Random Acts and Other Resolutions

One Music Teacher Retiree’s Reflections on New Year Resolutions

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.  – Oprah Winfrey

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Segment from the December 22, 2015 Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) Retired Member Network eNEWS. For additional articles and blogs on the transition to retirement, please click on “retirement resources” at the right, or visit the PMEA website: http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/.

 

Ushering in the New Year is all about pursuing new directions or a sort of “rebirth,” making promises for self-improvements, and analyzing and revising our personal goals/visions… perhaps a little like the personal renaissance of retirement.

According to Wikipedia, the tradition of making resolutions is rooted in history, with many examples:

  • The Babylonians making promises to their gods at the start of each year “that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts.”
  • rejoiceThe Romans giving tribute to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.
  • The knights in the Medieval era taking the “peacock vow” at the end of Christmas season to “re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.”
  • At “watch night services,” many Christians preparing for the year by praying and making New Year’s resolutions.
  • During Judaism’s New Year, Rosh Hashanah through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur, reflecting upon “one’s wrongdoings over the year” and seeking and offering forgiveness.

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While success and happiness are in the eye of the beholder, many resolutions do not stand the light of several days… you’d be lucky to “stick with it” for more than several weeks! However, the process of revival – re-examining what is important in our lives, and placing effort in establishing new habits and plans – is just plain “good for you.”

Here are happy-new-year-1184943my top-ten recommendations to help you “grow” and enjoy a glorious 2016!

  1. Read at least one new book each month, in spite of our society’s fascination with media, the web, movies, TV, etc. Multi-millionaires are known to reach out for new ideas, innovations, and leading-edge thoughts from recent publication releases.
  2. Take time for regular physical exercise and to “smell the roses.” For me, the three or four daily sessions of walking my dogs are extremely helpful for gathering my thoughts, calming my nerves, re-charging my batteries, and even brainstorming via speaking to Siri on my Apple iPhone. For example, using the Evernote, a note-taking/sharing app on my cell phone, was the tool for creating this article’s outline. I can even do it hands-free while I am driving (very carefully!), and with my “all thumbs” keyboarding skills, it sure beats typing everything out by hand!
  3. If you are fortunate enough to have reading-with-grandmother-in-wheelchair-1432646grandchildren (your own or adopted ones), enjoy them! Not only is your generous super-competent babysitting services providing ever-so-essential care-taking of your love-ones, “playing with the kids” is wonderful for your own mood and mental health. “Keep around young people and you will stay forever young!” However, invest your time wisely. You deserve a life of your own and unstructured time off. It is easy to be taken advantage of, so don’t let this childcare schedule dominate everything you do in your retirement.
  4. If travel is your thing, get out there and “book it!” One of the great advantages of retirement is the capability to go on trips while the kids are still in school. One of my least favorite memories of a family vacation was going to Disney World over Christmas break… Overcrowding closed the Epcot parking lot by Noon on December 27, and my wife had to endure 45-minute lines to use the ladies’ room.
  5. If you really like being “out on the road” a lot, consider offering your services to local travel agents as a music trip manager. Many PMEA retirees have already assumed new part or (nearly) full-time jobs organizing music groups’ out-of-town adjudications, festivals, workshops, and tours. Really, who is better qualified?
  6. flute-player-1506263-1920x1440The single most satisfying pastime for all of us is to be or do something creative. With few exceptions, every day you need to find venue(s) to express yourself. This could mean pulling out your instrument or singing, with a renewed focus on exploring your musicianship, interpretation, composition, or improvisational skills. Creating new musical works, like adding to your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” can “make your day!” Other projects in creativity could involve conducting, acting, dancing, creating two or three-dimensional artworks, sewing, gardening, and my personal favorite, writing. Whether it is fiction or nonfiction, articles, books, poems, letters-to-editors – the activity is very personal – and possibly profitable? Try to assemble in words your long-practiced insights and experiences acquired working as a teacher. I am particularly inspired by the prospects of creating and posting blogs on just about any subject that motivates or moves me. Check out the opportunities that WordPress.com can give you. (I am not too shy to refer you to my own website, showing off my articles and “pet peeves” on the subjects of creativity in education, marketing professionalism, and retirement resources: www.paulkusc.wordpress.com).
  7. At the very least, complete one new “random act of kindness” every week. Do the math! This would add 52 “good deeds” a year, and if every PMEA retired member adopted this resolution, that would total more than 22K caring moments in 2016.
  8. caring-teacher-1622554Every week for the rest of your life, spend some time “giving back!” Volunteer or share your hobbies, interests, or expertise helping out wherever it is most needed… in local churches, hospitals, charitable organizations, schools, pet sanctuaries, or senior care centers. I never understood why some enterprising entrepreneur does not buy a large piece of land to build a combined animal shelter, childcare center, and assisted-living facility, connected with easy access to each other… mutually beneficial opportunities for needy children, lonely seniors, and rescued pets for interaction with each other! That’s a “win-win-win!”
  9. Now that you have significantly more time on your hands than you ever had before, advocate for music education. It is not really up to somebody else to eloquently voice a thoughtful opinion about the essential need for music in the schools. Politics aside, writing to your congressman or senator is important, and who knows, might make a difference in proposing and passing upcoming legislation.
  10. r3_logoStay involved in PMEA. Help new or recently transferred music teachers by joining the PMEA Retiree Resource Registry, the free (but priceless!) adviser/ consultant service (go to http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/). This is one way to get more involved at the state or district level as a judge of adjudications, guest conductor or accompanist for festivals, guest presenter or member on a panel discussion for conferences, workshops, or webinars, etc.

