“Top 10” Organizing Tips for 2019

Food for Thought for “Getting Your Stuff Together”

Once in awhile, someone suggests an article that might be suitable for everyone who stumbles upon this website… retired (but very busy) music teachers, active music educators, collegiates, and music students of all ages. Of course, I cannot resist putting together my own list of ways to become a better time manager and efficiency expert… mainly because I was never that organized when I taught classes in three buildings, assisted in marching band, produced plays and musicals, and served as a curriculum leader during my 35+-year career. (“Do as I say, don’t do as I do…” or did!) It’s now easy to recommend… and after trolling the Internet a little, backing up this advice with numerous “expert” protagonists.

 

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1. Throw out the “to-do list” and use a calendar

“Millionaires don’t use to-do lists. If something truly matters to you, put it on your calendar. You’ll be amazed at how much the likelihood of getting it done increases.”

– Srinivas Rao at https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-calendars-are-more-effective-than-to-do-lists

According to The Muse (https://www.themuse.com/advice/8-expertbacked-secrets-to-making-the-perfect-todo-list), “41% of to-do tasks are never completed.” Janet Choi on LifeHacker (https://lifehacker.com/5967563/master-the-art-of-the-to-do-list-by-understanding-how-they-fail) maintains that for most people, there are four problems for using to-do lists:

  1. We have too many to-do’s.
  2. We’re not good at making to-do lists.
  3. We give ourselves too much time.
  4. “The future is full of unknowns, interruptions, and change.”

paper-3141341_1920_rawpixelSupported by Dan Ariely and his team at Timeful (a company acquired by Google), Srinivas Rao writes at https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-calendars-are-more-effective-than-to-do-lists that we should throw away the to-do list and use a calendar app like Google Calendar for tasks and reminders, to set goals, and to schedule meetings.

Srinivas adds, “Just the act of putting these things on the calendar for some reason seems to significantly increase the likelihood that I actually do them.”

 

2. But there’s still a good reason for keeping your a note-taking app.

Combine a virtual assistant like Apple “Siri” or Amazon “Alexa” with an application like “Evernote” for “brainstorming” to get your thoughts organized.

Perhaps creating to-do lists may or may not work in your day-to-day environment, but the use of note-taking apps with voice-activated personal assistants may be the ticket to sketch out your short to long-term planning and even respond to email or other forms of writing drafts. Basically, I find I talk faster than I can type!

Jill Duffy offers these assessment criteria for picking the “best for you” digital note-taking tool at the blog-site Zapier (see https://zapier.com/blog/best-note-taking-apps/):

  • EvernoteEasy to set-up
  • East to use
  • Specialized to fit your needs
  • Good value (some require no subscription fees)

She reviews Evernote (my personal favorite), Microsoft OneNote, Paper, Quip, and Simplenote for day-to-day use.

A lot of my blog writing is generated using voice recognition by Siri dropped into the Evernote app. It has worked well for me. However, if you are running errands in the car, or even taking a longer trip on the highway, it is not recommended to dictate your manuscript while driving! Your attention is drawn away from watching the road to check on the status of your “writings,” and Siri does not always hear things right the first time! Even if you do not look at your phone while talking to your device, you will find that your distracted “brainstorming out-loud” may cause you to miss an exit or even sit unresponsive at a green light. Never note-take and drive at the same time!

 

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3. Of course, you have to set priorities!

I was never good at going from brainstorming to finalizing the goals and action plans! It seems easier to “think outside the box” than to construct that multi-leveled box of jobs!

Tatyana Sussex at Liquid Paper (https://www.liquidplanner.com/blog/how-to-prioritize-work-when-everythings-1/) proposes these steps for “How to Prioritize Work When Everything Is Number 1.”

  1. Collect a list of all your tasks.
  2. Identify urgent vs. important.
  3. Assess value.
  4. Ordered tasks by estimated effort.
  5. Be flexible and adaptable.
  6. Know when to cut.

Benjamin Brandall contributes additional insight on systems for prioritizing at https://www.process.st/how-to-prioritize-tasks/, defining “the Four D’s” (see section #5) and my favorite concept, “When you have two frogs to eat, eat the ugliest one first.”

Finally, should you feel you need it, definitely revisit the inspiration of Stephen Covey, especially in his book, First Things First or this website: https://www.franklincovey.com/the-7-habits/habit-3.html.

 

4. Creative things should come first!

cello-521172_1920_enbuscadelosdragones0As musicians and music teachers, this suggestion may hit home: Do something that stimulates your “right brain” with acts of personal self-expression or artistry every day, and schedule it both intentionally and early!

What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning? Playing an instrument or singing? Composing? Writing? Painting or drawing?

I have previously blogged about ways to enhance your daily creativity quotient:

I also like this Inc. article: “32 Easy Exercises to Boost Your Creativity Every Day.”

“Here is what I’ve learned from these creative warm-ups: my thinking continues to be more flexible and multi-dimensional throughout the day. I approach work challenges with less fear and more playfully; I’m more open to see things in new and unexpected ways… And that makes all the difference.”

– Ayse Birsel, author of Design the Life You Love

 

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5. Adhere to the “four D’s” system of productivity.

Have you heard of Priority Manager or other systems of paper and digital notes management? My favorite… the four D’s was previously blogged at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2017/12/01/help-how-does-one-keep-up/.

  • Do it! (Act on it immediately!)
  • Delay or Date it! (Assign it to the future!)
  • Delegate it! (Give it to someone else to do!) or
  • Dump it! (Delete or move it into the trash)

Check out the practical advice unveiled at https://blog.hubspot.com/sales/4-ds-of-productivity. I particularly liked Mike Renahan’s visual which sums up the system:

Four Ds

 

6. Devote at least 30 minutes a day to professional reading.

“Why did the busiest person in the world, former president Barack Obama, read an hour a day while in office?”

“Why has the best investor in history, Warren Buffett, invested 80% of his time in reading and thinking throughout his career?”

“Why has the world’s richest person, Bill Gates, read a book a week during his career? And why has he taken a yearly two-week reading vacation throughout his entire career?”

Answer? “If you’re not spending five hours per week learning, you’re being irresponsible.”

– Michael Simmons at https://qz.com/work/1124490/5-hour-rule-if-youre-not-spending-5-hours-per-week-learning-youre-being-irresponsible/

***

“In the busy teaching day, it can often be the last thing on your mind to dive into some professional reading. So, why should you make it a priority and how can you utilize your time effectively to fit it in?”

– Hazel Brinkworth at https://www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/2018/10/09/time-to-read/

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Teachers have to “keep up” with their “craft,” explore mobile-791071_1920_kaboompicsdeveloping innovations, trends, and movements in their field, and embrace better instructional techniques and use of media for their students!

“I don’t have time” means you are not a true professional. Doctors and other medical care providers, lawyers, investment counselors, clergy, etc. – you name the “profession” – must continually renew their knowledge-base and “sharpen their saws.” Regular reading and attending conferences help motivate you, “recharge your batteries,” retool for the formation of new goals, review better strategies, and introduce improved teaching methods, materials, literature, and technologies.

The aforementioned Teacher Toolkit website scripts tips on how to get started:

  1. Focus your topic of interest.
  2. Know where to look.
  3. Listen instead of reading!
  4. Set aside a regular time slot in your week.
  5. Find a quiet place.

 

 

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7. Cut back on your “screen time,” especially closer to your bedtime.

“There’s a lot of debate about how much screen time is too much screen time, specifically for children, but also for adults. Likely you’ve heard about how it’s a good idea to stop using our electronics in the evening so you can wind your brain down for bed. But when it comes to screen time, the only thing that seems conclusive is that there’s such a thing as too much and that it may be different for everyone and depend on the circumstances.”

Interesting Engineering blog-site offers these “11 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Screen Time” (https://interestingengineering.com/11-easy-ways-to-reduce-your-screen-time).

  1. Eat your meals without a screen
  2. Limit your non-work screen time
  3. Don’t watch movies or TV in bed
  4. Cut down on computer socializing
  5. Set a timer
  6. Ban phone charging from the bedroom
  7. Take up another hobby for boredom
  8. Schedule a meeting phone call instead of using chat
  9. Think of other ways to access information
  10. Get your news in a condensed feed
  11. Exercise while you watch

 

8. Are you  getting enough sleep?

male-3730041_1920_Engin_AkyurtThe answer is… probably not.

According to a 2013 Gallup Study (the last year Gallup published a sleep study), the average American sleeps only 6.8 hours a day — and that number may be getting worse over the last several years.

Most experts recommend we receive 7 to 9 hours per night, but the quality of sleep is just as important as the quantity. The HelpGuide website (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/sleep-needs-get-the-sleep-you-need.htm/) posted this chart with data from the National Sleep Foundation:

sleep

Brittney Morgan at https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/how-to-hack-your-sleep-schedule-and-get-your-full-8-hours-242712 suggested these remedies:

  1. Ease into an earlier bedtime.
  2. Rethink how you use alarms.
  3. Create a sleep routine.
  4. Unplug and de-stress before bed.
  5. Write out your thoughts.
  6. Limit alcohol and caffeine

spiral-notebook-381032_1920_kathrin_I remember when I taught full-time and was in the middle of a full-blown musical production, I sometimes laid awake feeling “stirred up” inside trying to think of all the things I needed to do the next day. #5 of Brittney’s list is solved by putting a legal pad and a good pen by your bed stand, and without awakening your spouse, roll over and jot down a few of your “don’t forgets.” Or if you prefer to use the magic of technology, you can do this digitally… take a minute or so and use your tablet or smartphone, but don’t stay up very long and let the screen’s blue-light make your insomnia worse. Revisit title heading #2 above for note-taking apps.

It’s absolutely amazing the number of sources you can find on the web for additional advice for improving your sleep habits:

 

9. Get rid of the stuff you don’t need

“Now and again, everyone faces a big life transition. For me, it was when I lost my father — right around the time I realized my kids were rapidly growing up (funny how that sneaks up on you, huh?). I started to think about how I really wanted to live my day-to-day life. From the clothes on my body to stuff in my home, I wanted to stop perpetuating things that made me feel bad about myself.”

minimalism-241876_1920_bohemienne“Much like Gilligan and his infamous “three hour tour,” what I thought might be a quick clean-out extravaganza turned into an epic, six-month journey through the nether reaches of my closets and my psyche. Along the way, I learned many things from Maeve about organization — and more than a few things about myself that changed my relationship with my stuff.”

“This is tough for anyone, but it’s a crucial step in regaining control over your stuff. I was really honest with myself, and resolved to not beat myself up over getting rid of (or donating) things we didn’t need — even if they were in good shape. When you start to think of your things as part of an ecosystem for your life, it becomes easier to pare down to only the stuff you really love.”

Ask yourself, how often do you “purge the junk” from your home?

Showcased on Beginning Minimalist, Joshua Becker also shares “10 Creative Ways to De-Clutter Your House” at https://www.becomingminimalist.com/creative-ways-to-declutter/. Be sure to read what he refers to the Oprah Winfrey Closet Hanger Experiment, now my “new favorite” way of discarding seldom-worn clothing.

 

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10. Don’t forget to organize your living spaces.

In “7 Smart Organizing Tricks You Probably Have Not Tried” (https://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/organizing/smart-organizing-tricks), Louisa Kamps recommends these logical time-savers and better spacing engineering techniques:

  1. Expose everything in your dresser drawers
  2. Store like with like.
  3. Be mindful of the pleasure your possessions give you.
  4. Keep your workspace clean and clutter free.
  5. Streamline your files.
  6. Create effective to-do lists (or see #1 above)
  7. Make “mise-en-place” a way of life.

Need more household tips? One Crazy House also provides a wealth of ideas in their blog-post, “17 Clever Organizing Tricks You’ll Wish You’d Known Sooner” by Donella Crigger at https://www.onecrazyhouse.com/organizing-tips-tricks/. And, if seventeen are not enough, what about over a hundred? Go to the Good Housekeeping’s site: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/tips/g2610/best-organizing-tips/.

 

Hopefully these hints help you “tidy up” for the New Year, and bring you more productivity, peace of mind, and joy in your lives!

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

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Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “young” by kaboompics, “checklist” by TeroVesalainen, “paper” by rawpixel, “important” by geralt, “cello” by enbuscadelosdragones0, “board”by rawpixel, “mobile” by kaboompics, “iPhone” by JESHOOTScom, “male” by Engin_Akyurt, “spiral-notebook” by kathrin, “minimalism” by bohemienne, “clutter” by Kasman, and “ring-binders” by AbsolutVision.

One Retiree’s “Tech Rant”

When Your Car (or Smartphone or Computer or Soundbar) is Smarter Than You

Okay, I know I am not a “technology native,” but at least I have become more savvy as a well-informed “technology immigrant.” (Just don’t tell Donald Trump!) But, I just can’t seem to keep up! What is it about “our generation” missing that part of the brain that somehow intuitively informs us which link or button to push in a long series of options on a menu bar? (The ones that only have symbols or pictures really puzzle me!)

I bought a new Chevy (a used but current-model-year demo from the dealer), and I am struggling to understand it! Oh, not just the basics of the radio, three-zone HVAC system, cruise control, or all of the other nifty buttons on the steering wheel…

Chevy-Mylink-Banner

But, this car talks to me. It tells me when I am not driving straight within the lane. It reprimands me when I am following too close to the car in front of me. In case I forgot to notice the speed limit sign, the reminder pops up next to the speedometer. It even tells me to stop reading the dashboard while I am driving (which is somewhat ironic since the notice comes up randomly while my car is moving).

Our devices are all becoming more interconnected and even “seamless!” For example, my GM vehicle offers OnStar, turn-by-turn navigation, and Sirius/XM-Radio. When I plug my iPhone into the special interface next to the cigarette lighter, the home screen shows up on the main window of my car, making it a cinch to play music from my iTunes library!

If I need to hear female voices “tell me where to go” (besides my wife, of course), I have the opportunity of either letting Siri give me the street directions or listen to another digital woman (who or where she comes from I do not know – a Google Maps cyborg?). One trip, I turned them both on. Number 2 came through the car speakers, while Siri spoke through the phone itself. They both nearly simultaneously gave me the wrong directions to Hershey Lodge (Harrisburg), having me exit the PA Turnpike two exits too soon. (Go figure. I should have taken the advice of my wife who said, “Harrisburg East.”)

This “trouble in tech paradise” is not limited to automobiles. Every appliance is becoming smarter than me! Here’s another example that I may have bought “too many toys” for my own good. Both my Samsung TV and soundbar seem to automatically update themselves using my household WIFI network. The funniest moment in my installation of the Bose sound equipment connected to our cable box in the living room was when I downloaded their app for my iPhone, and inadvertently turned on from a remote location a streaming country music service blaring throughout my house. (Scared my wife to death!)

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This is an “equal opportunity” rant, and I do not discriminate: Apple vs. Windows OS, Apple vs. Android iOS, or Apple Genius vs. Best Buy Geek Squad. It makes little difference… embracing the tools of “new age” media and scientific innovations are complicated! For example, why does one need to have a PhD in computer science to use Mail Merge and print labels from Excel and Word on either platform? It should never be that hard to prepare your Christmas card mailing list!

Nearly the only time my “marital bliss” with my wife has been challenged is when something BAD happens to a file, app, or program on our iPhone, iPad, or Mac computer… and we try (with loads of mistakes) to fix it “together.” Even the dogs know to stay away from technology when we are in the middle of a hardware or software “bug!”

 

Your worst fear – a “crashing” computer

It’s hard to know who to trust in this technology-overloaded environment. Several weeks ago, when my wife’s Mac crashed and was “trapped” in an endless loop of restarts, we picked up our entire 27-inch, awkward-shaped/sized piece of equipment and carried it to the Apple Store for a consult with the “Almighty Apple Genius Department.” We brought with us the printed error message that said the problem was due to a “kernel panic.”  Placing our faith in AppleCare, we accepted their experts’ prognosis, and allowed them to erase half-a-million documents from her hard drive, strip it clean, and re-install the operating system. Big problem, but an even bigger mistake.

computer-problem-152211_1280_OpenClipart-Vectors

Here’s the short version of our sad story (the retelling of which raises my blood pressure). After seven trips to the mall over five days, “they” (who are supposed to know better) discovered that our backup external hard drive, the Apple Time Capsule bought 18 months ago (now out-of-warranty, but of course!), was the source of the problem, not the Mac. man-857502_1920_Tikwa(Getting a little revenge? On trip #6, when we hooked up to the Apple Store’s computer, our Time Capsule crashed their hardware.) With all of my wife’s documents long-gone from the computer and a couple terabytes of data on the Time Capsule now inaccessible, we were “saved” by our subscription to the cloud-based backup program Carbonite which did restore most of her files… but took five days 24/7 via WIFI to bring them back!

However, we “learned” that this process is excruciating slow if you have a stray colon or backslash within the title of any document. Many of these files had to be reloaded by hand. And, to date, we still have not been able to get our Family Tree application to work!

Morale to the story: Don’t always believe in the “geniuses!”

 

Don’t give up on your existing tech skills

Regardless of our age, many of us music teachers are a little more fortunate to have been exposed to innovative software and other technological tools during our teaching years.

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If you were a band director, you might know Pyware 3D Drill Design or some of the video editing programs to compare your the halftime show on Friday night with the schematic drawings “count by count” on how it should look. If you were involved in printing programs, senior yearbooks, posters, or other graphic media, you’re probably not afraid of desktop publishing projects. Those versed in Sibelius, Finale, or other music creation programs, or who introduced MusicFirst or SmartMusic applications to your music students, are much further along than many of the other teachers from our generation. If you’re retiring or have retired in the last five or 10 years, you were probably trained in your school district’s proprietary grade-book programs or attendance record system, and even may call yourself well-versed on creating/posting material on a website like “teacher pages,” skills that can be easily transferred to applications like WordPress or Wicks.com. So, don’t be afraid to venture out of your “comfort zone!” Unlike your father or father-in-law, who may have only had a taste of Applesoft Basic programming or a little TurboPascal coding before they retired, you may be “ahead of the game!”

Here are a few more gleams of “tech illuminations” that I have learned from being baptized and then thrown into this 21st-century topsy-turvy madhouse.

 

Turn yourself into a “tech-streetwise” retiree

LeoOne way to help educate yourself on all of these 21st Century “innovations” is to watch the podcast “Leo the Tech Guy” at https://techguylabs.com/. Leo Laporte brings all of this confusion down to our level… simple/easy terms and step-by-step instructions, and his reviews on future computers, smartphones, tablets, televisions, home security, software applications, and other technology are excellent. His FREE talk show airs every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Pacific Time, but all of the episodes are archived and you can search on specific topics.

The subjects he returns to on a frequent basis include:

  • Backup and Recovery
  • Business
  • Gaming
  • Hardware
  • Home Theater
  • Internet and The Web
  • Media
  • Mobile Phones
  • Networking
  • Peripherals

 

Backup the backup

Leo says we should have at least three copies of every important file… one on our hard drive, one on an external drive, and one in the cloud. If you don’t believe this, reread the agonizing anecdote above (“…crashing computer”). Backup #1 was erase by Apple Genius. Backup #2 was damaged or made inaccessible by the “kernel panic.” That left us with Backup #3… Carbonite. Thank god!

thumb-drive-864831_1280_skeezeThe original saved document is considered Copy #1. You need to then transfer this to an external location, outside your hard drive. Copy #2 could be sent to a flash or jump drive (just plug it into your USB port), or an external hard drive. (Understandably, my wife is no longer willing to trust the Apple Time Capsule which uses a program called Time Machine that automatically backups every file you save via WIFI… but there are other brands you could consider.)

However, keep in mind that if a fire occurs in the room you store your computer and external hard drive, all could be lost! The final copy #3 should be the automatic online back-up created by a cloud-based application. Carbonite saved my ***, but there are many subscription services out there that offer file syncing, encrypted backup, and data restoration at a reasonable cost:

  • Acronis True Image
  • Backblaze
  • Carbonite
  • IDrive
  • SOS Online Backup
  • SpiderOak One

What is the core reason that all of this is worth the money? Cloud-based programs do their magic behind-the-scenes (automatic redundancy saves the day) and won’t let you you forget to backup! If you are looking for an assessment like Consumer Reports on these products, advisers say, “Go to a computer nerd!” Perhaps PC Magazine comes the closest in being comprehensive: https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2288745,00.asp.

 

Manage passwords carefully.

key-1013662_1920_3dman_euFrom password management to virus protection, and simply knowing not to click on any random link or attachment in email are essential. Online security has become a very important issue. The experts tell us we should not have the same password for all of our applications, and it should not have any portion of our name, phone number, or other easy-to-guess info. My solution to resolve the conundrum of being safe and catering to a “senior citizen’s memory” was to create a core password that I could remember but no one else could figure out, and then add a prefix or suffix of a couple additional letters that describes the name of the applications. (Whatever you do, don’t use “123” as a password!) You should write down on paper an alphabetical listing of your user names and passwords, store the journal in your safety deposit box away from fire, flood, or theft, and share another copy of it with your spouse or at least one other family member. But, don’t forget to update the catalog frequently! (Passwords should change from time to time.)

I also found there are several ingenuous apps out there to help you with creating really random passwords, storing and accessing them with one “master password,” and even the provision of a “digital will,” designating a trusted friend and family member access to your virtual password vault in the event of an emergency or crisis. Now, all that is left for you is figuring out how to download one of these on all of your devices:

  • LastPass (my favorite)
  • Keeper Password Manager
  • DashLane
  • Sticky Password
  • Password Boss
  • RoboForm
  • True Key, etc.

Again, an analysis courtesy of PC Magazine provides additional insight: https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407168,00.asp.

 

Sanitize your smart devices.

They used to say that a tie is one of the most germ-ridden articles of men’s clothing. (In some hospitals, they recommend that doctors “lose the tie” as part of their dress code.) What do you see at the entrance of most grocery stores… disinfectant wipes for the shopping cart handles? Perhaps your cellphone tops the list of tech articles you rarely sterilize. When was the last time you cleaned your tablet? Your door knob to the bathroom probably gets more attention! Can you imagine anything containing more bacteria than the surface of your computer’s keyboard?

Whatever you do, be careful not to immerse your tech tool and cause harm to the internal circuits! Even if they say your phone is “water resistant,” don’t test it!

There are a lot of products out there to help you kill the microbes… specialized wipes for touch screens and others for hard surface areas. Read the precautions. What do you use Purellfor your eye glasses to avoid scratching the lenses?

