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

 

Virtual/Remote/Alternative Music Ed

Resources for Teaching Music Online During the COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19

The dreaded messages came to almost every educator:

EMERGENCY ALERT:

Out of an abundance of caution relating to the prevention of spreading the coronavirus, beginning on _____, all after-school, extra-curricular, and outside group meetings and rehearsals are postponed until further notice.

* * *

Dear Students, Parents, and Staff:

All ______ school programs such as sports, band and jazz concert, spring musical, choir festival, dance and voice recitals, booster meetings and fund-raisers, and the music department adjudication trip, are cancelled.

* * *

Important announcement:

The spring concert scheduled for March 28 at the Performance Hall will not take place. A decision about whether to cancel this performance or postpone it to another date will be made as the community health situation continues to evolve.

And then, the Governor closed the schools for two to eight weeks (or more?).

Governor Wolf
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf

Dear Families,

Thanks for your patience as we work through the events that have been occurring and planning for what lies ahead. We hope you and your family are staying well, and we know that many of you are looking forward to a Virtual Learning experience for your child.

We want to share some important information with all of you as we prepare this transition. While we do not know how long our buildings will be closed, we want to be prepared for ______ Virtual Learning for as long as it is necessary.

The immediate effect? Suddenly, our kids were sent home for an extra-early spring break, hopefully remembering to bring their instruments and music! Trying to “embrace” this world emergency (from a safe distance, of course), no one had a “crystal ball” to predict or even imagine the far-reaching effects, many of which we are still awaiting answers!

  • When will we be able to go back to school?
  • How can we collaborate, grow, and share our music learning, personal progress, repertoire and skills learned over the past year?
  • What will happen to everything all of us were forced to leave unscheduled, unfinished, or “in production?”
  • Will commencement be cancelled, too?
  • Worst yet, will our seniors fail to graduate, receive their diplomas, and start college on time next fall?

Every music teacher I know cried out, “How can I reach-out to my students to help them find alternative avenues to making music? The challenge is now thrust upon us to find ways to inspire our students to continue building on their “musical momentum” in daily practice, as well as stimulate other sources of artistic enrichment and the self-motivation to create new music goals.

My first act as a community youth director was to “fire up” my orchestra’s website and Facebook page. We regularly send out Fox’s Firesides of articles on practice tips, music problem-solving techniques, goal-setting, keeping a journal, developing teamwork, learning to conduct, acquiring college references, showing concert etiquette, etc. and other notices to the members and parents using a free-version of Mailchimp.

SHJOclips

In addition, we launched something called SHJO.clips, low-tech but hopefully effective in “exciting” future music enrichment and exploration: online music games, worksheets, sample recordings and videos, practice excerpts, music theory exercises, sight-reading and ear training assignments, and much more… a treasure chest of FUN things-to-do or c.l.i.p.s. to do ON THEIR OWN: Create, Listen, Inspire, Practice, Share.

Archives of both Fox’s Firesides and SHJO.clips are available by clicking the menu at the top or visiting http://www.shjo.org/ (look under “resources”).

Are we permitted access to our students and classes online during the official closures? Does your school use Canvas or other virtual educational environments to hold digital classes, post learning activities, make assignments, provide feedback, and/or assess your students’ achievement? (Are you even allowed to do so? I cannot answer this essential question because I do not know school law and I retired from the public schools in 2013.)

smartmusic and musicfirst

Are you one of the “lucky ones” who had previously set-up either the Smartmusic or MusicFirst online platforms (and the students know how to use the it) and can continue encouraging your band instrumentalists, string players, or vocalists to sight-read, practice, explore new literature, perform, record, and assess themselves?

Do you and your students need cheering up with a “pep-talk” by Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, the famous “music educator’s guru,” guest speaker and expert motivator often presented as the kick-off keynote session at music conferences. “Dr. Tim” challenges us all to focus on what’s important and how we can put our time to good use:

“Life is about 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

The pessimist sees the challenge in every opportunity, but the optimist sees the opportunity in every challenge.”

 

Set aside 17 minutes to recharge with this video. Then, share it with your students!

I am proud to admit that, in a single act, our profession has so far risen to the occasion. In an effort to help our “stranded” programs and motivate music educators and their students, so many tech experts jumped into the fray to post their recommendations and resources. At the end of this blog-post is a (very long) list of links from them, at least active as of today, for distance learning strategies and virtual music education.

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https://www.pmea.net/council-for-ttrr/

We have taken the time to compile many of these suggestions and warehouse them on the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association State Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention website here. Look under the heading “Virtual Music Learning – Engaging Students During the Break.” This is the impetus for this article. The samples provided below (probably only the “tip of the iceberg” and already out-of-date) are by no means all-comprising and fully comprehensive. With every minute of the day dragging on during this crisis and we are still “shut in” our homes away from our music students, new solutions are being posted to Facebook groups like Music Educators Creating Online Learning.