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These are New Year’s resolutions I can live with, and hopefully fulfill. Time will tell! I recall the words of the classic Star Wars character Yoda: “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”

 

Approach the New Year with resolve to find the opportunities hidden in each new day.- Michael Josephson, whatwillmatter.com

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PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

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Tips on Personal Branding

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Prospective Music Teachers: Why Personal Branding Might Help You Land a Job!

“A brand is anything—a symbol, design, name, sound, reputation, emotion, employees, tone, and much more—that separates one thing from another.”

– Neil Patel and Aaron Agius

optimism-1241418Quick – Who are you? Define yourself in three words!

This is one of the most common job interview questions. In my past blogs on the subject of getting a music teaching job (see https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/category/marketing-professionalism/), we explored preparing for interviews, planning portfolios, developing stories/personal anecdotes of your strengths, defining criteria for the ideal music teacher candidate, and understanding the term “professionalism” as it applies to music education. Now to wrap-up your “marketing plan,” it is time to dive into “personal branding” as it is presented by quite a few experts in the field.

business-card-1238267What is Personal Branding? Google defines it as “essentially the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the mind of others about an individual, group or organization.”

Branding is critical to help you “stand above the rest,” showing you have what it takes and would be a major asset to a prospective employer, and marketing your own unique qualities that would make you “a good fit” for the specific job opening. But you don’t have to take my word on this… a quick search on the Internet yields numerous articles on branding and marketing yourself.

The question is no longer IF you have a personal brand, but whether you choose to guide and cultivate the brand or to let it be defined (or assumed) by others on your behalf.

According to Shama Hyder, bestselling author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing, “The term branding has long been relegated to companies, but today almost every individual has a personal brand. Not many of us have consciously cultivated these brands, but they exist nonetheless. A digital footprint in the sands of time and space crowd sourced by friends, colleagues, and bosses. According to an AVG study, 92 percent of children under the age of two already have a digital footprint.”

At http://www.forbes.com/sites/shamahyder/2014/08/18/7-things-you-can-do-to-build-an-awesome-personal-brand/, Hyder posted “7 Things You Can Do to Build an Awesome Personal Brand,” including the following outlined summary. (Take a look – you won’t be sorry!)
  1. A young caucasian woman outdoors in a meadow, working on her computerStart thinking of yourself as a brand
  2. Audit your online presence
  3. Secure a personal website
  4. Find ways to produce value
  5. Be purposeful in what you share
  6. Associate with other strong brands
  7. Reinvent

You can learn something about branding from an accountant. In “Five Tips on Branding Yourself” (by the American Institute of CPAs) at http://www.aicpa.org/InterestAreas/YoungCPANetwork/Resources/Career/Pages/FiveTipsToBrandingYourself.aspx, steps are offered to help build a positive image and promote your professionalism. Branding helps “to remain current in your field, opens doors for you, and creates a lasting impression…”

  1. Define your brand and become an expert.
  2. Establish a presence.
  3. Generate brand awareness through networking.
  4. Remember the 3 Cs of brandingclarity, consistency, constancy.
  5. Get feedback from those who know you best—at work, at home, anywhere.

marching-band-1440110-1For #1 above, hopefully you have already read my epistle (see https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/marketing-yourself-and-your-k-12-music-certification/) on not limiting your options or selling yourself short as a music specialist (e.g. band director or elementary vocal teacher). If you want a job with a Pennsylvania Music K-12 Instructional certificate or equivalent, you have to be “expert” on all types and grade levels of public school music.

The music curriculum leader/department chair/lead teacher involved in the employment screening will want to know your mastery of creating lessons in everything from the foundations of “steady beat” and “matching pitch” to developing advanced technique and musicianship in any/all instrumental and vocal ensembles, including jazz improvisation, a cappella singing, and string chamber music.

However, principals, HR staff, and other administrators will likely care more about your classroom management skills, ability to communicate and work with others, personal initiative and willingness to work after school and in the evenings, record of consistent attendance (low incidence of absenteeism or tardiness re: college classes and other work history), and other personality characteristics. Believe it or not, at more than one interview, I was asked, “Since you call yourself trained as a musician, are you temperamental?”

The single most comprehensive publication on branding (and it looks like it is provided as a free service!) is The Complete Guide to Building Your Personal Brand by Neil Patel and Aaron Agius” at https://www.quicksprout.com/the-complete-guide-to-building-your-personal-brand/.

According to them, the greatest rationale for building your personal brand is that it opens up more professional opportunities. “Creating a vision for your future and implementing that vision can lead to a better job…” You should take time to read the guide’s chapters in detail:
  • your-brand-new-website-1-1058679How to Create Your Personal Brand Vision
  • How to Define Your Target Audience
  • How to Build Up Your Online and Offline Assets
  • How to Build Your Brand Through Outreach
  • How to Get Free Press Coverage
  • How to Connect with Mentors
  • How to Monitor your Brand
  • Be Yourself Because Everyone Else Is Taken

After you peruse all of the above material on personal branding, here are my top ten “takeaways” specific to every budding music teacher.

  1. Your personal brand is everything about you – your values, attitudes, integrity, initiative, work ethic, skills, and personality traits.
  2. Remember, a career in public/private school education is based on very conservative values. Be cognizant of what you say, how you look and act, and the overall image you portray. “Everything you say and do (or have ever said or done) may be used against you…”
  3. In this profession, there’s no place for too much levity or a lack of respect for conformity, longstanding traditions, and the orthodox. At my first job interview, I carelessly made a crack about signing an outdated “loyalty” oath (“I promise I am not a communist and will not try to overthrow the government…”), the result of which the superintendent gave me a major tongue-lashing and a 20-minute lecture on patriotism (but, somehow I still got the job!).
  4. shame-1431469Clean up your social media sites (Facebook, etc.). A photo of you and your college buddies drinking “adult beverages” in bathing suits at a beach may be misinterpreted. Google your name to see what comes up. How would you define the content you see of yourself online?
  5. Create a personal website to warehouse the elements of your “professional brand,” including your philosophy of music education, mission, goals, and a digital resume of your education,  experience, and accomplishments. If your college/university does not set you up with a free online site, explore “doing-it-yourself” with WordPress, Wix, or Weebly.com.
  6. The only social medium I can recommend without reservation is LinkedIn. Create and optimize your professional identity on LinkedIn, everything from getting an excellent photo of yourself to providing copious samples of your references, writing, hands-on teaching experiences, etc.
  7. If you have personal essays on your educational philosophy and vision, share your priorities as they relate to music curriculum, lesson targets, concert programming, assertive discipline, collaborative projects, and professional development, and always be ready for the most commonly asked interview questions (beat them to the punch by posting in writing your thoughts): Why is music essential to a child’s education? Why did you choose to become a music educator? Who had the greatest influence on you and why? What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses in this field?
  8. PaulFox_LogoIf you have time, design a personal logo, a symbol of you wherever you go on websites, e-mail footer, digital and printed portfolios, business cards, etc. Although I retired in 2013, I created the illustration at the above right. It implies that I am “a happy fox” (my last name), involved in music, and especially love a certain Beethoven symphony, reinforcing that I am an orchestral musician.
  9. Better than providing quick one or two-sentence answers to the interviewers’ questions, try to assemble a collection of personal anecdotes that dramatically illustrate your musical and teaching skills, critical thinking and problem solving, personality traits like patience, compassion, self-control, and thoughtfulness, and past successes. (For more information on developing story-telling skills, go to https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/08/02/when-it-comes-to-getting-a-job-s-is-for-successful-storytelling/).
  10. Whenever possible, archive your student teaching and other field experiences. “A picture says a thousands words!” Post short online video, audio, and photo examples of your positive interactions in music and with students in all kinds of settings.

One final thought. The best advice I have learned about branding is that it is all about “work in progress.” According to Adii Pienaar in “How to Build Your Personal Brand: The Next Step to Anything” (http://thenextweb.com/entrepreneur/2013/08/18/your-personal-brand-the-next-step-to-anything/), “Your brand is a living organism just like you are as a human and it needs to mirror the same kind of progression, evolution and maturation that you experience in your own mac-stuff-4-1500018life. Whilst legacy is important (as it gives context to your brand), continuous improvement and change should be part of how you shape your brand over time.”

He adds, “Your brand should make mistakes and you should have the opportunity to learn from them.” Just like a model college-entrance essay relating how you have persevered and adapted to life’s challenges and solved problems, your online presence should reveal your dedication to and steps towards self-improvement.

Finally, I echo Pienaar’s conclusion that there is no time like the present to get to work on personal branding: “Start today and brand shamelessly.”

 

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Creativity in Schools Revisited

“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.” – Deepak Chopra

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My Perspective and a Little Rehash on Creativity

Since June 2013 when I retired, I have looked back fondly to an exciting 35-year career in public school teaching, examining the purpose and impact of teaching music education to literally thousands of students. Being assigned to band/choral/orchestra ensembles, music theory and general music classes, as well as directing extracurricular chamber groups, plays, and musicals, I willingly embraced that hectic 24/7 schedule to have access to (and hopefully “inspire” creative self-expression in) my kids before, during and after school hours. Yes, we had musicians, singers, actors, and dancers who chose for themselves a career in the arts, and even more who entered into the noble quest of “giving back” by seeking employment as music educators. However, the largest majority of those students who studied with me went on to non-musical careers.

So, in reflection, was all of this worth it?

Sure it was, but not just to master the course content or complete so many concerts, theater productions, or music lessons. At this point, I have come to peace knowing that the main purpose of my job was to somehow motivate, engage, encourage, guide, and facilitate my students to realize their own success in creativity and self-expression… hopefully to last a lifetime.

Remember, in education, it is the “process” that truly matters, not solely the “product.”

“Creativity is as important as literacy”- Ken Robinson

sign-1268930Two years ago, I wrote a three-part series on the critical need, rationale of, and techniques for developing skills in teaching creativity as well as teaching more creatively. I based my compilations on the February 2013 issue “Creativity Now!” of the ASCD Educational Leadership magazine, and passed on the research and insight of creativity experts, self-expression advocates, and/or self-proclaimed ”right-brain” educational gurus Ronald Beghetto, Dr. Curtis Bonk, Eric Booth, Susan Brookhart, Roger von Oech, Daniel Pink, Sir Ken Robinson, and Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein.

With 2016 about to make its grand entrance, where are we now with creativity in the public schools? In Pennsylvania, the writing of meaningful and extensive “scope and sequence” creativity curriculum, and its implementation of essential questions, lesson targets, and pedagogy, still take a backseat to the highly politicized Common (and much more limited) Core subjects and standardized achievement tests, which the latter, in my opinion, measures very little of an individual’s potential for success. To this day, a focus on “Whole Child” and “customized learning” priorities remains to be lacking throughout the country. We need to “take action,” mandate further research, and propose teaching creativity as an art and a science, all along bringing the necessary courage and vision to make significant changes in our educational systems.

Thinking “Outside the Box”

thinking-out-of-the-box-2-1237525The continued fixation on “error-free” convergent thinking, a priority of the one-answer-only mentality, baffles me. 1+1+1 does not always equal three. I can give you at least two alternative answers: 11 or 1 (the sum in a binary system for the former and the result of drawing the Roman numeral “I” with one vertical line and two horizontal lines for the latter). This is an example of divergent thinking (“process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions”), and sits at the top of the charts for higher order of thinking skills (HOTS) and depth of knowledge (DOK). Use of divergent thinking is much more valued in higher education circles, future employment, and especially research and development in a host of careers from medicine to engineering to technology innovation to consumer markets… probably the foundation of future success in our whole economy.

Review the Literature on Creativity in Education

Are you interested in joining the bandwagon of creativity education advocates? First, review my other three articles and absorb the thoughts of some of our greatest educational innovators. Go to the following links:

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Inspiration from… Who Else? Adobe!

Next, take look at the recent research of Adobe, Inc., posted on the company website: http://www.adobe.com/education/creativity-in-education.html. Gathering data by polling educated professionals (2012), educators and parents (2013), and hiring managers (2014), the crucial role of creativity in education was illustrated.

Based on a survey taken in early 2013, Adobe published the following findings:

  • Parents and educators are strongly aligned in their concerns and desires for the educational system.
  • The education system is stifling creativity; a transformative change is needed.
  • The demand for creativity and creative thinking is increasing and will fuel economies in the future, yet students are less prepared to become innovative thinkers of tomorrow.

According to Adobe, the top two reasons educators struggle to incorporate creativity into the classroom in the United States are lack of resources (56% of the survey responses) and the current education system doesn’t value creativity (54%).

In addition, Adobe reported that the top 3 most important steps to promote and foster creativity in education (in the U.S.) are the following:

  • Provide tools and training that enable educators to teach creativity.
  • Make creativity something that is integral to the curriculum.
  • Reduce mandates that hinder creativity.

In another study sponsored by Adobe (2012), several key headlines were released:

  • 57% of college-educated professionals believe creativity is a learned skill that can be learned in their career, while 65% believe it is a personality trait that is innate.
  • 88% agree creativity should be built into education curriculums and 72% agree they were more focused on subject matter than creative thinking in school.
  • 85% agree creative thinking is critical for problem solving in their career, but nearly one-third (32%) do not feel comfortable thinking creatively at work.

Finally, from July through August 2014, Adobe sampled HR administrators’ attitudes and beliefs about the skills required for success in the workplace of tomorrow. In its report “Seeking Creative Candidates: Hiring for the Future,” Adobe summarized with the following:

  • 75% of hiring managers believe creativity is required for economic growth and valuable to society (85%), but only 51% think businesses grasp the importance of creativity.
  • Problem solving (51%) and creativity (47%) have gained the most value in driving salary increases in the last five years.
  • 75% of hiring managers agree the job market will change significantly in the next five years. Tech-savvy (88%), the ability to communicate through digital and visual media (82%), and creativity (76%) are cited as becoming essential skills.
  • Hiring managers indicate that problem solving skills and critical thinking (58%) and creativity innovation (41%) will be among the most “in-demand” skills over the next 12 months, along with technical/specialist skills (42%).
  • 94% agree creativity is key when evaluating candidates and prefer those with creative skills over conventional skills by more than five to one.

creative-cubes-1509571My next blog on the subject of creativity in education will explore additional resources, including new websites and books on the subjects of innovation, ingenuity, originality, and self-expression released over the last several years.

Please feel free to comment. More to follow…

“The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.” – Anthony Jay

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox