement in the moods and feeling happier.
Music May Reduce Symptoms of Depression
Music therapy can be a safe and effective treatment for a variety of disorders, including depression. Music therapy was a safe, low-risk way to reduce depression and anxiety in patients suffering from neurological conditions such as dementia, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease.
While music can certainly have an impact on mood, the type of music is also important. Classical and meditation music offer the greatest mood-boosting benefits, while heavy metal and techno music are ineffective and even detrimental.
Music Can Improve Endurance and Performance
Another important psychological benefit of music lies in its ability to boost performance. While people have a preferred step frequency when walking and running, scientists have discovered that the addition of a strong, rhythmic beat, such as fast-paced musical track, could inspire people to pick up the pace.
Runners are not only able to run faster while listening to music; they also feel more motivated to stick with it and display greater endurance. While research has found that synchronizing body movements to music can lead to better performance and increased stamina, the effect tends to be the most pronounced in cases of low to moderate intensity exercise. In other words, the average person is more likely to reap the rewards of listening to music more than a professional athlete might.
So why does music boost workout performance?
Listening to music while working out lowers a person’s perception of exertion. You’re working harder, but it doesn’t seem like you’re putting forth more effort. Because your attention is diverted by the music, you are less likely to notice the obvious signs of exertion such as increased respiration, sweating, and muscle soreness.
Music engages people with learning disabilities
There is evidence that music interventions can offer opportunities for creative, psychological, and social developments for individuals with mild to profound learning disabilities, addressing the disadvantages they face in respect of social outcomes.
Music can change the world
Do you ever listen to a song and find yourself moved so deeply you are almost in tears? Have you ever been to a live performance that turned your worst day into your best? Have you ever heard a song that inspired you? Music has the power to move us and to change us. Yet today’s music mostly does not seem to have the same earth-moving, society-shaping effects as that of the past.
With today’s technology, music has become even more of a part of our life experiences: we listen to it on our drive to work, when we go to parties, while we study, when we exercise, and in so many other settings. There are, however, still musicians who hope that their words will inspire change.
Music with a message
The combination of the right lyrics, rhythm and instruments can build a group identity, stir strong emotions, engage audiences and amass people to take action. This makes music the perfect partner for social change.
The effect of music on emotions
It is undeniable that music can stimulate our emotions, evoking different feelings like sadness, happiness, calmness, relaxing and nostalgic feelings. This emotional stimulation from music is because it activates areas in our brain that process sound features. It also activates the limbic brain areas associated with emotions and the prefrontal areas, which is connected to decision making!
One of the reasons music has a huge impact on our emotions is that our mirror neuron system is activated when music is being played. It may be due to the song’s pitch, volume, and timbre. Indeed, music plays a big part on our emotions. If we are broken hearted, we react accordingly when we hear music or songs that were connected to our failed relationships. We sometimes find ourselves in tears hearing a song that reminds us of these relational memories.
There are also points in our lives when we are feeling so low that listening to something inspirational can often alter our negative mood into a positive one.
The Effect of Music on Intellectual Capacity
Can music make people smarter?
Those who undergo musical training are said to be more cooperative and coordinated than their non-musically trained counterparts. This is probably because people who play an instrument or sing usually work with other people; hence, they learn how to interact and communicate with others, making them more open to social interaction.
People who are into music or those who have undergone musical training show an increase in brain plasticity. Brain plasticity is the innate ability of the brain to change shape and get bigger in response to learning or training.
There is a significant difference in terms of structures of auditory and motor cortices in the brain and other brain areas between musicians and non-musicians. They found out that musicians tend to have a bigger and structured brain areas compared to non-musicians. Musical training affects other domains such as verbal intelligence and executive functions, which often lead to better academic performance.
The Effect of Music on Attainment and Creativity
Music is said to enhance one’s creativity and attainment. There is a strong association between music and attainment of tasks! Music could also make us enter into a “wandering mode.” This wandering mode enables us to daydream or imagine things, which sometimes stimulate our creative side.
Music as a Therapy
Music can improve your mood, quality of life, and self-esteem, but it is also:
Music Boosts Our Moods
Can your favorite songs be a form of therapy?
It was discovered that music can release dopamine in two main places in the brain, the dorsal and ventral striatum. When you are having a pleasurable experience, such as listening to your favourite song, these areas of the brain light up.
These things happen because musical patterns affect our auditory cortex, which is a part of the neural reward system and other areas involved in memory and emotion.
Music has accompanied major social events throughout the history of mankind. Major gatherings such as weddings, graduations, or birthdays are usually recognized by a familiar tune! There is evidence that music plays a large role in emotional processes within the brain. An individual’s emotional state of mind can directly impact daily cognition and behaviour.
