Unraveling “the Puzzle” of Landing a Music Teacher Job
Assembling the pieces: Interview Questions and Assessment Criteria
Soon it will be the season of new school district postings of employment openings and opportunities to be hired! Hurray! At long last, college music education majors have made it through all of the music and methods courses, recitals and concerts, competency exams, field observations, student teaching, and Praxis testing. Or, perhaps you are a veteran teacher looking to relocate and find a new job? You’ve come to the right place!
With rumors of retirements, sabbaticals, teacher shortages, and HR staff and administrators scrambling to find people to fill positions, NOW is the time to “bone up” on marketing yourself and practicing your interviewing skills – to get together with your friends and fellow “rookies” and schedule mock interview sessions to interrogate and evaluate each other. Record your mock interviews and sit back, watch, critique, and learn.
A large number of past blog-posts within this “jobs/training” section were provided to assist prospective new or transferring music educators in preparing for the often-stressful job search process. Scroll down for a summary of “the basics” to help you gain the tools, knowledge, competence, and confidence to succeed at your next interview!
Good luck! PKF
Let’s put the pieces together to ace those employment screenings!
How would YOU respond to these interview questions?
Teachers make as many as 1,500 decisions a day for their classes and students… that’s as many as four educational choices per minute for the average teacher given six hours of class time. Surprised? (Not if you are an educator!) Check out this corroborating research:
Of course it can be exhausting… and as fast as “things” happen, even mind-numbing at times!
What do educators rely on for guidance, a sort of internal “ethical compass” for making these decisions, many of which are snap judgments?
Teacher “chops” (professional experience)
Peer and administrative support
Personal moral code (derived from one’s life experiences and upbringing)
Aspirations, values, and beliefs generally agreed upon by educational practitioners
State’s code of conduct and other regulations, statutes, policies, and case law
Or all of the above?
At this juncture during my workshops on ethics, I usually quote Dr. Oliver Dreon, Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Digital Learning Studio at Millersville University of Pennsylvania and one of the authors of the Educator Ethics and Conduct Tool Kit of the Pennsylvania Professional Standards and Practices Commission:
“From a decision-making standpoint, I tend to look at it from the perspective of Ethical Equilibrium (work by Troy Hutchings). Teachers weigh the moral (personal) dimensions with regulatory ones (the law) with the ethics of the profession… While focusing on consequences is important, I worry that teachers may interpret this to mean that as long as they don’t break the law, they can still be unprofessional and immoral.”
– Dr. Oliver Dreon
From college students participating in their first field observations to rookie teachers (and even veterans in the field), I recommend searching the term “ethics” on the website of your State Board of Education. In Pennsylvania, checkout the following:
Now enters probably the single most valuable document of our time, an all-encompassing philosophy for embracing the highest standards of what it means to be an ethical educator: the Model Code of Ethics for Educators (MCEE), developed under the leadership of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC). With the collaboration of numerous development partners including the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, Council of Chief State School Officers, and American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education – to name a few – MCEE is comprised of five core principles (like spokes in a wheel – all with equal emphasis), 18 sections, and 86 standards.
“The purpose of the Model Code of Ethics for Educators (MCEE) is to serve as a shared ethical guide for future and current educators faced with the complexities of P-12 education. The code establishes principles for ethical best practice, mindfulness, self-reflection and decision-making, setting the groundwork for self-regulation and self-accountability. The establishment of this professional code of ethics by educators for educators honors the public trust and upholds the dignity of the profession.”
Although pre- and in-service training on both are essential, the differences between a “code of conduct” and a “code of ethics” are vast. Codes of conduct like the Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Pennsylvania teachers are specific mandates and prohibitions that govern educator actions. A code of ethics is a set of principles that guide professional decision making, not necessarily issues of “right or wrong” (more shades of grey) nor defined in exact terms of law or policies. Codes of ethics are more open-ended, a selection of possible choices, usually depended on the context or circumstances of the situation.
“The interpretability of The Model Code of Ethics for Educators allows for robust professional discussions and targeted applications that are unique to every schooling community.”
The music teacher and administrator colleagues with whom I have been privileged to work for more than 40 years are highly dedicated and competent visionaries who focus on “making a difference” in the lives of their students, modeling “moral professionalism” and the highest ethical standards for their classes, schools, and communities, in support of maintaining the overall integrity of the profession.
However, let’s unpack some of “the wisdom” of MCEE as it addresses the rare “nay-sayers” and entrenched teacher attitudes, failing to understand “the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do…” (Potter Stewart) or “doing the right thing when no one else is watching – even when doing the wrong thing is legal” (Aldo Leopold).
Here are sample negative responses, MCEE “exemplars,” and proposed assimilations for thoughtful and interactive peer discussion. Bring these to your next staff meeting or workshop, and apply them to a few mock scenarios (like these from my past blog ).
Principle I: Responsibility to the Profession
The professional educator is aware that trust in the profession depends upon a level of professional conduct and responsibility that may be higher than required by law. This entails holding one and other educators to the same ethical standards.
“I didn’t know it was wrong…”
Section I, A, 1: Acknowledging that lack of awareness, knowledge, or understanding of the Code is not, in itself, a defense to a charge of unethical conduct;
My comment: The old adage, “ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
“What’s the problem? I didn’t break the law!
MCEE Section I, A, 5: Refraining from professional or personal activity that may lead to reducing one’s effectiveness within the school community;
My comment: Any on or off-duty conduct or inappropriate language that undermines a teacher’s efficacy in the classroom, damages his/her position as a “moral exemplar” in the community, or demeans the employing school entity may result in loss of job, suspension or revocation of license, and/or other disciplinary sanctions.
“I’m not a rat fink…”
MCEE Section I, B, 2: Maintaining fidelity to the Code by taking proactive steps when having reason to believe that another educator may be approaching or involved in an unethical compromising situation;
My comment: As a professional with “fiduciary” responsibilities, we must look out for the welfare of our students, proactively protecting them from harm by embracing all provisions of “mandatory reporting.”
“What’s in it for me?”
MCEE Section I, C, 3: Enhancing one’s professional effectiveness by staying current with ethical principles and decisions from relevant sources including professional organizations;
MCEE Section I, C, 4: Actively participating in educational and professional organizations and associations;
Principle II: Responsibility for Professional Competence
The professional educator is committed to the highest levels of professional and ethical practice, including demonstration of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions required for professional competence.
“What’s the big deal about standards?”
Section II, A, 1: Incorporating into one’s practice state and national standards, including those specific to one’s discipline;
“Not another ‘flavor-of-the-month’ in-service program!”
Section II, A, 5: Reflecting upon and assessing one’s professional skills, content knowledge, and competency on an ongoing basis;
Section II, A, 6: Committing to ongoing professional development
My comment: Always “raising the bar,” being a member of a “profession” (like medical personnel, counselors, attorneys, etc.) requires the loftiest benchmarks of self-regulation and assessment, ongoing training, retooling, and self-improvement plans, revision and enforcement of “best practices,” and application of 21st Century learning skills.
“I needed to give him credit?”
MCEE Section II, B, 1: Appropriately recognizing others’ work by citing data or materials from published, unpublished, or electronic sources when disseminating information;
My comment: Especially during this period of online/virtual/remote education brought on by COVID-19, we must reference the owners of intellectual property (including sheet music) that we use and abide by all copyright regulations. In general, it is always “best practice” to cite research or authorship “giving credit where credit is due!”
“I’m just a music teacher! Don’t ask me to do anything else!”
MCEE Section II, C, 2: Working to engage the school community to close achievement, opportunity, and attainment gaps;
My comment: We teach “the whole child,” not a specialty or specific content area! I believe our ultimate mission is to facilitate our students’ capacity and desire to learn, inspire self-direction and self-confidence, and foster future success in life.
Principle III: Responsibility to Students
The professional educator has a primary obligation to treat students with dignity and respect. The professional educator promotes the health, safety, and well being of students by establishing and maintaining appropriate verbal, physical, emotional, and social boundaries.
“It’s just a gift…”
MCEE Section III, A, 5: Considering the implication of accepting gifts from or giving gifts to students;
My comment: It is not appropriate to give a gift to a student lacking an educational purpose. In some cases, this may be defined as a “sexual misconduct.” It begs the larger question: “Do you ensure that all of your interactions with students serve an educational purpose and occur in a setting consistent with that purpose?” Also from the PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission: “Teachers should refrain from accepting gifts or favors that might impair or appear to impair professional judgment.”
“You should never touch a student!”
MCEE Section III, A, 6: Engaging in physical contact with students only when there is a clearly defined purpose that benefits the student and continually keeps the safety and well-being of the student in mind;
My comment: We were told this warning in methods classes. However, as I mentioned in a previous blog here, this “rule” has little support in research or common “best practices.” It has been my experience that on occasion, most elementary instrumental teachers assist their students in acquiring the correct playing posture and hand positions by using some (limited) physical contact. Consoling an upset student with a pat on the shoulder is not out-of-line either. The factors that may contribute to the moment being judged “okay” vs. “inappropriate” boil down to:
Length of time
Frequency or patterns of repetition
Comfort level of the student
Age level of the student
Happening in public
Who started it?
“My students are my friends!”
MCEE Section III, A, 7: Avoiding multiple relationships with students which might impair objectivity and increase the risk of harm to student learning or well-being or decrease educator effectiveness;
My comment: You cannot be their “friend.” You are their teacher, an authority figure that is looking out for them and doing what is necessary (“fiduciary” responsibilities) for their health and welfare… perhaps at times things they do not want you to do. Crossing the teacher/student boundary with familiarity, informality, and being their “confidant” or “friend” are more than just unprofessional acts – they can foster a dual relationship where roles are less defined, an ambiguity that may lead to additional inappropriate actions and educator misconduct.
“He’s weird…” or “He’s not one of us!”
MCEE Section III, B, 2: Respecting the dignity, worth, and uniqueness of each individual student including, but not limited to, actual and perceived gender, gender expression, gender identity, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and culture;
My comment: Check your prejudices and personal biases at the door. Being a teacher is all about sensitivity and caring of all individuals – students, parents, staff, etc. Embracing today’s focus on reprogramming community attitudes on “diversity,” an educator daily models the values of empathy, compassion, acceptance, and appreciation, not just settling with the “lower bar” of tolerance, allowance, and compliance!
“Wait ’til you hear what happened in class today!”
MCEE Section III, C, 1: Respecting the privacy of students and the need to hold in confidence certain forms of student communications, documents, or information obtained in the course of practice;
My comments: Gossiping about and “carrying tales” home or in the teachers’ room are serious breaches of the care and trust as well as your fiduciary responsibilities assigned to you on behalf of your students. As for “regulations,” your indiscretion may be a violation of your students’ confidentiality rights (“a federal crime” according to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Grassley Amendment, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). You are only permitted to share information about a student with another teacher, counselor, or administrator who is on a “needs-to-know” basis or is actively engaged in helping this student.
Principle IV: Responsibility to the School Community
The professional educator promotes positive relationships and effective interactions with members of the school community while maintaining professional boundaries.
“Don’t tell my parents!”
MCEE Section IV, A, 1: Communicating with parents/guardians in a timely and respectful manner that represents the students’ best interests;
My comment: I wish I had a nickel every time a student plead with me, “Don’t call my mom!” It is part of “moral professionalism,” your “code,” and good ethical standards to originate meaningful two-way dialogue, and if necessary, confront the parents of underachieving children. I also believe it goes on long way to nurture your relationships in the community if you notify parents when their kid has done something remarkable… “I caught him being good” or “The improvement has been extraordinary!”