Click here if you would like a printable PDF file of this revision of resources.

Take the time to research what might work for you. At the very least, pass on the music games and puzzles offered at sites like Music Tech Teacher or Cornerstone Confessions. Venture into learning new apps like Zoom.com for webinar/meeting management.

Music does make a difference in all of our lives… and we need to keep our musicians and singers “at it” even during this catastrophe!

Best wishes to you and yours. Stay safe and healthy! Thank you for your dedication and contributions to music education!

(Editor’s Note: We have continued adding many more updates to the list below at the website of the PMEA Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention accessible from this link.)

PKF

 

 

Sources of Online Music Media and Instruction

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “child-play-game-technology-3264751” by ExplorerBob

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Creativity in Education… More Updates

It’s been awhile since I have ventured back into searches for “creativity in education” with blogging on the philosophy and practice of creative learning and creative teaching, two of the most essential needs (and deficiencies) in public school education.

After being inspired by the likes of Sir Ken Robinson (especially from his TedTalks), Ronald A. Beghetto and James C. Kaufman, Curtis Bonk, Eric Booth, Susan M. Brookhart, Susan Engel, Daniel Pink, Robert J. Sternberg and Wendy M. Williams, Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein, Roger von Oechand, Peter Webster, and many others, I periodically try to fulfill my ongoing mission of spreading the importance of fostering creativity in education, and finding research (and hands-on) material on the related subjects of innovation, inventiveness, curiosity, flexibility, adaptability, critical thinking, artistry, and self-expression.

Here is the latest installment of newly found resources for your perusal.

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Creativity at Work

Linda Naiman, the founder of Creativity at Work, an international consortium of creativity and innovation experts, design thinkers, and arts-based learning practitioners, offers “trainings and workshops to help leaders and their teams develop the creativity, innovation and leadership capabilities required to adapt to change, stay competitive, improve business performance, and make a positive difference in the world. Clients include Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, educational institutions and government organizations.”

From a Creativity at Work blog, Seven Habits of Highly Creative People,  the following points are outlined in homage to Stephen Covey (Oct 24, 1932 – July 16, 2012):

  1. Prepare the ground
  2. Plant seeds for creativity
  3. Live in the question
  4. Feed your brain
  5. Experiment and explore
  6. Replenish your creative stock
  7. Play like a child: the secret to liberating your creativity

 

Newsweek-Logo

The Creativity Crisis

I don’t know how I missed this… Bo Bronson and Ashley Merryman wrote an education article, The Creativity Crisis, for Newsweek, posted on their website on July 10, 2010. Selected excerpts:

Back in 1958, Ted Schwarzrock was an 8-year-old third grader when he became one of the “Torrance kids,” a group of nearly 400 Minneapolis children who completed a series of creativity tasks newly designed by professor E. Paul Torrance. Schwarzrock still vividly remembers the moment when a psychologist handed him a fire truck and asked, “How could you improve this toy to make it better and more fun to play with?” He recalls the psychologist being excited by his answers. In fact, the psychologist’s session notes indicate Schwarzrock rattled off 25 improvements, such as adding a removable ladder and springs to the wheels. That wasn’t the only time he impressed the scholars, who judged Schwarzrock to have “unusual visual perspective” and ‘an ability to synthesize diverse elements into meaningful products.”

Today, Schwarzrock is independently wealthy—he founded and sold three medical-products companies and was a partner in three more. His innovations in health care have been wide ranging, from a portable respiratory oxygen device to skin-absorbing anti-inflammatories to insights into how bacteria become antibiotic-resistant. His latest project could bring down the cost of spine-surgery implants 50 percent. “As a child, I never had an identity as a ‘creative person,’ ” Schwarzrock recalls. “But now that I know, it helps explain a lot of what I felt and went through.”

Creativity has always been prized in American society, but it’s never really been understood. While our creativity scores decline unchecked, the current national strategy for creativity consists of little more than praying for a Greek muse to drop by our houses. The problems we face now, and in the future, simply demand that we do more than just hope for inspiration to strike. Fortunately, the science can help: we know the steps to lead that elusive muse right to our doors.