Studies have shown that music has the ability to regulate a wide range of both positive and negative emotions. Determining the degree of music’s influence on aggression using two extremes of genre such as: relaxing yoga music versus aggressive rap music! It is seen that those who listened to yoga music show lower aggression, while those who listened to rap music have higher aggression. Aggressive music can make listeners more aggressive emotionally compared to other types of music!
How Many Emotions Can Music Make You Feel?
The subjective experience of music across cultures can be mapped within at least 13 overarching feelings: amusement, joy, eroticism, beauty, relaxation, sadness, dreaminess, triumph, anxiety, scariness, annoyance, defiance, and feeling pumped up.
So much is the power of music, the vibe of music is so propelling that you must enamour enormous benefits and experiential experiences of music time and again. So that you become as timeless as music itself! This is the very derivative of the psychology of music as poignant, proper and poised as music itself!
Trishna Patnaik is a self-taught visual artist, art therapist, workshop presenter, and full-time professional painter from Mumbai, India. She holds the degrees of BSc (Life Sciences) and MBA (Marketing). Trishna has been practicing art for over 14 years. After a professional stint in various reputed corporates, she realized that she wanted to do something more meaningful. She found her true calling was painting. She says, “It’s a road less travelled but a journey that I look forward to everyday.” Trishna offers this inspiration for the advocacy of music and art at a time we all need to support continuation of school programs in the Fine and Performing Arts, so essential to the social and emotional learning of all students during the pandemic.
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.
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?
Disillusionment over the job
Cynicism at work
Impatience with co-workers, administrators, and students
Lack of satisfaction in accomplishments
Dragging yourself to work and trouble getting started once you’re there
Lack of energy
Self-medicating with food, drugs, or alcohol
Changes in sleep/eating patterns
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.
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:
Lack of autonomy
Dysfunctional work environment
Inadequate social support
Extremes of activity
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.
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.
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.
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:
Teachers’ concern for vulnerable students is one of the most stressful aspects of their jobs right now.
Teachers are seeing magnified inequities.
When giving teachers initial resources, less is more.
Perceived support matters to teachers’ resiliency.
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.
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.”
“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.”
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!
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.”
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!”
Don’t obsess. Calm yourself. Set priorities.
Connect and communicate often with your family members and your students.
Set and maintain boundaries.
Take the necessary steps to maintain your own physical and mental health!
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.
For 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!
Go 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!)
Five tips for coaching overwhelm:
Recall previous experiences.
Identify one tiny next step.
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
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!
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.
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!
“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
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.
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
Her 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!
Make self-care PRIORITY ONE for YOU! I know, you have heard all of these before:
Eat a balanced diet.
Get enough sleep.
“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 exampleshere,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:
“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.”
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:
Relying on a team reduces work and stress.
Connecting with students boosts morale.
Learning new technology isn’t so bad.
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.
More Remedies for Reducing Teacher Stress & Burnout
Welcome back to our series on music teacher (and other professionals) self-care.
First, as presented in this insightful article by Chris Mumford, we confirm the notion that “stress is inevitable,” but “how you respond to it can spell the difference between a long, rewarding career or one cut short by burn-out.” Based on new research, he offers some surprising (and even counter-intuitive) techniques to better deal with it, including these “9 Stress Management Strategies Every Teacher Needs to Know.”
Breathe (properly)…When you’re experiencing intense levels of stress, breathe in deeply (put your hands on your stomach and feel it expand out), for four seconds, then exhale evenly for four seconds. Keep this up for two-three minutes for maximum effect.
Embrace the stress… Viewing your stress in constructive ways [reframing] will actually cause your body to respond to it differently and prevent long-lasting physical damage.
Be imperfect…Teachers are often prone to perfectionism and its ill effects: they often feel that they aren’t doing enough, or that their mistakes are magnified because of the importance of their job. If you find yourself feeling this way, fight back.
Practice emotional first aid…Do you beat yourself up when you experience failure or make a mistake? [Find] ways to break the negative patterns of thought.
Be grateful…We have to stop, quiet our minds, and create “stop signs”—little reminders of things that we should be grateful for every day.
Limit “grass is greener” thinking…You will have challenges anywhere you go.
Work smarter, not harder…Find ways to delegate some of your work, or invest in tools or technologies that will make your life easier.
Ask for help…doesn’t make you weaker, it makes you better at your job.
Make a connection…When you connect with another person, your body produces oxytocin, which is a chemical that helps repair the heart. If you help your neighbors, family, etc., you’re much less likely to experience the negative effects of stress.
