Transitioning from Collegiate to Professional – Part II

The Final Leap from Pre-Service to In-Service:

The Metamorphosis and Integration of Philosophy, Maturity, and Teacher Preparation

This segment, Part 2 of the series, and will continue with an examination of ongoing music teacher preparation (much of it “direct instruction”) and mentoring programs.



Moving from “Book Learning” to “Practical Application”

It is a challenge to squeeze everything necessary into a college curriculum for music education certification: mastery of your major instrument/voice, music theory, music history, sight-singing/ear-training, conducting, piano proficiency, instrumental and vocal methods, etc. The school from which I matriculated (Carnegie-Mellon University) had a five-year-plus program guiding me towards the degrees of Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music and Masters of Fine Arts in Music Education. Even with the extra year of classes, time over the summers, and practical “on-the-job training,” many things were overlooked.

NOW IS THE TIME to fill in these gaps!

First off, how well do you know common educational jargon? Prior to your interviews, it would be good to review the terms (and even abbreviations) in frequent use. My music education methods courses never got around to detailed definitions and applications of…

  • woman-3061656_1920_RobinHigginsThe Common Core
  • Whole Child Initiatives
  • 21st Century Learning Skills
  • Flipped Classrooms and Blended Schools
  • Multiple Intelligences
  • Depth of Knowledge (DOK) and/or Higher Order of Thinking Skills (HOTS)
  • Customization, Differentiation, and Individualization
  • Formative, Summative, Diagnostic, and Authentic Assessments

Just for fun (a crossword puzzle), how many of these acronyms can you identify?

One of the tasks in “year one” of my first position was to write a course of study for junior high school music appreciation. I had received no training in writing curriculum. The “hurry-up” self-tutoring was stressful, and occupied many long nights and weekends. However, by December, I had satisfied my principal’s instructions and then began preparation to teach that course over winter recess for the coming second semester.

Since then, I have written dozens of course curriculum. Most of them required familiarity with the national and state standards in music, and a backwards-design approach introduced by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (UbD) in the planning of curriculum “maps,” setting goals before choosing instructional methods and forms of assessment, and formulating essential questions (EQ), enduring understandings (EU), etc. (See:

Bottom line: Start now and assume the role and responsibilities of a professional music educator. Begin researching (even practicing) writing lesson targets, lesson plans, and even curriculum. Seek resources like the PMEA Model Curriculum Framework:

Other areas on which you may need to “catch-up” are:

  • microphone-1804148_1920_klimkinBehavior management, disciplinary procedures (especially preventive practices) and posting class or ensemble rules
  • Valid assessments, scoring/rubrics, and use of the school’s grading system
  • Provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other confidentiality policies
  • Individual education plans (IEP) and accommodating students with disabilities
  • Management of a proverbial “sea of paper” required of all music educators: purchase and repair requisitions, absences reports, student attendance records, conference requests, induction/in-service program assignments, etc.
  • Public relations and communications with parents and the community

It would not hurt to purchase and read cover-to-cover at least one book like The Everything New Teacher Book by Melissa Kelly (Adams Media, 2004) or The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide: Ready-to-Use Strategies, Tools and Activities for Meeting the Challenges of Each School Day by Julia G. Thompson (John Wiley & Sons, 2013).

In addition, take advantage of the outstanding free resources on the NAfME “Music in a Minuet” blog-site, like the following articles:


Artist vs. Teacher

The transition from a collegiate musician and pre-service educator to becoming an in-service “master teacher” involves the balance of two distinct skill sets: depth of knowledge vs. methodology. Both are absolutely essential!

In the first several years of classes like music theory, solfeggio, eurhythmics, and lessons on your major instrument or voice, most college programs focus on developing your own deep understanding and musicianship.

No one should become a music teacher who has not previously achieved a near-virtuoso level of playing/singing on their own part. The profession demands a high degree of technical mastery and artistry… which you will need when you stand in front of a school choir, band, or orchestra to prepare repertoire rated above a level 3 or 4.

excited-3126449_1920_RobinHiggins9However, in the methods classes that come later (perhaps in the second through fourth year?), the basics of “how-to teach” will come. Of course, as you sit in a class teaching you to “cross the break” on a clarinet or play a scale on the flute with good tone, you must also absorb (and remember) the finite steps required in the lesson to pass on this knowledge and skill, not just honk or squeak a few times to master the proficiency exam for yourself.

In addition, your studio teacher may also help you to grasp additional pedagogical concepts of these abstract but important foundations:

  • Application of brain theory to “making connections” in planning lessons
  • Assessment of student needs and diagnosis of problems and solutions to learning
  • “Scaffolding of learning” techniques (interrelated “building blocks” of curriculum)
  • Creation of stories and analogies to introduce specific learning objectives such as the principles of breathing, embouchure, pitch, steady beat and rhythm, bowing or moving with a natural and efficient follow-through, etc.
  • Team building and collaborative learning
  • Leadership and the cornerstone of trust

One of the best courses I took at Carnegie-Mellon University was “repertoire class,” offered for no credit and no grade, but required by my string professor. We sat in a circle Monday afternoon for two hours and played solo selections assigned by our studio teacher, after which one-by-one we commented on each other’s performance. We learned the art of listening, prioritizing areas for improvement, and how to give constructive criticism and positive remediation without “crushing” the feelings of the player… probably among the most valuable lessons I later carried with me to my job as full-time string teacher in grades 5-12.

boy-273279_1920_SilberfuchsYou will be required to seek additional research, study, and at times “re-tool” outside what was presented in your methods courses. Some of these new “best practices” will be presented by the induction or in-service training of your school district. When I was hired by the Upper St. Clair School District, a big three+ year professional development program was the Madeline Hunter Model of Mastery Learning. Grudgingly (at first I did not see the purpose), I came to realize that labeling and defining the “eight steps of effective lesson plan design” improved my overall skills as an educator, especially in many of her strategies of “anticipatory set,” “modeling,” “checking for understanding,” and “guided practice…” none of which were ever mentioned even briefly in my five-and-a-half years in college. (For more info, read

Finally, I have said this before in past blogs: “You may be the best musician this side of the Mississippi, someone who has perfect pitch, can conduct Orff’s Carmina Burana or Shostakovich‘s Festive Overture blindfolded, play an extremely fast and even paradiddle on the snare drum, and sing a high “A” with perfect intonation and tone, but if you cannot inspire students, work with coworkers, and communicate effectively with the parents, your chances for success in the public schools is doomed from the start.


Generalist vs. Specialist

Whenever presenting at college chapters of NAfME or music education methods classes, I always try to ask the students several things on a one-on-one basis:

  • What is your focus or main subject area?
  • What would be your ideal job?
  • Do you see yourself as a band maestro… choral director… string teacher… jazzer… general music instructor… or early-childhood specialist?

thinking-3079060_1920_RobinHiggins11Of course, these are “trick questions.” The answer should be “I want to teach music,” or even better, “I want to teach children.” In most of the school districts across the country (with a few exceptions in the Midwest and places that accept teaching specialty certification by grade level or subject area), you are licensed to teach music in grades Pre-K to 12. At no point in any conversation with a potential administrator (or colleague who may become a member of the screening committee for a music opening) do you want to be “pigeon-holed,” or give the impression “I can only teach_____.”

It is important to “apply your skills” and become a well-rounded “generalist,” while embracing the concept of unity in education, which includes the following philosophy (shared at college seminars):

  • The needs of “The Whole Child” are a priority.
  • All course offerings are equal in importance.
  • Most school districts do not design and administer their curriculum solely on one approach like Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze, or Suzuki.
  • Avoid being labeled and “branded” to an exclusive subject area or grade level.
  • Multiple certifications and skills may be helpful to land a job (although later they may become liabilities if you never teach them).
  • Utilize your college resources now to “broaden your training” and lessen your insecurities.
  • Figure out your worse area – work on it now! (Get lessons, join ensembles, ask help from your peers, etc.)
  • Develop resources – people and programs to get and keep your job!

I ask, what would be your worse assignment?

  • Coach a primary student to match pitch or play a steady beat.
  • Teach beginning or advanced guitar.
  • Introduce jazz improvisation for the first time to middle school instrumentalists.
  • Start a string program.
  • Accompany the chorus (any grade level) and be able to play all the vocal parts in rehearsal (demonstrate altos and tenors only, soprano 2-alto 1-bass 1, etc.).
  • piano-2564908_1920StockSnapAccompany, direct/teach the drama, and choreograph the middle school musical.
  • Adjudicate and coach a high school instrumental ensemble.
  • Set-up a keyboard lab and instruct students in composition and A.P. Music Theory.
  • Arrange the music and chart the halftime show for the high school marching band.

If you think you are a “miserable” pianist, take a few extra lessons. Or conquer your other “fears” such as learning to sing better, playing a new string instrument, crossing the break once again on the clarinet, practicing jazz , etc.



Cultivating a Mentor or Two

board-784349_1920_geraltEgo and arrogance has no place in the teaching profession. Where did I hear this saying? “The more you think you know, the less you actually know.” Joining a mentoring program or finding a formal or informal veteran teacher “buddy” will go far to insuring your professional success and dodging those first-year teacher “pot holes” (dumb but common blunders) and “rookie blues.”

Your state MEA may have a mentoring program. Go to their website. A quick (non-comprehensive) Google scan of music teacher mentors fetched links for the following:

A well-defined description for the benefits of first-year teacher orientation and connection and assignment to a “senior advisor” comes from TMEA:

TMEA mentoring1

TMEA mentoring2



These blog-posts are also excellent resources:

r3_logoRetired music teachers are another excellent resource. For example, if you live or work in Pennsylvania, many post-employed PMEA members have placed their name and contact information on the Retiree Resource Registry to serve as willing, capable, and informal consultants for pre-service, novice, or other members recently transferred into a non-major specialty “outside their comfort zone.”

R3 documents the amazing record of contributions of some of the still most active albeit retired PMEA members while it allows needy members access to “expert advice” on a number of essential topics:


Although it is free, the advice and experience of these retirees may be considered “priceless.” In addition, retired music teachers may have more time available to confer in person or by phone, respond to your concerns more quickly, and have a few “quick fixes” or share their “bag of tricks” to solve the problems of “newbie teachers.” It’s all about, “been there, done that!”

All you have to do? Just ask for a little help! You won’t be sorry.


listen-2840235_1920_Robin_Higgins12Please feel free to comment on this blog-post. What are your thoughts?

The “finale” (Part 3) is coming soon and will devote discussion on these concepts, significant issues about marketing your abilities and getting a job as a music teacher:

  • Personal Branding
  • Networking
  • Engagement



© 2018 Paul K. Fox


Photo credits (in order) from “tutor” by nrjfalcon1, “woman” by RobinHiggins, “microphone” by KimKin, “excited” by RobinHiggins, “boy” by Silverfuchs, “thinking” by RobinHiggins, “board” by geralt, “birds” by Dieter_G, and “listen” by RobinHiggins.



Transitioning from Collegiate to Professional – Part I

The Final Leap from Pre-Service to In-Service:

The Metamorphosis and Integration of Philosophy, Maturity, and Teacher Preparation

Are you ready to assume the role of a music teacher? Besides the completion of your coursework and field experiences, have you acquired the necessary attitude and personal skills? Do you “have what it takes” to become an ethical role-model, leader, and “fiduciary” responsible for the welfare and special needs of your students?

music-3090204_1920_brendageisseBefore long, you will shed the label and function of a “college student” (although still remaining a life-long learner… and never stop the quest for new knowledge and self-improvement!). The focus will shift from YOU to YOUR STUDENTS. The prerequisites for a career in education are unique and do not resemble the same challenges as success in business, manufacturing, retail, service industry, or becoming an entrepreneur, blue-collar worker, or even a composer or professional musician. The sooner you realize these are world’s apart, the better, and now is the time to finish your major and life-changing transformation to… a professional music educator.

This series for college music education majors will explore perspectives and definitions involving the evolution and (dare we say?) “modulation” to a productive and successful career in music teaching.




What does a “professional educator” look like? Do you belong as a member of this group?

  • Succeeded in and continues to embrace “higher education”
  • idea-3082824_1920Updates self with “constant education” and retooling
  • Seeks change and finding better ways of doing something
  • Like lawyers/doctors, “practices” the job; uses different techniques for different situations
  • Accepts criticism (tries to self-improve)
  • Proposes new and better things “for the good of the order”
  • Can seemingly work unlimited hours (24 hours a day, 7 days per week?)
  • Is salaried (does not think in terms of hourly compensation, nor expects pay for everything)
  • Is responsible for self and many others
  • Allows others to reap the benefits and receive credit for something he/she does
  • Has obligations for communications, attending meetings, and fulfilling deadlines
  • Values accountability, teamwork, compromise, group goals, vision, support, creativity, perseverance, honesty/integrity, fairness, and timeliness/promptness
  • Accepts and models a very high standard of behavior, etiquette, appearance, language, and ethics.

In addition to mastery of their subject matter, skills in collaboration, communication, critical thinking (problem solving), and creativity (also known as “the four C’s”), according to “The California BTES – Overview of the Ethnographic Study” by David Berliner and William Tikunoff, effective teachers regularly demonstrate these traits:

  • Accepting
  • Adult involvement
  • Attending
  • Consistency of message
  • Conviviality
  • woman-3061656_1920_RobinHigginsCooperation
  • Engagement of students
  • Knowledge of subject
  • Monitoring learning
  • Optimism
  • Pacing
  • Promoting self-sufficiency
  • Spontaneity
  • Structuring

However, effective teachers DO NOT score high on the negative attributes of abruptness, belittling, clock punching or counting hours, defiance, illogical views or statements, mood swings, oneness (treating the whole group as “one”), or self-recognition. Human resource personnel and administrators look for candidates who model (and can confirm their history of) the habits of the first group, with no evidence of the latter behaviors.

The bar is raised even further. In addition to holding oneself up to the highest standards of the education profession, teachers also exemplify “moral professionalism” in their daily work. As cited in the chapter “The Moral Dimension of Teaching” in Teaching: Theory Into Practice by E.A. Wynne, teachers must

  • Come to work regularly and on time;
  • Be well informed about their students and subject content-matter;
  • Plan and conduct classes with care;
  • Regularly review and update instructional practices;
  • Cooperate with, or if necessary, confronting parents of underachieving students;
  • Cooperate with colleagues and observe school policies so the whole institution works effectively;
  • Tactfully but firmly criticize unsatisfactory school policies and propose constructive improvement.





Have you viewed your state’s teacher expectations, code of ethics, and code of conduct? It may surprise you that a number of seasoned professionals have never seen these documents. You may be ahead of the game if educator ethics were even mentioned briefly in a methods class, as indoctrination to student teaching, or orientation within the induction program of your first job.