Be aware of “operator error” in making this worse. How often do you wash your hands prior to picking up your wallet or smartphone? PURELL Hand Sanitizer was invented in 1988 by GOJO to meet the needs of healthcare providers and restaurants operators looking for ways to reduce the spread of germs. I have a container of PURELL sitting next to my computer.

Merry Maids offer these tips on cleaning your electronic devices: https://www.merrymaids.com/blog/quick-tips/clean-and-disinfect-electronic-devices/.

I also liked Design Mom’s “Eleven Secrets to Cleaning your Tech” at https://www.designmom.com/living-well-11-secrets-to-cleaning-your-tech-devices/.

Again, read their advice and all warnings. For a low budget solution, I would look into buying an antibacterial micro-fiber cloth and for the keyboards, consider using a very light application of isopropyl alcohol (on a rag, not directly on the device!).

 

Speaking of sanitizing… clear your “cookies” and “cache!”

What a strange language we use for our tech tools! Well, in the middle of writing this blog, I found that my Firefox browser was “giving me fits” for doing an online credit card transaction. Taking time out to find out why there were error messages (calling the 1-800 customer support people), I confirmed they always seem to ask you three questions:

  • What is the make, model, and year of your computer (or other device)?
  • What is the version of your computer’s operating system? (Mine is almost always updated to the most current edition. This is normally good advice for surviving the always-fluctuating tech landscape.)
  • What browser are you using?

For some reason, the techies will recommend you clear your browser history, including all forms, downloads, cookies, and cache… “translate” this mumble-jumble as cleaning out some of the temporary files and other “things in the buffer.” If you are having trouble reaching a known website or filling out digital applications or other forms, give this a try. It works for me almost every time. When in doubt, sanitize!

 

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When you’re in real trouble, be quick to reach-out for support

Remember that game show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” In the original series, one of the “lifelines” to help the “stumped” contestant deal with a difficult question was the option to “phone a friend.”  Latch onto a “technician tutor,” perhaps a student graduate or close family member. With how fast technology is evolving, I have been so appreciative of a former student stage crew member who came back to the school district employed as a tech aide, and was willing to do “house calls” and set up and improve the overall security of my network, install multiple routers, computers, printers, smart TVs, etc.

 

What about becoming a “web(inar) maestro?”

Finally, have you considered making an education video or presenting a webinar? Do you think you, another “technology immigrant” and retired music teacher (like me) would be the last one to ever venture out to do this? Well, perhaps not!

Think of all of that expert “stuff” you have swimming around your head. Pass it on… it’s all about leaving a legacy. You should share your experiences and knowledge earned from that old “school of hard-knocks!”

And, it isn’t that hard to do. If you are comfortable with PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi, all you need to do is find someone who has a subscription of Zoom or Go-To Meeting. If you are a member of a state education association like NAfME or an affiliated state unit like PMEA, they could set you up to host a webinar or record a professional development video. It’s “easy peasy!” Most would welcome your contribution to their online professional development library, like the NAfME Academy.

You might even have a few ready-made presentations sitting idle on your hard drive. What about those old music appreciation lessons, marching band leadership seminars, Orff/Kodaly/Dalcroze workshops, string pedagogy tips, or ??? Dust them off, review/edit/update, or as they say, “repackage” your work. What’s that quote? “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

 

manipulation-smartphone-2507499_1920_FunkyFocus

This started out as a “rant” lamenting the fact we have all but lost what seemed to be a calmer, simpler lifestyle. But, technology is here to stay, and we either learn to cope with it, or go back to the caveman era and put our heads in the sand (to mix metaphors). At least, be happy to know you are not alone in riding this “bucking bronco” of the digital age. Here are even more online hints on surviving technology:

 

P.S. My wife says she’s still mad at Apple! Well, we do have to move on… a little wiser, more resilient, and possibly less gullible in trusting future “experts.”

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “banner” by geralt, “imac-ipad-iphone-macbook-laptop” by Tim_H, “computer problem” by OpenClipart-Vectors, “man” by Tikwa, “thumb-drive” by skeeze, “key” by 3Dman_eu, “maze” by qimono, and “smartphone manipulation” by Funky Focus.

 

 

Social Media – Boon or Nemesis?

This is an expanded version of an excerpt from my August 30, 2017 blog-post multi-part series entitled “Ethics for Music Educators II,” crossing over to multiple categories and perspectives for veteran music teachers, new or pre-service educators, and retirees, and touching on the timely issues of ethics, student/teacher safety, professional development, and personal branding.

 

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The Paradox: Online Technology Pitfalls vs. Innovations in Education

This may be hard to believe, but when I started teaching in 1978, “social media” did not exist. If you can imagine this, there was no Internet yet, and most of us did not have computers. Flip or smart phones and tablets were only the subject of science fiction or Star Trek episodes. Guidelines for use or to avoid abuse of social media were not even a “seed” in our imaginations.

notes-3236566_1920_Alehandra13When MySpace and Facebook came upon the scene in 2003 and 2004, most school administrators recommended “stay away from these.” The online sharing and archiving of photos initiated the adoption of many other social media apps (Flickr and later Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, etc), which provoked new challenges in maintaining privacy, appropriateness, and professionalism. Danger, danger, danger!

However, very soon after, school leaders starting rolling out revolutionary “technology” such as “teacher pages” and school webpages, online bulletin board services, interactive forums, virtual learning environments like Blackboard and Blended Schools, and other educational tools which encouraged two-way communications among students in the class and the teacher. All of this is here to stay… so how should we use technology safely?

Cons – Negatives – Warnings

Paraphrasing current and past postings from the Pennsylvania Department of Education Professional Standards and Practices Commission Educator Ethics and Conduct Toolkit, social media and other digital communications may perpetuate the following problems:

  1. network-3354116_1920_geraltCommunicating digitally or electronically with students may lead to the blurring of appropriate teacher-student boundaries and create additional challenges to maintaining and protecting confidentiality.
  2. Texts, emails, and social media postings are not private, and may be seen by others, forwarded, and/or copied or printed.
  3. Out of context, they may be misinterpreted, appear to be inappropriate, and/or lead to a violation of “The Code.”
  4. It is the responsibility of the teacher to control his or her “public brand,” how he or she wants to be perceived by students, parents, colleagues, and the public. One’s public brand can and does impact perceptions, which in turn can impinge upon effectiveness.

“Let’s debunk the free speech myth: Many teachers believe they have the absolute First Amendment right to post anything they want on social networking sites, including party pix and diatribes about the boss. After all, they’re on their own time and using their own resources. Sadly, the courts say otherwise.”

– National Education Association

There are a lot of pretty scary scenarios out there modeling “real” ethical dilemmas for teachers in the use of emerging technology and social media. If you can, take the time to preview a few of these case studies and videos:

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Many have said that Facebook and educators, in particular, should never mix. Although not entirely accurate or perhaps fair to the social media “giant” (you can carefully set-up private, content-specific Facebook groups with restricted access and limited privileges), this seems to be supported  by one news story about a Math teacher who loss her job because she failed to notice changes in her Facebook privacy settings, and the other, a clever Facebook vs. teacher presentation by R. Osterman. In my opinion, both of these should be “required viewing” by all college music education majors and current educators in all subject areas.

 

Pros – Positives – Recommendations

By no means are we implying that all forms of technology are “bad” or “dangerous” for music teachers. For example, some of us have explored the valuable web-based music education platforms of SmartMusic (MakeMusic, Inc.) and MusicFirst, and I can give you a handful of fantastic (free) links to online resources for the teaching of music theory, ear-training, and even sight-singing:

One of my favorite music educator blog-sites is Mrs. Miracle’s Music Room. Her March 2017 post, “Social Media for Music Teachers,” provides excellent insights into the safe and philosophically-sound use of Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. I cannot recall how many times I visited YouTube’s exhaustive library of recordings, sharing with my students both good and bad examples of the orchestral literature we were studying.

Another impressive article, “How Music Teachers Can Use the Power of Social Media” by Amanda Green, focuses on using the Internet to send out practice reminders, encourage practice uploads, share amazing performances, and communicate tips and reminders.

“Some people mistakenly assume that social media doesn’t apply to them. Take music teachers. Their work is done in person, one student at a time, right? Not at all. If you’re a music teacher and you don’t already have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a Tumblr blog set up for your music studio, you’re not taking advantage of all of the ways that social media can help your students. As the TakeLessons team notes: the Internet has enabled students to learn music from anywhere, often from teachers who are Skyping halfway across the country.” – Amanda Green

Here are several supplemental resources provided in NAfME Music in a Minuet:

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Finally, I urge you to review Chad Criswell’s submission, “Social Media and Communication in the Music Classroom,” which was published in the February 2012 NAfME Teaching Music.

 

Exercising Good Judgment and Professionalism Using Technology

Ethics are all about making good choices. Returning to “my state’s” excellent ethics tool kit, the following links were suggested for additional study:

Guiding questions about the above links from the PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission:

  • “After examining these resource guides for emerging technology, did any of the guidelines surprise you?”
  • “Do you envision any problem for you personally in adhering to these guidelines?”

During my sessions on ethics in music education, I quote these ten rules from the American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence:

  1. Know your school district or state’s policies on social media.
  2. Never “friend” or “follow” students on your personal accounts.
  3. Keep your profile photos clean
  4. Do not affiliate yourself with your school on a personal profile.
  5. Do not geo-tag your connection-3330561_1920_TheDigitalArtistposts with your school’s location.
  6. “Snaps” are forever! Anyone can take a screen shot of your posts.
  7. Never mention your school or the names of staff or students in any post.
  8. Set your Instagram account to private.
  9. Never complain about your job online.
  10. Never post photos of your students on social media

The final word, the most eloquent and comprehensive guide for all of us to use in our daily decision-making in the profession is the Model Code of Ethics for Educators, created by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC).

“The Model Code of Ethics for Educators (MCEE) serves as a guide for future and current educators faced with the complexities of P-12 education. The code establishes principles for ethical best practice, mindfulness, self-reflection, and decision-making, setting the groundwork for self-regulation and self-accountability. The establishment of this professional code of ethics by educators for educators honors the public trust and upholds the dignity of the profession.” – NASDTEC

Here is the specific section applicable to social media and other technology. I cannot imagine that, after all of this, there is anything else left to say!

PKF

MCEE Responsible Use of Technology

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “Internet” by TheDigitalArtist, “notes” by Alehandra, “social-media” by mohamed_hassan, “network” by geralt, “Facebook” by Simon, “Internet” (2) by TheDigitalArtist, “portrait” by Karla_Campos, “woman” by shy_kurji, “smartphone” by TeroVesalainen, and “connection” by TheDigitalArtist.

 

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

The Professional Website

Pre-Service Music Educators Looking for Employment: Build a Web Platform to Promote Your “Brand”

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According to Wikipedia, “an electronic portfolio (also known as an eportfolio, e-portfolio, digital portfolio, or online portfolio) is a collection of electronic evidence assembled and managed by a user, usually on the Web. Such electronic evidence may include input text, electronic files, images, multimedia, blog entries, and hyperlinks. E-portfolios are both demonstrations of the user’s abilities and platforms for self-expression. If they are online, users can maintain them dynamically over time. One can regard an e-portfolio as a type of learning record that provides actual evidence of achievement…”

A couple years ago, I wrote a blog about the “perfect portfolio” for getting a job at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/11/15/planning-the-perfect-professional-portfolio/. As a review, these elements were endorsed for inclusion in an e-portfolio:

  • Educational philosophy
  • Résumé or Curriculum Vitaeinternet-1181586_1920_the digitalartist
  • Letters of recommendation
  • College transcripts
  • Praxis® exam results
  • Copy of teaching certificate(s)
  • Artifacts of student work
  • Classroom observation documents/evaluations
  • Statement about class management theory (discipline) and the steps that you would take inside your classroom to create a safe and orderly environment
  • Letters from parents commending the work you did with their children
  • Samples of student assessments/rubrics
  • Excerpts (short video or audio recordings) of you performing on your major instrument/voice, solo and chamber recitals, piano accompanying, playing in college ensembles, and especially teaching in as many settings as possible: small and large group instrumental (band and strings), choral ensembles, elementary classroom lessons, extracurricular activities like marching band and musical, private lessons, etc.
  • Pictures (quote from http://www.theeduedge.com/top-five-must-haves-top-five-could-haves-your-teacher-interview-portfolio/): “We cannot emphasize the power of pictures enough when it comes to portfolios. During interviews, committee members are trying to get to know you and trying to envision you teaching. Don’t trust their imaginations to do so, give them pictures… photos or newspaper articles of you teaching students in the classroom, with students on field trips, learning excursions or outside class activities, with children while you are serving in adviser roles, with your students at business-15822_1920_PublicDomainPicturesmusical or athletic events, coaching or working with children in a coaching capacity, as a leader and role model.”

As I said in my article, all of this is “perfect fodder for marketing yourself” at future employment interviews. Do you have “what it takes” to be a professional music teacher?” In your opinion, what makes you qualified (“a good fit”) for a position in our institution?”

I also recommend you revisiting my blog-post “Tips on Personal Branding” at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/12/16/tips-on-personal-branding/ for steps on warehousing the elements of your “professional brand.”

If your college does not set you up with a free online site, consider a “do-it-yourself” website creator from one of these, and read the rest of this blog-post:

  • WordPress.com
  • Wix.com
  • Weebly.com
  • SquareSpace.com
  • Web.com
  • Yola.com
  • GoDaddy.com
  • eHost.com
  • Site123.com

WordPress is a popular “open source” solution. This means you will need to independently set up a server, download a third party template, manage updates, set up a domain name, and configure everything on your own. This is what I did for this paulkfoxusc blog-site, and I paid zero for a domain name… but more on that later.

 

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The Essential Step-by-Step Guide to Making Your Own Website

One of my favorite online “instruction manuals” for building a website comes from Christopher Heng’s “How to Start / Create a Website: The Beginner’s A-Z Guide” at  https://www.thesitewizard.com/gettingstarted/startwebsite.shtml. Their steps:

  1. Get Your Domain Name.
  2. Choose a Web Host and Sign Up for an Account.
  3. Designing your Web Pages.
  4. Testing Your Website.
  5. Collecting Credit Card Information, Making Money (not needed for us?).
  6. Getting Your Site Noticed.

This should be required reading… but take it slow, and click on all of the secondary links.

Some website builders and managers offer e-commerce and other special features. For a professional website to post your experience and accomplishments, you can avoid the extra cost of these nonessential additional web tools.

web-1738168_1920_CyberRabbitIf you can afford it, purchasing a simple domain name like your first and last name (something easy to remember) would be a great idea. Prospective employers will not have to write down a bunch of numbers, know your birthday, learn your nickname, etc. to find your e-portfolio. If you have an unique middle name or surname, you might luck out and be able to snag (and register) the perfect domain name. This was not possible for me! Do you know how many Paul Fox’s (even Paul K. Fox) are “out there” already taken?