Examples of two different NAVY SEALS breathing exercises advise us on how to reach a more relaxed state:
TACTICAL BREATHING (to alleviate “fight or flight” tension)
Place your right hand on your belly, pushing out with a big exhale. Then breathe in through your nostrils, slowly drawing the breath upward from your belly to your upper chest.
Pause and exhale, starting from your chest and moving downward to the air in your belly. Imagine your belly button touching your spine.
Once you’re comfortable with a full, deep breath, repeat it, this time making the exhale twice as long as the length of the inhale. For example, inhale to the count of four, pause briefly, and exhale to the count of eight. Repeat three times.
BOXED BREATHING (to help ground you, sharpen concentration, and become more alert and calm)
Expel all of the air from your lungs Keep them empty for four seconds Inhale through your nose for four seconds Hold for a four count (don’t clamp down or create pressure; be easy) Exhale for a four count Repeat for 10-20 minutes
Our own minds may be our own worst enemies. Have you read the insightful article “Sustaining the Flame – Re-Igniting the Joy in Teaching Music” by Karen Salvador in the December 2019 issue of Music Educators Journal? She offers research-supported strategies for nurturing courage, peace, and resilience as well as suggested habits of thinking and action. Samples of “cognitive distortions,” a term of which I had never heard previously defining “irrational beliefs,” is addressed by “reframing” our inner voice during specific incidents of emotional distress.
Her common examples of cognitive distortions include the following. Do any of these sound familiar?
Disqualifying (discounting) the positive events
Jumping to conclusions
Filtering (focusing entirely on the negative elements of a situation)
Double standard (placing unreasonable/unattainable expectations for ourselves)
Personalizing (or “taking something personally”)
Polarized (placing people or situations in unrealistic “either or” categories)
Additional recommendations by Nicole Stachelski for combating stress and burnout are listed in the article:
Laugh with your students
Eat your lunch (take a break or enjoy social time)
Schedule regular physical activity
Drink more water (and visit the bathroom as needed!)
Prioritize your work and set boundaries
Keep a consistent bedtime
Delegate – don’t be afraid to ask for help
Focus on what’s really important
More Ideas — Just Pick One!
Take a gander at this excellent Scholastic.com teacher blog-post by Nancy Jang summarizing “15 Ways to Reduce Teacher Stress.” Can you try at least one new strategy this week that resonates with you and your life?
Close the door during prep time.
Make a SHORT and DOABLE “Must Do” and “May Do” lists.
Delegate items to parent volunteers.
Lay out your outfit and prepare your healthy lunch the night before.
Get a full eight hours of sleep.
Don’t correct every piece of paper.
Get up early!
Stay away from negativity.
Don’t take things home.
Plan time every week/day to enjoy something that is not remotely related to teaching.*
Learn something new.
Plan a trip.
Take ten minutes a day and mediate.
*Probably one of my own worst habits was not modeling number 11 above. No matter how busy you are with your daily in-school teaching and extra-curricular music/coaching activities, the full recommendations are important to consider:
Spend time with your family and friends, travel, work on your garden, read for pleasure, take a hike. Learn how to turn off being a teacher. Balancing your time to just be YOU (not the teacher you) allows you to be renewed and have more mental energy for your students.
In almost every health and wellness article, we hear the emphasis of prioritizing and seeking a more equitable use of personal time, achieving what Ernie Zelinski, author of the best-selling book How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, refers to as “work/life balance.” Future blogs on samples of “super stress reducers” in “setting boundaries,” time management, and innovative organizational tools will be forthcoming.
Several books are also recommended readings for addressing the issues of teacher health and wellness. We have already reviewed several of these. More to come.
Our next journey to an in-depth look at music educator self-care will explore more fully TEACHER BURNOUT. To stay up-to-date on past and future articles, publications, and workshop presentations on this topic, be sure to revisit the “Care” section of this blog-site.
Our second in a series on publications and other resources for self-care, health, wellness, and remediation of stress and burnout of music educators addresses one of the core issues for all of us — chronic fatigue.
The medical definition is comprehensive:
Fatigue is a lingering tiredness that is constant and limiting. With fatigue, you have unexplained, persistent, and relapsing exhaustion. It’s similar to how you feel when you have the flu or have missed a lot of sleep. If you have chronic fatigue, or systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID), you may wake in the morning feeling as though you’ve not slept. Or you may be unable to function at work or be productive at home. You may be too exhausted even to manage your daily affairs. —WebMD
In the NAfME community forum Amplify, another colleague turned me on to the book Exhausted — Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It by Paul Murphy (2017). Most of this blog will focus on a review of this work. I also recommend you visit his very informative website of blog-posts: Teacher Habits.
