Volunteering is Vital

Stories from a Wheelchair Jockey

“Wherever you turn, you can find someone who needs you. Even if it is a little thing, do something for which there is no pay but the privilege of doing it. Remember, you don’t live in the world all of your own.”

— Albert Schweitzer

“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”

— Winston Churchill

“Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect this nation’s compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain loving one another.”

— Erma Bombeck

Besides spending more time with family and friends, the most precious benefit of the freedom afforded to you “living the dream” in retirement is… (drum roll, please)… becoming eleemosynary! (Look it up!) It’s crucial to make it a priority to give back to your community!

I wrote an article in our local community magazine UPPER ST. CLAIR TODAY. (Yes, I guess I’m bragging a bit – find it here on page 20 and you’ll see pictures of my Pirate costume for escorting at the hospital and holding my doggies!) I cite many reasons for becoming a volunteer. (Disclaimer: Some of the statistics below are a few years old, but you get the idea… The trend is ever-growing!)

The Surge of Volunteerism

Did you know?

My home state Pennsylvania does its fair share, too. These figures are from AmeriCorp:

  • 3,506,834 PA volunteers contribute 341.0 million hours of service
  • 34.2% of PA residents volunteer, ranking them 21st among states
  • Volunteer service worth an estimated $8.2 billion
  • 98.8% of PA residents regularly talk or spend time with friends and family
  • 58.9% of PA residents do favors for neighbors
  • 22.1% of PA residents do something positive for the neighborhood
  • 33.4% participate in local groups or organizations
  • 59.8% of PA residents donate $25 or more to charity

Volunteering and Wellness

Volunteering has been documented to be good for your physical and mental wellness. Do you need any convincing? According to Track-It-Forward at https://www.trackitforward.com/content/use-these-volunteer-stats-boost-your-volunteer-program:

  1. Volunteering connects you with your community, which can lower the morality rate by 2.7%.
  2. Volunteering helps physical health – including decreasing the likelihood of high blood pressure development by 40%.
  3. Volunteering can help decrease high-stress levels, anxiety, or depression.
  4. Volunteering increases self-confidence and self-esteem by 6%.
  5. 96% of volunteers claim they feel a sense of purpose, therefore happier and healthier!

I recently found this website with more detailed rationale offered by Volgistics – Volunteer Logistics at https://www.volgistics.com/blog/volunteering-good-for-health:

Mental and Emotional Benefits of Volunteering

  1. Connects you with other people
  2. Allows you to contribute to a cause
  3. Gets you out of the house
  4. Connects you to the community
  5. Reduces depression and stress
  6. Improves self confidence
  7. Boosts happiness
  8. Encourages learning

Physical and Health Benefits of Volunteering

  1. Encourages physical activity
  2. Lowers your blood pressure
  3. Promotes heart health
  4. Extends your life

If you have any doubts about WHY you should volunteer, revisit my August 2021 blog “Those Were the Good ‘Ol Days – The E in RETIREMENT is for Energy, Engagement, Excitement, and Endurance” here. For retirees everywhere, this is worth repeating.

“It has been suggested that one problem of retirement is that one no longer matters; others no longer depend on us… The reward of retirement, involving a surcease from labor, can be the punishment of not mattering. Existence loses its point and savor when one no longer makes a difference.” 

– Rosenberg and McCullough

We learn from Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose by Nancy Schlossberg that for retirees, it is important to feel “needed” and that pursuits that foster “mattering” are crucial to a positive self-esteem, good mental health, and stable life balance.

What to Do with Your Free Time?

This, too, has been covered in past blog-posts, conference sessions, webinars, and articles in PMEA News. A quick recap:

  • Walk dogs at animal shelter
  • Assist food banks and meals-on-wheels agencies
  • Enlist as special advocate for abused or neglected children
  • Work as a hospice volunteer
  • Maintain parks, trails, nature habitats, or recreation centers
  • Host an international student
  • Assist at local hospital, senior center, or nursing home
  • Serve in charity fund-raising projects
  • Become a youth director, mentor, or scout leader
  • Share your hobby or experiences in a specialty and teach night classes or summer school
  • Give guided tours or lectures as a docent at a local museum
  • Apply office management and clerical skills to benefit libraries and other nonprofit associations
  • Run a school club or coach a sport

A quick scan of the website https://www.volunteermatch.org/ would fetch many specific volunteer job openings (these for the Pittsburgh, PA area where I live):

  • Provide hospitality at Pittsburgh sporting events
  • Serve coffee and snacks at winter warming stations
  • Write articles or submit photographs to local publications and e-media
  • Visit hospice patients and provide other free-care services
  • Crochet, knit, or sew blankets for needy families
  • Connect with local veterans
  • Manage nonprofit events and organizations
  • Ring the Salvation Army kettle bells all year long
  • Mentor an underserved child (everything from athletics to computer skills)
  • Make weekly reassurance calls or personal welfare checks of senior citizens
  • Become a delivery driver of “care packages” of food, baby items, pet necessities, household items, and more

Retired music educators have an advantage, a valued skill which also represents their “calling” and “life’s work” – fostering creative self-expression. There’s so much “we” can do to “bring on more music” in our community, and if you wish, several of these may provide supplemental income:

  • Performing gigs locally
  • Directing community or church ensembles
  • Accompanying community or church ensembles
  • Coaching/assisting local music programs
  • Teaching college music education methods or supervising student teachers
  • Composing/arranging music
  • Adjudicating or guest conducting music festivals
  • Serving in the music industry

The best part of retirement is you can say “NO” anytime you want. You can cut out any perceived drudgery, routine “chores,” and excessive paperwork that “the institution” may demand, but still assist in collaborating and sharing your experience, expertise, vision in working with “the kids.” You can continue to develop your own personal artistry (now with more time to practice) and leave your “musical stamp” on other programs and projects whenever and wherever you please.

Adventures in Volunteer Escorting

Every hospital, outpatient facility, and senior nursing/assisted living center I know needs volunteers… a lot of able-body helpers. Have you considered lending a hand in pushing patients to/from their procedures, discharges, etc. in your community? I have, and it is truly a joyful experience.

For two days a week, I spend the better part of my day at St. Clair Health in Mt. Lebanon/Scott Township in the South Hills area of Western PA. (If you live in the area, visit their website here.) Although on occasion, I get to visit the Family Birth Center (my favorite) and hospital rooms to help check out patients, most of my shift is assigned to the Dunlap Family Outpatient Center, a new state-of-the-art facility (opened in May 2021 – still has that “new car” smell) for “in and out” procedures. It would not be an exaggeration that I escort as many as 50 individuals per day undergoing outpatient surgeries, endoscopies, colonoscopies, or other diagnostic testing, along with an equal number of family members to/from the treatment rooms. On a given Thursday or Friday, I can check my Apple Watch and iPhone digital health monitors and find I take as many 17,000 steps!

The best part? Do I have to tell you that since I retired to the same basic geographic area in which I spent my entire career, how many of my school colleagues, former students, and their parents I have discharged? One thing you realize helping out in your hometown (the place you taught all those years)… you will run into many of your former “charges” now grown up with kids of their own. It is a real joy to see them again (albeit due to the need for a colonoscopy or surgical procedure), and catch up with all those shared memories, their life’s happenings and successes, and future dreams.

So many stories…

Several weeks ago, I brought down to the main floor a delightful lady from our pre-post anesthesia unit to connect with her ride home, and I saw her driver was in a Uber-lit-up car. I remarked to the patient, “Wow, the only Uber driver I ever knew was one of my former choral students named Lisa…” and sure enough, that’s who came to pick up her mother-in-law. Even though we always wear masks in the hospital, I guess my Upper St. Clair HS marching band “broadcaster’s voice” is recognizable, and countless people in the lobby (usually accompanying family members) stop me, “Hey, is that you Mr. Fox?” Of course, HIPPA dictates we never repeat their identities or any confidential information…

Being a music teacher, I cannot help myself. My mission is to be “the distracter” – divert their attention from the inevitable? – and to help calm, reassure, and perhaps even entertain the patients for a few moments transitioning through those awkward (and sometimes fearful) medical procedures. They need a bright, cheerful, and funny if not somewhat crazy escort. I provide the jokes and the songs!

One day, I was literally singing Maria from West Side Story while pushing Maria-the-patient to her endoscopy, and another person walking with us for her own test said, “Well, it’s nice you are singing to us. But, my name is Sharon, and they don’t have a song for my name. No, Sharona is NOT my name,” she added with emphasis! After I took both ladies to their respective rooms, I had to do some research, but came back after Sharon was prepped and received her IV waiting for the doctor. “You forgot about The Song for Sharon composed and sung by Joni Mitchell,” I said (perhaps not my favorite example from the artist’s albums).

The hallway from the waiting room to the procedure suites is long and offers time for my style of “interaction and distraction.” Another funny episode, I was escorting two men to their appointments in the outpatient surgery unit. To the first, I said, “Did you know they wrote an entire musical featuring your name? Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He replied he had never heard of it. I sang a few bars of several theme songs, and told him to look up Donny Osmond’s Close Evr’y Door and other tunes from the show. We were almost at the nurse’s station when the second gentleman turned to me and said, “Don’t you dare!” I looked down at my call slip and saw his name was George, and searched my mind. What song could was he concerned about? “Oh, oh, not that cartoon theme George of the Jungle? ending with the lyrics “…watch out for that tree?” He told me he was tormented mercilessly by his brothers, sisters, son, daughter, and now the grandchildren re-enacting painful renditions of “his song!” In this quiet, pristine, antiseptically-clean environment, we all took a moment and enjoyed a good horse laugh together (even the head nurse)!

The male volunteers usually dress up in an all-red jacket (one giant candy stripe), but on occasion, I have been known to bring a costume… for Halloween or Christmas, to try to bring a little joy and good humor to the patients.

I feel blessed to have the good health and mobility to serve as a volunteer escort, and the opportunity to meet with on a daily basis so many wonderful people. Many of my retired colleagues (even those from where I last taught) have joined the force. To say the least, we appreciate the comradeship, gratitude, and feelings of being eleemosynary for what we can share with others!

Anyone from my neck of the woods? Visit this website and sign-up! WE NEED YOU!

As if you need any additional urging, for the young and young-at-heart alike, Joi Henry of the 2013-2014 Youth Leadership Council (21st Century Leaders) probably said it best commenting on why community service is essential:

Community service involvement is important because volunteering teaches people of all ages and backgrounds compassion and understanding. One thing I like about community service is that there are opportunities to improve and leave your mark on your global and local community. Volunteering and putting on service events can be used as a way to advocate for causes that you are personally passionate about. Community service… can also be the avenue to explore areas that you express interest. Volunteering is something that has no time limit; you can volunteer as much or as little as you’d like or have time for and still feel some type of fulfillment from it.

https://www.21stcenturyleaders.org/why-is-community-service-important/

So what are YOU waiting for?

PKF

© 2022 Paul K. Fox

In Case You’re Worried… the Status of “The Fox”

If you are a frequent visitor to this blog site, you may have noticed that, for some reason, I haven’t posted anything for almost two whole months. Cat got my tongue? Nothing to add? Busy with other things?