In the process of obtaining an available email label, if needed, try rearranging your name (e.g. listing the last name first?), placing dots between the first and last name, etc.

 

Strategies for Saving Money and Seeking Tech Help

If you are like me, lacking a little confidence about advanced online technology or mastering a complicated website building program, read the following article for a general review of the process and terminology. Take the afternoon off (order a pizza, too) and totally consume it and “A Beginner’s Guide to Creating a WordPress Website” at https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2016/02/beginners-guide-creating-wordpress-website/#article-wpcom-wporg.

I suppose it would be fair to say that college students are not “made out of money,” so going to a professional website designer is probably “out of the picture,” even though this is one of your most essential tools for successfully communicating your brand! Are you going to lay out some big bucks for an impressive looking resume and business card?

However, have you considered the alternative of asking for help from your roommate, class buddy, or other student acquaintance who is majoring in communications? (Would “free pizza” be enough incentive for someone to sit down with you and get you started?)

The most cost-effective approach may be to sign-up for their FREE plan and self-hosting within the WordPress.com environment. (I am still amazed that this entire blog-site of mine, now archiving more than 73 articles, has been 100% free!)

If you desire more features, a free domain name, and no advertising on your site, you can upgrade to a monthly plan for WordPress (or any of the above providers).

 

 

WordPress.com plans

 

For me, WordPress was/is an easy application to use. You do not have to learn a programming language or fancy commands to format your menus and text. There are a lot of samples you can (almost literally) copy. The hard part is just… GETTING STARTED!

One of the first decisions you have to make is to establish a domain name. If you decide to be “cheap” (like me), just create a Google email account with a suitably professional name. If it is available, you set-up one like “first name” + “middle name” + “last name” + “music educator” or something else appropriate. Dots can be inserted as dividers in an email address. Shortly before I retired (and would lose my school email account), I found that paulkfox.usc@gmail.com was available. (USC is where I taught and continue to live.)

It should be noted here that “partying tuba player” and “crazy singer” are probably not good “professional names.” If you need help, just ask your grandmother what she thinks is appropriate. Remember: teaching is one of the most conservative of professions!

WordPressTo create your web site’s identity, WordPress will remove the dots and add their company’s moniker “.wordpress.com” at the end of your email name. That is how https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com was born!

Your next choice will be the theme, style, and features of your website… probably challenging because there are so many free templates available. Check these out:

As an example, for this site, I use the FREE “Nucleare” theme by CrestaProject. Their description is the following: “Nucleare is a classic blog theme with a crisp, elegant design and plenty of handy features. A built-in search box, links to your favorite social networks, four widget areas, and beautifully styled post formats make this an ideal theme for your personal blog.” Nucleare also supports the following features:

  • Site logo
  • Social Links Menu
  • Post Formats
  • Custom Menus
  • Widgets
  • Custom Header
  • Custom Background
  • Full-Width Page Template

 

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A Model Music Teacher Website

Educators love it when one of their students leave their classroom and choose to become a significant contributing member to our “exalted” profession! I felt blessed and privileged to have had the opportunity of teaching David Dockan, a trumpet player in both our Upper St. Clair High School orchestra and marching band. He validated some of my advice for marketing himself to land a job, and has created a super website. Go to http://www.daviddockan.com/ and use the password “Music” to view his e-portfolio.

His menu sections:

  • Home (Introduction)
  • Teaching (General, Choral, Instrumental, assigned schools, Private Lessons)
  • Philosophy
  • Musicianship (Performance, Conducting)
  • Resume
  • Contact

A trumpet teacher colleague of mine, Ryan Wolf, messaged me on Facebook after he read the initial posting of this blog. He said he had great success hosting his professional website on Yola.com, but he maintains his e-portfolio on his Google Drive to make it easy to share.

In conclusion, I offer a few more recommendations for your consideration:

  1. Proofread your online presence very carefully… misspellings, bad punctuation, grammar mistakes, or poorly formatted displays would be negative PR and a detriment to your marketing plan.
  2. Websites require frequent updates. Keep yours up-to-date at all times!
  3. Print the link to your professional website on your business card and resume.
  4. Consider placing a Q-Code on your business card that, if scanned on a smartphone, would redirect your contact or prospective employer to your website.
  5. Be careful to obtain permission in advance to video record students for your e-portfolio. During your field experiences or student teaching, ask your cooperating teacher (or his/her supervisor’s) permission. Some schools have “do not photo” rosters. (However, in my district, only a few elementary students were “on the list” and most defaulted to a “permissible” status unless the parent opted out. The principal’s secretary had a record of all exceptions.) It is also suggested that you focus your camera mostly on YOU and not the students, from the back of the classroom or rehearsal facility (possibly from afar), so that the student faces are not clearly discernible. To respect their privacy, in the recorded excerpts, do not use any segment announcing the names of your students.
  6. maintenance-2422172_1920_geraltShowing your versatility, try to assemble a collection of still photos, audio examples, and videos that ideally represent all specialties in music education: choral, dance, general music, concert band and string instrumental, marching band, jazz, theater, etc., and demonstrate your proficiency in multiple settings at all grade levels.
  7. There are many blog-sites with tips on “curb appeal” – layout and design, style, overall impact, style, user-friendliness, etc. Since this involves a cross between artistry and efficiency, these advisors may not agree (one says use large images, another suggests smaller pictures mean faster loading speeds). A few samples:

If you were introducing a new “widget” to the market or promoting a sales campaign, you would spend a lot of time (and money) on advertising. A website and e-portfolio are a job hunter’s advertisement tool. Take advantage of any chance you have to present your personal brand, “sell yourself,” and connect with colleagues in the field of education. Archive your training, successes, and goals. Show off your professionalism, proficiency, and personality to prospective HR people and the decision-makers that hire future staff. Be sure to provide “live demos” of your traits of artistry, collaboration, commitment, discipline, even-temperament, initiative, leadership, mastery of music and education, organization, positive outlook, style, tact, and teamwork.

Good luck!!

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

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Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “men” by photoshootings, “beautiful” by PublicDomainPictures, “internet” by thedigitalartist, “business” by PublicDomainPictures, “turn-on” by geralt, “web” by CyberRabbit, “iPad” by fancycrave1, “maintenance” by geralt, and “people” by Akshay93.

How Retirement Has Changed Me… Revisited

Part II: The reinvention continues… new perspectives, recent renovations, fun pathways, and more technology

Happy Thanksgiving to all! Enjoy your time with your family and friends next week!

I feel very blessed and thankful for my health, happiness, economic stability, and relative comfort. My wife and I have “weathered” the so-called “passage to retirement” with success and grace, and continue to explore finding life’s meaning to fulfill the three most important things a job usually provides (according to best-selling author Ernie Zelinski): purpose, community, and structure.

Back in July 2015, I wrote the introduction to this “personal trek” of post-employment transitioning, coping with life-style changes/altered expectations, and personal metamorphosis to “living the dream!” (You can review all of these articles by clicking on the “For Retirees” above.) Specifically on “how retirement has changed me,” nine months ago, I wrote “Part I – One retiree’s quest for learning technology, science, and history” (https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2017/02/13/how-retirement-has-changed-me/), and can report “all is good” in progress on all of these fronts.

We all know personal growth is about curiosity, exploration and acceptance of change… so, now’s the time to report back. What have you been up to, Paul, since then?

 

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Writing, Collaborating, and Becoming a Better Techie

Here are a few quick check-marks to add to my post-employment technology portfolio:

  • I learned how to create a blog site and write blog articles
  • I learned how to use Zoom online and hold committee meetings on the web
  • I learned how to make a webinar video

To all current and future retirees, I strongly recommend venturing into the creative process of writing… and building a website to archive all of your “treasures.” Posting a blog is a perfect vehicle for getting something off your chest, promoting discussion on almost any topic, researching areas you always wanted to unearth, sharing your thoughts and experiences, and stating your opinion for the record using the Internet.

“The sky’s the limit” for the subjects you could present. What do you like to write about? It is probably easier to dive into the things that are closest to you, your “pet peeves” and passionate viewpoints, or perhaps drawing from the vast store of knowledge and competencies you developed in your music education career. My own “categories” on my website are “Becoming a Music Educator” (for pre-service and new music teachers), “Creativity,” “Ethics,” “Firesides” (epistles I have given to my students), and “For Retirees.”

Look into one of the free, “do-it-yourself” online sites like WordPress, Wix, Web, or Weebly.com. Unless you really want to, it is not necessary to pay for a domain name. However, if you want an easy-to-remember tagline (something everyone can remember), be creative with the title of a new Google email account (from which these web-creation services usually generate your website’s domain name). My professional email is paulkfox.usc@gmail.com, so WordPress removed the dot and created my website moniker as “paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com.”

My quest for further education in stimulating personal technological advances have included using services like “Doodle,” “Wufoo,” “Zoom” or “Go to Meeting” for collaborating with members of the Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention, and submission of several videos which have been archived in the NAfME Academy Professional Development library (of which I am most proud):

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  • Marketing Your Professionalism for Collegiate Music Education Majors: Tips and Strategies to Prepare and Present Yourself for Interviewing and Landing That First Music Teacher Job (two-part video)
  • Preparing for a Smooth Transition to Retirement
  • Supercharge the School Musical

 

Non-Technological Developments

No, I’m not dead yet. Retirement has provided me many rich new set of pursuits and brain-stimulating activities. Some of these activities are intellectual, some physical, and some just wear out my wallet!

How to spend large amounts of our monthly pension? In other dimensions of personal development, my wife and I are slowly renovating our house, finally getting around to making decisions on colors, styles and its overall presentation. When I was a full-time music teacher, I didn’t spend a lot of time at my home. Now in retirement, I have discovered how much it costs to frame a picture, especially if the only criteria when choosing a frame is the beauty of the wood grain and how well you match the double matting to the lithograph. (Without asking the price, I bought a $800 frame for my $125 Charles Wysocki print!)  Taking the high road, we hired a professional to securely hang things on the wall, another very expensive process when your interior decorator ($75/hour) accompanies your installer ($50/hour) to do the job, but all is “perfect” and no marital disputes erupted! After refinishing the floors, installing new windows, painting all the walls, “staging” several rooms (new transformations), and finally finishing the wall-hangings, it looks like the Foxes have a “showcase” residence.

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Raising two cute dogs have become a centerpiece of my life. We need to walk them several times a day, something on which you can’t procrastinate. One would think this regular physical exercise is part of an aerobic routine that is keeping me super-fit!

I have learned so much from my day-to-day dealings with my pups Gracie and Brewster (see previous blog-post https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/what-i-have-learned-from-my-dogs-in-retirement/), although inspiring a few questions:

  1. How do they always know my mood and needs better than I?
  2. No matter when you glance at them, what moves them to show you unconditional “love at first sight,” instantly lowering your blood pressure, nurturing your peace-of-mind, and improving your disposition?
  3. Since dogs have no lips, how are they so aptly able to express a loving kiss with a simple lick of our hands?
  4. How is it that they are always available (24/7) to cuddle, play, sleep in your lap, explore the mysterious ends of their leashes, and follow you everywhere?
  5. Regardless of the mistakes you make, why are they the first to forgive you?

And all they ask in return is to “hang around with you!”

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Just for fun, check out illustrator Kelly Angel’s representation of “how your dog views you” at https://www.boredpanda.com/how-you-see-yourself-vs-how-your-dog-sees-you/.

Although I volunteer as the founding director of the South Hills Junior Orchestra and teach “kids of all ages” on Saturdays every week, one of my other volunteer pursuits centers around pushing wheelchairs at the local hospital. The good news? I see so many of my students and their families at St. Clair Hospital. My favorite trip is going to the family birth center and discharging a new mother and her baby… and with surprising frequency, reuniting a former student or colleague with their “old” school music teacher or community orchestra director. Any bad news? Well, I am still puzzled why I have lost a little of my stamina and endurance since retiring. After only a little more than 3 1/2 hours of pushing wheelchairs (some of whom contain very large patients), I notice I am ready for a power nap! This does not mesh well with my employment days when I was teaching full-time, arriving to school by 6:45 in the morning, and often did not make it home until 9 PM (after-school rehearsals, meetings and performances of the marching band, fall play, and spring musical. What’s up about that?

 

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Philosophy of Post-Employment Professional Engagement

“Ask not PMEA can do for you, but what you can do for PMEA.”

Where have you heard that before? Sounds like something from the soapbox of the PMEA Retired Member Coordinator? (Check out “PMEA in Retirement”).

The most important part of my long-term goals is to try to make a difference in other people’s lives… colleagues, collegiate or pre-service educators, and others.  As for PMEA, I’m throwing my hat in the ring as your Coordinator of Retired Members. In addition, I accidentally walked into a summer meeting a little more than a year ago and was voted in as chair of the Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention. This is an exciting time in during PMEA’s new governance and recently ratified five-year strategic plan. We have the opportunity of doing some real meaningful work for music education in the state of Pennsylvania.

I hope that you continue to participate in PMEA and NAfME yourself. Obviously, once we “Cross the Rubicon” into retirement, we need not to worry about the hectic day-to-day schedule, politics, and stress of a full-time teaching position. However, we can make a difference, acting less engaged but still on-board helping our professional associations and advocating for the success of music education. PA music teachers (the focus of many of these blogs), please consider keeping your membership up-to-date, joining the PMEA Retiree Resource Registry, volunteering for guest conducting, presenting sessions, doing other jobs for PMEA, an/or attending official events.

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In a recent Retired Member Network eNEWS, I mentioned that as unofficial mentors and sage advisers, there are many ways retired members can “return the favor” of a career full of wonderfully enriching professional development and music festival resources, simply by helping PMEA out a little:

  1. Review the five-year PMEA Strategic Plan – posted online at https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/PMEA-Strategic-Plan-2017-21-Final-1.pdf. Focus on possible things in which you may have the skills or interests to contribute to our profession, and propose something new “for the good of the order.” Here are sample objectives – any of these “strike a chord” with you?
    • 1E. Continue to improve and find new and innovative ways to engage PMEA members in advocacy efforts including Advocacy Day in Harrisburg and Music in Our Schools Month activities (“team-up” with retiree Chuck Neidhardt, PMEA State MIOSM Coordinator).
    • 2A. Explore topics of lifelong learning (music therapy, community music, service learning…)
    • 2E. Focus on topics of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access by providing space for dialogue, reaching more students beyond traditional ensembles, and identifying and promoting success stories and appropriate practices.
    • 3B. Investigate possibilities of various partnerships with other music associations.
    • 3E. Develop leadership (e.g. retreat and training sessions).
    • 4B. Promote and expand the Music Performance Assessment program (e.g. solo and chamber ensemble opportunities, virtual MPA’s, and traveling adjudicators).
  2. Still have your “conductor chops?” One way to encourage your colleagues to think of you in becoming a guest director or accompanist of a PMEA festival is to join the PMEA Retiree Resource Registry (see the retired member section of the website at https://www.pmea.net/retired-members/) and send an email sharing your interest and availability to the District President and the local Festival/Fest Coordinator.
  3. Did you know that anyone can suggest a session for a local workshop or PMEA spring and summer conference? (See the PMEA website.) What’s on your mind? What do you think is important to explore, collaborate, or exhibit? I know of few PMEA retired members who do not have a “special expertise” and passion about an area in music and education. Go ahead, “let the cat out of the bag” while it is still “fresh” in your mind!
  4. Submit articles or reviews to our PMEA News editorial committee chair Doug Bolasky (also a retiree) for publication consideration in our state journal. Like #3 above, this is an excellent outlet to “get something off your chest,” promote discussion on almost any topic, research areas you always wanted to unearth, share your thoughts and experiences, and state your opinion “for the record.”
  5. Offer to serve on a PMEA committee. For example, volunteer to serve on the listening or session evaluation committee. Prefer to stay “close to home?” Ask your District President if you can be appointed to (or be placed on the ballot for) one of the many leadership positions in need of caring, committed, and competent representatives. Also, PMEA always needs guest lecturers, panel discussion members, presiding chairs, and info booth volunteers for the spring conference.