If you’re like most teachers, being tired at the end of the day is a way of life. We’ve become so accustomed to it that it’s hard to imagine how things could be any different. We get through out mornings with coffee, our afternoons with Diet Coke, and the ends of our school days with the iron strength of our will. We leave the building exhausted, having so much at work that there’s little left over for our families or even ourselves. — Paul Murphy
So, what is the scope of the problem? What can we do about it?
What Is a Teacher?
Are you a teacher? If so, are you also a classroom work foreman, logistics manager, guide, drill sergeant, disciplinarian, cheerleader, data entry clerk, cultural advocate, or analyst? Maybe you are all of these things and more. Maybe, we need to look at educators in a new context of what teaching really is in most schools, and whether it should be given cultural, economic and technological change.
Merriam-Webster’s says “teach” is a verb, with several simple definitions that repeat themselves but ideologically are these five things:
A great teacher creates a sense of community and belonging in the classroom.
A great teacher is warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring.
A great teacher sets high expectations for all students.
A great teacher has his own love of learning.
A great teacher is a skilled leader.
A great teacher can “shift-gears…”
A great teacher collaborates with colleagues on an ongoing basis.
A great teacher maintains professionalism in all areas…
I wouldn’t have it any other way! But these standards must take a toll on our health, wellness, and work/life balance!
Stress and Data on Teacher Exhaustion
Do you find yourself tired most of the time? Quoted in Exhausted by Paul Murphy, does this sound like YOU?
“I’m exhausted, and every weekend, I spend at least one day in my pajamas.”
“I feel like work never ends.”
“I love my students, and I have a really good class this year, but I’m done and ready for a break.”
“I was so tired that I ended up missing out on family’s holiday dinner.”
Why is this so prevalent? According to Paul Murphy, “the answer, in a word, is STRESS! Teachers are incredibly stressed-out people, especially when they are at work.”
He shares some scary statistics:
Because our culture tendency to demand more of educators, that stress is on the rise. In 1985, 36% of teachers reported feeling great stress at least several days a week. Today, that number is 51%. Only doctors report higher levels of stress on the job.
The costs are high. A recent study of the U.S. Department of Education found a 10% of new teachers don’t return for second year. Nearly 185 new teachers are gone within five years. Many young people, perhaps persuaded by on his federal and Teacher should buy what they see on social media, won’t even entertain the thought of teaching. Between 2009 and 2014, enrollments in teacher preparation programs fell about 35% in the U.S., reducing the supply of available teachers by nearly a quarter-million. — Paul Murphy
These figures are supported by other sources as well. The American Federation of Teachers reported here that “61% of educators say their work is always or often stressful,” and, worse yet, “50% say they don’t have the same enthusiasm as when they started teaching.”
In addition, according to James Anthony in “7 Conclusions from the World’s Largest Teacher Burnout Survey” posted here, 75% of teachers complained of health problems such as shortness of breath, dizziness, heart palpitations or chest pain, or regular headaches or stomach aches — symptoms often associated with a failure to deal with stress. His conclusion? “This is a worrying sign that pressure and workload of many teaching jobs is having a very real physical impact on many teachers.”
From the Back Cover of the Book
You should definitely grab a copy of Exhausted. Paul Murphy promises you will learn:
Why even good days with your students leave you drained.
What tired teachers have in common with doctors, major league baseball managers, and interview committees.
How Jeb Bush’s failure in the 2016 presidential primaries is related to your own fatigue.
What long distance runners, one of history’s greatest weightlifters, and a Stanford psychologist can teach you about the powerful influence of your mind.
He says you will find solutions to these problems and understand:
What teachers can learn from baristas and airline agents.
What supermarket layouts can teach us about the dangers of decision making.
Why AC/DC doesn’t belong in your classroom.
What an insurance agent’s plane crash can teach us about belief.
Who is this Paul Murphy guy? His own bio, the last section of the book, is unique:
Paul Murphy is a third-grade teacher in Michigan. This fall, he started his 20th year in the classroom. His writing focuses on improving the lives of teachers, both inside the classroom and out. He enjoys reading, writing, travel, exercise, craft beer, and Cheetos. His feet are perpetually cold, he bites his nails, and he regularly (and almost instinctively at this point) changes the lyrics to songs to make them inappropriate, much to the chagrin of his wife and daughter.
The Science of Exhaustion
The best way to review the innards of a publication and get to the nitty-gritty may be to frame a few guiding questions, to follow an outline summary on which to reflect while reading many of the early chapters:
How many decisions do you make before you ever teach a single class every morning? What effect do they have on you?