We have been doing what comes naturally! The most important “stuff!” Although hectic at times and in a frenzied pace, all is well! My wife and I are healthy, happy, actively engaged in the projects that matter to us, and mastering those all-essential ingredients in a healthy lifestyle (retired or not): “finding purpose, structure, and community” (reference to the book How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by Ernie Zelinski).

Well, I can tell you I am still vested in volunteering my expertise, experiences, and services on a number of fronts. Normally extremely verbal, I just have not had a couple hours to spare to write anything down or contribute to the voluminous material to what has become a massive archive of articles (editorials and how-to’s), links, and other resources.

What have I been doing lately?

First off, we are just finishing up our marching band season. As the official admin and announcer for the “Pride of Upper St. Clair” Marching Band (I spend my time inside, not directing practices on the fields), I attend all rehearsals as attendance bookkeeper, forms manager, librarian, quasi-nurse, and when necessary, act as a sounding board or shoulder to lean on for “the band director.” This was our first year going “competitive,” participating in regional festivals of Pennsylvania Interscholastic Marching Band Association (PIMBA), and by all accounts, “we” achieved excellence. The band is unrecognizable from past years – the students are much more committed and focused – but we still have a ways to go!

Of course, all during this, our football team made it to the playoffs. On Friday, we will support our team in the “first round” WPIAL Class 5A match at Gateway HS. The extended season brings with it challenges of its own (keeping the band members on-task and embracing new goals), but the rewards outweigh the extra rehearsals. And, all through this, we are making plans (and building excitement) for the launch of the first-ever USCHS winter guard and drumline programs!

Funny thing! I’m now a part of the band’s “brand.” For 38+ years, I have been “the voice” announcing the pregame and halftime shows for Upper St. Clair High School. I’ve also emceed a couple dozen of the USCHS Marching Band Festivals, plus senior recognitions, USC Halls-of-Fame exhibitions in the stadium, and outside music invitationals. It is truly a joy to “cheerlead” our musicians… and my wife would tell you, I have a very loud broadcaster’s voice! And now, ladies and gentlemen…

In two weeks, I will conduct the fall concert of our community ensemble South Hills Junior Orchestra, now in its 40th year. Although COVID did its best to wipe out our enrollments and recruitment efforts, our online academy kept things going, and we now support a small but dedicated chamber group. (Surprisingly, I have a good balance of instrumentation including sometimes rarely-found musicians on French Horn, bassoon, bass clarinet, electric bass, and piano, but one of my trumpet players is having to read clarinet parts.) Our theme is in support of Ukraine. We just “stumbled upon” several appropriate folk songs from the region, including the tribal tunes of Russian Fantasy (Robert Bennett Brown), the ever-popular Ukrainian Bell Carol, Dance of the Slave Maidens from “Prince Igor” (by Borodin, part of the “Russian Five”), and Slovakian Folk Songs (bordering Ukraine).

After this concert, we will prepare a holiday program for a nearby assisted-living facility with most of the SHJO members each taking a turn to conduct the sing-along of carols and seasonal favorites.

If interested, we warehoused a lot of our old SHJO Online Academy media and lessons here. (Use the password symphony.)

Staying involved in my professional associations, I am happy to report I was accepted to present at two conferences, the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) Eastern Division event in Rochester, NY on April 13-16, 2023 and the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) Annual In-Service at the Kalahari Resort/Poconos on April 20-22, 2023. I have been asked to do my interview clinic session at both conferences and a workshop for PMEA on music educator burnout remediation, self-care, health and wellness.

In the meanwhile, not to let any grass grow under my feet (or more leaves to fall on my head), locally I have been giving teacher ethics presentations at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania (a wonderful class of 44 freshman music education majors – the future looks good!) and Washington & Jefferson College undergraduate and graduate education majors.

I open my session offering to give a hundred dollar bill to the first student who can correctly name the exact title of their educator’s code of conduct (PA Code of Professional Practice and Conduct – CPPC) and identify the agency which enforces it (PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission – PSPC). No one ever guesses it. (I could also likely get away with this challenge at any school faculty meeting in the Commonwealth! Educators seldom receive formal ethics training in our state – that’s why I am sharing these recent updates from the PA Department of Education!) Now that I have publicized “the big question,” I guess I’d better put away that C-note for good!

A sampling of my slides and handouts are available for perusal from the top section of the “Training/Jobs” menu bar link here, or you can find past blogs on the subject of educator decision-making presented in reverse chronological order here.

In a similar vein (and with equal passion), I have teamed-up with retired social studies teacher and attorney-at-law Thomas Bailey to sponsor continuing education classes for both educators and administrators. I am inspired by Tom’s knowledge of the PA regulation framework and school law. We just finished an excellent 25-hour approved non-PDE Act 45 course for school system leaders. You should visit his informative website here, and especially check out his court case blog here. If you are a school superintendent or administrator, our next series of online classes will begin on November 29; register for the course here.

Additional future projects include assisting on the PMEA Strategic Planning committee for “member engagement,” planning for the PMEA CRESCENDO virtual student conference scheduled for January 31, 2023 (more info here), and serving on the PMEA Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention (I am state chair) – “the life cycle of an educator.” A wealth of free information for music educators (which I try to revise frequently) is available on sections of the PMEA website: the Council TTRR focus area (click here) and Retired Members (click here).

Outside the scope of teaching profession, I have been active as Communications Director, Fine and Performing Arts Chair, and Trustee of the Community Foundation of Upper St. Clair (CFUSC). I publicize a weekly eUPDATE (samples on the website here) to announce our township events for donors and supporters, serve as “the duck maestro” – the mascot for the annual duck races on USC Community Day, and look forward to organizing “a really big party” in celebration of the CFUSC’s 30th anniversary on April 21, 2023 at the St. Clair Country Club… although I will be in the Poconos on the same date doing a PMEA workshop! The Fox calendar is bursting with a few overlapping dates!

Besides all of the above, I am still volunteering at the hospital several days a week, pushing wheelchairs to/from procedure rooms at St. Clair Health. One thing you realize helping out in your hometown (the place you taught all those years)… you will run into many of your former students now grown up with kids of their own. It is a real joy to see them again (albeit due to the need for a colonoscopy or surgical procedure), and catch up with all those memories, their life’s successes, and future dreams.

The only personal goal that remains unfinished is consideration on how I can better distribute (dare I say “promote”) the numerous blogs that remain timely and relevant at this website. It’s just a little too overwhelming (and dense) for some passersby. A few of the links in the earlier postings may have expired and need to be updated. However, a lot of my insight, hard earned perspective (with sweat and tears), and past experiences have been poured into these writings, and I could only hope many of them could become useful tools for college music education majors, the rookie educator, those feeling challenged by today’s post-COVID times, or anyone recently transferring into the profession. Here’s another list of menus… go ahead, sight-see and enjoy the journey!

As you can see, I am not really retired… perhaps a better term would be “refired” or “redirected” or “reinvented.” If you are already “living the dream” in your post-full-time employment years or anticipate this happening in the near future, that’s how it’s done. That’s what I wish for you, too! Do you want to live-it-up to Moses’ age – supposedly 120 years old? Then, you better plan to be physically and mentally active and engaged! After all, a mind is a terrible thing to waste!

PKF

© 2022 Paul K. Fox

RECAP – Retirement Resources

A Treasure Chest of Tips for Living the Dream!

Are you retiring soon? Thinking about “taking the plunge” and “Crossing the Rubicon” into your “second beginnings” or “next chapter” of senior life?

No matter how busy you are now, you need to “take five” from your work or personal to-do’s and review the following recommendations from past blog posts at this site. Consider this a personal toolbox for the retired and soon-to-retire professional… and assigned HOMEWORK!

A good starting point would be to pick-up “The Myths of Retirement” and “Three Exit Lanes to Self-Help Retirement Guides,” or if you prefer to tackle everything at once, check out the omnibus “monster” resource guide posted here.

Now the top-ten list – a well-balanced collection of online essays. The more you read, the better you will be able to embrace a healthy transition through this major life passage!

1. Plan ahead for retirement: “It’s Not Only About the Money”

Read the entire article here.

It is agreed that a period of adjustment will occur during the first years of “interning” as a retiree, especially critical during the “pre-retirement” stage (believe-it-or-not, as many as six to ten years prior to “taking the big leap” to FREEDOM!). The solution to a smooth transition is to be prepared: communicate your intentions with your family members, and reflect on the vast considerations of the “who, what, when, where, how, and why” of retirement. This prep to your “golden years” is the perfect time for a little self-assessment and self-reinvention in finding new purpose, meaning, and fulfillment in your life.

2. Identify and take steps to alleviate the stress of leaving your job:
“The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”

Read the entire article here.

The phases of retirement are discussed in greater depth here, as well as different departure scenarios and the usual post-employment “cycles of emotions.” This piece is particularly good if you have ever felt pushed into early retirement or experienced being unappreciated, disrespected, uninspired, unsupported, or “burned out” in your career.

3. Are you really ready? “Signs it is time to retire… OR “Signs is NOT okay.”

Read the entire article here.

This “countdown to retirement” article poses the essential question “Are you psychologically (or emotionally) prepared to retire?” and offers a “road map” of seven easy steps towards closure for prospective music teacher retirees.

For more insight, you should also peruse “When Should You Retire.”

4. Determine your retirement destination:
“Do you know where you’re going to…?”

Read the entire article here.

This early blog post proposed several factors to consider for the choice of where you want to live in retirement… both geography and floor plans. Another good source to read on this topic is the book that was published two years later by the retirement guru and former PMEA session presenter Dave Hughes: The Quest for Retirement Utopia – How to Find the Retirement Spot That’s Right for You.

5. Maintain your professional associations:
“Ask not what PMEA can do for you, but what you can do for PMEA!”

Read several articles:

A retired educator is a valuable resource. If you care about the profession, there are many ways you can continue to contribute your experience and wisdom, albeit less stressful and time-consuming moments, but still assist your colleagues who continue to “fight the good fight” in the field.

6. Acquire a more carefree attitude: “It’s Not Your Sandbox”

Read the entire article here.

It may be at times a challenge to surrender your urge to continue as “an agent of change” or, as E.A. Wynne has written in “The Moral Dimension of Teaching” (Teaching: Theory into Practice, 1995), habits of “moral professionalism.” Learn how chill out and NOT to stress out over someone else’s supposedly poorly run “sandbox” and limit the need to provide unsolicited advice or major problem-solving for other organizations. 

7. Make music: “Dust off your chops” and 8. “Sing your heart out…”

Read the both articles here and here.

What led you to select a career in (and the “calling” of) music education? Retirement is the perfect place and time to expand on your love and skills in creative self-expression. When a music educator retires, among the many joys and fruits of his/her career in the arts is a sudden life-style change – the glorious transformation of being set free from those things you no longer want nor need to do (routine day-to-day drudgery, paperwork, meetings, etc.), embarking on new journeys to explore and embrace revised personal goals – hopefully including a renewed refocus on making your own music!

9. Explore mind-stimulating engagements: “Have you fed your brain today?”

Read the entire article here.

The mind is a terrible thing to waste, even during retirement. Discover something new every day! Maximize your “brain health” with a host of these ideas to consider for your bucket list.

10. Take time to “give back” and volunteer:
“What does it mean to be eleemosynary?”

Read both of these articles here and here.

In the scheduling our free time in retirement, it is important to feel “needed” and find activities that foster “mattering” to promote a positive self-esteem, good mental health, and stable life balance. Are you making choices to contribute to the musical and personal success and welfare of others? For the realization of the mission of this blogger’s retirement pastime: “I refuse to sit idle, binge-watch movies on Netflix, or view hours of boring TV.” To quote the song’s lyrics, this “senior citizen” will never lament…

Life is so unnerving
For a servant who’s not serving
He’s not whole without a soul to wait upon
Ah, those good old days when we were useful
Suddenly those good old days are gone
Ten days we’ve been rusting
Needing so much more than dusting
Needing exercise, a chance to use our skills
Most days we just lay around the castle
Flabby, fat, and lazy
You walked in and oops-a-daisy!

– “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast

Stay Connected with PA Music Education

PMEA Annual Conference April 6-9, 2022 at the Kalahari Resort (Poconos)

PMEA retired members, please take note of these special events especially geared to YOU:

  • Free Retired Member Breakfast Meeting (including take-away gifts) on April 8 at 8 a.m.
  • Retirement 101 session on April 8 at 11:30 a.m. – Retired music teachers are encouraged to participate on the guest panel to “tell your own story” to help any interested soon-to-retire colleagues.
  • Three keynote speakers will join this year’s event: Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, Lesley Moffat, and David Wish.
  • The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” will be featured on Thursday evening (April 7).
  • See last month’s blog for more details on the conference, tentative session schedule and exhibitors, AND the PMEA website.

PKF

© 2022 Paul K. Fox

Graphics from Pixabay.com:

PMEA’s Unique “Together” Conference

The return of in-person gatherings of PA music educators and students!

Here’s a “sneak preview” of the upcoming annual professional development convention for members of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) and Pennsylvania Collegiate Music Educators Association (PCMEA).

https://www.pmea.net/pmea-annual-in-service-conference/

After being “hunkered down” for two years of online workshops, virtual conferences, digital music industry exhibits, and Zoom rehearsals of PMEA All-State ensembles, we can now “crush COVID-19” with “face-to-face” meetings of the PMEA TOGETHER CONFERENCE on April 6-9, 2022 at the Kalahari Resort in the Poconos.

Not just a “play on words,” this LIVE event brings TOGETHER the awesome and inspiring vision and efforts of the PMEA Professional Development Council, state officers, and staff, along with a twist from tradition – offering a place to getaway from it all!

Ask your spouse or “significant other,” children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews, other fun-loving family members, or close friends if they are available to join you for a three-day escape to the Poconos – “the world’s largest indoor waterpark” at Kalahari Resort! Experience great music, career development sessions, catching-up with colleagues, reconnection with your loved-ones, and entertainment for all ages – all wrapped up in one location.

https://www.kalahariresorts.com/pennsylvania/

Bring the family? Each spacious hotel room comes equipped with two double beds, a pullout sofa, microwave, and refrigerator, and the discounted $149/night conference rate allows you to register up to four people with access to all the resort’s amenities for no extra charge!

What resort amenities? Enjoy rides and slides (lots to “splash in” or just relax on the lazy river), a “big game” room, mini golf, mini bowling, 7-D motion theater, gourmet restaurants, spa, salon, fitness center, and amazing shopping and sightseeing excursions in PA’s northeastern region. While YOU are attending PMEA keynote sessions, clinics, concerts, and exhibits, the rest of your party could be “living it up” on as many as 29 waterpark thrills (from “mild” to “wild,” check out all of them on their website):

  • Anaconda
  • Barreling Baboon
  • Bugs Burrow
  • Cheetah Race
  • Coral Cove
  • Elephant’s Trunk
  • Flowrider
  • Indoor Outdoor Spas
  • Kenya Korkscrew
  • Lazy RIver
  • Lost Lagoon
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Rippling Rhino
  • Sahara Sidewinders
  • Screaming Hyena
  • Shark Attack
  • Splashdown Safari
  • Tiko’s Watering Hole
  • Victoria Falls
  • VR Waterslide
  • Wave Pool
  • Wild Wildebeest
  • Zig Zag Zebra

Source: Pocono Mountains Visitor Bureau

A joyful car trip to local scenes and attractions? The word “Pocono” means “the stream between two mountains.” This region encompasses 2,400 square miles of lakes, rivers, and woodlands just waiting to be discovered. Just how adventurous are you?

  • Explore numerous opportunities to hike, bike, bird watch, ski, fish, and photograph the wildlife, waterfalls, and other breathtaking landscapes.
  • Peruse the various exhibits of local artists at the White Mills Art Factory, 736 Texas Palmyra Highway (Route 6) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Wednesdays).
  • Try your luck at the Mount Airy Casino Resort Spa.
  • Or be a “wandering tourist” and visit nearby Stroudsburg, Milford, Jim Thorpe Honesdale, Lake Wallenpaupack, Hawley, Skytop, Bushkill, Lake Harmony, or Tannersville.
  • Check out this Poconos Mountains interactive map: https://www.poconomountains.com/interactivemap/.

Keynote speakers David Wish and Lesley Moffat

Now down to the business of professional development! In your free time from the above refreshing and re-invigorating moments of “down time,” you won’t want to miss the PMEA general sessions featuring keynoters David Wish of Little Kids Rock and Lesley Moffat, author of Love the Job, Lose the Stress. After opening the music industry and collegiate exhibits, numerous workshops, interactive demonstrations, and panel discussions will be hosted on a variety of “state-of-the-art” and timely topics:

  • Adjudication
  • Assessment
  • Career Development
  • Choral
  • Collegiate
  • Curriculum Development
  • Diversity/Equity/Inclusion
  • Exceptional Learners
  • Health and Wellness
  • Instrumental
  • Leadership/Mentoring
  • Modern Band
  • Music Technology

Draft of proposed 2022 PMEA Conference sessions

Sandwiched in between these clinics and meetings of PCMEA, PA Society for Music Teacher Education, PMEA Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention, PMEA Retired Members, Pennsylvania-Delaware String Teachers Association, and others will be opportunities to observe rehearsals and performances of the PMEA All-State Band, Chorus, Jazz, Orchestra, and Vocal Jazz, and attend concerts of guest performing ensembles – among “Pennsylvania’s finest.” Congratulations to:

Looking for that new classroom accessory, concert selection, educational travel group, fundraiser, instrument, technology tool, or uniform, or seeking to talk to representatives from music schools? Take time to visit the exhibits. PMEA thanks the continuing support of its PMEA Corporate Sponsors.

Early-bird registration of 2022 PMEA Conference Exhibitors

Yours truly (blogger) is proud to announce he is presenting three sessions at the conference:

  • CODES, CASE STUDIES, and CONUNDRUMS – The Challenges of Ethical Decision-Making in Education
  • THE INTERVIEW CLINIC – Practicing and Playacting to Improve Your Performance at Employment Screenings
  • RETIREMENT 101 – The Who, What, When, Where, Why, & How of Preparing for Post-Employment

PMEA will need volunteers to assist as presiding chairs or to serve at the INFO BOOTH near registration. In addition, the PMEA Retired Member Coordinator is seeking retirees to help serve on a guest panel of “semi-experts” for the retirement session.

It’s still a little early for much additional detail. However, check out this MOVIE TRAILER preview of the 2022 Conference, featuring The Pennsylvania March composed by PMEA retired member Ron DeGrandis.

As of January 17, 2022 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), Kalahari Resort room reservations are open! The link to conference registration will be coming soon. For more information, please visit the PMEA website. Keep your eye out for revisions in future PMEA News, UPDATES, and other e-publications.

PKF

© 2022 by Paul K. Fox

Summer Reading

Teachers, you’re in the home stretch now! You are within weeks of a long vacation break and the chance to rest, refresh, recharge, rewind, and rejuvenate. After what COVID-19 dished out to us, you deserve some time off! Here comes much-anticipated trips, family visits, sleeping in, and going dormant for at least 2-3 weeks!

However, most music educators never totally shut down. We seek out new enrichment opportunities by attending conferences or music reading workshops, researching new methods, and “retooling” for our lessons ahead.

Modeling the annual Peanuts comic strip’s January theme of Lucy Van Pelt assigning Charlie Brown a long and unwanted list of New Year’s Resolutions, yours truly (a retired teacher with a lot less stress) is about to do the same and recommend YOU kick off your shoes, climb into a comfortable lounge chair, tune out all extraneous noise and media distractions, and crack open some “serious summer reading…”

Here are my three favorite books for the season to take with you when you go to the beach or sit by the pool!

In keeping with an alliteration of all those “r’s” to promote healing and health during this “recess,” take time to prepare for 2021-2022 and reflect on and restock your reservoir of resilience, robustness, and resourcefulness!

Teachers Pay Teachers SEL blog

S is for “SEL”

Yes, the values and life skills of emotional/mental/social “balance” begin at home. But the expectation is that schools and teachers are always relied upon to be the “safety net” – pick up the pieces or fulfill the needs not provided at home. And it should not have taken a pandemic for us to discover how important social emotional learning (SEL) is to the health, wellness, and success of every child (and their family members) we serve in our classrooms, ensembles, lessons, and after-school programs.

“Music educators are in a prime position to help students become socially and emotionally competent while at the same time develop excellent musicianship. For every child to be successful in the music classroom, teachers need to be aware of the whole student. How do music educators create success when students every day struggle with social awareness, bullying, communication, problem solving, and other challenges? This pioneering book by Scott Edgar addresses how music educators can utilize Social Emotional Learning (SEL) to maximize learning in the choral, instrumental, and general music classroom at all levels, and at the same time support a student’s social and emotional growth.”

— back cover of Music Education and Social Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music

“Finally! Thank you, Scott Edgar, for your willingness to walk boldly into this often trodden, but rarely addressed aspect of music education you have rightfully labeled social emotional learning. For every music educator, from preschool through a PhD program, we know the opportunity to “develop the whole person” is right in front of us each and every day. Where else in the academic community is there such a perfect forum that cultivates both the cognitive and effective growth of those involved? Ultimately, the rehearsal room/music classroom becomes a society within society, and the skills needed to grow and succeed at the highest levels are simultaneously offered in content and context. And yet, there are very few resources to guide the mentor in a positive, productive fashion. Now there is and this book is a powerful blueprint leading us to a worthy outcome and more.”

— Foreword by Tim Lautzenheiser for Music Education and Social Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music

Probably the most authoritative textbook on SEL for music teachers, it may be hard to believe that Scott Edgar wrote it in 2017, long before the crush of COVID-19. SEL is now coming to forefront due to the “pandemic-related” problems of students feeling disconnected, stressed, over- or underwhelmed, and unmotivated during their physical isolation from in-person schooling and remote learning (See Edutopia at https://www.edutopia.org/article/3-ways-support-students-emotional-well-being-during-pandemic and Education Week https://www.edweek.org/leadership/the-pandemic-will-affect-students-mental-health-for-years-to-come-how-schools-can-help/2021/03).

SEL sources

You have a wide variety of choices to explore this topic, and all of these are from Scott Edgar!

The NAfME Professional Learning Community: Music Education and SEL – An Advocacy Tool for Music Educators accessible as a video: https://vimeo.com/426070325

Music for All webinar series:

  • Episode 1Teaching Music Through Social Emotional LearningComposing with Heart hosted by Scott N. Edgar with guest presenters Brian Balmages, Brandon Boyd, Richard Saucedo, Alex Shapiro (composers) and Bob Morrison https://youtu.be/6HIbK23TmaE
  • Episode 10Teaching Music Through Social Emotional Learning Narwhals and Waterfalls hosted by Scott N. Edgar with guest presenters Paige Bell and Adrien Palmer: https://youtu.be/BlbxX1DP-5c

The NAfME Music in a Minuet blog: https://nafme.org/music-education-social-emotional-learning/

Music Education and Social Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music in book form is available from Amazon and https://giamusic.com/store/resource/music-education-and-social-emotional-learning-book-g9418?artist=tpVEu30fe0uy.

Check out his all-encompassing Table of Contents:

Section One – Teaching Music Beyond the Notes

  • Chapter 1: What is Social Emotional Learning
  • Chapter 2: Socialization in the Music Classroom by Jacqueline Kelly-McHale
  • Chapter 3: Bullying in the Music Classroom by Jared Rawlings
  • Chapter 4: Music Educators Are Not Counselors

Section Two – Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Music Education

  • Chapter 5: Self-Awareness and Self-Management in Music Education – Self-Discipline and the Music WIthin
  • Chapter 6: Social-Awareness and Relationship Skills in Music Education – Sharing and Communicating Through Music
  • Chapter 7: Responsible Decision-Making in Music Education – Problem Solving Through Music

Conclusion: The Heart of Music Education – Our Common Bond

SEL – the new “buzz word?” What is Social and Emotional Learning?

“Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” — Collaborative for Academic, Social, & Emotional Learning

Social emotional learning describes the development of skills in three domains: self, others, and responsible decision making.

“Self” includes:

  • Self-awareness skills such as ability to identify and recognize emotions
  • Self management skills such as perseverance in the ability to manage impulse control

“Others” includes:

  • Relationship skills such as cooperation, empathy, and respectful communication
  • Social awareness skills such as the ability to recognize diverse thoughts and opinions.

“Responsible decision-making” includes:

  • Behavioral skills such as situation analysis, anticipating consequences and generating alternative solutions.
  • Cooperative skills such as balancing personal in group expectations.

The three key pillars of SEL:

  1. identity
  2. belonging
  3. agency

Probably the best conclusion I have ever read about the value of SEL in the arts comes from Scott Edgar in the last section of his book:

“The music classroom is a melting pot of students from different backgrounds, musics of different cultures, varied personalities, and diverse values. All of this diversity is united under the common bond of music… Music classrooms, possibly more profoundly than any other academic setting, can help students and teachers cooperate to recognize diversity, engage in respectful dialogue to resolve conflict, and empathetically respect human dignity, because this is how music has functioned for centuries. Music classrooms are social because making music is, has, and always will be a social activity. In a time when there are so many divisive forces, music and music education can be a powerful uniting weapon. The tenets of SEL interwoven into a musical education strengthens both entities. Emphasizing self- and social-awareness makes music education richer and more personal. Music education brings humanity and culture into a world of personal and interpersonal interactions.”

Sunshine Parenting video by Audrey Monke featuring Dr. Michele Borba

Seven Teachable Skills to Cultivate & Nurture THRIVERS

The latest book by Michele Borba, Ed.D., Thrivers – The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine, is a definite must-read from cover-to-cover.

“Michele Borba has been a teacher, educational consultant, and parent for 40 years – and she’s never been more worried about kids than she is right now. The high-achieving students she talks with every day are more accomplished, better educated, and more privileged than ever before. But the old markers of success (grades, test scores) aren’t what these kids need to thrive in these uncertain times – and they know it. They’re more stressed, unhappier, and struggling with anxiety, depression, and burnout at younger and younger ages – “We’re like pretty packages with nothing inside,” said one teen. Thrivers are different: they flourish in our fast-paced, digital-driven, ever-changing world. Why? Dr. Borba combed scientific studies on resilience, spoke to dozens of researchers/experts in the field, and interviewed more than 100 young people from all walks of life, and she found something surprising: the difference between those who struggle and those who succeed comes down not to grades or test scores, but the seven character traits that set Thrivers apart (and set them up for happiness and greater accomplishment later in life).”


— from the front flap of Thrivers

The first thing you need to do (after you order and read both her original best-seller UnSelfie – Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World and this sequel) is to download her give-away “Core Assets Survey” from https://www.micheleborba.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Thrivers_CoreAssets.pdf. Here is a sample page of her assessment checklist for her seven character strengths.

How to use Borba’s book

Although it is generally marketed as a guide for parents (and grandparents), this is a perfect “program and process” for everyone who serves as youth caregivers and educational professionals. Borba prescribes these steps to use the book with the above evaluation tool:

  1. Assess your child’s character strengths: self-confidence, empathy, integrity, self-control, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism.
  2. Tally up the points, prioritize his needs, and address initially the one or two traits receiving the lowest score.
  3. Read each chapter of “evidence-backed strategies and skills” which can be easily transferred and taught to your child from preschool through high school.
  4. Motivate and help your child to adopt each character strength “as a lifelong habit to optimize his potential in thrive.”
  5. Choose one ability a month, focus on it, and “practice it with your child a few minutes a day until he can use it without reminders.”

For teachers, this is a wonderful “soft curriculum” for nurturing these seven essential personal traits, each broken down into “character strength description,” “abilities to teach,” and “outcomes.” It will become apparent to you that these are directly related to SEL.

Besides the character strengths (#1 above), the reader is introduced to several revised definitions and new acronyms that may help to reshape our perspectives for teaching kids (these are a few samples): C.A.L.M. (chill-assert-look strong-mean it – p. 239), C.A.R.E. (console, assist, reassure, empathize – p. 90), comebacks (p. 240), creativity (p. 178), C.U.R.I.O.U.S (child-driven-unmanaged-risky-intrinsic-open-ended-unusual-solitude, p. 175), digital limits (p. 78), emotions (p. 76), goals (p. 209), gratitude (p. 86), growth mindset (p. 205), micromanaging (p. 171), mindfulness (p. 133), moral identity (p. 148), multitask (p. 110), “the four P’s of peers, passion, projects, and play” (p. 163), parenting styles (dysfunctional) – “enabler,” “impatient,” “coddler,” “competitor,” “rescuer” (p. 127), triggers (p. 121), self-esteem (p. 33), T.A.L.E.N.T. (tenacity-attention-learning-eagerness-need-tone – p. 39), and well-rounded (p. 36).

Activities throughout the book are categorized for age-suitability: Y = young children, toddlers, and preschoolers; s = school-age; t = tweens and older; a = all ages.

In the final pages of the book, Borba poses some excellent group discussion questions to facilitate a thorough review of her work. A few of these especially resonated with me:

  • Do you think raising children who can thrive today is easier, no different, or more difficult than when your parents raised you? Why?
  • What influences children’s character and thriving development most: peers, media, education, parents, pop culture, or something else?
  • Which of the seven character strengths are more difficult to teach to children today? Why?
  • What kind of person do you want your child (or your student) to become? How will you help your child become that person?
  • What are some of the sayings, proverbs, or experiences you recall from your childhood that helped you define your values?
  • [As a teacher] what would you like your greatest legacy to be for your [students]? What will you do to ensure that your [children] attain that legacy?

Her specific anecdotes, object lessons, and research for each character strength are priceless!

Lesley Moffat at Carnegie Hall

LOVE the Job, LOSE the Stress

In my “New Year’s blog” posted on December 29, 2020, I shared my advice on “how to make a difference in 2021” and told readers to find their own good role models and “positive gurus” to sustain their vision, motivation, and drive throughout the year.

Someone who has recently become inspirational to me is the wonderfully uplifting Lesley Moffat, probably an expert on the search for “mindfulness” in personal life and even during her band warm ups. In my opinion, her transformative stories provide the roadmap for happiness and wellbeing! She now has published two books (you need to read both) – I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me, and Love the Job, Lose the Stress, and if you are still teaching music full-time, you need to peruse her website: https://mpowerededucator.com/.

Now her latest book ties in all of the above enrichment and enlightenment – “successful social and emotional learning in the modern music classroom” – and adds an essential focus on teacher self-care and wellness. What was that saying attributed to Molesey Crawford in Unlocking the Queen Code?

  • Know thyself.
  • Love thyself.
  • Heal thyself.
  • Be thyself.

Lesley Moffat has taught high school band for over 32 years in the Pacific Northwest, with her ensembles earning superior ratings and performing all over the US, Canada, and even in Carnegie Hall. She was planning to retire at the end of 2019-2020 when the pandemic hit. (As far as I know at this time, she has not retired yet – “for the sake of her kids” she stayed throughout this challenging time of COVID-19 and the slow reopening of schools!) She clarifies this in the introduction to her Love the Job, Lose the Stress book:

“I completed the first draft of this manuscript on March 3, 2020. Ten days later, schools across the world began shutting down as the coronavirus began sweeping the globe… The ultimate purpose of this book is to share the protocol I created that has become the basis of the social and emotional learning needs for my students (and truth be told, for me). Everything I talk about in this book was true before the pandemic, and it has proven to be as powerful in a virtual environment as it is in person… The great news is that you can give your students the gift of learning to self-regulate, calm down, and focus without distraction through intentional design and practice.”

She offers an intriguing set of easy-to-read chapters in her “hard to put down” 191-page work.

  1. My Life’s Work Is So Much More Than Just A Job
  2. I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me
  3. The Badass Band Director’s Bible
  4. Step One: The Moffat Music Teacher Mojo Meter
  5. Step Two: Identifying the Three C’s – Care, Clarity, and Consistency
  6. Step Three: Identifying Your Priorities
  7. Step Four: SNaP Strategies for Music Teachers
  8. Step Five: Tuning Our Bodies
  9. Step Six: Creating Your Own First Four Minute Protocols
  10. Coda
  11. Fine

Highlights of suggestions from Love the Job, Lose the Stress

Like her last book, the Moffat Music Teacher Mojo Meter returns. If you are ever privileged to have her as a clinician for a local workshop, it is likely she may send out this survey to the participants in advance. These fifteen questions will provide her an individualized needs assessment of the stressors attendees are experiencing so she can differentiate the planning of her “help session” (page 48).

You’ll have a lot more questions to answer in Chapter 5 (page 50). Read and identify (and define for yourself) her three C’s for success: care, clarity, consistency.

In Chapter 6 (page 67), she wants you to identify your priorities. This is your chance to dream big! You’ll have to read her story (with wide swings of emotion) about her Jackson HS Honors Wind Ensemble performing at Carnegie Hall.

Also returning from her previous book, Chapter 7 (page 81) shares her Start Now and Progress – or SNaP to it – strategies for music teachers. Revisit her amazing tale about doing (of all things) push-ups: “By taking small incremental steps that build upon what I did each day before, I was able to take a skill that was very difficult for me on April 1 and do it 60 times just 30 days later.” She sums up three SNaP Strategies “for busy band directors” (page 90).

  1. Gratitude for the attitude
  2. Time stealers
  3. Reset yourself

Don’t miss her Chapter 10 (page 156) and “Lesley’s Top Ten Badass Band Director Tips!”

Finally, probably worth 1000-times the price of the book and all the time you will put into it is her Chapter 8 “Tuning Our Bodies” (page 103) and Chapter 9 “Creating Your Own First Four Minute Protocol” (page 129). This is where you will take what you read, reflect on her philosophies and system of classroom management and warm-ups, and adapt it to your situation. Adding to your teacher’s toolbox the techniques of mindfulness, breathing exercises, and listening skills – and practicing them with your students daily – will make all the difference in the SEL of your own lessons and overall program.

BRAVO and thank you Lesley for being so intuitive, upfront, and personal… and being so generous in sharing your secrets!

We applaud your efforts, and agree with Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser who said in the Foreword to Love the Job, Lose the Stress:

“This latest-greatest contribution offers a tried-and-true blueprint for vocational success while embracing the critical importance of fueling one’s mental, emotional and physical health. Spot on! Bull’s eye!”

“This is not a book you read and then put on the shelf; rather it is a file cabinet of priceless data certain to boister the health, happiness, and good fortune of every (music) teacher.”

“As music teachers, we teach students how to develop all kinds of skills, from mental to physical, in order for them to be well-rounded musicians. We show them how to properly form and embouchure, the correct fingerings to use, how to read music, what proper posture looks like, how to be artistic and expressive, and so much more. And we always tell them to “pay attention and “focus.” But do we ever teach them how to pay attention and focus? The secret to getting students engaged, focused, and curious so you can teach them all the cool stuff about music is teaching them how to actually build those skills until they become habits. Once you’ve taught them how to learn, then everything else becomes a million times easier for you and for them.”

— from the back cover of the Love the Job, Lose the Stress

Now you have it… a collection of at least three potential life-changing inspirations for summer study.

In addition to these “finds,” I need to mention a couple other educational publications for your consideration (see picture below). But, first-things-first as Stephen Covey would say! Check out Music Education and Social Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music by Scott Edgar, Thrivers – The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine by Michele Borba, and Love the Job, Lose the Stress by Lesley Moffat. PKF

Future Book Reviews

© 2021 Paul K. Fox

Image by csharker from Pixabay

Embracing the Intangibles

Teaching Empathy and Engagement

Admittedly, if we keep piling on more mandates for earning a teaching degree and professional certificate, our music education majors would have to continue several more years at the university. What has been added to the forefront of education? You name it: “backwards-designed curriculum,” ethics, the “four C’s” (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication), Common Core, social-emotional learning, special education, new technology, etc. We are already wrestling with the limits of time to cover a mastery of personal musicianship and artistry to find space to “squeeze in” at least a cursory study of the other more abstract but important “soft skills” of character development, cultural diversity and sensitivity training, nurture of emotional health and wellness, stress management, “charismatic” leadership, time management, and… humanity!

“Back in the dark ages” when I attended Carnegie-Mellon University, the pathway for becoming a teacher was to complete (and pay full-tuition!) five years to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and license to teach in the public schools. The fifth year was when we did our student teaching along with additional graduate credits applied towards a Master of Fine Arts in Music Education. This was conferred after a full year’s employment “in the field” (Year #6) and completion of additional summer courses of Philosophy in Music Education, Administration of Music Education, several more credits, and a master’s thesis addressing a self-targeted educational problem at our job. For my entire time at CMU, 80% of the coursework on my transcript was singularly focused on performance classes (lessons on piano and the “major” – mine was on viola – as well as chamber and large group ensemble rehearsals), conducting, instrumental and vocal methods, music history, sight-reading/ear training, harmony, orchestration, etc.

What’s Missing in Music Teacher Training?

It is amazing what we must learn “on our own” after we receive our diploma. Yes, I was competent to read a score, assess a solo, band, chamber group, choral, orchestra, or theatrical performance, compose/arrange and accompany a piece for a string class, coach a vocalist on warming up her voice, apply my knowledge of a composer’s life and music to interpret a masterwork, and start a new student on the cello or flute or tuba or drum! However, a quick reminiscence of “the ABCs for the 2009 opening day” agenda I presented to my music staff as their Performing Arts Curriculum Leader had little bearing on the pre-service training all of us received in higher education:

  • Assessment “of” (“Summative”) and “for” (“Formative”) Learning
  • Blackboard and Blended Schools
  • Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge
  • Curriculum Mapping and the Rubicon Atlas web program
  • Customization and Differentiation of Instruction
  • Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings
  • Multiple Intelligences Theory
  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Standards-Aligned System
  • Teaching the “Whole Child”

So, if I became a “superintendent for a day” (or much longer), what would I now prioritize for induction and/or in-service training of educators?

We’ll start out with a taste of the inspiration led by my mentor and former superintendent of schools of Upper St. Clair School District where I taught for 33 years, the man who probably had the greatest influence for my getting hired and seeing something in me to channel my energy towards succeeding in several challenging assignments: Dr. William A. Pope. Way back in the 90’s, Bill was a proponent for studying “the stuff of human relationships,” including the introduction of elementary and middle level units on caring/compassion, courage, empathy, honesty, kindness, sensitivity, trust, among many others. Yes, you CAN teach values and acquiring a “moral compass” in the public schools!

I recently recalled many of these terms as they resonated within me during a motivating “The Presence of a Teacher” session presented by Penn State University Associate Professor of Theater Dr. Susan Russell. She opened the Pennsylvania Collegiate Music Educators Association Region III Virtual Workshop on November 1, 2020 with a “Zoom discussion” brainstorming the essential tools for building every teacher’s “presence” and “connectivity” with his/her students:

  • empathy
  • engagement
  • enthusiasm
  • listening
  • personal story-telling
  • self-care
  • sharing
  • vulnerability (acceptance to show)

A Different Kind of “Bucket List!’

Next, let’s add to this mix the easy-to-read book How Full Is Your Bucket by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton, organized around the simple metaphor of a dipper and a bucket. Their work is grounded in 50 years of research and will show you how to greatly increase the positive moments in your work and your life – while reducing the negative – which, of course, can be applied to benefit your interactions with students (of paramount importance!), their parents, and school staff.

Admittedly, at times, this may be difficult. As I sit here putting on the finishing touches to a lesson plan for a virtual rehearsal of my online music academy – a “best I can do” replacement to in-person practices of our community youth orchestra’s 39th season, while absorbing the awful media broadcasts of recent spikes in the coronavirus across my region and the country, and trying to ignore the very angry rhetoric of a divided nation in the yet unresolved presidential election: How does one find “positivity” or project an image of hope? What’s that saying? “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”

A “Thoughtful Drop” from a “Full Bucket” would emphasize the

  • Focus on the positive
  • Sharing of frequent small positive acts daily
  • Positive reinforcement to motivate learning
  • Promotion of positive emotions for your own good health

“How did you feel after your last interaction with another person?”

“Did that person – your spouse, best friend, coworker, or even a stranger – “fill your bucket” by making you feel more positive? Or did that person “dip from your bucket,” leaving you more negative than before?”

https://www.gallup.com/press/176132/full-bucket.aspx
https://crystalecho.com/gallup-profiling/

You can even take their Gallup Clifton Strengths poll to understand your “personality DNA” (above) and assess your potential: https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/home.aspx

Raising Caring, Successful Kids in a “Plugged-In, Trophy-Driven World”

In any discussion on what children need most, are you surprised that the word “empathy” keeps coming up? We turn to, in my opinion, “the single most revolutionary book of our time,” UnSelfie – Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Dr. Michele Borba, Ed.D., with her framework of nine essential habits of empathy:

  1. Emotional Literacy (recognition of the feelings and needs of self and others)
  2. Moral Identity (adoption of caring values that guide integrity and activate empathy)
  3. Perspective Taking (appreciation of another person’s feelings, thoughts, and views)
  4. Moral Imagination (use of literature, films, and emotionally charged images as a source of inspiration to feel with others)
  5. Self-Regulation (management of strong emotions and reduction of personal distress)
  6. Practicing Kindness (increased concern about the welfare and feelings of others)
  7. Collaboration (working together in the achievement of shared goals)
  8. Moral Courage (resolution to speak out, step in, and help others)
  9. Altruistic Leadership (motivation to make a difference for others)

Michele Borba emphasizes that the “selfie syndrome” is leading to excessive “self-promotion, personal branding, and self-interest at the exclusion of others’ feelings, needs, and concerns. It’s permeating our culture and slowly eroding our children’s character.” In short, she charges educators and parents alike to focus on enhancing the children’s “social-emotional competencies, resilience, academic success, leadership, healthy relationships, moral courage, happiness and mental health.”

I wrote this article for PMEA News about this phenomenon, examples of my impressions of the “dumbing down” or numbing of emotional quotient, less focus on “team” orientation, omission of studying “character” in our schools, and the seemingly increased emphasis on “the me – not the we!”

“Social-emotional learning” (SEL) was not a part of a college music education course catalog, even a few years ago. And yet, today more than ever, it is probably the single most valued “teaching skill” necessary for the care and engagement of students during the pandemic. Educators are “leaders” and often have a lasting influence (maybe only second to their parents) on the social-emotional health of their “charges!” Let’s review the principles of emotional intelligence (EI):

“Most effective leaders have a high degree of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.”

United Nations Staff College https://www.unssc.org/ and What Makes a Leader? by Daniel Goleman https://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader

Why is SEL so important?

SEL provides a foundation for safe and positive learning, and enhances our students’ ability to succeed in school, careers, and life.

https://casel.org/sel-framework/

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

https://casel.org/overview-sel/

SEL can provide students with the SKILLS to confront their challenges by being self-aware, socially-aware, and to make responsible decisions. According to Associate Professor of Music, Music Education Chair, and Director of Bands at Lake Forest College Dr. Scott Edgar, this may take the form of reflection, discussion, and lecture, but to be most effective, it needs to be embedded in curriculum.

“For me, the music teacher can do this in a much more authentic way—through music… SEL should not feel like one more thing; it is THE thing. We teach music; we teach self-discipline; we teach collaboration. SEL is in our classrooms already; our job is to make it explicit, consistent, and structured.”

Dr. Scott Edgar https://nafme.org/music-education-social-emotional-learning/

According to Edgar, music teachers can help teach SEL by:

  • encouraging students to set their own musical goals
  • devising solutions for individual or group errors (instead of us always giving the answers)
  • navigating performance anxiety
  • understanding the power of music for social change

One more purchase recommendation:
Music Education and Social and Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music
by Scott N. Edgar

“Music education helps our students learn how to be dedicated, to persevere, and to work together. It is our job to help students see that these skills are not isolated to the music classroom. These are the skills they need to be successful outside of music and to confront their challenges with strength and skill. Music can be the preventative mental health our students need so they have the skills to confront the life challenges ahead of them.”

Dr. Scott Edgar https://nafme.org/music-education-social-emotional-learning/

For a full understanding of SEL, it might be best to review the well-known “CASEL Wheel” (shown above) online at https://casel.org/sel-framework/. I also suggest you download this PDF file.

We have many additional resources to peruse for developing SEL:

When COVID-19 crashed into our lives wrecking havoc to almost all forms of live/in-person instruction, quarantining elements of the population, enforcing isolation and social-distancing requirements, closing schools and even cancelling most close-collaborative artistic ventures (music lessons, rehearsals, concerts, musicals, etc.), educators everywhere looked for a way to reconnect with their kids… and settled for the less-than-satisfactory, latency-prone, desensitizing virtual-conference environment! Overnight, schools and teachers resorted to “very” remote models of online learning only to view rows and rows of “trapped,” emotionally-detached, mummy or wax-museum-like faces of their students in windows of Zoom, Google Meet, or GoToMeeting platforms.

It’s time to retool and revamp. The most important thing we can do right now is to reach-out to, re-engage, and re-energize our music students, find out how they are doing, foster moments of meaningful dialogue, and share (there’s that word again) empathy… and that we care. We need to immerse ourselves into and apply the principles of human relationships, teacher presence, “bucket drops,” and recommended habits of empathy, EI and SEL explored above by a few wise educational leaders (a.k.a. “our models”).

PKF

Photo credits from Pixabay.com:

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Burned Out or Bummed Out?

More on Teacher Self-Care: Diagnosis and Remediation

This is Part VI in a series of articles on educator health and wellness, following “Stressed Out!” and “Teacher Self-Care During the Pandemic.”

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Do you recognize these signs of burnout experienced  by yourself, a coworker, neighbor, or someone you love?

  • Physical: tired, lowered immunity, illnesses, aches and pains, loss of appetite or sleep
  • Emotional: sense of self-doubt, failure, helplessness, loneliness, cynicism, loss of satisfaction/motivation
  • Behavioral: withdrawal, isolation, skipping work, procrastination, frustration, overuse of food, drugs, alcohol

By the time it gets to that third bullet, probably everyone would be aware of the trouble.

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

Burnout Prevention and Recovery by Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Lawrence Robinson

 

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Gregory S. Perkins and Angela M. Guerriero, licensed Music Therapists from the Tempo! Music Therapy Services, provided much more detailed definitions of self-care in a session at the PMEA 2020 Virtual Summer Conference. (PMEA members may continue to register and view a video of this workshop until mid-September 2020.) You should know and be on the lookout for these terms:

The United Nations defines self-care as the actions that individuals take in order to develop, protect, maintain, and improve their own health and well being. Self-care involves a personal investment in maintaining physical, psychological and spiritual health, and pursuing a fulfilling, well-rounded life.

Brownout: “A practitioner essentially gives up or performs in a perfunctory manner when confronted with too much stress and too little gratification.” Guy, J. & Norcross, J. (2007). Leaving it at the office: a guide to psychotherapist self-care. New York, NY: Guilford Publications, Inc.

Burnout: “A syndrome of physical exhaustion including a negative self-concept, negative job attitude, and loss of concern and feelings.” Keidel, G. (2002). Burnout and compassion fatigue among hospice caregivers. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care, 19(3), 200-205

Recognizing the Need: Self-Care for Music Educators by Gregory S. Perkins, MT-BC, and Angela M. Guerriero, PhD, MT-BC

The Mayo Clinic offers numerous symptoms of “burnout.” How many of these have you “felt” too or noticed in someone else’s demeanor or behavior?

  1. Disillusionment over the job
  2. Cynicism at work
  3. Impatience with co-workers, administrators, and students
  4. Lack of satisfaction in accomplishments
  5. Dragging yourself to work and trouble getting started once you’re there
  6. Lack of energy
  7. Unexplained aches/pains
  8. Self-medicating with food, drugs, or alcohol
  9. Changes in sleep/eating patterns

 

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Education Week adds many more danger signs. Are any of these striking close to home?

Exhaustion. This is a fatigue so deep that there’s no way to “turn it off,” no matter how badly you want to. It’s deep in your bones. The kind of tired where you just want to ooze into your bed and disconnect from life.

Extreme graveness. Realizing you go hours without smiling or laughing, or days without a belly laugh.

Anxiety. The constant, nagging feeling that you can and should do more, while simultaneously realizing you need to unplug and spend more time with your family. But there are so many things to do.

Being overwhelmed. Questioning how they can possibly add one more task, expectation, or mandate to your plate. Compromising your values of excellence just so you can check-off 15 more boxes to stay in compliance. All the while knowing it still won’t be enough.

Seeking. Losing your creativity, imagination, patience, and enthusiasm for daily challenges. Craving reflection time and productive collaboration rather than group complaining.

Isolation. Wanting to head for the deepest, darkest cave where no one will see your vulnerability. A place where your limits are unseen and unquestioned and all is quiet.

— Six Signs of and Solutions for Teacher Burnout by Wendi Pillars 

 

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What about the causes of burnout or brownout? Where should we place the blame?

According to Paul Murphy in his book, Exhausted – Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It, the stress of a few problems may stand out as leading culprits at your place of employment:

  1. Lack of autonomy
  2. Dysfunctional work environment
  3. Inadequate social support
  4. Extremes of activity
  5. Poor work/life balance

But, you have no one else but yourself to blame! You must take responsibility for your own health and welfare. Most of the sources in this blog-post (including a few mentioned in past articles from this “care” category) suggest solutions to better self-care, many of which offer answers to address the issue and CAN BE DONE RIGHT NOW.

Here are a few more self-care tips from PsychCentral:

  • Create a “no” list, with things you know you don’t like or you no longer want to do. Examples might include: Not checking emails at night, not attending gatherings you don’t like, not answering your phone during lunch/dinner.
  • Promote a nutritious, healthy diet.
  • Get enough sleep. Adults usually need 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Exercise. In contrast to what many people think, exercise is as good for our emotional health as it is for our physical health. It increases serotonin levels, leading to improved mood and energy. In line with the self-care conditions, what’s important is that you choose a form of exercise that you like!
  • Follow-up with medical care. It is not unusual to put off checkups or visits to the doctor.
  • Use relaxation exercises and/or practice meditation. You can do these exercises at any time of the day.
  • Spend enough time with your loved ones.
  • Do at least one relaxing activity every day, whether it’s taking a walk or spending 30 minutes unwinding.
  • Do at least one pleasurable activity every day; from going to the cinema, to cooking or meeting with friends.
  • Look for opportunities to laugh!

What Self-Care Is and What It Isn’t by Raphailia Michael, MA

 

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We should also review “Five Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout” by Mary Beth Hertz, an Edutopia blog (read the entire article for greater depth and clarity):

  1. Maintain your “other” life.
  2. Be a stakeholder when changes are made.
  3. Find lessons and opportunities in everything.
  4. Nurture peer connections.
  5. Keep it light.

Edutopia, from the George Lucas Educational Foundation, is a wonderful resource. Most recently, three valuable “streams” of articles have been released on coping with the preparations and stress in the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 year:

I also recommend this blog-post of the Regional Education Laboratory Program which describes “teacher well being” as “the reaction to the individual and collective physical, environmental, and social events that shape how educators respond to their students and colleagues.” They discuss how three prominent human behavior frameworks— Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the Five Stages of Grief and Loss, and the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM)— can be used to address the challenges that teachers face when adapting to change and identify approaches to support teacher well being.

 

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In addition, the following perspectives come from a variety of self-proclaimed practitioners:

“One of Leonardo da Vinci’s seven essential elements of genius is known as Sfumato, Italian for ‘smoked,’ or ‘going up in smoke.’ This principle is the ability to embrace uncertainty, the unknown, and the unknowable. In my interpretation, it’s also an ability to ‘let go’ of everything that’s left undone when you know you’ve done your best. Embrace Sfumato.”  — Wendy Pillars

“Self-care needs to be something you actively plan, rather than something that just happens. It is an active choice and you must treat it as such.” — Raphailia Michael

“Remember that example about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others? This is where that analogy really comes in to play. It’s time for you to take a good hard look at your self-care versus your care for others and decide if you are in a place where you have a good balance or if you need to make this a priority… Why is self-care… such a critical component of your physical and mental health? Because in order for you to function at your peak, you need to meet the needs your body and mind have for rejuvenation, relaxation, and rebirth. If you are constantly putting out efforts toward other people and events but never taking time to refuel yourself, then you will run out of steam and it will manifest in your body as an illness, weight gain, acne, joint pain – you know the drill – again.” — Lesley Moffat in I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me

“It’s estimated that teachers make about 1,500 decisions every school day. When you combine those decisions with all the necessary self-regulation involved with teaching kids, it’s no wonder our willpower is gone by five o’clock. We are exhausted.” — Paul Murphy

The term “unprecedented times” has become a hallmark for describing the context in which leaders must respond to changing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Effective responses in education are dependent upon teachers as the front-line workers in classrooms, so it’s essential that administrators take care of teachers. When they do so, they also take care of students.

When teachers don’t have the resources they need, and especially when sustained job demands are high, teachers experience chronic stress — and eventually burnout.

Teachers who are burned out are less effective as teachers, have less supportive relationships with students and, in turn, the students they teach have lower academic and social outcomes.

How to Prevent Teacher Burnout During the Coronavirus Pandemic by Laura Sokal, Jeff Babb, and Leslie Eblie Trudel

 

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We should all read the above blog-post from The Conversation, which offers these conclusions based on a national Canadian education survey conducted in May 2020:

  1. Teachers’ concern for vulnerable students is one of the most stressful aspects of their jobs right now.
  2. Teachers are seeing magnified inequities.
  3. When giving teachers initial resources, less is more.
  4. Perceived support matters to teachers’ resiliency.
  5. Teachers are concerned about effectively engaging students through remote learning, and professional collaboration can help.

Finally, we’ll end this epistle on “things to do to avoid burnout” with a timely and practical article from Carlee Adams found on the We Are Teachers site: 15 Smart Ways to Prevent Teacher Burnout That Really Work. Repeating many of the suggestions above, these “find these” remedies resonated with me:

  • “Find someone you can be vulnerable with…”
  • “When you feel hopeless, find perspective…”
  • “Find your own voice and allow it to change over time…”
  • “Find your people; they get you!”

The bottom line? If you “feel” consistent periods of burnout, brownout, or being bummed out in your career as negative influences to your “calling” as a teacher, you cannot sit back and let things continue “as is!” Most professionals cannot self-diagnose this problem (but, perhaps a family member may clue you in!). If you notice that you are continually having trouble sleeping, difficulty with relationships or communicating your thoughts to others, or find yourself feeling significantly depressed or lethargic, it may be time to visit your health care professional.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com by Gerd Altmann

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Sleep and Retirement

Are you getting enough (or too much) rest?

Saying goodbye to work life can mean a change in your sleep schedule. Learn how to sleep well during this new stage of life.

“Sleep, and the Workplace” at Sleep.org

cartoon what time do you want to get up

Did you know there really exists a National Sleep Foundation? Now that we are retired from full-time music teaching and the day-to-day stress of managing classes and a busy music program, do you think we need it? Can’t we sit back and enjoy “living the life of Riley” without experiencing any work-related tension or fears for the future?

Maybe not! What is that old Chinese proverb? “The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” After all, as humans, we all seek new and unique challenges to grow (and that brings on stress), and sleep is a complicated issue!

But, no worries! Several someones have “our back” (or should I say “our pillow!”). Here is a collection of insightful resources on promoting better sleep habits and relaxation techniques from a variety of research-based and/or medical authorities.

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I didn’t set an alarm for four months. I quickly learned that one of my favorite times of the day was 30 minutes after I first woke up. For the first time in decades, there wasn’t a rush to get out of bed. I’d let myself fade in and out of sleep several times, savoring the fact that I could let myself fall back into the hazy sleep rather – into the shower to wake myself for the morning drive. I’d gotten up at 5:30 AM for years the found that about 7:15 AM was a natural time for my body to wake up. The dogs seem to enjoy this new routine as well. We have four dogs, all of whom compete for space on the bed. Which ever one happen to be near my hand would nozzle under my fingers when they felt me start to wake up, being content to enjoy our laziness together as a new way to start our new days.

The Keys to a Successful Retirement by Fritz Gilbert

The perks of retirement are many, including the “freedom” to do new things and spend more time with family and friends as well as on travel, personal music-making, hobbies, babysitting loved-ones (or care-giving our elderly relatives), volunteering, and other projects or pursuits of “self-reinvention” suggested by “retiree gurus” like Dave Hughes, Robin Ryan, Kenneth Schultz, Hyrum Smith, and Ernie Zelinski.

Another benefit of post-employment? MORE sleep! According to Sleep.org, “people sleep approximately 20 minutes longer at night after retirement. Those who skimped on sleep the most during their working years see the biggest gains, increasing their nightly sessions by around 45 minutes compared to pre-retirement.”

The National Sleep Foundation website also offers articles on the “science of sleep.”

  • Sleep Cycles – Stages of Sleep
  • Circadian Rhythms
  • What Is Microsleep?
  • How to Fall Asleep Fast
  • What is the Sleep-Wake Cycle?

as well as mattress reviews and life style choices that may affect our sleep.

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The “serious stuff” for serious sleep issues

Experts do believe that “normal aging” brings on some changes to sleep… Basically, older adults tend to get sleepy earlier in the evening, and tend to sleep less deeply than when they were younger.

So it’s probably not realistic to expect that as you get older, you’ll sleep as long or as soundly as when you were younger.

That said, although aging by itself does change sleep, it’s also quite common for older adults to develop health problems that can cause sleep disturbances. So when your older relatives say they aren’t sleeping well, you’ll want to help them check for these. Figuring out what’s going on is always the first step in being able to improve things.

Better Health While Aging blogs by Dr. Leslie Kernisan here and here

The definitions, causes, and treatments of sleep disruption are described in great detail by Leslie Kernisan, M.D., authoring “5 Top Causes of Sleep Problems in Aging and Proven Ways to Treat Insomnia” outlined here:

  1. Underlying medical problems
  2. Sleep-related breathing disorders (snoring, sleep apnea, etc.)
  3. Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
  4. Periodic limb movements (PLM)
  5. Insomnia

Painful nighttime leg cramps may also interrupt sleep, as referenced by the American Family Physician, Mayo Clinic and WebMD.

Dr. Kernisan advises us against using sleeping pills or other sedatives. She prefers the following remedies which have shown great promise, backed up by published research:

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy: New York Times and Mayo Clinic
  2. Brief behavioral treatment: Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine and National Institute of Health
  3. Mindfulness meditation: Journal of the American Medical Association and Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at UCLA
  4. Exercise: Science Direct, National Institute of Health, and New York Times

The Division of Sleep Medicine at the Harvard Medical School also offers these “Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep.”

  1. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep.
  2. Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment.
  3. Establish a soothing pre-sleep routine.
  4. Go to sleep when you are truly tired.
  5. Don’t be a night-time clock-watcher.
  6. Use light to your advantage.
  7. Keep your internal clock set with a consistent sleep schedule.
  8. Nap early, or not at all.
  9. Lighten up on evening meals.
  10. Balance fluid intake.
  11. Exercise early.
  12. Follow-through.

Another “sleep checklist” worth a quick examination is available from WebMD.

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Should we take cat naps? The jury is out.

At first glance, the National Sleep Foundation basically says NO! Napping during the day may “throw your body clock off and keep you awake at night.”

However, the truth may be more about how long to doze off during the daylight hours…

You may think that taking a catnap will make you feel more tired than skipping it altogether, but that’s not necessarily true.

The key to waking up refreshed from a nap is all about timing. Just 20 minutes is all you need to get the benefits of napping, such as improved alertness, enhanced performance, and a better mood. Naps of that length keep you in the lightest stage of non-REM sleep, making it easier for you to get up and go after your snooze session. Be sure to set an alarm so you don’t snooze for too long and wake up all groggy.

Nap for 30 to 60 minutes and you’ll hit the deeper stages of sleep, where your brain waves slow down, making you feel groggy (as if you have a sleep hangover) when you wake up…

It might not be worth it to nap at all if you’re going to nap for this amount of time because you’ll likely come out of your shuteye feeling less alert than before.

“How Long Is an Ideal Nap” at Sleep.org

The benefits and drawbacks of napping are further examined by the Mayo Clinic and even TIME magazine.

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Can too much sleep be bad for you?

According to new research carried out by Online Opinions, over-60s need to make sure that they are not in fact getting too much sleep once they are retired, as this can actually have an adverse effect on health.

According to the National Sleep Federation, the optimum amount of sleep for adults aged up to 64 to get each night is between seven and nine hours, while for over-64s, between eight and nine hours is deemed to be best.

You need to remember that your body isn’t as young as it once was and needs a decent amount of rest, but not too much, but the organization warns that more than ten hours’ sleep a night could be stopping people from using their bodies and brains as much as they need to in order to keep them active and hold on to their cognitive functions. In other words, too much sleep could carry a small extra risk of dementia development.

But there’s no need to worry too much; as long as you get plenty of exercise, keep your brain ticking, and lead a healthy lifestyle during the hours that you’re awake, there shouldn’t be too much cause for concern.

Just Group

WebMD warns that oversleeping has been linked to a host of medical problems, including diabetes, heart disease, depression, and increased risk of death.” The article “Physical Side Effects of Oversleeping” delineates the causes and effects of too much sleep, and points to an online “sleep habits assessment” to help you evaluate your needs.

This research seems to be supported by several other sources:

The amount of sleep you need varies significantly over the course of your lifetime. It depends on your age and activity level as well as your general health and lifestyle habits. For instance, during periods of stress or illness, you may feel an increased need for sleep. But although sleep needs differ over time and from person to person, experts typically recommend that adults should sleep between 7 and 9 hours each night.

WebMD

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More on retirement and “mindfulness”

From the author of one of my favorite “teacher self-care books,” I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me by Lesley Moffat, I personally recommend trying the “M-Power Method” of mindfulness practice during meals, movement, music, and what Lesley describes as the “5 S’s of clearing,” cited by the website dailyom.com:

  • Slowing Down
  • Simplifying
  • Sensing
  • Surrendering
  • Self-care

Jason Ong, a sleep psychologist at the Rush University Medical Center, offers these reminders of “Seven Tips for Falling Asleep” based on mindful practices of health and wellness (visit his site here to study these more in depth):

  1. Beginner’s mind
  2. Non-striving
  3. Letting go
  4. Non-judging
  5. Acceptance
  6. Trust
  7. Patience

Finally, if you want to immerse yourself in a comprehensive “mindfulness journey,” visit the blogs of Cindy’s Mindful Retirement to peruse “Mindfulness After Sixty: 21 Practices.”

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Can you “trick” your brain into going to sleep?

One last interesting resource I stumbled on… how to “drum yourself to sleep” if you are having difficulty in calming the thoughts swirling around in your mind at night. This technique intrigued me enough to include it as one of the digital SHJO.clips for my community orchestra musicians sent out as a remote learning opportunity:

CLIP #22C: View and try the techniques in this YouTube “How to Trick Your Brain into Falling Asleep” by Jim Donovan (TEDtalk) using a simple 2 to 3-minute rhythm tapping and breathing “cool-down.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5dE25ANU0k

Now, although anticipated, I am not necessarily looking forward to website comments or emailed responses from mattress and sleep accessory manufacturers, sending me their advertisements, recommendations, and industry reviews. Regardless, one thing is true: “What you sleep on has a major effect on achieving a quality rest!” I can confirm this fact “living it” with a recent replacement upgrade to our master bedroom. If you are in this situation, you need to take ample time to explore all of your options in any new purchase of beds, adjustable or nonadjustable bases, mattresses, bedding, and pillows. Essential in education; here, too: you need to personalize and customize everything to meet your needs!

Just to stave off a few of these companies, here are a few websites to visit if you are in the market to buy a new bed, mattress, pillow, or other bedding:

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The final word? If you prefer a few “more heady” academic studies and statistics on retirement + sleep, look up “Sleep Before and After Retirement” from the National Institute of Health, the “Reduction in Sleep Disturbances at Retirement” dissertation from Cambridge University Press, or review the case studies discussed by Health.Talk.org in “Sleep Problems Later in Life.”

Have a good night!

PKF

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order)

From Pixabay.com

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

 

One Happy But Solitary Retiree

 

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The corona-virus crisis has created a new stay-at-home environment for all of us. With the exception of healthcare appointments, grocery pick-ups, and mail deliveries (as well as a few other essential services), we have been banished to indoors for the most part, allowing only an occasional excursion to go get take-out or walk the dogs.

And, many of us feel a bit claustrophobic and worried about the future!

Do not underestimate the cognitive and emotional load that this pandemic brings, or the impact it will have on your productivity, at least in the short term. Difficulty concentrating, low motivation and a state of distraction are to be expected. Adaptation will take time. Go easy on yourself. As we settle into this new rhythm of remote work and isolation, we need to be realistic in the goals we set, both for ourselves and others in our charge.

— Desiree Dickerson at https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00933-5

The purpose of this blog is to reflect on the measures we can bolster our sense of well being, stimulate new directions of personal growth, and endure the unpredictable “ups and downs” of this period of mandatory confinement.

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Self-Care and COVID-19

According to mental health providers and experts in wellness such as Geisinger Health, it is important to your overall health to make time for personal self-care.

From watching the news every hour to scrolling social media a little too much, it’s easy to get lost in the noise of what’s going on around us.

And you’re not alone in this.

If you’ve found yourself in an extended state of self-quarantine, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your mental health, in addition to your physical health.

— Geisinger Health at https://www.geisinger.org/health-and-wellness/wellness-articles/2020/03/18/17/56/self-care-during-quarantine

Geisinger recommends these practices of self-care during a quarantine:

  1. Make time to unwind.
  2. Exercise to promote good health.
  3. Be mindful to support your immune system.
  4. Take breaks from the news.
  5. Remind yourself why you are in isolation.

Here are a few more websites that might help if you are feeling depressed, confused, or just not coping well with all the “corona chaos…” (like us all):

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What Are You Waiting For? Just Make Music!

If truth be told, as a writer and a musician, I personally don’t mind having all of this extra time to focus on creative self-expression.

Think about it…

  • What have you always wanted to explore… play… sing… compose… record… conduct… create?
  • When will you finish your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” prepare the parts, and eventually have it taught, performed, and/or recorded?
  • When are you going to publish your next song, article, book, warm-ups, instrumental method, essays on pedagogy, musical, drumline feature or halftime show… or write your personal memoirs?

Well, what’s stopping you from devoting yourself to it RIGHT NOW?

As retired music teachers, we have an advantage… avoiding most of the stress that our still-employed colleagues are experiencing, suddenly having to “catch-up” with the technology, search for online music learning tools and lessons for their classes, and facing even more mostly unanswered challenges:

  • How can I care for my music students and the school program from home?
  • What essential learning can/should I offer during the school/activity closures?
  • How can I rehearse my music ensembles?
  • How can we provide meaningful feedback? Should we assess their work?
  • How do I motivate my students to continue their practice or music enrichment?
  • How will I find the mental, emotional, and physical stamina to serve my students during this lock-down without becoming overwhelmed?

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Costs and Risks Associated with All of This “Social Distancing”

Yes, we have ways to stay in touch electronically via text, email, videoconferencing, and social media, but it is not the same. In fact, many studies indicate that the more time we spend on social media, the less happy, less empathetic, and more envious we are.

The very act of meeting face-to-face, making eye-contact, and physically touching nourishes us but also exposes us to the coronavirus. We all know of the infant mortality research that shows babies deprived of physical touch experience development limitations. It is no different for adults. The Atlantic quotes Tiffany Field, the founder of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, in describing the power of physical touch:

“…any pressure or movement on the skin helps increase the activity of the Vagus nerve, which connects to every major organ in the human body. Touch from another human slows down the heart. It goes to the GI tract and helps digestion. It helps our emotional expressions—our facial expressions and our vocal expressions. It enhances serotonin, the natural antidepressant in our system. That vagal activity can also lower a body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol; cortisol is known to harm the ‘natural killer cells’ that can fight viral, bacterial, and cancer cells.”

Field concludes that as people are now especially stressed over the consequence of the virus, they have even greater need of these valuable effects of touch, now that they are afraid to hug or shake hands as usual.

— Robert Hall at https://ifstudies.org/blog/avoiding-a-relationship-pandemic

Indeed, what I do miss most is the human interaction… the ability to share two-way verbal and musical communication in an ensemble. I long for sharing music with the players in my community orchestra – the South Hills Junior Orchestra – who before the outbreak, rehearsed every Saturday for two hours at my former employment placement, the Upper St. Clair High School. I have to settle for sending them more of my “how-to” music articles (Fox’s Firesides) and basically low-tech “distance learning opportunities” discussed in my last blog here.

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Go-To-Meeting, Google Hangouts/Meeting, or Zoom.com

Zoom is not a great vehicle for a “free and easy” exchange of ideas or being able to “monitor and adjust” the learning of a group of students. We use it, and other choices like Go-To-Meeting and Google Hangouts, because we have to use them. It’s better than nothing. It’s important to at least “check in” with the members of your community, church, or school band, orchestra, or choral ensemble, and give them a chance to talk to one another, if only by allowing the use of the chat feature or unmuting all of their mikes at once. (But, get ready for a loud cacophony of sound!)

Zoom is offering a package that is free as long as you stay under 40 minutes for your virtual meetings of more than two people. The sound (delayed and designed for voice not music) is not great,  and you will need to do a quick study of how to adjust the technology to fit your needs. Several websites offer some advice on adaptations for music educators:

If you are thinking about holding online private music lessons, take a look at my string colleague Susanna Sonnenberg’s article. 

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Don’t Become a “Couch Potato!” Get Active and Stay Active!

What we don’t want to do during this emergency is to spend most of our time watching television. Besides being totally unhealthy, sitting in your easy chair like a lump and watching hours upon hours of generally, in my opinion, totally uninspiring programming, will drain the gray matter from your brain. I don’t know if I could stand watching another PBS broadcast rerun, National Geographic episode, or “Nature” program.

The bottom line: being solitary is not being alone. And even if you are left alone at a given moment, you should not be bored!

“Boredom isn’t good or bad,” said John Eastwood, who runs the Boredom Lab at York University in Canada and is co-author of Out of My Skull, a forthcoming book on boredom. “It’s what we do with that signal.”

That’s a confusing moment, especially amid the pandemic, with news outlets and social media publishing endless lists of things to do with all the newfound time, from the juiciest TV to downloading hours of podcasts — a digital bounty that Newton, thankfully, didn’t encounter.

“When you don’t have a lot going on, you might say, ‘Wow, I’m going to binge watch Netflix. This is perfect,’ ” Eastwood said. “That will get rid of the feeling in the short term. But treating yourself like an empty vessel to fill with a compelling experience makes you more ripe for boredom down the road.”

Why?

“Because what you’ve done,” Eastwood said, “is you’ve failed to become the author of your own life.”

— Michael S. Rosenwald at https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/these-are-boom-times-for-boredom-and-the-researchers-who-study-it/2020/03/27/0e62983a-706f-11ea-b148-e4ce3fbd85b5_story.html

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A Top-Ten List for Retired Music Teachers

So, here are my ten things-to-do when stranded at home during any period of forced inactivity or voluntary self-quarantine:

  1. Use Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, etc. to “call” several loved ones, friends, coworkers, or neighbors in your life, and “check in” with them to see how they’re doing. They would appreciate hearing from you!
  2. Feeling lonely or a little down yourself? Reach out to someone. Studies show that when we connect with someone, we release the hormone oxytocin, a chemical that can actually help repair your heart. Simply talking about our problems and sharing our emotions (positive and negative) with someone you trust can be profoundly healing—reducing stress, strengthening our immune system, and reducing physical and emotional distress.
  3. Practice. No matter your choice of instrumental or vocal self-direction, or exposure to the self-exploration of other art forms like painting, drawing, sculpture, sewing, woodworking, photography, or writing, now is the perfect time to develop greater levels of personal artistry, proficiency, and self-confidence… even to establish new goals/pursuits. I have found that mornings work best for me with anything that requires creativity. (Brainstorming for this blog occurred at 8:20 AM one morning, after sleeping in a little, watching the news, and having my breakfast and coffee).
  4. Go outdoors and exercise. Get your body moving… a little every day! If you are lucky to have a furry pet or two, venture into the neighborhood with them… of course, maintaining “safe social distancing” (even the dogs have to stay 6 feet apart from the two-legged mammals) and adhere to the essential rules of pet walking etiquette and citizenship (mentioned here).
  5. Return to those “old fashioned” leisure activities: listen to your favorite music or read a book. Revisit something from that Hornblower (C. S. Forester) or Tom Clancy series (my frequent “gems”). When I needed a break in college (100+ years ago?), I took the afternoon off, ordered myself a medium pizza (yes – I ate it all!), and then walked to the Oakland branch of Carnegie Library to sit in those wonderfully comfortable high-back leather chairs and pull out one of my “old friends” to read.
  6. In other sections of this blog site (here and here), I have already discussed avenues for developing the right side of the brain, mainly our innate creativity and curiosity quotient. Visit these notable sites: https://nationalcreativitynetwork.org/, https://curiosity.com/, Sir Ken Robinson, Odyssey’s 9 Useful and Inspiring Websites for Creative People, Dr. Curtis Bunk’s old “Best of Bunk” site, and the “pinkcasts” and eBooks of Daniel Pink.
  7. Puzzle doing or making can be a relaxing pastime. Some people like to create them (I drew mazes when I was in grade school), while others try to solve them. My wife can sit for hours completing crossword puzzles or assembling the pieces of a virtual jigsaw puzzle on her iPad. If you like making word games, look at websites like http://puzzlemaker.discoveryeducation.com/ or https://www.puzzle-maker.com. 
  8. If you are in a “tidy mood,” now would be a great time to reorganize, de-clutter, or sort through your closets, cupboards, or drawers. Put aside unused or unneeded clothing for Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Have you indexed your record/CD/DVD collection? One year I alphabetized (by author) and reordered the entire collection of sea books on the shelves in my library (100’s of fiction and nonfiction editions). Do librarians or data base managers get bored easily?
  9. If you are lucky enough to be a pensioner and can rely on a somewhat safe monthly income coming in, you might be surprised that this might be a good opportunity to save money. My wife and I have suddenly stopped going out to our favorite restaurants, which was our usual practice 3-5 times a week. Cooking and eating at home, although raising our grocery budget, has brought down our overall food expenses. Put away a little green every month while eating those healthy greens! And, if you can tolerate the stock market doing it’s “roller coaster ride,” consider planning a few new long-term investments if/when you decide the prices are low or discounted enough during the economic crisis.
  10. Finally, schedule a virtual field trip. During our careers and now retirement, my wife and I were never much into traveling around the country or the world. Professional responsibilities (string camp, music workshops, youth orchestra tours, and the extended marching band season) usually precluded taking cruises or long vacations. There are a lot of places on the planet to which we have not journeyed. One thing a lot of people have discovered during these shelter-in-place restrictions is the amazing number of FREE online resources that transport us to museums, galleries, architecture “wonders of the world,” online films of Met operas and Broadway musicals, etc. Plan to take a handful of these wonderful “Internet trips.” (Special thanks for the advance “legwork” of many of these destinations done by Andrea Romano at https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/museums-with-virtual-tours).

virtual tours

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More websites with suggestions about conquering boredom or avoiding becoming too sedentary during the COVID-19 “stay-at-home” orders:

This article and researching the links above took 4-5 hours, and were the things I did to pass the time TODAY! So, now it’s your turn.

The world is your oyster. Get out there and crack it!

Best wishes for your continued good health, safety, happiness, and finding a little music and meaning in every day!

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order)

Shutterstock_1660879444

From Pixabay.com

  • concerns-concerned-about-the-anxiety-4944455 by Larsgustav
  • yoga-exercise-fitness-woman-health-3053488 by lograstudio
  • score-music-piano-guitar-melody-4947840 by sweetlouise
  • covid-19-coronavirus-distance-4940638 by geralt
  • meeting-relationship-business-1019875 by Peggy_Marco
  • wood-couch-potatoes-funny-potatoes-3119970 by Alexas_Fotos
  • sunset-island-mar-dusk-brain-485016 by 95C
  • pieces-of-the-puzzle-mix-hands-592798 by Hans
  • wooden-train-toys-train-first-class by Couleur

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© 2020 Paul K. Fox