The “code” defines the interactions between the individual educator, students, schools, and other professionals, what you can and cannot do or say, and the explicit values of the education profession.

No excuses! Better go look this stuff up. If you reside in Pennsylvania and plan to become employed there, go immediately to If your state does not have a code of ethics or state-specific conduct standards, download and consume this excellent reference: The young-3061652_1920_RobinHiggins2National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification proposes these principles:

  • Responsibility to the Profession
  • Responsibility for Professional Competence
  • Responsibility to Students
  • Responsibility to the School Community
  • Responsible and Ethical Use of Technology

After reading all of this, what would be on proverbial “ethics test?” Well, can you answer questions like these?

  • How do ethics inform a teacher’s personal and professional actions?
  • What does it mean to be a “moral exemplar” or “role model” in the community?
  • What are the professional expectations for working with diverse populations of students, parents, and colleagues?
  • How should teachers handle social media and other electronic interactions with students?
  • Do you see yourself as a potential “friend” or “confident” of the music students in your classes?
  • Is it okay to accept personal gifts from students, their parents, or music vendors who do business with your school… or to give presents to students for no educational reasons?

For the last two questions, the response should be a resounding NO!


fiduciaryHere’s another query. What five groups of people are both “professionals” and “fiduciaries…” and have a legal responsibility to serve the best interests of their “clients?” The answer is… doctors/nurses, lawyers, counselors (both mental health and investment), the clergy, and… teachers.

singer-84874_1920_BEPAlthough teachers seem to be the only one of these who DO NOT have formal pre- or in-service ethics training, and our “charges” represent a “captive audience,” our duty is clear: to act as a fiduciary for our students’ best interest, and to create and maintain a safe environment for them at all times.

The keystone of “right or wrong” and what your mother always said was “behaving appropriately when no one is watching you” are all about professional ethical standards that guide decision-making. The work of Troy Hutchings (among other leaders in this field) helps to further clarify these sometimes-blurred definitions:

Personal Morality: “Personal values and beliefs derived from one’s life experiences… subjective and may/may not align with community mores.”
Regulations of Law: “Policies, statues, and judicial activity that articulate conduct absolutes.”
Professional Ethics: “Professional ethical standards that assist practitioners within situation and systemic contexts in choosing the best course-of-action.”
Professional Dispositions: “Agreed-upon professional attitudes, values, and beliefs to be held by educational practitioners.”

For a comprehensive review on “Ethics for Music Educators,” please visit these links:

All of these are available at

At this point, if most of this makes you feel uneasy or uncertain, then perhaps it is time to switch majors and look into pursuing another line of work!



Have you written your personal philosophy of music education?

Regina Zona wrote in her article, “For Teachers: Writing a Music Teaching Philosophy Statement” that a music education philosophy statement is “a way to connect on a personal level to your students (current and potential) by stating who you are as a teacher (your beliefs and ideals), how you do what you do, and how that positively impacts the study of music.” If you have not completed your philosophy, here are her essential questions to guide your thoughts:

  • music-2323517_1920_davorkrajinovicWhat do you believe about teaching?
  • What do you believe about learning? Why?
  • How is that played out in your studio/class?
  • How does student identity and background make a difference in how you teach?
  • What do you still struggle with in terms of teaching and student learning?

She adds, “If you are having a hard time answering these questions, maybe because you haven’t been teaching very long, think on a teacher who made an impact on you (positive or negative), your education, your life. How did they communicate? Did they have passion for their work and if so, how did they express that passion? What were their methods of imparting the information?”

Read Zona’s entire blog-post at

Borrowed from the esteemed colleague and CEO of MusicFirst, Jim Frankel, is the introduction to many of his music education technology sessions, the foundation for teaching music in the schools:

  • What is your personal mission? Why?
  • What is the role of music in a child’s education?
  • Are we creating performers, theorists, teachers… or lifelong music lovers?

If you are looking for sample philosophical statements, there are many “out there” on the Web. Here are several of my favorites:

isolated-3061649_1920Take time to peruse these and others. Most of these sites also offer excellent examples of personal branding and marketing of the prospective job hunters’ experiences, skills, and achievements… material for our next blog on this topic.

Future blogs in this series will continue with a focus on these concepts:

  • Moving from “Book Learning” to “Practical Application”
  • Cultivating a Mentor or Two
  • Personal Branding
  • Engagement
  • Networking




© 2018 Paul K. Fox


Photo credits (in order) from “tutor” by nrjfalcon1, “music” by brendageisse, “idea” by RobinHiggins, “woman” by RobinHiggins, “young” by RobinHiggins, “singer” by BEP, “ying-yang” by Printoid, “music” by davorkrajinovic, “isolated” by RobinHiggins, and “orchestra” by ernestoeslava.


Practice Journals Are “Notable” and the “Key” to Making Musical Progress


It’s all about defining focus, setting goals, practicing, and methodically solving problems!

A good way to “warm-up” to the benefits of making a personal practice diary, check out this video of cellist Sarah Joy “A Look Inside My Practice Journal.”

(She has quite a collection of YouTube releases… everything from sight-reading tips to structuring your practice time. They are short and sweet!)

So, let’s get started with the “why” and “how” of using practice journals…

I asked the South Hills Junior Orchestra members to give me their insight on how they prioritize/plan their practice time. Thankfully, I received a thoughtful response from one of our violinists, Nicolette:

For practicing, I usually start out with a scale. Then, I’ll play a couple etudes I have. However, I won’t play all of them, instead I’ll leave some to play at the end of my practice. Then, I’ll move on to some of my easier pieces to practice. Moving on from that, I’ll play my harder pieces, or my orchestra music. I usually try to change it up a bit so I don’t get bored. Then I’ll finish up with the rest of my etudes. After I’m done practicing, I usually try to write in my practice journal. Whenever I practice, I will keep out my notes from my teacher and my practice journal to look back at while practicing.

For my practice journal, I try to write in it whenever I remember, because I would be lying if I said I wrote in it every day. When I do write in my practice journal, I write down what I need to practice the next day, whatever I was having difficulty with that day, and maybe some notes my teacher gave me.

If I’m starting to feel stressed and frustrated, or if I’m starting to get bored with practicing, I’ll start listening to music. The music can vary, but I mostly stick to musicals.

What do the experts say some of the rationales for maintaining a written journal for any serious educational pursuit?

  1. It defines targets for a more efficient use of time.
  2. Promotes accountability.
  3. Documents progress.
  4. Keeps track of details.
  5. Harnesses creativity.
  6. Explores what is important to you.

What does a typical practice log/diary/journal look like?

The “basics” are lists of specific assignments, warm-ups, musical and technical goals, and repertoire. For example, the Fort Couch Band Director Dr. John Seybert distributes the following simple form to his grades 7-8 band students:

FCMS Practice Journal

Each entry should be dated and allow space to make comments and goals for your next session of practice. Many musicians divide up the page into segments, such as warmups, scales/exercises, etudes (studies), method book or solo pieces, and ensemble music, each with an area to jot down a narrative of what you did and how well things went.

When I was teaching strings (grades 5-12), my students and I developed an extremely detailed daily practice regime, which included a year’s checklist of lesson targets:

Daily String Practice Routine

You can make your own “things-to-do” list, including the focal points your music teachers “harp on” for improving form and technique. What does the band or orchestra director say about long tones, tuning, good posture, steady beat, rhythms and note-reading, fingerings, ensemble blend and balance, etc.? Emphasize one or more of these for each practice session!

seriestoshare-logo-01In your “customized” journal, I recommend leaving space for metronome markings, special articulations, practicing tips and instructions (like “repeat it three-times-in-a-row perfectly” or “work on measures #1-8 today, #5-12 tomorrow,” etc.) and time spent. Remember, you are a problem solver and seek ways to integrate your “tool box of tricks” to learn each challenging passage. What works for you? What doesn’t? That’s the true magic of a journal… in with the good, and out the bad!

Several previous Fox’s Firesides have explored practice methods and the setting of goals: There are many other online resources, samples, and articles about practice journals. A few sites try to sell you printed forms, but others just offer you advice on creating and using documents to set practice goals. Take time to peruse these:

What do you have to lose? Try setting up and maintaining a practice journal! It may improve the value and focus of the time you devote to working on your music… and make a real difference in your musical progress! Like Olympic athletes… go for the goals and the gold!

For a printable copy of this article, click here.

Feel free to share all SHJO enrichment resources and “Fox Firesides” at


© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from “Fire” by Alicja

Retirement… It’s a Private Matter!



The clock may be ticking (28+ years in the field?), and you are the most senior music staff member.

“They” are all out there waiting for your decision.

When are you going to retire?

Like it or not, your “education community” and the coworkers with whom you have collaborated as much as half of your life, will want to share this special moment with you. You should expect the planning of multiple sets of farewell parties (especially if you were assigned to teach in several school buildings – I had four functions) and the second your retirement is posted, “your friends” will start collecting for gifts and maybe even begin speech-writing for a roast or two!

We want to be there for the “big event!”

And, it’s none of their business.


People need to respect your privacy on this life-changing passage to self-renewal and reinvention. If you’re about to make that decision to “bite the bullet,” you have to be sure you are psychologically prepared for it (there’s usually no turning back), and then hopefully be permitted to announce it in your own way and on your own time. Well, not exactly…

You will be compelled to officially state your intentions.

Yes, you’re probably contractually required to put in your “walking papers” early in the second semester so that the school district can start the process of hiring a replacement, but there are a lot more issues at stake here. And, like it or not, there is probably no way to keep it “under wraps” for very long!

When the time is right, your fellow teachers and other school staff will want to celebrate your many years of meritorious service. They will hardly be able to contain themselves experiencing a myriad of emotions associated with living vicariously… excitement, joy, jealousy, pride, optimism, anxiety, fear of the unknown, and even “what’s in it for me?”


Some of my colleagues have told me, when they were ready, they just wanted to fade away from the landscape, and quietly go without fanfare or festivities. Call it modesty, discretion, shyness, timidity, or social awkwardness? The sad truth, a few were leaving before they were really ready. They would admit they had more to give and still enjoyed teaching children and making music. However, they felt they had to retire early because of a perception that there was declining support for the music program, fear of staff/class reductions or student enrollment decreases, negative updates on the status of the labor negotiations, predictable loss of benefits as defined by a new contract, possible emotional burn-out or fatigue, or simply a sense of being devalued or ignored as a professional, “kicked to the curb” or “it’s time to leave before anything gets worse!”

You didn’t appreciate me when I was teaching here, so don’t make a lot of whoop-la as I prepare to retire!



Of course, other reasons to retire are more concrete: health problems (yours or other members of your family), your spouse is retiring or relocating, opportunities to travel, you were offered a new position (higher education or other field), etc.

One big issue is how to you tell your students. My own story was that (although a very good indication of strong community support in my high school spring musical production) I had several school board members serving as theater volunteers. I was required to tell the superintendent of my plans by February, and he then distributed the list of projected staff retirements at a Board meeting the last week of the month. “The word was out” before opening night, and I had to scramble to tell my grades 5-12 string students, even taking into consideration a few of their feelings of guilt or abandonment while alleviating unsubstantiated fears for the future of the orchestra program.

That’s not how our former music teacher Mr./Ms. _____ used to do it!


Someone wise once told me that no matter how you perceive your standing or “popularity” with the kids, 30% of them will be upset at your leaving, 30% of them will be happy or at least interested in someone new taking over your position, and 40% will be ambivalent. For those of us teaching instrumental and choral electives (saddled with the overall responsibility for our own recruitment and retention), it is important that during this transition, you encourage your students to support and assist the new hire, and continue their enrollment in the class and positive behavior, motivation, and participation in the program. I remember a few lectures about the “benefits of change” and “patience” and the role of student leadership in the process.

gratitude-2939972_1920_johnhainThe music parents are another matter. I had great support of both the band/string parents and my loyal “theater angels” throughout my career, and I made sure to attend meetings as early as possible to tell them “in person” my future plans so that they did not have to rely on those “rumors on the street!” One advantage I had was I lived in the district. I promised to roll-up my sleeves and support a fund-raiser or two, and was able to attend numerous concerts and musicals to support my “extended family” as a nonjudgmental retiree.

If some of your parents are more of a pressure group or negative influence, you may wish to discuss their role in your impending departure and warn an administrator. Avoid being a part of any gossip or political controversy… it’s no longer your “sandbox.”

Of course, you should NOT be involved at all in the search, interviewing, or even training of your replacement. Sure, it is a good idea to meet with the new teacher once or twice to “hand over the reins” and perhaps tell him/her where the closets are if not the skeletons. Willingly give out your phone number if the newcomer wants help, but then STAY AWAY. No one can BE YOU, and trying to “clone” your essence in a potential “protege” or well-tutored graduate from your program is an invitation to disaster. The new staff member must find his/her own way, making more than a few mistakes along the way (like you did a long time ago?), but not experience any interference from the “old veteran!” You have to trust that your superintendent, HR/personnel director, and other school leaders found the most qualified and talented candidate available and will support him/her during that “sometimes bumpy” orientation/transitional period


What is your legacy?


Now would be a good time for you to review “for posterity” your professional record quietly behind-the-scenes or even share this with your closest colleagues or supervisors. Sort of like writing your own obituary (a little morbid?), reflect on and frame your career in music education. For what do you want to be remembered? What was most important to you? (It was disappointing to me that one of my principals showed he didn’t know me very well at our last faculty meeting and my final “sendoff.” In his speech, he focused on my tendency for long and sometimes passionate emails as the single greatest contribution to 33+ years in his building.)

r3_logoIn Pennsylvania, we are fortunate to have the PMEA Retiree Resource Registry (R3), which besides providing a pool of well-qualified consultants and unofficial mentors for PMEA members, pre-service teachers, and “rookies” who want advice, it allows our retired members to archive their achievements, awards, and teaching assignments online. I believe it’s just good mental health for recent retirees to look backwards and revel in a little personal gratification, esteem, and peace-of-mind for their contributions to the profession. Yes, you deserve to be proud.

You truly “made a difference.”


© 2018 Paul K. Fox


Photo credits (in order) from “shaking-hands” by geralt, “best wishes” by artsy-bee, “man” by geralt, “guitar-player” by couleur, “woman” by cnort, “gratitude” by johnhain, “piano” by stevepb, and “couple” by memorycatcher.



The Professional Website

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


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

A couple years ago, I wrote a blog about the “perfect portfolio” for getting a job at As a review, these elements were endorsed for inclusion in an e-portfolio:

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

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

I also recommend you revisiting my blog-post “Tips on Personal Branding” at for steps on warehousing the elements of your “professional brand.”