Newsweek: Bo Bronson and Ashley Merryman

 

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Not to be outdone by Newsweek, TIME published a compilation The Science of Creativity – a series of articles divided into four large chapters:

  1. The Creative Animal
  2. The Creative Mind
  3. Creativity in Action
  4. Creativity at Any Age

The essays, penned by a myriad of authors, are eclectic and intriguing, many of which have appeared in past issues of TIME magazine:

  • The Science of CreativityIntroduction: Striving for the New
  • This Is Your Brain on Creativity
  • Learning from Leonardo
  • Under the Hood
  • Are Neurotics More Creative?
  • A Fine Madness
  • The Power of Sleep
  • Inside the Creative Space
  • Seven Secrets to Unleashing Creativity
  • Pushing Your Envelope
  • Does Screen Time Stunt Kids’ Creativity?
  • You’re Never Too Old
  • When Schools Get Creative
  • How Parents Can Excite and Inspire
  • Eureka Moments
  • The Last Word

Creativity is one of the most human of qualities. But what is creativity, and what makes us creative? The Science of Creativity takes a look at both the science and the art of this world-changing trait—how we define it, how we measure it and what encourages it. With insights from the editors of TIME, this new Special Edition features thought-provoking articles on the meaning of creativity, its part in human history and its role in our future. 

Amazon review of TIME special edition

 

nafme

Creativity in Orchestra

A recent NAfME article was written specifically for orchestral players and their music directors. Even after more than 43 years of conducting orchestras, I would have to admit that helping my instrumentalists to become more creative musicians has always been a challenge. In the Music Educators Journal, Volume 105, Number 3, March 2019, “Integrating Creative Practices into the Orchestra Classroom,” author Leon Park seeks to explore the realm of the “less traditional” in rationale, goals, and techniques to build the capacity of his students’ imagination, innovation, and creativity.

My primary objective as a high school orchestra educator is to help students develop and refine their perpetual and technical acuities as orchestra musicians – from understanding and applying proper instrument-playing technique in functional music theory as they relate to repertoire to reading and translating music notation with accuracy and confidence to interpreting musical compositions with an understanding of the composer’s intent and a sensitive sensitivity toward performing in an expressive manner.

The daily regime of helping my students of achieve these objectives is an extraordinarily enriching yet time-consuming endeavor. As such, I find that opportunities to engage students in experiences that reach beyond the purview of traditional orchestra musicianship – such as improvisation, songwriting, remixing, soundscape in, recording, and looping – are rare.

— Leo Park

After providing a list of hardware, devices, web apps, software, and iOS apps, Park proposes a series of exercises and other creative practices:

  • MEJDrone Improvisation
  • Circle Stringing
  • Soundscapes
  • Melodizing over Chords
  • Recontextualization
  • Songwriting

He also shares a video playlist of creative approaches, primarily string players engaging in creative music-making.

If you currently teach instrumental music, I recommend you read this piece. (You must be a member of the National Association of Music Education for access to its periodical Music Educators Journal.)

Creativity should be at the heart of all the affective areas of the curriculum. Its context is imagination, origination, and invention; but it goes beyond that to include interpretation and personalized imitation. Characteristically it calls upon preference and decision to a greater extent than other modes of thought. It is especially important as “a way of coming to know” through independent, innovative responses to ideas into means of expression.

— John Paynter in Sound and Structure

 

Educational Commission of the States

ECS_Vertical_Tag_1300pxIn a more recent release of EdNote (July 2018), How School Leaders Can Inspire Daily Creativity makes a good case that, “As building-level leaders, school principals play a key role in ensuring every student has access to high-quality and equitable arts learning as part of a well-rounded education,” citing numerous supportive sources:

The article concluded with the following salient statements:

From identifying the arts in a school’s budget to supporting student performances and gallery displays, principals can engage parents and the school community in the school’s educational goals.

While our [administrators’] daily routines may feel less inspired than other activities, it is through innovative ideas and acts of self-expression that shape everyday life as we know it. The arts can provide students with these same opportunities, setting them up for success in school, work and life.

EdNote: Cassandra Quille

 

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The Conversation

Check out What Creativity Really Is – and Why Schools Need It  by Liane Gabora from The Conversation.

Associate Professor of Psychology and Creative Studies, University of British Columbia, Gabora explores “the creative process” in studies from the Interdisciplinary Creativity Research Group.

She examines sorting out these apparently antipodal/opposing concepts:

  • The Conversationinventors vs. imitators
  • creators vs. conformers
  • innovation vs. over-stimulation
  • devaluation of creative personality attributes such as risk taking, impulsivity and independence vs. focus on the reproduction of knowledge and obedience at school

She shares three insightful suggestions on cultivating creativity in the classroom:

  1. “Focus less on the reproduction of information and more on critical thinking and problem solving.”
  2. “Curate activities that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries…”
  3. “Pose questions and challenges, and follow up with opportunities for solitude and reflection.”

 

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Additional Links

A couple more “finds” for your reading pleasure:

Hopefully, readers/followers of this website will send in their own “gems” on creativity. Please feel free to comment and share your own references… so we can collaborate on and re-energize this dialogue.

If you have not had the opportunity to read my past blog-posts on creativity, please take a moment and examine these:

Now go out there and… teach, learn, and be creative!

PKF

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

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Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: