Dear Music Parents…

We Need Your Help to Support Your “Kids” and Make Music Education More Effective

This message was sent to the parents and partners of the nonprofit community ensemble “for instrumentalists of all ages” – The South Hills Junior Orchestra – and participants in the SHJO Online Academy (SHJOOLA), but is applicable to all music families. School music directors everywhere need your assistance!

[http://www.shjo.org/]

Another first! A special “reach-out” via Fox’s Fireside geared exclusively to music parents.

Before we start with the nitty-gritty, on behalf of music educators everywhere, let us thank you in advance for all of your commitment and collaborative efforts in support of your child’s music program!

We hope this finds “you and yours” healthy, safe, productive, and happily engaged. Since many of the schools are within a month to the end of their fall semester and second nine-week grading periods, we thought now would be a good time to step back a little and offer our assessment of how things are going.

“When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.” In spite of the limitations brought on by the pandemic, the directors are doing everything in their power to connect with, stimulate, and enlighten the players and singers. In general, we are satisfied with the musical progress of everyone – the students are showing technical growth, mastery of the music, and even more importantly, great resiliency in dealing with these challenging times. SHJOOLA and other remote teaching or alternative music learning serve only as a temporary stopgap measures until all of us can return to our the normal “live and in-person” rehearsals. However, it looks like this may not be until Spring 2021 or later.

[Feel free to share this blogpost or this PDF link.]

We would like to elicit the help of our music parents to check in and observe the online activities of your son or daughter, and if necessary, intervene on behalf of them. This would help us improve the quality of the virtual music programs run smoothly. We have all found that online teaching is very hard. The limitations of this technology (latency and inability to sync the visual and audio portions of zoom meetings) will not allow the chance to hear in real-time performances of individual players or the group altogether. The most important “takeaway” from this message is the camera on your household device needs to be operative and used every time we sponsor a class. In addition, it is not satisfactory for anyone to position their device so that we cannot see them, leave the meeting early, mute or disengage from the virtual lesson discussions, or turn off their camera at any time. Video feedback is the only avenue available to “monitor and adjust” our instruction during any “synchronous sessions.” We have found that Zoom runs quite well on smartphones and tablets, and the cameras on these devices will suffice if the computer hardware is not up to the task.

So, effective immediately, if your SHJOOLA child seems to be having trouble with his camera, we will notify you.

(Please let us know if you need any technical assistance. The cost of purchasing a new “web cam,” is as low as $16 at WalMart. If we cannot help you, we’ll find someone who can!)

As the character Jean-Luc Picard says in the Star Trek Next Generation series: ENGAGE! What are the number one concerns of all educators during this disruption to education caused by COVID-19, shared even by the “Plan B” strategies for music? – Loss of individual attention, sensitivity, communications, connectivity, empathy, and self-empowerment towards the pursuit of the students’ own inspired initiatives in learning!

In other words, “distance learning should not be distant.” To be effective, it needs to promote an exchange of dialogue, responsible online citizenship, and goals to reach-out and engage within this unique “music community!” (For those of you who enjoy reading about learning theory, feel free to peruse Mr. Fox’s recent educator blogpost about social emotional learning, “teacher presence,” emotional intelligence, “character” curriculum, and habits of empathy: https://paulfox.blog/2020/11/03/embracing-the-intangibles/.)  

[New players may join SHJOOLA at any time. We accept out-of-town musicians, too!]

Following the advice of several members and to keep the team more “connected,” our initial SHJOOLA Zoom meetings will open 10 minutes early to allow for a little informal chit-chat! How are you doing?

REMINDER: Whether hybrid or online, attendance is mandatory. Music directors understand that, on occasion, there will be illness, family, business, or other educational conflicts necessitating the missing of a Zoom meeting. For SHJOOLA, our attendance policy is flexible, but notification of the SHJO Managing Director in advance is mandated: mdirector@shjo.org. (Please include your name and the reason for missing the session.) Considering all of the prep time your music directors are devoting to the lessons, it would only be “common courtesy” for the absentees to keep themselves up to date on what was presented, view any available archived rehearsal videos or slides posted (for SHJOOLA posted weekly at http://www.shjo.org/online-academy), and make-up all missed work within a few days of the absence. Ensembles are teams and rely on camaraderie and responsibility: “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts!”

FYI, the software embedded in our SHJOOLA MusicFirst Classroom provides access to a valuable subscription that will last through June 2021. There are a lot of great applications for members to freely explore asynchronously (on-their-own at their convenience) in order to foster self-improvements in ear training, music theory, performance assessment, sight reading, and writing/analyzing music.

In conclusion, parents, we need you to “stop on by” and observe what’s happening!   For SHJOOLA, our goal is to continue offering our free professional services in making meaningful music, playing duets, performing with online soundtracks, learning new (and in greater detail) musical concepts to “grow” our musicianship and comprehension of orchestral literature, and to just have fun being successful. PKF

These things are “NOT COOL” during online music classes…

  • Arriving late to scheduled meetings (“early is on-time!”)
  • Missing sessions and not “catching up” on the missed work
  • Failing to download and print the music in advance
  • Not having instrument and music (in order) ahead of the start of the meeting
  • Turning off or re-positioning your camera so we cannot see you
  • Failing to respond to questions or participate in the discussions
  • Texting, emailing, or using any other device that distracts your attention
  • Allowing interruptions or loud noises during the class
  • Eating or drinking during rehearsals

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

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com:
“Blaze-Fireplace-Campfire-Bonfire” by Pexels
“Learn Student Laptop Internet” by geralt

Burned Out or Bummed Out?

More on Teacher Self-Care: Diagnosis and Remediation

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

burnout-90345_1920_geralt

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

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

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

You may be on the road to burnout if:

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

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

 

star-5031540_1920_geralt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

despair-1235582_1920_geralt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

autonomy-298474_1920_geralt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

successful-2668386_1920_geralt

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

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

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

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

 

help-4955863_1920_geralt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

man-4957154_1920_geralt

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

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

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

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

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

PKF

 

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

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Seniors Helping Seniors

Are you a caregiver?

going-shopping-1-1433513As we progress through our “golden years,” you may have noticed you had to switch roles with your parents or other elderly relatives… you’re becoming more the parent, advisor or “boss,” and they are more needy and have reverted to being the “child!”

Thanks to advancements in medical science – new and better diagnostic tools, nutrition, antibiotics and other drugs, surgical procedures, and other innovations – we are all living longer. This is bringing on what Dr. Robert N. Butler refers to as “The Longevity Revolution” (See The Longevity Revolution: The Benefits and Challenges of Living a Long Life, PublicAffairs, 2008). The Boomers (and late-boomers) have arrived in huge numbers, and plan to enjoy very long, productive, and richly meaningful lives with renewed inspiration to contribute to the betterment of society in activities of civic, social, and economic engagement – things in which they strongly believe!

And, for many of us, this means we share new responsibilities and jobs as “caregivers!”

I feel blessed to have “found” and connected with Marie Villeza and Kayla Harris at http://elderimpact.org/about-us/. Talk about their insight and generosity! This material comes at a perfect time for all teacher retirees! They have agreed to research and share many support networks and other resources for improving eldercare, senior mobility, special needs and accommodations, and general tips on health, aging, jobs, and finances.

“Lately I’ve been devoting my focus to senior health — especially since only 28-34% of Americans aged 65-74 are physically active. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with some of the elders in my community, and they said although they do want more physical activity, they feel limited in their options. Fortunately, inspiring others to get on their feet is my specialty! I’ve gathered some terrific resources on ways for seniors to lead happier, more active lives, but I need your help distributing them.”    — Marie Villeza

senior-crossing-1253800

Take some time to peruse these links:

 

“I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like there is too much for us to keep track of and never enough time to get it all done. And sometimes it can be daunting knowing where to start when looking for information about buying a home, figuring out life insurance, or managing life with a disability. That’s why I’m grateful to have so many wonderful resources available on the internet. There are all kinds of resources that can help make financial planning and life in general easier for all Americans, including seniors, veterans, and those with disabilities.” — Kayla Harris

These are from Kayla Harris, also from elderimpact.org:

 

“Some of the greatest partnerships I’ve ever seen have been between senior roommates. Whether it’s a married couple who’ve spent decades together or a pair of siblings who retired together, the care and consideration they always have for each other never ceases to inspire me. I think sometimes we spend so much time worrying about whether our seniors can take care of each other that we fail to see the amazing ways that they do.” — Marie Villeza

love-1471183

Thanks so much, Marie and Kayla!

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits from FreeImages.com: photographers Ned Horton (hands), Benjamin Earwicher (going shopping), Michelle Kwajafa (senior crossing), and John Meyer (love)