What is the link of willpower (ego depletion* and delayed gratification) to exhaustion?
What do doctors say about the constant exercise of self-control and blood glucose levels, and why is the time of the day critical?
What is “morning morality” and what does it have to do with planning your day as a teacher?
*Psychologist Roy Baumeister coined the term “ego depletion” after he found that humans have a limited supply of willpower. He compares willpower to a muscle, which can strengthen but also wear out with use. Ego depletion has a general effect, meaning that using self-control in one area of your life erodes your ability to self-regulate in other parts of your life. Baumeister found that exerting self-control results in a significant drop in blood-sugar levels. Low blood sugar leads to physical fatigue, which is why you’re so tired, even though the heaviest thing you lifted was a textbook. — Paul Murphy
A few of my observations. Willpower is actually “won’t-do-power,” and represents the chronic stress teachers and other professionals place on themselves everyday: saying “NO” to such things as sleeping-in an extra 10-15 minutes, staying on your diet by passing by that Dunkin Donuts shop on the way to school, forgoing the idle chit-chat from the teacher’s room on the way to the photocopier, not allowing yourself to be distracted by a TV program instead of doing your own homework, delaying an update of your social media sites or reading personal email instead of finishing your lesson plans, grades, or the forms the principal requested for completion by the end of the week.
In other words, facing up to all of those grown-up expectations that grown-ups must do! There’s no room for youthful indulgences or “goof-off time” as an adult!
Paul Murphy says, “Whatever you call it… resisting temptation, will power, self-control, self-discipline, grit, perseverance, self-regulation, or determination, science has proven that it exhausts us.”
Teachers endlessly self regulate. We hold back sarcastic rejoinders, walk away from lazy students when we what we really want to do is lecture them, keep her honest thoughts about the principles latest he’ll conceive ideas to ourselves, respond professionally to disrespectful emails from parents, work with students when we want to do anything but, plan the next day one would rather check Facebook, and bite our tongues when we’d like to drop F-bombs. We force ourselves to work when we feel like taking a break. We redirect students when we’d rather just let the behaviors go and avoid the resultant excuses and conflicts. We keep teaching even though we really, really have to pee. Teachers use a lot of willpower. — Paul Murphy
Couldn’t say it better myself!
Another personal observation also seems to be supported by Paul Murphy. I have found that “earlier is better” for doing creative tasks, solving problems, or completing highly detailed work. Most mornings (in retirement), I reserve my first two hours for writing. Others say that the AM is best for practicing or composing, when you feel the freshest! The closer to having a meal or having slept all night (which revitalizes our supplies of self-regulation and blood sugar), the better for tackling something hard… which for a teacher might mean facing the challenge of a “difficult parent” phone call, student discipline report, or conference with an “unhappy” administrator.
Strategies for Releasing/Postponing Tension
Paul Murphy recommends that, instead of using up your willpower reserves to fight off the urge to snap at someone or suppressing your anger, “simply notice something else that requires less willpower” or distract yourself. Postponing can also be effective: Have your tantrum “not now, but later.” (Schedule your nervous breakdown for another day?) Often, once some time has passed, you may find your frustration has abated.
Another technique for alleviating stress is to actually do a deliberate exercise to release your emotions and desires… in a more controlled and constructive way.
I sometimes receive an email from a parent or supervisor that angers me. My instinct is to return fire. That’s a bad instinct, but it doesn’t mean I have to hold in those feelings. It also doesn’t mean I should vent to other teachers or my wife. They’ve got their own problems, and nobody really wants to hear mine. What I do instead is write my honest, no-holds-barred rebuttal. I let it all out, hammering the keyboard and plastering my screen with vitriol. I read it and re-read until it effectively conveys the righteous indignation I so strongly feel.
Then I don’t send it!
It released my anger, and it’s there for me to revisit. On those few occasions when I have gone back to reread these unsent missives, my anger is gone. I wonder why I was so outraged at the time. They’re actually embarrassing to read. If you do this a few times, you begin to realize that your initial feelings are often an overreaction (and also the result of depleted willpower and low blood sugar) and it becomes easier to avoid indulging them. — Paul Murphy
Intense Emotions = Model Teacher?
Who is a better teacher? An energetic, passionate, and always “fired-up” one, or a professional who exerts a calm, introspective, and less intense attitude? Some studies do show that an enthusiastic, engaging teacher who is passionate about his subject is more effective than a “dull” or less dynamic teacher who seems to dislike his job, but what of the costs? Again, in Murphy’s book, we have more research to the rescue: “…Science has proven that intense emotions tire us out!”
I’ll explain why teachers should aim for a feeling of inner calm for large chunks of their day. I’ll argue that the expectation we have for ourselves and other teachers to be constantly enthusiastic is counterproductive in the short-term and ultimately damaging to the education system in the long-run. And I’ll explain how being calm will not only conserve your energy, but will make your classroom a better learning environment for your students. — Paul Murphy
Another reason to buy his book!
The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste!
Finally, our very own thoughts are amazingly powerful tools. Our brain can either help or make things worse! “If you believe a task is going to be difficult, it will be.” We all know that “positive talk” can alleviate the effects of stress, and can inspire greater levels of achievement. But, what about the relationship of negative thoughts to fatigue?
Almost every distance runner talks of hitting a wall. In 2012, Spanish researchers wanted to know what went through runners’ minds as they neared exhaustion, and they found exactly what you’d expect: the harder the runners work and the longer they run, the more negative their thoughts become. No surprise there.
But then a group of British and dutch researchers asked an interesting question. They wondered if everyone had it backwards. Did the discomfort of physical fatigue cause the runners to think negatively, like everyone assumed, or did the runners negative thoughts make them more physically tired and sore? It was a chicken and egg question.
The researchers found 24 healthy adults and had each complete a grueling ride on a stationary bike until they were exhausted. Then they were sent home for two weeks. During that time, half of the subjects were trained in positive self talk, a technique many sports psychologist coaches teach athletes to combat negative thinking that can lead to poor performance. The other 12 subjects were left alone. Then the researchers called them all back to hop on the bikes again.
On average, those who receive positive self talk training performed more than 17% better on their second ride than they had on their first. There was no improvement among members of the control group. — Paul Murphy
He goes into great detail that the driving force behind our exhaustion may not even be the hours we work, the challenges we face in the classroom, or the lack of support we perceive from administration or parents. It may rest in our thoughts. And, he analyzes the negative effects of “worrying” and the concept of “mind over matter!”
The Schedule That Doesn’t Help
Tiger Woods was known for so many “firsts” and breaking numerous golfing records in his early career. Many credited his success to his extreme focus, perseverance, and self-discipline. It was documented that he practiced golf 7-8 hours every day and worked out two or three hours more:
6:30 a.m. an hour of cardio
7:30 a.m. one hour of lower-body weight training
8:30 a.m. high protein/low-fat breakfast
9:00 a.m. two hours on the driving range
11:00 a.m. practicing putting
11:30 a.m. playing nine holes
2:00 p.m. healthy lunch
2:30 p.m. two to four more hours on the golf course
6:00 p.m. back in the gym working on upper-body
7:00 p.m. dinner and relaxation
Then we learn about his personal “crash of 2009” when everything seemed to unravel:
Personal calls to escort services
Wife, discovering his “extra-curricular” activities, assaulting him
Destruction of his reputation
Poor golf play
Certainly, Tiger had some deep-seated psychological issues. But I can’t help wondering if his remarkable self-discipline left him depleted to the point that he was unable to fight off his most distracted urges at the close of his ego-depleting days. Yes, he only had to focus for five hours during a round of golf, but Tiger Woods used will power from the time he woke up to the time he started texting port stars. His is a cautionary tale for anyone who spends large parts of the day exercising self-control. As teachers, there are lessons to be learned. — Paul Murphy
Your own strict daily regiment may also contribute to your feelings of “total exhaustion.” Music teachers are usually their own worst enemies. We take on responsibilities for the sake of the music program, add a new ensemble, schedule after-school time to teach a solo or instrumental part, and plan more weekend and evening “learning activities” or events beyond the scope of most other academic subject teachers. It was not unusual for me to be at school by 6:45 a.m., eat lunch in my car on the way to my second or third assignment as an itinerant, stop for a quick “date” and dinner out with my wife, return to school for band, orchestra, or musical practices, and not get home until 9 or or 10 p.m. As a retiree, I now ask, “What ever happened to all of this stamina and endurance?” Pushing wheel chairs only four hours a day three times a week at a local hospital, I sometimes find myself wanting to take a “power nap” when I get home! Never you fear: the healthy “calendar of a retired music teacher” is as busy (and hectic) as full-time employment… We always say, “I wonder how I ever had the time to do all of these things and work at the same time!”
However, to put it in perspective, here is a copy of my former professional schedule that I was (mostly self-) assigned to teach grades 5-12 strings in three buildings, manage the fall play and spring musical, assist the marching band, work with the superintendent on school district public relations projects, prepare for PMEA and NAfME music festivals, and serve as my district’s Performing Arts Curriculum Leader.
As an administrator, the number of “contact hours” over the maximum was irrelevant; it was never an option to submit a grievance to the teacher’s union. Actually, I accepted the responsibility of planning what I thought was necessary for the success of my program, my students, and my music staff… no matter what the cost! Sound familiar?
Other Remedies to Lower Tension and Exhaustion
This is just “the tip of the iceberg” for an analysis of the book Exhausted. Part two which we have not covered here is entitled “What To Do About It.”
More recommendations for better time management, remediation of teacher burnout, development of a self-care plan, and techniques for stress reduction will be addressed in future blogs. At this point, from three excellent sources, these tips may steer you towards improved rest, personal life/work balance, and general health/wellness. Stay tuned for more at https://paulfox.blog/care/.
Book Review: I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me – The Teacher’s Guide to Conquering Chronic Stress and Sickness by Lesley Moffat
Have you read this “International Bestseller” written by a band director?
Where was this when I was still teaching full-time, managing a crazy 24/7 schedule of music teaching and administration, fulfilling a myriad of self-assigned extracurricular activities like band, choir, strings, fall play, spring musical, adjudications and festivals?
How many of you struggle to
Fall and stay asleep?
Avoid “brain fog” and exhaustion brought on by stress?
Alleviate (or ignore) aches and pains or illnesses that interfere with your work?
Reclaim and maintain enough energy to support your work and family life.
Resolve feelings that your life is falling apart or you are “burned-out?”
Well, instead of sitting around and whining about your hectic schedule or other challenges in your life, ruining your health, mood, and relationships with your family, friends, and students, or “throwing in the towel” and giving up altogether… take a look at this comprehensive guide to walk you through the problem — “baby steps” towards a complete self-care plan — providing assessments and action plans towards better personal health and wellness.
This blog provides a few highlights from Lesley Moffat’s work. You owe it to yourself to break down and buy this inexpensive and easy-to-read paperback! Although it is meant for individuals who are serious about starting a comprehensive self-improvement project, this book is not long nor laborious! With a supposed “read time” of 132 minutes (according to the back cover), I would devote probably a couple weeks to thoroughly consume it. For even more clarity, I have even taken to reading sections of it to my wife, also a retired music teacher! Both of us have “been there” in coping with many of the issues of job-related stress and life-style choices.
The Why — Chapter 12: “Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First” (Page 109)
After a quick scan of the first couple chapters, I recommend jumping to Chapter 12 to absorb the priority of “me first” in order to be able to care for others. I love the airline safety announcement analogy about “place the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.” The central focus of her book, this is something I ignored for 35+ years.
You must take care of yourself. First. You can’t give what you haven’t got.
This is perhaps the hardest lesson of all, yet it is so important. Chances are you got where you are because you ran yourself ragged taking care of other people’s needs. I bet you never said no to requests to be on one more committee, drive carpool, watch a friend’s kids, and every other favor someone made of you, yet I’d also bet there’s a good chance you never take the time to take of your own needs. When was the last time you read a book for fun? Or went to a movie you wanted to see? Or pursued a creative endeavor that made you happy? Or any one of a million things you want to do? I bet it’s been a long time. — Lesley Moffat
The Who — Chapter 3: “My Journey” (Page 15)
What an incredible story! Lesley Moffat gets personal and tells her own tale of total exhaustion, lack of mental focus (she calls ADHD), numerous aches and pains, arthritis, weight gain, bouts of illnesses like pneumonia, restless leg syndrome (a sleep disorder), and migraines, needed medical procedures like back surgery, hip replacement, bunion removal, etc. At times, her narratives are explicit and most graphic.
This profession is hard. Until my generation, women weren’t high school band directors, so there were no role models for me to look up to when I struggled with finding a balance between raising a family and having this career path. I had to learn things the hard way and make up my own solutions when there weren’t resources for me to use. My peer group is primarily men. How could my male band directing colleagues relate to my struggles? They may have kids, but they didn’t have to spend nine months making those babies while teaching (an exhausting combination that cost me a miscarriage during a band trip), and then pump breast milk during their planning periods to feed each of those babies for the first six months of their lives. And how many of them had to ask a spouse to make a ninety-minute drive with their newborn baby in the car behind the school buses where the band had to play for basketball playoffs so they could nurse the baby in the bathroom when they weren’t directing the band? — Lesley Moffat
The good news? Moffat reports that after a long and often discouraging search to restore her health and vitality and “to get back to the job I love,” today she has found peace, health, and happiness, and is back in the classroom with a renewed vigor, on her way to fulfilling her personal and professional goals.
The What — Chapter 4: “Let’s Get Started!” (Page 23)
Lesley Moffat introduces her mPower Method (and a perfection alliteration) of four key components: meals, movement, music, and mindfulness. She says it all starts with administering a self-evaluation called the Mojo Meter (sample of the 40 questions below):
I have a lot of aches and pains. T F
I often feel tired after eating. T F
My memory doesn’t seem to be as sharp as it used to be. T F
Other people have mentioned that I seem down, upset, or not myself. T F
I experience a lot of brain fog.* T F
*She describes examples of “brain fog” more than a dozen times throughout the book. Do you experience any of these symptoms?
Brain fog isn’t a medical condition itself, but rather a symptom of other medical conditions. It’s a type of cognitive dysfunction involving:
lack of mental clarity
inability to focus
Some people also describe it as mental fatigue. Depending on the severity of brain fog, it can interfere with work or school. But it doesn’t have to be a permanent fixture in your life. — https://www.healthline.com/health/brain-fog
In her Mojo Meter assessment, if you answered “true” to 11 or more of these statements, then Moffat responds, “I know why you are here… It’s time to reclaim your health and energy, so get ready to amaze yourself.”
The How — Chapter 9: “SNaP Strategies” (Page 79)
If you want to change your life, first change your mindset. You can’t find opportunity when you are looking for excuses. — Anonymous
Moffat’s “My SNaP Strategies” (Start Now and Progress) will give the reader examples of ways to develop new skills by changing habits one step at a time. Some of my favorites:
Take a break from social media.
Seek out opportunities to compliment others.
Allow someone to go ahead of you in line at the store.
Set your alarm for nine minutes earlier and use those nine minutes to listen to an inspiring song.
Turn off notifications on your phone.
In addition, she urges you to “do the homework” and dive into her Action Plans at the end of most chapters.
More Sneak Peeks
Using the observations you made in the self-administered Mojo Meter forms, the end of Chapter 5 offers an extensive “plan” for evaluating and removing the foods to which you may be allergic. (See above assessment form.)
I can heartily endorse her suggestion of using a food journal in Chapter 5, keeping track of every food choice and “how it makes you feel.” My wife discovered her sensitivity to gluten, and removing it from her diet has made all the difference!
One of her funniest anecdotes described her first-days participating in a yoga class! (Chapter 6)
Do you have on-hand and regularly use specific self-designed music playlists for meals, exercise sessions, and getting ready for bed? (Chapter 7)
A simple definition (but not so easy acquisition) of “mindfulness” — “being fully present in the here and now.” (Chapter 8)
Check out her “advice for driving during rush hour” (Chapter 11), tips for staying calm during all stressful moments: slow down, simplify, sense, surrender, self-care.
On Pages 9 and 10, there are amazing “before” and “after” photos of the author!
Coda: Summary of Advice for Better Self-Care (Chapter 10)
Take deep breaths when you encounter speed bumps and stop signs during your daily commute.
Write a cover page to your syllabus outlining appropriate times and methods for parents and students to contact you.
Have a work space that is exclusively yours, including a “do not disturb” sign, closed door, and/or noise-cancelling headphones.
Talk to your boss about reasonable expectations, including how many after-school and evening events are anticipated.
Enlist the help of others (volunteers, boosters, etc.).
Start your mornings in a way that charges you up for the day.
Re-evaluate your work space and make changes changes that will be conducive for more efficiency.
Plan meals and make time to eat them.
Incorporate time to upgrade yourself.
Ask yourself, “Does this choice align with who I am?”
Come up with a self-care plan that is sustainable.
This is just the “tip of the iceberg” analyzing pathways for improved health and wellness. We are thankful that Lesley Moffat was so bold and open about sharing her own journey. Everyone can “take home” the causation of being “sick and tired of being sick and tired” and wrap their arms around implementing new strategies towards a happier living!
Author’s Bio (excerpts from the book)
Now in her fourth decade as a high school band director, Lesley Moffat has worked with thousands of people, helping them not only achieve musical goals (including repeated performances at Carnegie Hall, Disney Theme Parks, Royal Caribbean cruise ships, and competitions and festivals all over the US and Canada), but also teaching them how to develop the long-term life skills they need to be successful in the world.
Lesley has been a presenter at the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) and WMEA Conferences, served on the board for the Mount Pilchuck Music Educators Association, and has been an adjudicator and guest conductor in the Pacific Northwest.
After completing her undergraduate degree at Indiana University, she returned to her roots and moved back to the Pacific Northwest, where she and her husband, George, raised their three daughters, all of whom were students in her high school band program. Fun fact: Lesley, George, all three of their daughters, and Lesley’s dad have performed at Carnegie Hall.
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
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.
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.”
Further elaboration of their eight dimensions of wellness is provided here:
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.”
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.
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