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

 

TEAM = “Together Everyone Achieves More”

A Twist on an Old Fable… Who Really Won the Race?

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Eric Thibodeau

 

Before you do anything else, I want you to “take four,” fire up your computer, and view this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xevQ2yTyK9Y.

foxsfiresidesWhat is the moral to the final story of these two racers… the turtle and the rabbit?

To all student instrumentalists: SHJO and your school music ensemble represent a “TEAM” – not only inspiring your own creative self-expression and skill development, but learning to communicate, connect “symphonically,” and come together with all the musicians to achieve common goals.

For similar advice, we can go all the way back to the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle:

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

According to Wikipedia, synergy is the creation of “a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.” The term synergy comes from the word synergos (συνεργός) meaning “working together.”

Another way to reflect on this concept is with this parable “Whose Job Is It” (author unknown) demonstrating apathy:

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.  There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Somebody would do it.  Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

If you want to create the life and musical success you want, don’t be like Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. Be true to yourself. Take responsibility for your life! Don’t let Everybody, Somebody, Anybody or Nobody stop you from doing what you need to achieve what you want and deserve for yourself and the TEAM!

The “take-a-ways” from this fable? What is your charge “for the good of the TEAM?”

  • Take personal responsibility for defining what life and musical success means to you.
  • Take personal responsibility for building your self-confidence. (Practice!)
  • Take personal responsibility to participate in rehearsals regularly. (Attend every week!)
  • Take personal responsibility for developing the competencies (skills) and preparations (focus on the hard passages) you need to succeed in the music.
  • Take personal responsibility for putting sufficient time seriestoshare-logo-01into the “TEAM.”
  • Take personal responsibility for building and nurturing relationships in the orchestra that will help you promote success.
  • Take personal responsibility in supporting the TEAM in “fun” raising (socials) and fund-raising projects… as we used to say back in the 60s, “be there or be square!”

At a SHJO rehearsal last Saturday, I expressed concerns that the reality of inconsistent attendance and inadequate at-home practice is making it difficult to rehearse and achieve progress. However, rest assured, I know our concerts will be great!

In every fifth-year anniversary milestone of SHJO, we have given back to those who have given us a very special gift… a permanent home. Our fund-raising efforts are lagging behind and we need all Friends of SHJO to “step up to the plate.”

In the future, you will have the opportunity to engage with other booster members and their leadership team to proceed toward our fund-raising goal of $12,000 for a gift to our gracious hosts, the Upper St. Clair School District. Ads and patron donations received as we go forward will be acknowledged in future concert programs, and we look forward to your generous assistance.

You are encouraged to peruse the South Hills Junior Orchestra website. Under “Resources,” check out the free “Series to Share…” additional “Fox’s Fireside” issues by Paul K. Fox, and “Music Enrichment Workshop” presentations by Donna Stark Fox.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

 

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This “Series to Share” is brought to you by… the Founding Directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO), “a community orchestra for all ages” based in Western Pennsylvania. Feel free to download a printable copy and distribute to music students, parents, teachers, and fellow amateur musicians.

The Meaning of “Pro”

Reprinted from the Spring 2015 PMEA News

Are you a professional? Do you have the skills, habits, and attitudes of a professional in the field of education?

Webster’s New World dictionary defines the term “profession” as “a vocation or occupation requiring advanced education and training.”

However, what makes someone a true professional? What are the qualities of an individual who devotes his or her life in a profession? How can you tell the difference between just going to work in a “job” and reaching for the highest professional standards?

In short, here are some of the qualities of professionalism that school administrators seek in new candidates for music (or any subject) teaching positions. Here’s an opportunity to do a personal professional inventory.

  • A professional succeeded in and continues to embrace “higher education” and personal development. He/she updates self with “constant education” and retooling of knowledge and skills.
  • Professionals tend to seek and encourage change, to find better ways of doing something. They propose new things “for the good of the order.”
  • Like lawyers and doctors, they “practice” the job, using different techniques and resources for different situations as needed. Professionals are good problem solvers and critical thinkers.
  • Professionals accept criticism, frequently assess their job performance, and always try to self-improve.
  • They agree to adopt an open or flexible assignment of hours to work or plan/prepare/think about their job throughout the week and weekends (seemingly, on occasion, a commitment to a “24/7” schedule). They bring home their work… what the students call homework!
  • Professionals are salaried, and do not think in terms of hourly compensation, nor even expect extra pay for every task of the job assignment. They do not “punch a clock” nor count hours at their job.
  • Professional workers are generally responsible for themselves and many others. When assigned to a “team,” they allow other team-members to reap benefits and take credit for the work/successes they have done.
  • Members of a professional community have obligations for communications, attending meetings, completing paperwork, and fulfilling deadlines, and value the application of accountability, teamwork, group goals, compromise and unity of purpose, vision, creativity, perseverance, honesty/integrity, fairness, patience/calm demure, and timeliness/promptness. Professionals define and regularly model these best practices.
  • Professionals readily accept and model a corporate standard of behavior and appearance.

Remember your most inspiring teacher? Who motivated you to go into the teaching profession? Did you notice the level of commitment he or she brought to the profession… to the classroom every day?

Becoming a professional music educator is a lofty goal with high standards. It seems like there is never enough time in a day to complete everything. Music teachers (especially at the secondary level) are usually the first to arrive and the last to leave the parking lot, and often sponsor or participate in activities of their profession after-school, evenings, and even on weekends back at school… everything from directing extra rehearsals to composing/arranging/preparing music, accompaniments, lessons, etc.

Many have said that aspiring to be a music educator is a lot like a calling. One school superintendent said he expected prospective new recruits to show high energy, enthusiasm, sense of purpose, and dedication during the interview… even a supposed willingness to “lay down in front of a school bus” or “do what ever it takes” to make the students (and educational program) successful.

A professional music teacher must also achieve a balance between his/her high level musical expertise and the essential focus on the needs of “students as people” first. Ultimately, it is our privilege and mission to teach children (not just the subject matter) through the enormously powerful vehicle of music.

So, are you ready to wear the badge of a professional?

PKF