Leadership Lessons

Summertime Reading Suggestions for Music Directors

3 leadership books

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.”

— From the Foreword of Leaders Eat First

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.

EPISODE 1-MUTINY
ITV/Rex Archive: Ioan Gruffudd in “Hornblower” 2001 TV series

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.

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74-gun Royal Navy Ship-of-the-line ~1794

“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.”

by Igor Webb, Hudson Review

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.]

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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:

  1. Don’t be afraid to stand up to a bully.
  2. Don’t insist that all of your successes be praised.
  3. Don’t let employees sabotage your mission.
  4. If you want excellence, you can’t look the other way.
  5. Prove yourself when the situation demands it.
  6. Take one for the team.
  7. 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.”

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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.”

TEDxPugetSound

silent-drill-platoon-1398509_1920_skeezeHis 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.”

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

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.

UnSelfieAlso 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.”

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

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Extreme Ownership

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.”

Front panel of the hardback Extreme Ownership

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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:

  1. Extreme Ownership
  2. US Navy SEAL Team Three [ST3][Patch][1.5]No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
  3. Believe
  4. Check the Ego
  5. Cover and Move
  6. Simple
  7. Prioritize and Execute
  8. Decentralized Command
  9. Plan
  10. Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
  11. Decisiveness Amid Uncertainty
  12. 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.

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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.

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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!”

—  Extreme Ownership

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:

  • 7 HabitsOne 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

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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.

PKF

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

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Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

The Future of Music Education

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

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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.

Rich Victor Decision Making Process

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.

Victor3Once 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 Victor2those 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 Victor1of 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:

 

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About the Guest Blogger

Victor0Richard 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.

 

Teacher Self-Care During the Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Together, we are stronger!

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I have been accused of being a little too emotional and I should not “feed into the negativity,” as one reader complained in reaction to one of my blogs. However, according to this article by Christina Cipriano and Marc Brackett, “emotions drive effective teaching and learning, the decisions educators make, classroom and school climate, and educator well-being.”

“At the end of March, our team at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, along with our colleagues at the Collaborative for Social Emotional and Academic Learning, known as CASEL, launched a survey to unpack the emotional lives of teachers during the COVID-19 crisis.”

“In the span of just three days, over 5,000 U.S. teachers responded to the survey. We asked them to describe, in their own words, the three most frequent emotions they felt each day.”

“The five most-mentioned feelings among all teachers were: anxious, fearful, worried, overwhelmed and sad. Anxiety, by far, was the most frequently mentioned emotion.”

Navigating Uncertain Times: How Schools Can Cope With Coronavirus

Almost in unison, the strategies that seem to be echoed most often by medical and mental health professionals, educators on the front line, and even technology specialists, are outlined by this “wellness map of to-do’s!”

  1. Don’t obsess. Calm yourself. Set priorities.
  2. Connect and communicate often with your family members and your students.
  3. Set and maintain boundaries.
  4. Practice mindfulness.
  5. Take the necessary steps to maintain your own physical and mental health!

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Avoiding Becoming Overwhelmed

As a retiree, I “only” lost the spring season of my community youth orchestra to this crisis. In my position as state chair of the PMEA Council Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention (PMEA Council TTRR), I tried to soothe the “hysteria” of many of my still-working friends and colleagues who were grappling with the instantaneous roll-out of distance learning. After researching online music education resources, we were able to place countless links on the PMEA Council TTRR website (here). After 7+ weeks, one of our “omnibus Google Docs” has grown to 15+ pages and more than 225 separate sources of virtual, remote, and alternative music learning media and methods.

computer-768608_1920_free-photosFor some, this has made matters worse… an “overload of abundance!” The multitude of venues and opportunities (too many unexplored “new technologies” for many of us baby-boomers!) included information about virtual ensembles, YouTube libraries, music games, lessons plans and platforms for synchronous and asynchronous e-learning, video-conferencing techniques, hardware and software reviews, etc.

Take a deep breath! Focus! Prioritize your goals. What are you trying to accomplish? Don’t try to consume all of the available resources “out there,” nor use every application or online lesson that you find on Facebook groups like https://www.facebook.com/groups/mecol/. What was it my mother used to say at the dinner table? “Sip and chew slowly… don’t gulp!” Take away what might help your situation, but approach anything brand new in moderation!

online-5059831_1920_TumisuGo ahead and sign-up for a webinar or planned learning community meeting or two. Many professional development workshops are provided with “no extra fees” right now, like the NAfME library here, the aforementioned Facebook group and others, and if you already have a membership in PMEA, this website.

BUT… plan to take away ONLY one or two new “teaching tools” from each session… maybe consider trying-out one new app or lesson idea every other week?

As if to anticipate our needs, more than a year ago, Elena Aguilar published the in-depth piece “How to Coach the Overwhelmed Teacher” in Education Week blog, summarizing excellent stress-reduction treatments. (Share these if you think they will help you or some else! Read the entire article for more detail!)

desperate-5011953_1920_Peggy_MarcoFive tips for coaching overwhelm:

  1. Describe it.
  2. Recall previous experiences.
  3. Identify one tiny next step.
  4. Listen.
  5. Plan for action.

“When coaching someone experiencing strong emotions, it’s important to know the signs and indicators of depression and anxiety disorders. Emotions can turn into moods, and if moods hang around long enough, they may become depression or an anxiety disorder. People who feel overwhelmed a great deal may be experiencing depression, whereas those who are ‘stressed’ a lot may be experiencing anxiety. This resource, AppD Depression_Anxiety.pdf, can be offered to your coachees or used to consider whether someone may need professional help.”

“When coaching any strong emotion, it’s useful to remember that emotions can be guides to self-understanding. They are a normal part of being a human being, and strong emotions show up to get us to pay attention to what’s going on. We can welcome strong emotions—in ourselves and in our coachees—and explore them to gain insight into ourselves and humans and educators.” — Elena Aguilar

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Making Connections

Your loved-ones and friends probably need you now more than ever!

And, a myriad of research supports the assertion that social connections significantly improve our own physical and mental health and emotional well-being, such as published by the “Center of Compassion & Altruism Research & Education” of the Stanford Medical School:

“Strong social connection leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity, strengthens your immune system (research by Steve Cole shows that genes impacted by loneliness also code for immune function and inflammation), helps you recover from disease faster, [and] may even lengthen your life!”

“People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.” — Dr. Emma Seppala

There’s even evidence that “human touch” and close connections with other people increase our body’s levels of the beneficial hormones serotonin and cortisol.

Just more common sense? Right? Probably!

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The first thing I did during that initial announcement of school/activity closures was to reach-out to my “musical kids.” Many music directors told me they quickly sponsored a Zoom/Google Hangout meeting of their ensemble members, mostly just to check-in with their players or singers and get everyone “on board” for future online interactions.

Perhaps COVID-19 has made me a better “citizen,” too. Much more frequently, I now call or text a friend, colleague, volunteer co-worker, or neighbor to see how they are doing. It’s terrible to admit that it took a world disaster to improve my interpersonal communications skills!

Finally, here’s a good “recap.” In spite of the need for social distancing, these examples of “safe connections” are suggested by Jennifer Wickham from The Mayo Clinic:

  • Use electronics to stay in contact with friends, neighbors and loved ones. This could include using video-conference programs, making voice calls instead of sending texts, or talking with a neighbor through windows while maintaining a safe distance.
  • Spend quality time with the people you live with, such as playing board games or completing an indoor project.
  • Make a family meal or dessert recipe that reminds you of friends or family you are unable to visit, and then call them to tell them about it. This way, you get an experience of internal and external connection.
  • Write in a journal about your experiences during this time of social distancing. Not only will this help you sort out what you are thinking and feeling, but also it can be shared going forward as a way for future generations to connect with the past.

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Setting Boundaries

Something else I admit to NOT doing!

“Going Google,” “exploring e-learning,” or “doing digital” –  it is easy to get carried away and not notice you just spent 12 hours in-a-row of “screen time” participating in online meetings or creating new remote learning opportunities for your music students. Exactly when are your classroom and office hours? You are likely pushing yourself too hard, even in your pajamas! This insane pace will only promote other health concerns!

The foresight of Elisa Janson Jones was evident for writing this in her blog “7 Self-Care Strategies to Prevent Burnout” back in September 2018 before the pandemic:

bulletin-board-3233653_1920_geralt“It’s hard to create a work-life balance when life is filled with work. Teachers are known for working long hours off-the-clock for no additional compensation. This is even more prevalent in music education. We add performances, competitions, musicals, individual lessons, fundraising, data entry, and even music composition and arranging to our task list.”

“We may find pride in saying we worked 60 hours this week, flaunting to our friends that we got to school in the dark and left in the dark. Perhaps we find self-importance in their pity and admiration.”

“However, to thrive in our profession, we must remember that teaching music is our career, not our entire life. Hobbies, families, volunteering, and other ways we contribute to our communities and our homes are also aspects of who we are.”

“Setting clear boundaries between when we are working for our paycheck and when we are working for ourselves helps us carve out space where we offer ourselves time to be free of obligations and burdens of our career. Whether it’s a few hours per day, a full day per week, or both, setting strict boundaries for when you’re on-the-clock and when you’re off is essential.” — Elisa Janson Jones

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Mindfulness and “Living” in the Present

Another concept that Elisa Janson Jones covered in her Smartmusic blog: mindfulness.

Now is the time for a little nonjudgmental “free reflection,” or what the psychologists call the best practice of “mindfulness” – a focus with full attention on your thoughts, feelings, and sensations “in the moment.” I think the “Teaching with Orff” website really nailed it in the article “7 Self Care Tips for Quarantined Music Teachers.”  Read co-author Zoe Kumagai’s examples of affirmations: “How do I want to feel today?”

  • I allow myself time and space to reflect.
  • My mind is aware of the present.
  • My heart feels compassionate and is full of love.
  • My mind is stimulated by books, stories, art, scholarly articles, music that inspire me to be my best self.
  • I maintain boundaries with technology and intake of the news.
  • My body is free to dance.
  • My voice is clear to sing, laugh and converse authentically.

According to this Harvard Medical HelpGuide, the habits and techniques of mindfulness can improve well-being, physical health, and mental health:

“There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment… Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra.” — HelpGuide

Band director, best-selling author, and acclaimed clinician Lesley Moffat devoted an entire chapter to mindfulness in her book I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me. You know what they say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” After learning the techniques for herself, she adopted mindfulness practice at the beginning of each band rehearsal for her students, a 4-5 minute routine of guided breathing and relaxation exercises leading up to the daily warmup chorale.

 

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I love the symbolism in her “snow globe” analogy:

“Just like a snow globe that’s been shaken up, it takes time for your mind and body to settle down. If you try to get the snow globe to settle down while you’re still holding it and carrying on with your regular activities, the snow may fall slower, but it won’t completely stop and allow you to see the objects in the snow globe. You must allow it to be completely still long enough for the water to stop swirling and the glitter to follow the pull of gravity and settle on the bottom. It only takes a matter of minutes until it settles, revealing the magical scene inside, and the very glitter that was covering up the view when it was moving around has become a lovely blanket of snow that grounds the scene in the snow globe. But without a few minutes of stillness, it is impossible for it to become completely settled. So it goes with a mindfulness practice. Your mind and body needs time to go from hyper-speed to a pace that serves you well, a place where you have space to think – and space to not think. That begins by bringing stillness to your body and to your mind. Easy to say – hard to do… until you practice it every day and it becomes habit.” Lesley Moffat

Love the Job, Loss the StressHer book should be required reading for all music teachers, even retirees who want to remain active in the profession. (Read my previous review here.) It serves as a true treasure-house of practical applications for de-stressing and re-centering your life. Her “mPower Method of Meals, Movement, Music, and Mindfulness” may be the solution to improving your situation.

FYI, her next book, Love the Job, Lose the Stress, is on the way. You can request an advance e-copy here.

 

“Do as I Say… Don’t Do as I Do!”

The worst part of this? We seldom take our own advice. Hey teacher, “heal thyself,” and “practice what you preach.” Taking care of our children or elderly relatives, we are probably the last to comply with the tenets of our own sermons on health and wellness.

Lesley Moffat also devoted a chapter in her book to the airline safety bulletin “Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First.” You cannot take care of someone else (your family members or your music students) unless you first take care of yourself!

salad-374173_1920_stevepbMake self-care PRIORITY ONE for YOU! I know, you have heard all of these before:

  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Hydrate.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Exercise daily.
  • “Flex your brain.”

The latter “exercising your mind” is referenced in the Teaching with Orff website, and is a frequent emphasis on my blog-site (with examples here, here, and here). Pursue your own avenues of creative self-expression, and grow and learn something new every day!

According to charitable organization Waterford.org, the definition of “self-care” is “any action that you use to improve your health and well-being.” They cite extensive research from the National Institute of Mental Illness (NAMI), corroborating the statement that there are six elements to self-care:

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Social
  • Professional

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And, as explained in the article “Why Teacher Self-Care Matters, and How to Practice Self-Care in Your School,” self-care is not about selfishness.

“Self-care is an important component of a teacher’s mental health, but there are misconceptions about what it is. It’s common for educators to dismiss the self-care movement as ‘selfish’ or ‘superficial.’ But for teachers, self-care is so much more than breakfast in bed or treating yourself to a spa day. It’s about taking care of your health so that you’re prepared to be the best teacher you can be for yourself and your students.”

Waterford.org

These endorsements probably represent just “the tip of the iceberg!” Peruse all of the resources listed below. In addition, perhaps we should take a close look at Alex Wiggin’s ASCD article,  “A Brave New World: A Teacher’s Take on Surviving Distance Learning” (Educational Leadership, Summer 2020), considering the adoption of these four lessons learned from the past four months:

  1. Relying on a team reduces work and stress.
  2. Connecting with students boosts morale.
  3. Learning new technology isn’t so bad.
  4. Model being a life-long learner

I predict that the hardest part, coming to the end of May and the completion of our first-ever “virtual spring semester,” is coming to grips with our “fear of the unknown!” At the date of this writing, no one really knows when “we” are going back to “in person” schools, how we will resume large group music instruction like band, choir, or orchestra rehearsals, and what will the “new normal” look like to successfully “move on!”

Summer break is just around the corner… a good time to stop and reflect! And yes, we will make it through this.

Please stay safe! PKF

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References

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order)

From Pixabay.com

 

Questions for the 3 Phases of Interviews

Asks for “The Before,” “The During,” and “The After”

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These Responses Are Critical for Marketing Yourself & Landing a Job

pcmea

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!

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The Before

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:

  1. What do you know about this school district?
  2. 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?
  3. What educational, cultural, and sport/leisure activities are available to the residents in and around the area?
  4. What philosophies or approaches are emphasized in the school district’s strategic plan and/or annual Board of School Director’s goals?
  5. What are samples of student, staff, building, and school district awards and traditions?
  6. magnifying-glass-106803_1920_geraltHow 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.?
  7. How often is the curriculum revised or updated?
  8. What is the school district grading scale and music grading policy/practice?
  9. What music classes and extra-curricular activities are offered?
  10. 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.?
  11. What position(s) is(are) open and what duties are required?
  12. What avenues of professional development exist?
  13. What percentage of students are in the music program?
  14. What percentage of the music students own instruments, take lessons, and seek participation in outside ensembles?
  15. What indicators of cooperative parental and community support exist (concert attendance, private teachers, booster groups, community arts organizations, etc.)?
  16. 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.

how to ace your job interview

 

The During

So much has already been written about commonly asked interview questions. (Please revisit the blogs posted at https://paulfox.blog/becoming-a-music-educator/.) To “let the cat out of the bag,” when I am asked to do “mock interviews” for music education majors, the following are “my favorites.” You may also want to read my last article, “Coaching Advice for Acing Those Employment Interview Questions” at https://paulfox.blog/2020/01/26/more-on-teacher-interviews/.

  1. Tell us something about yourself… your strengths, weaknesses, and goals for the future.
  2. Who had the greatest influence on you becoming a music teacher and why?
  3. What are the most important qualities of an outstanding music educator?
  4. Describe a successful lesson plan you have developed.
  5. How will you accommodate students with special needs or varied interests in your music program?
  6. How would you recruit/encourage students and “grow” interest and participation in the music program?
  7. interview-2207741_1920_geraltDescribe your approach to introducing a musical concept: singing matching pitches, keeping a steady
  8. Why is it important for students to be actively engaged in the performing arts?
  9. Why should I hire you for this position?
  10. 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?
  11. Describe a lesson that did not materialize in a manner that you expected. What did you learn from this experience?
  12. 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?
  13. What are three adjectives students would use to describe you?
  14. How would you assess the learning in your rehearsals?
  15. 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?”

Raising the bar

 

 

The After

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.)

feedback-796140_1920_geraltAre 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.

1.     How many times did you use appropriate general educational terminology and current school jargon? Here are a few samples of “the ABCs.” If you do not know the meanings, Google search them or look up sites like https://resilienteducator.com/classroom-resources/education-terminology-jargon/, https://www.teachervision.com/dictionary-educational-jargon, and https://wwndtd.wordpress.com/education-jargon/. (If you really want to dive into an interesting “lingo generator,” experiment with https://www.sciencegeek.net/lingo.html, which may also help you define associations among related educational terms used in the composition of reports, grant applications, and other documents for accreditation.)

  • Assessments – Authentic, Formative (“for learning”), Summative (“of learning”), and Diagnostic
  • 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)
  • knowledge-5014345_1920_geraltIEPs  – 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.     learn-3653430_1920_geraltDid 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.

 

Observations at interview

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.”

PKF

 

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Photo credits from Pixabay.com by Gerd Altmann (geralt):

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Do You Always Feel Exhausted?

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.

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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:

  • to cause to know something
  • to guide the studies of
  • to make known and accepted
  • to impart the knowledge of
  • to conduct instruction regularly.

LeiLani Cauthen

Personally, I have always glorified the mission and “calling” of becoming an educator.

Teachers model the “habits” of

  • ornament-1899065_1920_xsonicchaosFocus
  • Self-discipline
  • Self-motivation
  • Self-assessment and self-improvement
  • Work ethic
  • Highest standards of behavior, appearance, and ethics

We serve as

  • Fiduciaries, looking out for the welfare of students
  • Model exemplars, both on and off school time
  • Self-starters, intrinsically motivated and goal-oriented
  • Professionals 24/7 – always “on the job”

This bar is further raised by the public’s and our very own highest expectations of the “nine characteristics of a great teacher” by Maria Orlando in Faculty Focus:

  1. A great teacher respects students.
  2. A great teacher creates a sense of community and belonging in the classroom.
  3. A great teacher is warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring.
  4. A great teacher sets high expectations for all students.
  5. A great teacher has his own love of learning.
  6. A great teacher is a skilled leader.
  7. A great teacher can “shift-gears…”
  8. A great teacher collaborates with colleagues on an ongoing basis.
  9. 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!

 

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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.”

Teacher-stress-lede

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:

  • Exhausted by Paul MurphyWhy 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.

cat-3623703_1920_ Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto

 

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:

  1. How many decisions do you make before you ever teach a single class every morning? What effect do they have on you?
  2. What is the link of willpower (ego depletion* and delayed gratification) to exhaustion?
  3. What do doctors say about the constant exercise of self-control and blood glucose levels, and why is the time of the day critical?
  4. 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!

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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.

 

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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

 

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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!

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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.

runner-808932_1920+skeeze.jpgBut 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!”

 

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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:

  • tiger-woods-79694_1920_ David Mark6:30 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:

  • Extra-marital affairs
  • Personal calls to escort services
  • Wife, discovering his “extra-curricular” activities, assaulting him
  • DUI arrest
  • Divorce
  • Destruction of his reputation
  • Injuries
  • 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 hurry-2119711_1920_TeroVesalainensake 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.

Schedule 2013

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?

 

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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/.

Numbers 1-6: Paul Murphy: Exhausted: Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It http://teacherhabits.com/about/

Numbers 7-15: Raphailia Michael: “What Is Self-Care, and What It Isn’t” at PsychCentral https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-self-care-is-and-what-it-isnt-2/

Numbers 16-22: Lesley Moffat: I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me https://squ.re/2TaXoAr and (also see this blogpost)

  1. Work less/fewer hours
  2. Time before school is worth more than twice as much as time after school
  3. Use class time to check student work
  4. Leverage technology
  5. Don’t grade everything
  6. Stop assigning things
  7. Create a “NO” (I will not do) list
  8. Promote a nutritious, healthy diet
  9. Get enough sleep
  10. Follow-up with medical care as needed
  11. Use relaxation exercises and/or practice meditation
  12. Spend enough time with loved ones
  13. Do at least one relaxing activity every day, whether it’s spending 30 minutes unwinding, listening to music, or taking a walk
  14. Do at least one pleasurable activity every day, from going to the cinema, cooking, or meeting friends
  15. Make opportunities to laugh
  16. Take a break from social media
  17. Seek out ways to compliment others
  18. Allow someone to go ahead of you in line at the store
  19. Set your alarm for nine minutes earlier and use those nine minutes to listen to an inspiring song
  20. Turn off notifications on your phone and/or avoid electronic devices for the first hour of your day
  21. Take deep breaths when you encounter spped bumps and stop signs/lights during your daily commute
  22. Stay hydrated

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Becoming a School Music Educator

[A quick summary, portions reprinted from the April 17, 2019 posting on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/becoming-school-music-teacher-paul-fox/]

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.

I have assembled a library of blog-posts on a variety of topics at my website (https://paulfox.blog/), and invite you to peruse the section “Becoming a Music Educator” at https://paulfox.blog/becoming-a-music-educator/.

If you are a junior or senior in college, assigned to field experiences or student teaching, or a recent graduate or transfer looking for a job or otherwise unemployed, I hope I can help you!

Please review the following categorized outlines of links to articles and other resources.

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Student Teaching

First stop: Tips on Student Teaching.

Also check out these past issues of PMEA Collegiate Communique:

 

“Secrets” for that First Year

  1. maestro-3020019_1920_mohamed_hassanDiscounted 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 memberservices@nafme.org) to find out if you qualify for a reduced rate.
  2. PMEA Mentor or other state’s MEA support program for new teachers.
  3. R3 = Retiree Resource Registry for PA music teachers.
  4. PMEA Webinars.
  5. NAfME Academy of numerous videos (only a $20 annual subscription).
  6. Professional development credits just for reading an article in NAfME Music Educators Journal
  7. Model Curriculum Framework (Have to be a PMEA member)
  8. What a deal! PMEA summer conference  as little as $30/person. Check out your own state’s MEA discounts and offers for collegiate members and new teachers!
  9. Numerous helpful blog posts from NAfME Music in a Minuet and paulfox.blog.

 

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Everything… Including the Kitchen Sink

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.

 

Job Seekers

A summary of my re-occurring themes on marketing your professionalism and a few “pet peeves” include the following:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. woman-613309_1920_jsotoBring to any employment screening your resume, business card, and an e-portfolio referencing a professional website which archives everything in #1 and #2 above.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. music-818459_1920-thedanwClean-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/.
  7. 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.

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 Collegiates, welcome to the profession!

“Break a leg” at your employment interviews!

PKF

 

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com:

 

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Retirees: It’s Not YOUR Sandbox!

It's Not Your Sandbox!

It is time that this saying should be made into a bumper sticker, added to a t-shirt design, or automatically displayed on the home page (or screen-saver) of all retired music teachers’ smartphones, tablets, and computers.

I first mentioned this notion as “surrendering your urge to be an agent of change” in a previous blog, entitled “Retiree Concepts.”

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As observed in many unhappy incidents involving fellow retirees, this deserves a repeat mention here with much greater emphasis.

[Teachers] consistently seek ways to reform “the system,” much like efficiency experts. In other words, ‘break it if it needs fixed,’ or seek new practices or approaches to solve problems or improve the student learning. This means we seldom accept the status quo or “that’s the way it’s always have been done.”

I found that in my volunteer work, when I come up to a challenge like a policy that isn’t working, I look for better ways of doing it. Teachers always self-assess and seek changes for “the good of the order,” but these “systems” are not our classrooms. Educators were expected to “modify and adjust,” revise our lesson targets, rip down old bulletin boards and put up new with more exciting media, re-write curriculum, etc., always with the mission to “build a better mouse trap” for the more efficient delivery of instruction to all.

In retirement, this can be frustrating. You can’t tell somebody else how to run their operation. Some people do not want to hear criticism, nor do they care what your opinion is, nor do they want to change their traditions or fine-tuned (?) step-by-step procedures. You on the other hand want things to improve, e.g. better training, more consistent application of the rules, etc., and therefore you feel “unrequited” stress.

Throughout my whole “professional life,” I never looked the other way. I try to fix things. But that’s not everybody’s inclination, and the world is not going to come to end if someone doesn’t take your advice. As retirees, remove the unnecessary hassle. You have two choices. Resign from the activity, or step back from being its self-appointed critic, accept the situation, and let everyone go back to playing their own way in their sandbox. — Paul Fox in “Retiree Concepts”

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My own personal hands-on experience with this has to do with volunteering to push wheelchairs at a local hospital. Taking it very seriously, I was thoroughly trained on all aspects of the transport of patients, including the mandated safety rules for locking both wheels on the wheelchair, going down backwards on ramps and into elevators, and the avoidance of hazards like discharging someone to their car “over a curb” or other obstacles. We knew the hospital policies for contact precautions (isolation), carrying oxygen tanks, and moving overweight patients.

But, almost daily, we watch other medical personnel pushing wheelchairs failing to adhere to these “basics” – resulting in safety infractions too numerous to count!

Yep, it’s not our sandbox!

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Retiring professionals have to learn to de-stress and take ourselves “out of the loop” for every organizational decision, training program, and generation/enforcement of an practices, policies, and regulations of an institution. The reason we retired in the first place was to enjoy the privilege of leaving all of this behind.

As teachers, we embraced “moral professionalism.” That meant, according to E.A. Wynne in “The Moral Dimension of Teaching (Teaching: Theory into Practice, 1995), we were charged with the responsibility to “follow to the letter” school policies and procedures, and if we saw somebody who wasn’t compliant or “on board,” we were supposed to instruct or intervene. (As “fiduciaries” looking out for the students’ best interests and welfare, we were required by law to report serious misconducts.)

Wynne also confirmed that, when a rule was simply not working, we were also obligated to firmly but tactfully suggest a better way of do something.

Past tense! Now that we’re retired, we no longer need to solve these kinds of problems – they belong to the head-honchos. The people who have the privilege (or curse) of “running the show” may not appreciate hearing from us. What was that saying by Robert Heinlein? “Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.”

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More importantly, stressing over someone else’s poorly run “sandbox” will cause you to waste energy, become irritated and short tempered, lower your mood, raise your blood pressure, withdraw from socialization and the things you like doing, or begin to hate with whom you are interacting. No, it’s not worth trying to teach that pig to sing!

Finally, here’s a little more sage advice from “the experts” on stress and retirement. Please pardon any of their references to the term “senior.” GOOD LUCK!

PKF

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “sandbox” by RAMillu, “children” by qimono, “doctor” by geralt, “children” by Ben_Kerckx, “young” by vinsky2002, and “wooden-train-toys-train-first-class” by Couleur.

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Reference Letters: What To Do?

Reprinted from “A View from the Podium” (Upper St. Clair High School, 2015) for current South Hills Junior Orchestra members and other students seeking recommendation letters from their music teachers.

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If you are requesting a letter of recommendation from any teaching staff member, administrator, minister, coach, or activity sponsor for college entrance, scholarships, awards, or job placement, please follow the instructions of your school counselor AND review/complete the steps below.

Do you have an updated “me-file” on your computer’s desktop? Maintain a bulleted list of accomplishments with dates. Scan archives of awards, programs, commendations, special honors, and significant assessments. This will become the basis for the creation of résumés or portfolios, and background for your college or employment essays.

In person, ask the teacher from whom you want the letter if he/she is willing to do this. This should be an adult in whom you have a great deal of trust and with whom you have had frequent contact. If you have any doubt or misgivings like “Does this professional like me?” or “Will he/she give me a fair rating?” – then you should ask someone else. If you are a current member of SHJO, anyone asking Mr. Fox should have no fear. He will tell you immediately if there is any problem in writing a positive letter.

In my opinion, if you choose the right person to do your letter, you can sign-off your rights to see it before submission to the institution. A student checking “yes” to waiving his/her access to/examination of the reference may look better to the evaluator. Although not required, some may send you a copy of it for your files. That is my standard practice.

Know your deadlines. BY WHEN do you need the reference letters or common app teacher recommendations?

seriestoshare-logo-01As a courtesy to the writer (and modeling good preparation on your part), give at least two to three weeks’ notice (more is better). Remember: “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on the teacher’s part.” It would also be polite to “gently remind” the staff member about the final deadline of the recommendation (at least one weekend’s notice). For SHJO, one Saturday ahead of the final deadline would be ideal.

Unless it is an online application or digital reference, the individual requesting the recommendation should provide in advance a pre-stamped self-addressed envelope to be signed, sealed, and mailed directly to any school or organization.

To facilitate “anecdotal references” and confirm accurate data/details, email a mini-résumé of your achievements, particularly those things that can be mentioned in the letter. Try to complete as many of these as possible:

  1. When did you first begin your musical (or other academic specialty) study? When did you join SHJO or other music group?
  2. What classes, ensembles, and/or productions have you participated at school?
  3. What music or academic leadership positions have you served (give specific dates)?
  4. What are your outside activities?
  5. What have you done as community service?
  6. How are you unique? Describe yourself in three to five words.
  7. What qualities or strengths have you exhibited that the staff member, from working with you, could corroborate in the letter?
  8. Can you remember any funny or significant class or rehearsal anecdote that demonstrated growth in your musical technique, expressiveness, student leadership, “team” or ensemble building, or the 21st Century learning skills of creativity, communications, critical thinking, collaboration, and global understanding?
  9. What is your planned major or minor in college, and how did your association with the staff member (his/her classes or activities) help you gain the experience, insight, or confidence to go into this field?

Good luck! PKF  Revised 3/18/19

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The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of Reference Letters: What to Do?

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

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fireside” by pixeldust

 

Interviews

READY TO HIRE: Strategies to Land a Job

For all future music teachers everywhere, especially members of a PCMEA or NAfME collegiate chapter, we post these handouts from past NAfME and PMEA music teacher conference sessions, all moderated by Scott Sheehan, Immediate Past President of NAfME Eastern Division and Past State President of PMEA.

As a tradition at the annual state conference, the session “Ready to Hire: Interviewing Strategies to Land a Job” has offered “tried & true tips to assist promising music education majors with developing interviewing skills to successfully land their dream job.” One of the features of the clinic is the set-up of a “hot seat” where volunteer candidates are put through one or more questions in a “mock interview,” and then assessed on their “performance.” The guest panelists often distribute a “takeaway” with valuable tips on interview techniques and questions, and developing personal branding, networking, and marketing skills.

These suggestions are offered as a way to “practice” taking employment interviews.

Best wishes on your job search. Now go out there and “nail” the interview!

 

NAfME Logo_eastern_division

NAfME Biennial Eastern Division/PMEA State Spring Conference

April 4-7, 2019 in Pittsburgh, PA

 

Sheehan: Interview Session Handout

Metelsky: Interview Worksheet

Pearlberg: Ready to Hire Interview Strategies

Fox: Job Interview Playbook

 

 

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Pennsylvania Music Education Association Annual Spring Conference

(various years)

 

Basalik: Ready-Set-Interview

Baxter: Music Interviews

Fox: A to Z Job Interview Checklist

Fox: Marketing Your Professionalism

 

pcmea

Additional Resources

PMEA Job Board

NAfME:

Sullivan Interview Strategies that Work

Older blog-posts at this site:

 

Acknowledgments:

  • Sue Basalik
  • Howard Baxter
  • Marc Greene
  • Susan Metelsky
  • Alicia Mueller
  • Henry Pearlberg
  • Kathy Sanz
  • Scott Sheehan
  • Jill Sullivan
  • Lucy White

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

All rights reserved by the individual authors of this material

Retiring “Against Your Will”

Were you forced to leave before you were ready?

More than two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a piece, “Downsized and Out…” but since I still hear many teachers and administrators alike lamenting the fact that they either felt “pushed out” or they retired too early even though they had a lot more to offer to the profession, it seemed like a little “rehash” was in order. Sorry for any excessive repetition! Hope this helps anyone facing these common yet hard-to-cope “downers!” PKF

 

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This issue is a lot more complicated than at a first glance. There are so many stories…

“I hate retirement…”

“I am so bored! I don’t know what do with myself.”

“Why would anyone want to leave education and lose their chance of working daily with children?”

“I found something I like doing – teaching – and now, at the age of 60, I’m tired of everything.”

“I wasn’t expecting to leave teaching. I feel I have so much more to give.”

At the peak of your career, you may be asked to consider early retirement, assume an unwanted job re-assignment, or choose to “bite the bullet” because of medical issues, changes in family status, or the sudden “piling on” of new (and sometimes scary) responsibilities for care-giving of an elderly relative or grandchildren. Fear of the unknown might creep into your decision. Perhaps the labor negotiations of your teachers’ contract are not going well, or you hear rumors of the likelihood of losing benefits as a result budgetary cutbacks. You could also be facing serious downsizing of the music program, declining enrollment, or pending music staff furloughs.

 

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“The Good,” “The Very Good,” and “The Ugly!”

First, to gain a little perspective on this topic, I often share at my workshop sessions these three types of music teacher retirees. Which one best predicts/defines your future?

  • Good: People who do not see themselves as retired, just leaving a full-time job of public school music teaching, and moving on to new goals, employment, and/or volunteer work.
  • Very Good: People who know they are retired, and although relieved from the stress of day-to-day employment, now feel ready to complete new “bucket lists,” spend more time with family, travel, and hobbies, and perhaps even explore several new areas/levels/skills in music and education.
  • Ugly: People who know they are retired, are happy to leave the profession, and want nothing to do with any part of music or music education, including their state’s professional music education association or NAfME. Basically, the not-subtle message is, “Leave me alone!”

 

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Some Causes of Teacher Burnout and Early Retirement

Fifty-five percent of U.S. teachers report their morale was low and declining.

National Union of Teachers, 2013

I like Keely Swartzer’s summary in the Learner’s Edge article, “The Causes of Teacher Burnout: What Everyone Should Know,” listing these stressors:

  • An extreme number of responsibilities above and beyond instruction
  • A lack of administrative support
  • An over-emphasis on standardized testing
  • Evaluation of teachers based on standardized testing scores
  • Increasingly difficult student behavior with increases in frequency and severity
  • Home lives of children that teachers cannot control
  • A lack of personnel/proper staffing
  • Forcing teachers to teach outside of area of expertise
  • Inadequate prep time
  • Extreme amounts of paperwork
  • A lack of respect for the profession
  • Challenging interactions with parents
  • A lack of resources
  • A lack of training for new initiatives and technology

I am a huge proponent of solutions-based thinking and building resilience in educators. That being said, I am well aware of the need to know and understand the causes of this growing problem. By having this information, we can keep an eye out and develop strategies to decrease or reverse teacher burnout and increase teacher resilience.

– Keely Swartzer

Other sources to read about teacher resignations due to feeling “burned out” or unappreciated:

Of course, depending on your public school employees retirement system, some states offer full retirement benefits to teachers with 30 years of service, regardless of age, or other early-bird programs. Often, this is motivated by the move to save money for the districts (more years of experience = higher salaries). These special “windows” for early retirements may exacerbate the problem of coming national teaching shortages… and, of course, allow the decline of keeping our most proficient/experienced “education experts” where they belong…  in the classroom!

Here are several online links for further study on the factors influencing teacher supply, demand, and equity, including statistics from your geographical region:

 

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Two Retirement Scenarios – This Could Be You?

Due to the sudden change in employment status, no longer satisfying your “life’s calling,” losing the feeling of being purposeful in a job, or missing the connections or “mattering” in the interactions with other colleagues, you cannot understand why you now feel left out, bored, unappreciated, discouraged, uninspired, or even angry?  Perhaps in an attempt to model this phenomenon and providing a little real-life clarity, I will share two first-hand accounts of educators who, although they happily decided to retire, were “forced out” of the other things that they truly loved before they were ready to leave the profession entirely.

Several years ago, a local colleague retired from full-time music teaching, but wanted to continue serving as the assistant marching band director, a position she enjoyed for nearly 30 years. Unfortunately, this was during a very negative political climate in the community where she taught. A member on the school board was trying to de-hire the HS band director, making his job as difficult as possible (including not supporting his extra-curricular staffing requests). This resulted in the retired professional’s name being removed from the school board agenda at the last minute, and eliminating her chance for re-assignment, unless she filed a grievance with the teacher’s union or fought it with an age-discrimination lawsuit. She did neither… and was just left with the emotions of bitterness and being “depreciated.”

Another narrative…

Enjoying the status of “the unofficial mayor” of a local school community, and having the chance to continue serving as a cheerleader in support of the students’ after-school activities while photographing and writing articles for press releases and district publications, one music teacher was looking forward to his post-employment niche as the superintendent’s PR assistant. For several years, his free time allowed him to attend numerous award ceremonies, art shows, drama productions, concerts, sports meets, etc. and to showcase the talents and accomplishments of the children in the media. However, the retirement of a central office secretary granted administration the opportunity to re-align the staff and hire a full-time communications director, a vastly more qualified full-time employee that instantly assumed all of the responsibilities formerly held by the music teacher retiree. The worst part, the superintendent himself never told the retired staff member of the change (nor did he even personally thank him for his 25+ years working in school publicity); he had to hear of his “firing” or job elimination from the superintendent’s secretary. “No, you will not have to take the photos of the National Honor Society members next week. From now on, all PR jobs will be handled by the new staffer.” In other words, “Please don’t go away mad, just go away?”

According to the now “phased out” teacher, it felt like being stabbed in the back.

 

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Unhappy Pathways… Scenarios of “Downsized and Out!”

These are among the many “stories” of involuntary retirements…

  • Music and/or staff are eliminated from the curriculum or building in which you teach.
  • You feel unappreciated, unsupported, devalued, or ignored as a professional.
  • You are exhausted and no longer want to continue solving the same problems over and over again.
  • You conclude you must retire early to avoid losing existing contractual benefits (special bonuses, reimbursement for sick days, medical coverage, etc.).
  • The new head coach of the sport (or club or activity) on which you have assisted for many years fires you to bring in his “cronies.”
  • While agreeing to voluntarily retire from the full-time “day” job, you hope to continue serving in the capacity as assistant director (marching band, musical, etc.), club sponsor, or some other after-school position, but you are not considered for the re-assignment nor invited to return. In spite of the many years of loyal service to the school and community, you are told “your services are no longer required.”

Believe-it-or-not, if for any reason you feel “kicked to the curb,” you could be susceptible to PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You should look up the symptoms of PTSD, characteristics that can also mimic the stages of grief for losing a loved one or being fired from a job.

Anytime you compel someone to choose a pathway outside their own heartfelt core beliefs, values or goals, you add stress. Whether or not this rises to the level of true PTSD is very individual and up to a person’s mental make-up, maturity, emotional resilience, and/or personal crisis management “chops.”

 

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Definitions of PTSD… What It Feels Like

The textbook definition of PTSD is “a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world.”

For the most extreme cases, PTSD depression is palpable and may even be paralyzing (according to https://mindyourmind.ca/expression/blog/what-does-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-feel):

  • It’s never ever feeling safe.
  • It’s never taking a full breath of air in your lungs.
  • It’s being afraid to close your eyes.
  • It’s having your gut instincts scream at you to RUN every time someone looks at you.
  • It’s spending most of your time alone because you are terrified of other human beings, sometimes even your friends.
  • It’s feeling flawed, bad, marked, stained.
  • It’s like being in prison.

The worst part? Most people cannot self-diagnose PTSD. Your spouse or other family members may be in a better position to advise you. A few hints? If you are suddenly having trouble sleeping, difficulty with relationships, or find yourself feeling significantly depressed or lethargic for a long period of time, visit your health care professional.

 

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The Five Stages of Grief

It is appropriate to repeat that PTSD may bring on the same “stages of loss and grief” as a divorce or the death of a family member:

  1. Denial (disbelief, numbness, shock)
  2. Bargaining (preoccupation with “what could have been,” guilt, remorse)
  3. Depression (sadness, loneliness, emptiness, isolation, self-pity)
  4. Anger (feelings of helplessness, abandonment)
  5. Acceptance (emotional resolution, healing)

However, perhaps your feelings do not rise to the level of PTSD. (We hope not!) The normal “ups and downs” of this life-changing event is eliciting your mood swings. It is clear that the psychological process of retirement follows a pattern similar in nature to the emotional phases accompanying other phases of life. Surely you have read about the research-based stages of retirement, according to most gerontologists, that are a normal “bumpy journey” for everyone transitioning into their “golden years.”

 

The Six Phases of Retirement

  1. Pre-Retirement: Planning Time
  2. The Big Day: Smiles, Handshakes, Farewells
  3. Honeymoon Phase: I’m Free!
  4. Disenchantment: So This Is It?
  5. Reorientation: Building a New Identity
  6. Routine: Moving On

(Source: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/retirement/07/sixstages.asp)

Take particular notice of #4 above.

emotions Dr. Yvette Guerrero

So are the normal cycles of emotions often associated with the “passage to retirement,” according to Psychologist Dr. Yvette M. Guerrero, University of California: “Compelling and challenging, the retirement process involves transitioning to a new identity. This process can become self-empowering and lead to creative ways to self-reinvent and thrive.”

Why is this transformation so difficult?

Change: The mere mention of this word may cause some to feel uneasy. We often find ourselves resisting change, perhaps because of the perceived risk or fear associated with it. Behavioral change is rarely a discrete or single event; however, we tend to view it in such a way. More often than not, behavioral change occurs gradually, over time.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-truth-about-exercise-addiction/201608/why-is-change-so-hard

 

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Steps to Take to Alleviate the Stress of Losing Your Job

Besides visiting the links within this blog-post and “talking it out” with your loved ones, seek medical advice if your depression is severe and you feel your emotions are disrupting your life and happiness. There’s “nothing ventured, nothing gained” if you are not really experiencing PTSD nor something that a doctor needs to address, such as a mental health disorder or a thyroid or blood sugar issue. It could be as simple as the addition of a little post-employment goal setting, change of venue, new hobbies, new diet, adoption of an exercise program, etc. As best-selling author Ernie Zelinski says in his book How to Retire, Happy, Wild and Free, “To be bored is to retire from life.”

“Tis easy to resign a toilsome place, But not to manage leisure with a grace; Absence of occupation is not rest, A mind quite vacant is a mind distress’d.” – William Cowper in Retirement

“Making the most out of retirement entails taking advantage of increased freedom to establish a lifestyle that is adventurous, exciting, and rewarding.” – Ernie Zelinski

Here are a few more reflections to hopefully “pull you out of your blue funk” and get you back on your feet.

  1. Reach out to stay strong. You have heard of the saying, “Misery loves company?” Yes, there is comfort in numbers, and you should consider sharing some of your feelings with recently retired colleagues and friends. “Your natural reaction at this difficult time may be to withdraw from friends and family out of shame or embarrassment. But don’t underestimate the importance of other people when you’re faced with the stress of job loss and unemployment [and retirement!]. Social contact is nature’s antidote to stress. Nothing works better at calming your nervous system than talking face to face with a good listener.” – https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/job-loss-and-unemployment-stress.htm
  2. Don’t continue allowing yourself to be “addicted to achievement,” wrapping up your entire personal identity with your former music position. “Sure, losing your job is a very personal experience, but don’t take it too personally. Who you are is not what you do. Never was. Never will be.” – https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2012/06/12/bouncing-back-from-job-loss-the-7-habits-of-highly-effective-job-hunters/#755eec27b709
  3. Face your feelings and express your concerns. Put it on paper. “Writing about your feelings is especially important if the way you were terminated was emotionally painful. Recall the details and write about how you feel over and over and over again. Doing this helps you overcome emotional trauma, begin to heal, and stop feeling like a victim wounded for life.” – http://resiliencycenter.com/handle-the-emotional-side-of-job-loss-with-resiliency/
  4. Take a balanced view of your new situation and rethink your priorities. Look at “the whole picture.” It’s time to answer the question, what do you want to be when you grow up? “Psychologist and mindfulness expert Dr. Melanie Greenberg writes in Psychology Today that she recommends adopting a ‘mindful’ perspective during unemployment, refocusing on the positive aspects of your life. That includes self-reflecting and being honest with yourself about the causes behind your job loss [or feeling bored or depressed].” – https://lifehacker.com/nine-things-you-should-and-shouldnt-do-if-you-lose-you-509536697
  5. Focus on the future. Dream a little and think big. “It’s easy to get stuck in the past and what shoulda-woulda-coulda happened but didn’t. Doing so only perpetuates destructive emotions that fuel anger, self-pity and a sense of powerlessness.” – https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2012/06/12/bouncing-back-from-job-loss-the-7-habits-of-highly-effective-job-hunters/#755eec27b709
  6. Find a new sense of purpose. The list is endless and very personalized: volunteer work, charity projects, or related “encore careers” like private teaching, church or community ensemble directing, music industry jobs, guest conducting, travel/tours, adjudicating groups, higher education teaching or supervising student teachers, etc. Do you still feel you have a lot more to offer children? Then, sign-up to coach, advise, assist, or teach in new arenas. “Finding a new way to provide meaning for your life will restore the sense of purpose that you once found through work.” – https://www.verywellmind.com/depression-after-retirement-1067239
  7. Get off the couch! Build a busy schedule and get active again. Now that you have the freedom, it’s time to “fill up your dance card” and self-reinvent! “If you have a lot of spare time with no agenda, you can quickly become a very unhappy person. A lot of the relationship trouble we see among retirees comes from either the husband or wife not knowing what they want. They become unhappy, and that unhappiness bleeds out into all areas of their life.” – https://www.thestreet.com/story/13101438/1/5-hardest-things-about-retirement-that-you-arent-expecting.html
  8. Revisit your music roots and rekindle your self-expression. Finally, music teachers have one distinct advantage that many other retirees cannot appreciate… our art. To dramatize this and generate a little self-direction, all you have to do is poll yourself, “points to ponder” often shared in other articles on this website: (https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/for-retirees/)
  • Why did you go into music and education in the first place?
  • What have you always wanted to explore… play… sing… compose… record… conduct… create?
  • When will you finish your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and have it performed and recorded?
  • When are you going to publish your next song, article, book, warm-ups, instrumental method, essays on pedagogy, musical, drumline feature or halftime show… or write your personal memoirs?
  • When do you plan to join a community band, orchestra, chorus or theater group?

Last piece of advice? Take some time to read all about retirement, managing your time and money, planning your personal goals and objectives, and sharing your thoughts and hopes with your partner. Retain membership in your professional associations and attend meetings and conferences. Finally, take a gander at this comprehensive website: https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/for-retirees/.

As always, “Happy Trails,” retirees!

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PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “despair” and “man” by geralt, “good vs. bad” by techexpert, “burnout” by darkmoon1968, “sleepwalker” by Engin_Akyurt, “depression” by johnhain, “alone” by geralt, “desperate” by Anemone123, “counseling” by tiyowprasetyo, and “old-couple” by andreahamilton264.