 

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In short… we need you, your collective wisdom, experience, and the ability to dodge problems before they become big. Sure, relax a little, personally reflect, refocus, and revitalize your goals during your retirement, but don’t retreat from “doing your bit” for “making a difference” in music education.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits from Pixabay.com: “grandparents” by Marvin Roaw and “senior” by RitaE.

How Retirement Has Changed Me

Part I: One retiree’s quest for learning technology, science, and history

Freedom! “Living the dream” in post-employment life has opened so many new avenues of exploration, allowing me to embrace many things I have always wanted to try. Released from the 24/7 nature of running a music program, classes and/or ensembles (even at rest, your mind is still “back at work” thinking about your next lesson or concert selection – and we all know how much time we spent on extra-curricular activities and professional development), you must now find your own intellectual stimulation, replenish your “curiosity quotient,” rekindle your creative self-expression, and re-invent yourself. laptop-1242490

Gone are the days that my laptop computer was used mostly for taking daily homeroom and class attendance, updating the student data in MMS or the grade-book program, and reading school emails and directives from administration. Thank god, those forms of “technology” are “retired” (probably permanently for me).

Following my own advice from this series of blogs on retirement resources, I have had no trouble “finding purpose, structure, and community,” emphasized by Ernie Zeliniski as key components in his bestselling book, How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free. However, keeping track of the schedule (since it is ever-changing) can be a challenge! Our numerous appointments, lunch dates, babysitting chores, volunteer hours, and medical checkups now land at more unpredictable dates. Happily, the iPhone calendar app, which is linked to my wife’s devices, too, calendar-series-2-1192572is the most essential “tech tool” to maintain your “now busier than ever” daily/weekly plan.

It should be mentioned, if you are a fan of Google gmail, there is also an excellent Google Calendar, as well as a place for contacts, documents, and photos stored safely “in the cloud.”

Updates and Passwords

Retirement provides me more time to literally “figure out technology.” Although I would never claim to have much skill as a nerd (nor would I ever try to seek employment as a member of the highly esteemed Geek Squad), I am finally taking the necessary steps to update my software more regularly, download revised apps, and even go as falinux-login-1497422r as changing my passwords. Everyone knows, with hackers lurking around every corner of the Internet, you are supposed to do two things: have a different password for each application, and from time to time, change these passwords. They should not be something someone else could guess, like “1234” or your phone number or the nickname “foxy” for me. A “good” password should utilize numbers, capitalized letters and small-case, and special characters like $, &, or underline. Using a password manager program like Last Pass (my favorite, and it also comes with a “free version”), you can generate totally random characters for any password and maintain a secure “password vault” under one “master password.” For password manager reviews, check out PC Magazine: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407168,00.asp.

Media Moments

When I was teaching, after a long day of classes and rehearsals, the purpose of the television was to put me to sleep when I got home. Of course, that has not changed much. I hate television. There are very few programs in which I am interested. However, I finally got around to discovering what Amazon Prime and Netflix offer. Crazy old Trekkies like me can now can view every episode of the original Star Trek series in chronological order. When my wife revisits her fixation on the new Gilmoreleo-logo Girls three-part movie or The Crown (Netflix), all I have to do is go into another room, fire up my computer’s browser, and check out the latest video podcast of “Leo the Tech Guy” (techguylabs.com) or any number of the playlists of Ted Talks (these about music caught my notice):

silent-serviceOne of my hobbies furthest from a career in music education has to do with collecting and reading books about World War II, particularly U.S. Navy, submarines and surface fleet. One of my fellow hospital volunteer escorts, a veteran of the Vietnam war, turned me on to the free classic online episodes of T.V. series The Silent Service, for example the 25-minute 1957 broadcast of  SS Tinosa Story #8310 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1nESHgqAnY) archived by Persicope Film LLC.

Almost anything can be found on the Internet. Archived in YouTube, do you remember that old science film your elementary teacher may have shown called  “Hemo the Magnificant” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08QDu2pGtkc? Although the content is out-dated, I can’t help being a little nostalgic in sharing the entire “Bell Lab Telephone” series:

  1. Our Mr. Sun (1956)
  2. Hemo the Magnificent (1957)
  3. The Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays (1957)
  4. The Unchained Goddess(1958)bell-lab
  5. Gateways to the Mind (1958)
  6. The Alphabet Conspiracy (1959)
  7. Thread of Life (1960)
  8. About Time (1962)
  9. The Restless Sea (1964)

The Rise of “Siri” and other Personal Assistants

My new girlfriend Siri has become a constant trip partner, not just for using turn-by-turn directions (often needed since my wife would tell you I can get lost in my closet), but to open up opportunities for brainstorming and sound out new ideas for my  writing. Whenever I am “on hold” sitting in a doctor or dentist office, doing family shopping at the mall, or even waiting for traffic at an accident or during rush hour, my hands-free blue-tooth connection allows me to “babble” my thoughts into an app called Evernote, which provides (not always accurate) transcripts that can be downloaded from any of my devices including my computer. Later on, I can use the text as a basis for an article’s outline or to add to my “honey-do” list. However, just remember, you should not use this “tech technique” while driving… the distraction of turning Siri on and off or viewing your last entry does not allow for safe/alert driving!

echoPowered by artificial intelligence, other voice-activated virtual assistants and knowledge navigators including products like Google Home and Amazon Echo (with a different “girlfriend” named “Alexa”) are flooding the market. This should be no surprise… the 21st Century seems to be developing many new inventions of super-automation, not so far from the female-voiced computer interface on the USS Enterprise (Star Trek) that could control everything. Soon you may take a ride from Uber in a driver-less car or “program” the autopilot on your pure-electric Tesla. Do you foresee the time when you will accept your Amazon merchandise or pizza being delivered from the air? What were those drone-operated lights we saw in the background of Lady Gaga’s halftime performance at the 2017 Super Bowl… possible future special effects for HS musicals and marching band shows?

My generation of teachers who entered the profession had no experience or training in microcomputers, tablets, smartphones, smart watches or other devices, or virtual reality headsets. (They weren’t invented yet!) Throughout the advent of technological “innovations,” many of us felt like we were “technology immigrants” trying to catch-up! It was easier for those “technology natives” born after 1980 since they grew up with the Internet. Change is inevitable, and we are all life-long learners. So it almost goes without saying: You can teach an old dog new tricks… even retired music teachers and other baby-boomer retirees how to grasp the fundamentals and benefits of technology, media, and online learning.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

(First four photo credits: Ned Horton, Jean Scheijen, Maxime Perron Caissy, and Joshua Davis at FreeImages.com)