“Did you hear what a staff member said about you… in front of the kids?”
MCEE Section IV, B, 1: Respecting colleagues as fellow professionals and maintaining civility when differences arise;
MCEE Section IV, B, 2: Resolving conflicts, whenever possible, privately and respectfully, and in accordance with district policy;
My comment: Before you bring up the matter with your supervisor or building administrator (which you have the right and even responsibility to do, especially if the students hear any improper speech first-hand or that the incidents rise to the level of bullying or aggressive behavior), first confirm the story. Talk to the unhappy team member one-on-one. Be calm and sensitive, but hold your ground: you must assert that his/her behavior/language is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the future.
“Not another TEAM meeting?”
MCEE Section IV, B, 4: Collaborating with colleagues in a manner that supports academic achievement and related goals that promote the best interests of students;
My comment: We work together to insure that all educational goals are met. Open and interactive peer partnerships are helpful in the review, design, and application of new lessons, methods, media, and music.
“I was just teasing her…”
MCEE Section IV, B, 8: Working to ensure a workplace environment that is free from harassment.
My comment: Be extremely careful in the practice of any behavior or language of a kidding, sarcastic, cynical, or joking manner. It can be misinterpreted regardless of your intentions… and it can hurt someone’s feelings. And it is never appropriate or “professional” to “put down” another person.
“Don’t ask for permission… beg for forgiveness.”
MCEE Section IV, C, 3: Maintaining the highest professional standards of accuracy, honesty, and appropriate disclosure of information when representing the school or district within the community and in public communications;
My comment: Yes, I have heard this “view” a lot, advocates of whom will tell you to go ahead and stick your neck out to do something “for the good of the order,” and if needed later, “beg for forgiveness” if you decision is met with disapproval from administration. My advice? Less experienced teachers, run everything through your fellow colleagues (informally) and principal (formally). Don’t fall back on the lame “oops” and “beg for forgiveness.” I may have felt differently when I had three times as many years of experience under my belt than the supervisors who were assigned to “manage” me… but, even then, “venturing out without a paddle” usually did not serve the best interests of the students. There’s no reason to place “the teacher’s convenience” over the safety/welfare of the students. Besides, why not take advantage of the legal and political backup of your bosses if they are kept “in the loop?”
“He’s our preferred dealer and always takes care of us.”
MCEE Section IV, D, 4: Considering the implications of offering or accepting gifts and/or preferential treatment by vendors or an individual in a position of professional influence or power;
My comment: Formerly called “sweetheart deals” with music companies, you are on “shaky” ethical ground (and may also have “crossed the line” violating state laws/statutes) if you negotiate the rights of exclusive access to your school’s or booster’s purchasing. If you have any questions about your school’s policy on outside vendors, seek advice from your district’s business manager.
Principle V: Responsible and Ethical Use of Technology
The professional educator considers the impact of consuming, creating, distributing, and communicating information through all technologies. The ethical educator is vigilant to ensure appropriate boundaries of time, place, and role are maintained when using electronic communication.
“Isn’t use of social media forbidden?”
MCEE Section V, A, 1: Using social media responsibly, transparently, and primarily for purposes of teaching and learning per school and district policy. The professional educator considers the ramifications pf using social media and direct communications via technology on one’s interactions with students, colleagues, and the general public.
My comment: Professional educators’ use of a dedicated website or other social network application enables users to communicate with each other by posting information, comments, messages, images, etc. and “learn” together. However, using social media for sharing social interactions and personal relationships with your students, parents, and staff is unethical and dangerous. As they say, “a post (or snap) is forever.” Communicating digitally or electronically with students may lead to the blurring of appropriate teacher-student boundaries and create additional challenges to maintaining and protecting confidentiality.
The Final Word
In Pennsylvania (as well as the rest of the country), the statistics on school staff misconduct reports are rising alarmingly. Your own state’s “code of conduct” and the MCEE should help to clarify misunderstandings, but it has been my experience that the majority of educators do not receive regular collegiate, induction, or in-service training on educator ethics or moral professionalism. Luckily, we are fortunate to have access to many mock scenarios (see below) from state departments of education to review/discuss among ourselves common ethical conflicts and “conundrums” dealing with pedagogy, enforcement, resource allocation, relationships, and diversity. We all need to “refresh” our understanding of these issues from time to time and revisit “our codes” frequently to help “demagnetize” (and re-adjust) our decision-making compass.
Please peruse the ethics category of this blog-site for other articles and sample references below.
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.
Summertime Reading Suggestions for Music Directors
What do authors C.S. Forester, Simon Sinek, Jocko Willink, and Leif Babin have in common?
They offer a fresh perspective on leadership principles, reflections perfectly applicable for the skill-set development of music teachers who desire to better “lead” their music programs, students, and parent boosters.
It was no accident that I chose these books to help explore the truths of inspiring confidence and leading groups of people like we do daily in our classrooms, rehearsal halls, and on the stages or marching band fields. Their use of military (as well as company or government management) anecdotes defines and re-enacts the very essence of leaders, leadership concepts, goals, and public service.
“These [military group] organizations have strong cultures and shared values, understand the importance of teamwork, create trust among their members, maintain focus, and, most important, understand the importance of people and relationships to their mission success.”
Why do we admire music teacher “heroes” and most sought-after conference keynoters in our profession such as “Dr. Tim” Lautzenheiser, Peter Boonshaft, Scott Edgar*, and Bob Morrison* (*the latter two to be featured in the PMEA Summer Virtual Conference on July 20-24, 2020). They inspire us. They recharge us and pick up our spirits. They serve as models of visionaries and coaches. They challenge the status quo and help us to grow!
I believe these books will do the same, assist in your career development to morph into an even better leader and teacher. Since many of us are “stuck at home” during the pandemic for awhile, here is a new “reading list” for personal self-improvement.
Who is Horatio Hornblower?
To start with, how about a series of historical fiction from the Napoleonic-Wars era?
Hornblower is a courteous, intelligent, and skilled seaman, and perhaps one of my favorite examples of an adaptable “leader.” Although burdened by his (almost shy) reserve, introspection, and self-doubt (he is described as “unhappy and lonely”), the Forester collection illustrates numerous stories of his personal feats of extraordinary cunning, on-the-spot problem solving, and bravery. The first book spotlights an unpromising seasick midshipman who grows into a highly acclaimed, productive, and ethical officer of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, gaining promotion steadily as a result of his skill and daring, despite his initial poverty and lack of influential friends. And yet, the common thread throughout is that he belittles his achievements by numerous rationalizations, remembering only his fears.
“Hornblower’s leadership is thoroughly self-conscious: what makes him a great leader, morally, is that he assumes as a matter course that he must lead rather than he can lead; Hornblower’s pervasive sense of responsibility would be diminished if it all came to him naturally and that he acts therefore as each situation demands. He can be self-effacing or fierce, or obsequious, all depending on what is necessary to get the job done. As it happens, Hornblower‘s many other gifts, including a formidable diligence, always beyond the call of duty, and a supple intelligence, make him a man others trust and lean on; but for the reader, especially young reader, it’s his moral qualities that are most engaging, it is instructive.”
This set is a wonderful “chestnut” to acquire, sit back in your leather recliner, and devour over the coming months. Even though it may take you some significant time to finish Forester’s eleven novels (one unfinished) and five short stories, I promise you, it will all be worth it!
[If you like the Hornblower assortment, also checkout the works by Alexander Kent and Dudley Pope, all drawing parallels to the exploits of real naval officers of the time: Sir George Cockburn, Lord Cochran, Sir Edward Pellew, Jeremiah Coghlan, Sir James Gordon, and Sir William Hoste.]
Now, how can you personally glean new leadership habits from this treasure chest? Coincidental to doing some research for this blog, I bumped into the article on LinkedIn “Leadership Lessons Learned from Horatio Hornblower.” My sincere thanks and “attaboy” go to Amro Masaad, Education and STEM Leader at Middlesex County Academies, who gave me permission to share his documentation and insightful interpretation of the following leadership tips learned from Hornblower that we can all employ as “best practices” in the education profession:
Don’t be afraid to stand up to a bully.
Don’t insist that all of your successes be praised.
Don’t let employees sabotage your mission.
If you want excellence, you can’t look the other way.
Prove yourself when the situation demands it.
Take one for the team.
Show sacrifice and honor, even with your enemies.
I have always been inspired by the adventures of Hornblower, mostly because of his displays of humanity at a time in history when things were inhumane and primitive. Hornblower consistently modeled his intentions for the care and success of his subordinates while other officers “stepped on them” to get advancement, his unimpeachable moral code that guided his every action, and “taking it on the chin” when necessary for his shipmates and the good of “god and country.”
Leaders Eat Last
I was struck by this quote by Simon Sinek, the author of Start with Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Action, who posted a popular TedTalk lecture of the same name:
“There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold the position of power or authority, but those who lead, inspire us. Whether they are individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And, it’s those who start with ‘the why’ that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others to inspire them.”
His latest book, Leaders Eat Last, brings up the rationale of mutual collaboration and prioritizing the mission and the needs of your team members. Sinek observed that some teams were able to trust each other 100%, so much so that they would be willing to put their lives on the line for each other, while other groups, no matter what enticements or special incentives were offered, were “doomed to infighting, fragmentation and failure.” Why was this true?
“The answer became clear during our conversation with the Marine Corps general. ‘Officers eat last,’ he said. Sinek watched as the most junior Marines ate first while the most senior Marines took their place at the back of the line. What’s symbolic in the chow hall is deadly serious on the battlefield: great leaders sacrifice their own comfort – even their own survival – for the good of those in their care.”
Throughout his book of vivid narratives from armed conflicts to business “revolutions” of take-overs or new CEO transformations, Sinek dives into the precepts of what constitutes “great” leadership:
The value of empathy should not be underestimated.
Trust and loyalty exist on a two-way street – to earn them, leaders must first extent them to their team members.
The role of leadership is to look out for (and take care of) those inside their “circle of safety.”
For the success of the team, goals must be tangible, visible, collaborative, and written down.
Leaders know: There is power in “paying it forward.” It feels good to help people, or when someone does something nice to us, or even when we witness someone else doing something good.
It’s also a big deal when leaders express that final personal touch and shake hands.
Leadership is all about service… to the “real, living, normal human beings with whom we work every day.”
I have never found a better source for defining the four “chemical incentives” in our bodies (also known as hormones) and numerous actual examples of their daily use (and misuse): endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.
Also intriguing is an expanded Chapter 24 and Appendix section in the book called “A Practical Guide to Leading Millennials.” Similar to another suggestion for summer perusal, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borba, Ed.D (Simon & Schuster, 2017) which focuses more on our current young “charges,” Sinek’s differentiation is provided to inspire and educate the ultimate multitaskers of the “distracted generation.”
“This is what it means to be a leader. It means they choose to go first into danger, headfirst toward the unknown. And when we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march behind them and work tirelessly to see their visions come to life and proudly call ourselves their followers.”
“The biology is clear: When it matters most, leaders who are willing to eat last are rewarded with deeply loyal colleagues who will stop at nothing to advance their leaders vision and their organization’s interests. It’s amazing how well it works.”
This next leadership philosophy, the core premise of the book Extreme Ownership – How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, will not surprise anyone who has ever taken on the inherently risky task of programming a student concert, marching field show, dance recital, or musical/play: the music director assumes full responsibility for the failures and faux pas that may occur during the performance, but instrumentalists, singers, actors, and/or dancers should get all the credit for a successful production.
“Combat, the most intense and dynamic environment imaginable, teaches the toughest leadership lessons with absolutely everything at stake. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin learned this reality firsthand on the most violent and dangerous battlefields in Iraqi. As leaders of SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser, their mission was one many thought impossible: help US forces secure Ramada, a violent, insurgent-held city deemed “all but lost.“ In gripping, firsthand accounts of heroism, tragic loss, and hard-won victories, they learned that leadership – at every level – is the most important factor in whether a team succeeds or fails.”
This is a comprehensive textbook on Leadership 101. Admittedly, the rehash of their battle scenes are scary. This is a world so far apart from anything I have ever experienced. We do owe all our veterans a massive depth of gratitude to face such dangers to defend our freedoms and way of life. (As an inexperienced teacher, the worst fear I ever had to face was a homeroom of 99 excitable and talkative Freshman girls in my first year as the high school choral director.)
When possible, I try to share the Contents (chapter titles) of my book recommendations, giving you a broad glimpse of the outline of their publication:
No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
Check the Ego
Cover and Move
Prioritize and Execute
Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
Decisiveness Amid Uncertainty
Discipline Equals Freedom – the Dichotomy of Leadership
From these sections, we can explore these fundamental building-blocks and mindsets necessary to lead and win.
Part I: Winning the War Within (Chapters 1-4)
Leaders must own everything in the world. There is no one else to blame.
A leader must be a true believer in the mission.
Even more important then “the how” and “the what” is “the why” of any plan. Not knowing the rationale of a decision or goal is a recipe for failure. It is a leader’s job to understand the mission and communicate it to his/her team members.*
During situations lacking clarity, leaders ask questions.
Leaders temper overconfidence by instilling culture within the team to never be satisfied and to push themselves harder to continuously improve performance.
Leaders know that over-inflated egos cloud judgment and disrupt everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to except constructive criticism.
* Who said “great minds think alike?” (Answer: Carl Theodor von Unlanski.) The concept of “the why” is also described in great detail in the aforementioned TedTalk by Simon Sinek.
Part II: Laws of Combat (Chapters 5-8)
Elements within the “greater team” are crucial and must work together to accomplish the mission, mutually supporting one another for that singular purpose.
In life, there are inherent complexities. It is critical to keep plans and communication simple. Complex goals and plans add to confusion which can compound into disaster.
Competent leaders can utilize their own version of the SEAL’s prioritize and execute. It is simple as, “relax, look around, and make a call.” Prioritize your problems and take care of them one at a time, the highest priority first. Don’t try to do everything at once or you won’t be successful.
Leaders delegate responsibility, trust and empower junior leaders to make decisions on their own as they become proactive to achieve the overall goal or task.
Part III: Sustaining Victory (Chapters 9-12)
Effective planning begins with an analysis of the mission’s purpose, definition of the goals, and communication of clear directives for the team.
Effective leaders keep the planning focused, simple, and understandable to all of the team members and stakeholders.
Leadership doesn’t just go down the chain of command, but up as well. Communication to your supervisors is also key.
Leaders must be decisive, comfortable under pressure, and act on logic, not emotion.
In challenging situations, there is no 100% right solution, and the picture is never complete.
Leaders have self-control and “intrinsic self-discipline,” a matter of personal will. They “make time” by getting up early.
Self-discipline makes you more flexible, adaptable, and efficient, and allows leaders and team members alike to be creative.
A leader must lead, but also be ready to follow.
A Leadership Recap for Music Teachers
I am probably not doing justice to these incredible resources. They offer an exhaustive body of knowledge and examples on leadership ideology as well as a dazzling array of practical advice on what habits/skills are essential to become an effective leader. You need to sit back and devour these books one-by-one, apply their relevance to your situation, and come to your own conclusions about prioritizing the needs for your own personal leadership development.
To sum up a few of the theories from all this literature, we could revisit page 277 in Extreme Ownership and quote “The Dichotomy of Leadership” by Jocko Willnick.
“A good leader must be:
confident but not cocky;
courageous but not foolhardy;
competitive but a gracious loser;
attentive to details but not obsessed by them;
strong but have endurance;
a leader and follower;
humble not passive;
aggressive not overbearing;
quiet not silent;
calm but not robotic;
logical but not devoid of emotions;
close with the troops but not so close that one becomes more important than another or more important than the good of the team; not so close that they forget who is in charge;
able to execute Extreme Ownership while exercising Decentralized Command.”
“A good leader has nothing to prove but everything to prove!”
Many years ago, my wife and I were fortunate to participate in almost all of those early PMEA Summer Conferences that were basically leadership training workshops. Initiated and inspired by our first guest clinician Michael Kumer (who was then “modeling leadership” first-hand as Dean of Music for Duquesne University), we were exposed to a rich curriculum of “the greats” on leadership, team building, time management, and professional development. If you have not consumed them yourself, a few of these resources from the first couple years should be added to your reading list:
One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
First Things First and other sections from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People series by Stephen Covey
A Kick in the Seat of the Pants: Using Your Explorer, Artist, Judge, and Warrior to Be More Creative and A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative by Roger Von Oech
As a part of fulfilling “total ensemble experience” and to make the learning meaningful, I have always “taught” leadership to my students. The settings may have varied, whether it was as a part of the longstanding tradition of training marching band leaders, student conductors or principals’ who ran sectionals, our spring musical “leadership team” of directors, producers, and crew heads, elected high school choir officers, participants (grades 6-12) in a six-day string camp seminar, or even booster parents in a “chaperone orientation.” Many of my own often-repeated leadership quotes were passed down:
“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” – Vince Lombardi
“You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” – Ken Kesey
“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” – Abraham Lincoln
“The very essence of leadership is you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” – Rev. Theodore Hesburgh
“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” – Stephen R. Covey
Finally, to close this seemingly-endless essay, I would share one of my regular but more unique lessons: “leaders flush.” We advise our plebe leaders-in-training that when anyone on the team sees an opportunity to take care of something that’s not right, or someone who needs help, or a problem that can be resolved on their own, they should take it upon themselves to do what is necessary for the greater good. We cite the example that, if you visit a restroom and discover someone before you did not flush the toilet, you do what’s right. Leaders flush.
Spring 2020 Final Lecture to the Music Education Graduate Students
by Rich Victor, PMEA Past State President and Adjunct Instructor for the University at Buffalo Graduate School Online
Originally posted in the Facebook group PLAN: The PA Leadership Advocacy Network
This course, “Supervision of Music Learning Programs,” was focused on programs as they existed before this year. Obviously, some things have changed.
What has changed and what has stayed the same? To answer that question let’s take another look at this graphic from Unit 4.
All decisions should flow from the mission statement. That should not change.
As you discovered, most school district mission statements focus on ideals such as “success, life-long learning, and becoming responsible citizens in the community.” An effective music department mission statement will be in alignment with the stated district mission. It will inform the administration and the community how the study of music helps the district achieve their stated mission through the skills and knowledge children learn in music. It also explains what children would lose if the subject were not offered because no other discipline is available in the school district where children can learn those skills and knowledge as well as in music classes.
The school mission and the department mission define the WHY.
Once the WHY has been determined, then the district must determine the WHAT. WHAT learning activities need to be offered to the students in the district in order to help them achieve the desired outcomes stated in the mission? The answer to that question should help determine the curriculum for music.
The content for the music curriculum is determined partially by the district and department missions, partially by state mandated Arts Standards, partially by local school district inter-disciplinary curriculum requirements, and partially by the music department’s desire to provide each child with a comprehensive and high-quality music education based on National Standards.
The outcomes from those learning activities – the WHAT – should not change.
In pre-COVID-19 times, the next decision would be to determine how much time is needed for students to master the curriculum and succeed in their activities. How many years will each facet of that curriculum require? How many hours of instruction should be allocated in each year and WHEN should that time be scheduled in order to provide the maximum number of learning opportunities for each child?
The WHEN might stay synchronous or change to asynchronous instruction. The number of instructional hours provided to each teacher and each subject may need to be flexible. That is yet to be determined and we should prepare for all possibilities. However, keep in mind that the WHEN should not alter the WHAT.
Once it is decided how many hours of instruction should be allocated annually and when those hours would be scheduled, then the district must figure out exactly how many teachers will be needed to deliver that instruction and what qualifications those teachers should possess. The “WHO” part of the process – the staffing piece of the puzzle – should still be driven by the needs of the curriculum and should not change.
It will be the HOW and WHERE parts of this process where the largest changes will occur.
Obviously, the decision WHERE teachers and students will be in the fall will impact HOW music will be taught and what equipment and materials can be used for learning activities.
Facilities in school buildings must be adapted to provide appropriate space for instructional activities to take place and to conveniently store all of the materials and equipment used in those activities while following whatever social distancing protocols and approved procedures for safely handling musical materials are adopted. The WHERE may continue to be the student’s home or a combination of school and distance learning. Once again, we need to prepare for all possibilities.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the outcomes of the K-12 music curriculum – the WHAT – should not change. Teachers need to keep “the end in mind” rather than just focusing in on their own period of time with each student. Then, following the principles of Understanding by Design, K-12 music staff must work as a team to create appropriate learning activities that are designed to help each student make progress through each grade and ultimately achieve the specific learning outcomes of the K-12 music program using the WHEN, WHO, HOW and WHERE pieces that we will have to work with.
As my friend and colleague Bob Morrison said in a recent presentation “Change the HOW not the WHAT!”
Yes, it will be challenging. The challenges caused by these changes may appear to be daunting at first, but they are not insurmountable!
Fortunately, there are some great thinkers in our profession who are already coming up with ideas to make the best of the situation for both classroom and performance teachers. Even if you are the only music teacher in your school district – you are NOT alone! Wonderful ideas for solutions to these challenges can be found in social media and through webinars.
The most important thing to know at this time is that discussions are occurring right now in every school district throughout the country. When students might return to school, and how classes might be scheduled will be determined soon. You must be proactive and become part of that decision-making process BEFORE the decisions are made! Be at the table so that decisions affecting music education in your district happen WITH you and not TO you.
The future of music education is in YOUR hands. It will be what you make it. Good luck and keep in touch!
Editor’s note: As a follow-up to Rich Victor’s article, check out these PMEA webpages:
Richard Victor is currently Adjunct Instructor for the University at Buffalo Graduate School Online.
Richard Victor had a 37-year career as State College Area High School Band Director. In 1987, he was also appointed to the position of Coordinator of Music for the State College Area School District. He was President of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) from 2000-2002 and served as its Advocacy Chair. He was President of the PA Unit of the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) from 1989-1993, the PMEA All-State Jazz Coordinator and PMEA News Jazz Editor from 1993-1998, and chair for the NAfME Council for Jazz Education from 2014-2018. He has also served on the advisory board for the NAfME Teaching Music magazine and held the office of President of the Penn State Alumni Blue Band Association. Other professional memberships include Phi Beta Mu and The Gordon Institute for Music Learning (GIML).
Mr. Victor has been a guest conductor and adjudicator for concert band and jazz events in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and currently serves as an instrumental adjudicator for Music in the Parks. He frequently provides services as a clinician, consultant, and/or featured speaker for school districts and music events throughout Pennsylvania. He has presented sessions at five NAfME (formerly MENC) national conferences, three NAfME Eastern Division conferences, and the 2008 Americans for the Arts National Convention. He also has been a presenter for six different MEA state conferences, three JEN National Conferences, and three International Conferences on Music Learning Theory.
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.
Asks for “The Before,” “The During,” and “The After”
These Responses Are Critical for Marketing Yourself & Landing a Job
This article was inspired by my recent participation in virtual mock interviews on Zoom for PCMEA members and senior music education majors.
It is up to you to do the research and plan ahead!
What is that “scout’s motto?” Be prepared!
Or, to put it another way, more “near and dear” to the average music student:
“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” (Practice, practice, practice!)
“How do you get a job?” (Practice, practice, practice!) AND (Prepare, prepare, prepare!) –
a focus on the BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER phases of an interview!
Prior to every job screening, walk in well-informed. Investigate in advance the background information of the school district:
The job opening and responsibilities
Details about the overall music program, number of staff, courses offered, etc.
School district’s mission/vision/value statements
Validation of administrative support for the arts
Examples of community support for music education
Work environment and employee attitudes
Be a detective! Look for responses to these inquiries “surfing the ‘Net,” studying the district’s website, reading local media releases, and, if you are able to, finding someone who is already employed there:
What do you know about this school district?
What is the average make-up (socioeconomic, education, racial, etc.) of the community? Is it mostly urban, rural, suburban? Are the majority of the jobs blue collar, white collar, entrepreneurial, agricultural, or mixed?
What educational, cultural, and sport/leisure activities are available to the residents in and around the area?
What philosophies or approaches are emphasized in the school district’s strategic plan and/or annual Board of School Director’s goals?
What are samples of student, staff, building, and school district awards and traditions?
How many class periods (not counting lunch) are structured for the academic day? Are specific grade levels or buildings organized in block scheduling, “period 0” and/or before/after-school curricular or co-curricular classes, lesson pullouts, period rotations or A/B weeks, etc.?
How often is the curriculum revised or updated?
What is the school district grading scale and music grading policy/practice?
What music classes and extra-curricular activities are offered?
Are any specialties or disciplines emphasized or promoted, e.g. Kodaly, Orff, Dalcroze, Little Kids Rock or Modern Band, World Drumming, Suzuki, Competitive Marching Band, Strolling Strings, etc.?
What position(s) is(are) open and what duties are required?
What avenues of professional development exist?
What percentage of students are in the music program?
What percentage of the music students own instruments, take lessons, and seek participation in outside ensembles?
What indicators of cooperative parental and community support exist (concert attendance, private teachers, booster groups, community arts organizations, etc.)?
What resources are budgeted (sheet music, music technology, field trips, piano tuning, instruments and instrumental repair, teacher in-service, festivals, etc.)
What answers you cannot find, you may ask at the end of the interview.
Tell us something about yourself… your strengths, weaknesses, and goals for the future.
Who had the greatest influence on you becoming a music teacher and why?
What are the most important qualities of an outstanding music educator?
Describe a successful lesson plan you have developed.
How will you accommodate students with special needs or varied interests in your music program?
How would you recruit/encourage students and “grow” interest and participation in the music program?
Describe your approach to introducing a musical concept: singing matching pitches, keeping a steady
Why is it important for students to be actively engaged in the performing arts?
Why should I hire you for this position?
Describe your background and knowledge of each of the following methodologies, and for a general music position, which one is your favorite? Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze?
Describe a lesson that did not materialize in a manner that you expected. What did you learn from this experience?
If you were hired as a high school band director at the last minute the third week of September, and the marching style was contrary to your preference to teach, how would you adapt?
What are three adjectives students would use to describe you?
How would you assess the learning in your rehearsals?
What is most important to you? Music outcomes, content, or process?
You will probably be asked, “Do you have any questions for me?” by the interviewer. You should show your interest, forethought, and advanced preparation by coming up with a few, or adapt several of the 16 pre-interview samples in the “Before” section above. At the very least, if the principal or supervisor of the posted position happens to be in the room, you could inquire: “Where do you see the program in 10 years?” or “What is the most valued attribute of a ______ School District educator?”
As soon as it is over (immediately when you get home – don’t put it off!), debrief yourself. Do an assessment of your positives and areas for improvement or needs for further practice. To formalize this process, try any number of evaluative rubrics (for examples, visit https://paulfox.blog/2019/05/14/job-interview-rubrics/). Or, just summarize your observations into strengths (+) and weaknesses (-) referencing the elements of attitude, speech, language, body language, content/on topic, and preparation. (See the first box above.)
Are you telling me it’s time to bring up more questions? Yep, to finalize your interview’s “postmortem,” reflect on these queries, which will become your focal points in preparation of your next job screening.
The first “biggie critique” might take a little while to follow-up and re-train. This is important since most of the professionals who serve on interview screening committees are administrators, HR staff members, or curriculum supervisors (not music content specialists). And, in the same breath, most music education majors are not well versed on these “buzz words” since they may be only briefly mentioned during their music courses.
CCCC (The Four C’s) – 21st Century Learning Skills of Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, and Critical Thinking
Classroom Management and the concepts of “Assertive Discipline” and “Ladder of Referral”
Charlotte Danielson’s Four Domains – Planning and Preparation, Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities
DOK – Depth of Knowledge and HOTS – Higher Order Thinking Skills
ESSA – Every Student Succeeds Act (2015), successor to NCLB (No Child Left Behind)
IEPs – Individualized Education Program, including IDEA (disabilities), 504 plans, accommodations for special needs, differentiated and customized learning, etc.
LMS – Learning Management System (software used by schools to track grades, take attendance, deliver curriculum, and offer/evaluate courses, etc.)
Middle School (or Middle Level Learner) Philosophy
PLN/PLC – A Personal Learning Network or Professional Learning Community
PBL – One of two different concepts: Project-Based or Problem-Based Learning
SEL – Social-Emotional Learning
SAS – Standards Aligned Systems of the PDE (Pennsylvania Department of Education)
STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math
UBD – Understanding by Design, “backwards-design” curriculum development with EU (Enduring Understandings) and EQ (Essential Questions)
Of course, if you were “nailed” by not knowing terminology or acronyms of which you never heard, don’t “fake it!” Just be honest with the interviewers (they cannot expect a “raw recruit” fresh out of college to know everything), but never-the-less, look it up as soon as you return home. You’ll be ready for the next interview. (“Catch me once, shame on you. Catch me twice, shame on me!”)
More questions to help you evaluate your performance:
2. At the interview, did you project the image that you are solely qualified to serve as a specific music content-area specialist? In other words, are you only a “band director,” “vocal conductor,” EL/MS general music teacher, piano/guitar accompanist, jazz instructor, music theorist, or string “maestro?” Did you basically imply to the screener(s) that you would not accept any assignment outside your “comfort zone,” and that your Music Pre-K-12 Instructional I Certificate is not worth the paper on which it is printed?
3. If you had videotaped the interview, how would you characterize your rapport with the screening individual or committee? To what extent did you demonstrate an attitude of openness, cooperation, sensitivity to the interviewer’s style/personality, and fostering of the four C’s of the model interviewee behavior – be calm, caring (motivated), congenial, and considerate?
4. Were you “engaged” in treating the session as a mutually beneficial exchange of information?
5. Did you respond to the interviewer’s questions “on topic” with clear, concise, and substantiated statements, supported by specific anecdotes/stories or examples of your skills or experiences?
6. Did you avoid “bird walking,” “tap-dancing,” having verbal clutter (too many run-on statements), rambling, fast talking, sounding verbose, being flip or too casual/informal in conversation, or going overboard with your answers?
7. How many times (count them) did you use the words “ah,” “um,” or “like?”
8. Did you promote your strengths and all experiences (musical and non-musical) you have had interacting positively with children, and not discount your potential and capabilities due to a limited past job record or shortened time in student teaching?
9. How successful were you in controlling your nerves, looking interested, “being yourself,” and demonstrating good eye contact, pleasant facial expressions, and relaxed and professional speech, posture, and body language?
10. Did you avoid the use of “weak words” that suggest a lack of conviction: “kind of,” or “sort of,” or “I feel like?”
11. Did you limit any form of “fidgeting,” such as tapping or shuffling feet, cracking knuckles, touching hair or face, drumming or spinning a pen between your fingers, wiggling in your seat, etc.?
12. How many times did you use the name of the interviewer(s) during your interview? It shows respect and is the best way to get/keep his/her attention.
In summary, treat the job search process more scientific:
Be diligent in practicing mock interviewing with classmates, friends, and family members,
Plan ahead, and
Formalize your questions and self-assessments.
The jobs are out there… waiting for you to “hook them in,” and as every good fisherman knows: “Nothing replaces time on the water, patience, and the ability to admit to yourself there is always something to learn and a better way to do it.”
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/.
One of my goals after retiring from 35 years as an educator and administrator in the public schools was to reach-out to college music education majors and offer some tips and techniques for preparing for this honorable career.
Discounted NAfME + PMEA first-year membership: only $90. (If you are a recent college graduate in your first year of teaching, or if you are the spouse of a current or retired NAfME member, contact NAfME at 800-336-3768 or email firstname.lastname@example.org) to find out if you qualify for a reduced rate.
PMEA Mentor or other state’s MEA support program for new teachers.
Check out the online resources on the PMEA Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention website, free/open to all music teachers. Especially take note of the supplemental links on a variety of topics posted here.
A summary of my re-occurring themes on marketing your professionalism and a few “pet peeves” include the following:
Create a multi-media digital portfolio, video recording excerpts of your memorable solo, chamber, and ensemble performances, teaching experiences, and other opportunities you have had in working with children of all ages. To the interviews, bring both a printed version and jump drive (the latter to leave with the screening committee) of these artifacts and a list of your other activities, awards, accomplishments, mission/vision, transcripts, music education and class management philosophies, recommendations, etc.
Take the time to assemble “the stories of your life, work, and teaching experiences” (both successes and the “glitches” or “snags” along the way which you had to resolve) that demonstrate your competencies, relationships with students, personality traits, acquired skills, problem-solving, and maturity.
Bring to any employment screening your resume, business card, and an e-portfolio referencing a professional website which archives everything in #1 and #2 above.
Avoid one-word responses or short answers to most interview questions. Instead, seek ways to incorporate the anecdotes you have made ready at your fingertips (#1 above) that model those characteristics a prospective employer is seeking in a music teacher.
If you want to be the one “in control” of the possible jobs that may come your way, avoid marketing your skills as a “music specialist” (e.g. band director or elementary music teacher). Most degree programs prepare the students for teaching certification in “Music Grades Pre-K to 12.” If you are looking to expand your opportunities, don’t limit your capabilities or options upfront. You CAN teach all forms and levels of music!
Clean-up and curate your social media sites, treating your Facebook pages as another “personal branding resource.” Experts recommend that “your profile information should reflect integrity and responsibility… You should expand or add content that projects a professional image, shows a friendly, positive personality, demonstrates that you are well-rounded with wide range of interests, and models… great communication skills.” Source: https://paulfox.blog/2019/03/01/collegiates-clean-up-your-social-media/.
How to your get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice! How do you ace your interview? Practice, practice, practice! Put yourself through “mock interviews” and record and later assess your “performance.” Sample questions are posted at my blog-site.