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


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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Strategies for Saving Money and Seeking Tech Help

If you are like me, lacking a little confidence about advanced online technology or mastering a complicated website building program, read the following article for a general review of the process and terminology. Take the afternoon off (order a pizza, too) and totally consume it and “A Beginner’s Guide to Creating a WordPress Website” at

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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




A Model Music Teacher Website

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

His menu sections:

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!!


© 2018 Paul K. Fox


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

Retiree Concepts

Random Terms Re: Retirement Transitioning

dictionary-1619740_1920_stevepbThe “new” definition of retirement includes a unique collection of synonyms. Gone are the designations “seclusion,” “privacy,” “withdrawal,” “retreating” and “disappearing” based on archaic models of retiring when the average life expectancy at birth in the 1800s was 38 and in the 1900s was 47. (Merriam-Webster and others still show these words on their online dictionaries!) Now, some of the more creative descriptors for retirement are “renewment,” “rewirement,” “rest-of-life,” “second beginnings,” and “reinvention.” (Also see

In addition to these, there are a few nontraditional terms that may come up during the passage from full-time employment to “living the dream” (hopefully) in retirement. These will not show up in a typical book for retirees… but, understanding them can “make a difference” through this roller-coaster ride of coping with life-style changes/altered expectations, and finding creative new ways to self-reinvent and thrive.



Marginality and Mattering

Do you feel “needed” and “making a difference” to others? The definition of “mattering” is “the belief that we matter to someone else.” This is an essential part of what author Ernie Zelinski of the best-seller Retire Happy, Wild, and Free emphasizes the importance of “finding purpose, structure, and community in retirement.”

“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 Quoted in Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose by Nancy Schlossberg (APA, 2017)

According to counseling psychologist Nancy Schlossberg, Rosenberg’s concept of “mattering” is “a universal, lifelong issue that connects us all.”  Her four dimensions of mattering are:

  • Attention – the feeling that a person has the interest of another;
  • Importance – the feeling that others care about what you want, think, and do;
  • Ego-Extension – the feeling that others will be proud of your successes and/or saddened by your failures;
  • Dependence – the feeling that a person can depend on someone else.

Although initially attributed to collegiate retention, persistence and “getting students connected” (, Schlossberg defines “maginality” as “a sense of not fitting in” and which “can lead to self consciousness, irritability and depression. For some, these feelings can be permanent conditions.” Furthermore, “feelings of marginality often occur when individuals take on new roles, especially when they are uncertain about what a new role entails.”

Just like the sometimes tumultuous passage to and emotional ups-and-downs during your “life after the work?”




What does “post-traumatic stress disorder” have to do with leaving your job? Hopefully it does not apply to you, but…

If are among the surprisingly large number of music teachers who lost their job “involuntarily,” you may be undergoing the same “stages of grief and loss” often shared during the breakup of a marriage or the dealth of a loved one:

  • Denial (disbelief, numbness, shock)
  • Bargaining (preoccupation with “what could have been,” guilt, remorse)
  • Depression (sadness, loneliness, emptiness, isolation, self-pity)
  • Anger (feelings of helplessness, abandonment)
  • Acceptance (emotional resolution, healing)

checkmate-1511866_1920_stevepbFeeling you were “kicked to the curb,” “downsized,” “minimized,” or somehow “forced” to resign or retire comes from many scenarios:

  • Music or staff are eliminated from the curriculum or building in which you teach.
  • You feel you must retire early before the end of the contract to avoid losing existing medical or other contractual benefits.
  • While voluntarily retiring from the full-time “day” job, you hope to continue serving in the capacity as assistant director (marching band, musical, etc.), but are not re-assigned or asked to return.
  • The new head coach of the sport in which you have assisted for many years fires you to bring in his “cronies.”
  • The perception that the program to which you have devoted your whole career is being dissembled or de-emphasized for the next “flavor-of-the-year.”

Most mental health experts agree, you cannot self-diagnose PTSD. However, the “warning signs” are probably evident. If you are having trouble sleeping, difficulty with relationships, or find yourself feeling significantly depressed or lethargic, visit your health care professional.



Losing old habits…

“Surrendering your urge to be an agent of change!”

The next retiree concept is more of a habit or tendency, something that those of us who retired from education may find it a little hard to stop doing at first. Among the core values of “moral professionalism,” we consistently seek ways to reform “the system,” much like efficiency experts. In other words, “break it if it needs fixed,” or seek new practices or approaches to solve problems. This means we seldom accept the status quo or “that’s the way it’s always have been done.”

I found that in my volunteer work, when I come up to a challenge like a policy that isn’t working, I look for better ways of doing it. Teachers always self-assess and seek changes for “the good of the order,” but these “systems” are not our classrooms. Educators were expected to “monitor and adjust,” modify our lesson targets, rip down old bulletin boards and put up new with more exciting media, re-write curriculum, etc. – always with the mission to “build a better mouse trap” for more efficient delivery of instruction to all.

comic-characters-2026313_1280_OpenClipart-VectorsIn retirement, this can be frustrating. You can’t tell somebody else how to run their operation. Some people do not want to hear criticism, nor do they care what your opinion is, nor do they want to change their traditions or fine-tuned (?) step-by-step procedures. You on the other hand want things to improve, e.g. better training, more consistent application of the rules, etc., and therefore you feel “unrequited stress.”

Throughout my whole “professional life,” I never looked the other way. I try to fix things. But that’s not everybody’s inclination, and the world is not going to come to end if someone doesn’t take your advice. As retirees, remove the unnecessary hassle. You have two choices. Resign from the activity, or step back from being its self-appointed critic, accept the situation, and let everyone go back to playing their own way in their “sandbox.”



Caregivers anchor

Many retirees choose to be part- or full-time caregivers, perhaps babysitting or serving as the custodian of a senior family member.

If you are fortunate enough to have grandchildren (your own or adopted ones), enjoy them! Your generous super-competent daycare services may provide ever-so-essential attention to your loved-ones. “Playing with the kids” is wonderful for your own mood, perspective, and mental health. And, how many times have I heard the sage advice to “immerse yourself around young people and you will stay forever young!”

grandparents-1969824_1920_sylvieblissHowever, invest your time wisely. Retirees deserve a life of their own and opportunities for unstructured “time-off.” Don’t forget the other items on your “bucket lists” (like travel, “encore career,” and volunteering). Serving as your family’s childcare “safety net” is nice, but don’t let this schedule dominate everything you do in your retirement… trading one job for another… with no financial compensation (but a whole lot of fun, I know).

Sometimes the responsibility of taking care of an elderly family member comes to you unexpectedly (like an ill parent or grandparent). When this “all-encompassing” duty is thrust upon you, it may consume every free moment in your schedule.

This excellent advice is from the blog-site “A Place for Mom.”

Many of us do end up deciding to become family caregivers, a demanding role that often includes advocating for your loved one, coordinating providers, and performing home medical care tasks.

In fact, over 65.7 million Americans currently provide care for a family member or loved one, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving, and 36% of those are caring for an elderly parent.

Being prepared for the role of caregiver means taking a lot of different factors into consideration. You will need to ask yourself hard questions about how your own availability and care-giving capabilities will affect your ability to provide effective care — for your loved one and yourself.


Several of the “big questions” from their site:

  1. Am I financially prepared for the extra costs of care-giving?
  2. Am I really capable of taking care of Dad or Mom all by myself?
  3. Do I have the social support and resources I’m going to need?
  4. How will care-giving affect my physical and mental health?
  5. Will I be able to make time for myself and my family?

seniors-1505938_1920_geraltAgain, that focus on “first things first” (remember the book of the same name by Stephen Covey?) and “take care of yourself, too!”

In her book In A Different Voice (Harvard University Press), author Carol Gilligan describes the philosophy of moral development based on “evolving steps of caring.”

  1. Decisions based solely on care for their needs. (GOOD)
  2. Decisions based on care for the needs of others. (BETTER)
  3. Decisions based on care for themselves and others. (THE BEST)

As mentioned in a previous blog, we could all hope to prescribe to Kathy Merlino’s “independent-living manifesto” ― being actively involved in her children’s lives, but NOT leaving them the ultimate chore of “taking care of mom!”


“Stressed over the season”

Finally, while we are on the subject of care-giving, here are a few links to alleviating stress, especially around the coming winter holidays:

Also, although I wrote my own blogs about “the happiest time of the year,” (see and, I found more wisdom re: “stress for seniors.”

Best wishes for you and yours to enjoy the festive season and a Happy New Year!


© 2017 Paul K. Fox



Photo credits from “person” by RitaE, “dictionary” by stevepb, “volunteer” by maialisa, “stress” by thedigitalartist, “checkmate” by stevepb, “head” by johnhain, “comic-characters” by OpenClipart-Vectors, “grandfather” by kko699, “grandparents” by sylviebliss, “seniors” by geralt, “shopping-mall” by stocksnap, and “senior” by RitaE

Help! How Does One Keep Up?

Time, Task, & Media Management for Pre-Service/New Music Educators


This article is in memory of the late Thomas Labanc (October 1946 – November 2017), my friend, colleague, Upper St. Clair School District social studies teacher, curriculum leader, and assistant to the superintendent, school historian, brilliant visionary and fellow risk-taker, who taught me the basics of Priority Management and collaborated on many of our school district’s communications and public relations projects, including the establishment of the highly successful community publication UPPER ST. CLAIR TODAY magazine. PKF




Imagine there is a bank that credits your account each morning with $86,400.
It carries over no balance from day to day. Every evening the bank deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day.
What would you do? Draw out every cent, of course!!!
Each of us has such a bank. Its name is TIME.
Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds.
Every night it writes off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose.
It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft.
Each day it opens a new account for you.
Each night it burns the remains of the day.
If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours.
There is no going back. There is no drawing against the “tomorrow.”
You must live in the present on today’s deposits.
Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness, and success!
The clock is running. Make the most of today.
To realize the value of ONE YEAR, ask a student who failed a grade.
To realize the value of ONE MONTH, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby.
To realize the value of ONE WEEK, ask the editor of a weekly newspaper.
To realize the value of ONE HOUR, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
To realize the value of ONE MINUTE, ask a person who missed the train.
To realize the value of ONE SECOND, ask a person who just avoided an accident.
Treasure every moment that you have! And reassure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time.
Remember that time waits for no one.
Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is mystery. Today is a gift.
That’s why it’s called the present! – Pratheek Naidu


Philosophies of Time Management

stopwatch-2061848_1920-geraltEven though it is from a book on post-employment transitioning (Purposeful Retirement: How to Bring Happiness and Meaning to Your Retirement), the author Hyrum W. Smith suggests several thought-provoking questions on prioritizing time:
  1. Does your management of time reflect your governing values?
  2. Are you giving the most time to that which matters most?
  3. What can you do tomorrow to ensure your time aligns with your priorities?

A similar perspective but providing much more detail, I recommend consuming from cover-to-cover First Things First by Stephen R. Covey, who succinctly defines this conundrum about using time wisely.

“For many of us, there’s a gap between the compass and the clock – between what’s deeply important to us and the way we spend our time. And this gap is not closed by the traditional “time management” approach of doing things faster. In fact, many of us find that increasing our speed only makes things worse.” – Stephen Covey

The four sections of Covey’s book dive into these concepts:

  • The Clock and the Compass
  • The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing
  • The Synergy of Interdependence
  • The Power of and Peace of Principle-Centered Living

In addition, I found additional insight and inspiration in the philosophy of managing time from these links:

For those of you who have already begun your career in music education or even working as a day-to-day music sub, try these classroom and time management tips (thanks to NAfME):




The 4 D’s

Have you ever heard of a system called Priority Management (PM)? PM proposes methodology and business tools to immediately route every piece of paper and your daily “to-do tasks” that come into your life to one of the four D’s:

  • Do it! (now)
  • Date it! (assign it to the future)
  • Delegate it! (give it to someone else to do) or
  • Dump it! (into the trash)

PM’s “WorkingSm@rt method” promises to help you “gain control over your day, find balance, prioritize your work, and reach your goals,” giving you time to focus on the tasks that are important to you. The bottom line – every digital or printed post-it-note, piece of mail, receipt, publication, email or other communication – must be “put in its place” on the spot – either completed instantly, deferred to another time, given to someone else to do, or THROWN OUT!

time-management-2323612_1920-mohamed1982egYours truly, a “late baby boomer,” never enjoyed that prophesied and romanticized revolution of a “paperless society.” Did you? PM recommends the creation of a “future reading” file, a subcategory of “date it.” Experts on Google Mail will extol the merits of creating a folder and categorizing/storing messages such as emailed issues of MEJ, Kappan, SB&O, and other digital editions of professional newsletters. I have found that this doesn’t work very well, even in retirement. The file folder just fills up, and I never seem to get around to reviewing the things I thought were so important to save. Nor did the practice of our grandmothers’ generation clipping articles (and coupons) out of newspapers. You would think you could solve this media overload by just printing a small excerpt of what you want to peruse later and putting it in a letter tray near your desk? Nope. It just piles up! However, probably the ideal solution would be to designate a specific 15 minutes or more every day for something they used to give to the middle school students I taught: “silent and sustained reading.”



“Pros” Wrestle Control of Their “Free Time!” You Can Do That, Too!

“When you get right down to it, intentional living is about living your best story.”

time-481444_1920-geraltHow many times have you heard it? Make your plans and goals “intentional!” Besides all of the upcoming deadlines and appointments to which you are committed, include in your daily and weekly schedule opportunities for individual reflection and growth.

Plan 30-60 minutes of professional enrichment every day, throughout the year. The list below is based on an hour, but when time is really at a premium, just divide everything in half.

  • Read an article in a professional journal or digital newsletter (15 minutes)
  • “Keep up your chops” in ear training, sight-reading, and score reading. Have you ever used something like Elementary Training for Musicians by Hindenmith and practiced exercises that make you sing in syllables, tap a different rhythm independently with your left hand, conduct the beat pattern with your right hand, and beat your foot to the pulse? Revisit your college solfeggio assignments, and of course, sight-singing anything is also most beneficial. (10 minutes)
  • Perform on the piano, rotating weekly to different styles and forms of music. If you’re not a piano major or an accomplished choral  accompanist, include playing at sight several different voice parts simultaneously from choral octavos. (10 minutes)
  • Research and add professionals to update your contact file. Did you run into any new music teachers or school administrators this week? Search school district websites for the names of music department chairs and supervisors. (5 minutes)
  • Practice your story-telling skills (organized and “polished” telling of anecdotes about your achievements, teaching experience, “personality pluses,” and problem solving. Role play answering job-screening questions in video-recorded mock interviews, and allow time to assess your “performance.” (10 minutes)
  • Work on personal branding and marketing projects: making, refining, and customizing your e-portfolio, business card, professional website, and resume. (10 minutes)

The last three bullets above are covered extensively within this blog. Try these links:

If you “think” you are ready for the job search process, complete the self-assessment at



What about vacations or academic breaks when it seems there’s more time to spare? With some repetition to the above, in the December 2017 issue of Collegiate Communique, a digital publication of the PMEA Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention (in support of the Pennsylvania Collegiate Music Educators Association and Society for Music Teacher Education), these recommendations were offered for college music majors who are leaving school for their winter or summer recesses.

“After you finish your semester finals, juries, concerts, writing assignments, and other projects, you may have several weeks before you have to return to full-time classes at the university. Besides catching up on your sleep and visiting your family and friends, how many of these enrichment activities can you accomplish?”

  1. Share your musical gifts.
  2. Sit in with a church or community choir, orchestra, or band.
  3. Learn something new about music… even outside your specialty.
  4. Spend a lot of time sight-reading.
  5. Improve your score reading and analysis.
  6. Volunteer to coach/conduct music rehearsals at the local public school.
  7. Attend as many concerts as you can.
  8. Compose a short seasonal, folk, jazz, or classical piece.
  9. Record video/audio excerpts of your major instrument/voice in preparation for placement in your e-portfolio.
  10. For upcoming employment prep and practice of mock interviews, review the marketing professionalism articles at

– Collegiate Communique #8

Of course, from a 35-year veteran teacher now retired, a snide remarkbusinessman-2929721_1920-Fotomek in response to feeling a little “stressed over the schedule” could be to “get used to the 24/7 nature of the job.” A music teacher works from sun-up (and before) to sun-down (and after), and constantly has to juggle multi-tasking on a wide variety of to-do’s, all landing at the same time: writing lesson plans, arranging music or drills, preparing scores or accompaniments, planning and rehearsing ensembles, managing the grade book and attendance records, attending faculty meetings and parent conferences, writing curriculum, student assessments, and lesson targets, preparing for extra-curricular activities like marching band, chorus, or the musical, finishing your own homework for graduate courses, district inductions, or professional development assignments, ETC.

But, if you “get organized,” you will love it! There is nothing better (albeit hectic) than the “calling” of serving your students and the profession as a music educator, inspiring creative self-expression, artistry, music appreciation, and life-long learning.


© 2017 Paul K. Fox


Photo credits from “hourglass” by annca, “children” by mochilazocultural, “stopwatch” by geralt, “parade” by Marmiche, “time management” by mohamed1982eg, “choir” by intmurr, “time” by geralt, “box” by rawpixel, and “businessman” by Fotomek.

How Retirement Has Changed Me… Revisited

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

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

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

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

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



Writing, Collaborating, and Becoming a Better Techie

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Non-Technological Developments

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

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

gracie - 1

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

I have learned so much from my day-to-day dealings with my pups Gracie and Brewster (see previous blog-post, although inspiring a few questions:

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

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

brewster - 1

Just for fun, check out illustrator Kelly Angel’s representation of “how your dog views you” at

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



Philosophy of Post-Employment Professional Engagement

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

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

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

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


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

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



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


© 2017 Paul K. Fox


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

TEAM = “Together Everyone Achieves More”

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

Photo credit:, photographer Eric Thibodeau


Before you do anything else, I want you to “take four,” fire up your computer, and view this YouTube video:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


© 2017 Paul K. Fox



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

Ethics Follow-up


Part IV: More Perspectives and Resolving a Few “Loose Ends”

Prior to this article, I recommend reading the following:



Just when you thought it was safe to read another of my blog-posts… you bump into another one on ethics and music education!

When my colleague and friend James Kimmel, PMEA District 7 Professional Development Chair, approached me to consider doing an “ethics workshop” for his annual in-service conference (October 9, 2017 at Ephrata Middle School), two questions immediately popped into my mind: “Why is this necessary?” and “Who would want to attend a session on ethics?”

Of course, being retired and having a little more unassigned time on my hands, I took it as a challenge and began some preliminary research.

The first thing I discovered is that almost no one in the public-school music education sector has had formal ethics training (myself included), unless you count a couple thirty-minute segments at a teacher induction or staff in-service program on sensitivity training, nondiscrimination and diversity awareness, anti-bullying or workplace sexual harassment policies, or a review of FERPA (family educational rights and privacy act) and HIPAA (health insurance portability and accountability act) as “ethics!”

Okay all you Pennsylvania music teachers: Before this blog series, did any of you ever see a copy of the Pennsylvania Code of Professional Practices and Conduct for Educators? Prior to working on this project, neither did I, nor did a single band director to whom I spoke at two large fall marching band festivals and several football games! Do you know that earning a teaching certificate from your state and becoming eligible to be hired as an educator means you automatically agree to be legally bound by the prevailing government’s “Code?” The ethical or discipline code of your state will define the proper interactions between the individual teacher, students, schools, and other professionals, and make explicit the values of the education profession as well as regional standards and expectations. Wouldn’t you agree that NOW would be a good time to learn the details of these inherent responsibilities?


What is a Fiduciary?

club-2492011_1920-qimonoEducators are among the singular professions which have a “fiduciary” responsibility. The term “fiduciary” can be defined as “a person or organization that owes to another the duties of good faith and trust, the highest legal duty of one party to another, and being bound ethically to act in the other’s best interests.” Joining doctors, lawyers, clergy, and mental health therapists, educators ascribe to the highest standards of training, moral decision-making (“code of ethics”), behavior (“code of conduct”), and self-regulation and assessment of the “best practices” regarding the mastery of skills and subject areas necessary to their field. However, unlike these other professionals, teachers do not receive regular and systematic pre- and in-service training on ethics, and our “clients” are a “captive audience.”  Regardless, the duty of all teachers is to act as a fiduciary in their students’ best interest and to create and maintain a safe environment for them at all times.


Ethics Violations in the News

You must have seen the news stories! In a word, the trending statistics of state and USA teacher ethics violations and misconducts are abominable! For example, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) where I taught and currently live, in the year 2015, there was a 200 percent increase in PA educator misconduct investigations (768 reports) compared to the number of complaints filed in 2011 (256). Within PDE disciplinary case resolutions in 2015, 41% resulted in job loss and a permanent revocation or surrender of the teaching certificate.

If your curiosity is a little on the morbid side, you can look up on the PDE website and find the names of more than 1740 educators (“offenders” and their “offenses”) who have violated their ethics and received discipline and/or criminal prosecutions or civil proceedings from March 2004 to June 2017.

Well, we don’t have to just pick on Pennsylvania “bad-boys” (and girls). According to, the following statistics give teachers everywhere a black eye from shore to shore!

  • Texas had a 27% increase over 2015-17 of alleged inappropriate teacher-student relationships
  • Kentucky schools reported more than 45 sexual relationships between teachers and students in 2011, up from 25 just a year earlier.
  • Alabama investigated 31 cases during the year ending July 2013, nearly triple the number it had investigated just four years earlier.


Eric Simpson shared more bad news in the Journal of Music Teacher Education. His study, “An examination of the relationship of teacher certification area to sexual misconduct: Florida as a case study,” analyzed 383 samples of FL teacher discipline cases in 2007-2010 and their area(s) of certification, with these results:

  • Teachers with multiple-certifications = 35.51%
  • Music teachers ~5%
  • Most frequent offense = sexual misconduct 25.77%

But, 60% of the offending music teachers in the sample were disciplined for sexual misconduct!

Can the data get any worse? In 2004, the U.S. Department of Education released the results of the Shakeshaft national study by the American Association of University Women, with 9.6 percent of students reporting that they had suffered some form of sexual abuse during their school careers. According to “the list of such conduct included lewd comments, exposure to pornography, peeping in the locker room, and sexual touching or grabbing. Around one in 10 students said they had been the victim of one or more such things from a teacher or other school employee, and two-thirds of those reported the incident involved physical contact.”

If these numbers are accurate and truly representative of the student population nationwide, 4.5 million students currently in grades K-12 have suffered some form of sexual abuse by an educator or school staff member.


Mandatory Reporting

Another area I did not dive into during the last three articles is our legal mandate to report colleagues who violate “The Code,” especially for sexual misconduct. My own state’s regulations (similar to most) are as follows:

“All educators who know of any action, inaction or conduct which may constitute sexual abuse or exploitation or sexual misconduct are now required to file a mandatory report with the Department and shall report such misconduct to his or her chief school administrator and immediate supervisor.”

― Pennsylvania Department of Education:


If you are an administrator, the statute is more wide-ranging:

“Specifically, whenever you believe that an educator is involved in misconduct that implicates his or her fitness to serve children in the schools of Pennsylvania, you should report the misconduct to the Department…”

“Reporting to PDE does not relieve [the administrator] of any other duty to report to either law enforcement and/or child protective services.”

― Pennsylvania Department of Education:

Another moral obligation is to simply look out for our student’s welfare and keep our eyes open for any unusual behavior, conflicts, or inconsistencies.

questions-2212771_1920-geralt_euAlways looking for the signs of…

  • Physical abuse
  • Self-abuse or thoughts of suicide
  • Sexual abuse
  • Signs of neglect
  • Patterns of abuse

Teachers are required to report any suspicions of child abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol use, and mental health problems.

Most school districts have an internal mechanism of reporting to school counselors or administrators any observations (or suspicions) of these issues… everything from falling asleep in class, being “accident-prone” (lots of unexplained injuries), confirming a high absentee rate, exhibiting mood swings (up and down), and coming to school with blurry or blood-shot eyes, etc. No accusations! You just handover your comments to the authorities, and report on what you see, not necessarily what your interpretations are for the causes of the problems.

Music teachers often work with students in close proximity before or after-school hours, and sometimes on weekends. As a marching band assistant, musical producer, festival chaperone, or trip sponsor, I always had the personal or cell phone number of my building principal in case I needed to reach out for help.



These are the regulations on protecting student privacy rights, and violations of which (even unintentionally) are “breaking the law.” (Sources: and

  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 sets parameters on accessibility and disclosure of students records.
  • Grassley Amendment (1994) details privacy of student participation in surveys, analysis, and evaluation.
  • confidential-cropped-1726367_1920-HypnoArtHealth Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.
  • Drug and alcohol treatment records of students kept by any institution receiving federal assistance are protected under Drug Abuse Office and Treatment Act (1976).
  • Records of students in special education are affected by the above laws plus Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1997).

Here are few additional ethical “conundrums” on which to reflect:

  • Discussing student information in open or common areas
    • How many times have you walked through a busy hallway discussing news or concerns about a student with another colleague or family member?
    • Avoid inadvertently disclosing any personal information about students and staff members “in public.”
    • Also, one should resist speaking to students in these areas as it could become violation of student confidentiality if overheard.
  • Sharing information with other colleagues who are not directly related to the student’s situation.
    • You might be tempted to reveal interesting cases or anecdotes to colleagues… DON’T!
    • FERPA regulations state that school officials must have a “legitimate educational interest” when sharing information.
    • Just because someone is employed in the district with you does not mean they have lawful access to student info.
    • There is a great risk of others passing on this information… like gossip!
    • Rules of thumb: Ask yourself, “Why am I sharing this information?” and “How will it benefit the student?”
  • However, you should be aware of exceptions to student privacy concerns.
    • Reporting of physical abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, or sexual violence.
    • Suspicion of serious mental health issues that may result in danger to the student (such as suicide)
    • On the occasion when a staff member working with a student is unsure how to proceed (e.g. seeking advice on disability)



The “Grandma Litmus Test”

We have talked about many principles in this series on “Ethics for Music Educators.” Here is something about the “process,” an “ethical decision-making model” based on…

  • “What would grandma think about my action, behavior, or decision” and
  • “How would I feel if my actions are tomorrow’s breaking news?”

Answer the following questions about the contemplated activity or decision:

  1. Is it legal?
  2. Is it consistent with the profession’s values?
  3. Is it consistent with the teacher’s code of conduct?
  4. Is it consistent with your district’s policies?
  5. Would you be comfortable if this decision was published online or in the newspaper (or made known to your “grandma”)?
  6. Does it feel right? (Is it the right thing to do?)

If you answered “NO” to any one of the questions (1, 3, and 5), do not engage in the contemplated activity and seek additional guidance.

If you answered “YES” to all of the questions (2, 4, and 6), then you may proceed with the contemplated activity. However, if you have any lingering doubts, do not hesitate to seek additional guidance.


Final Thoughts

“It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”

– Rear Admiral Mary Brace Hopper, an early computer programmer

board-1848717_1920-geraltProponents of this belief will tell you to go ahead and stick your neck out, feel free to do something “for the good of the order,” and later “beg for forgiveness” if/when it goes south and your administrators say they do not approve.

This may or may not work, and I cannot label this orientation as “ethical!”

Music teachers are usually the “lone rider” in their building when it comes to doing their job. Music directors, especially those who are involved in extra-curricular activities, are deluged with making many decisions every day… sometimes even on the hour. Few people (models or mentors) will be there to help guide you in your content area.

My advice: Less experienced teachers, run everything through your fellow colleagues (informally) and principal (formally). Don’t fall back on the lame “oops” and “beg for forgiveness.” I may have felt differently when I had twice as many years of experience than the building administrators who were assigned to “supervise” me… but, even then, “venturing out without a paddle” usually did not serve the best interests of the students… There’s no reason to place “the teacher’s convenience” over the safety/welfare of the students, without first obtaining the legal and political “backup” of your bosses. “Better safe than sorry!” (I am running out of cliches!)

“Perception is reality.”

– Lee Atwater

Perceptions/appearances vs. motivation and reality: It means that your behavior and its results matter infinitely more than your intentions.

It is the responsibility of the teacher to control his or her “public brand” – how he or she wants to be perceived by students, parents, colleagues, and the public. One’s public brand can and does impact perceptions, which in turn can impinge upon effectiveness.

males-2110573_1920-3dman_euMy advice: “Forget your rights” and be more aware of your image and how your actions will look to the public. Reputations are hard to restore. Being an effective teacher is all about trust and integrity, and (sorry, one more cliche) “your actions speak louder than words!”


Teaching is the most honorable and rewarding career on this planet. The rewards far outweigh the challenges and additional responsibilities. “Making a difference” in the lives of our music students has always inspired me, and the fact we have to uphold the highest standards in moral professionalism and behavior does not phase me in the least.


The purpose of these blog-posts on ethics, sort of a “refresher” course to reflect on our internal decision-making compass, was to reinforce Lawrence Kohlman’s sixth stage of moral development – principles of conscience – and the “best practices” of professional attitudes, values, and beliefs that guide the problem-solving we face in their daily work. Hopefully this content will promote thought-provoking discussion about doing what’s right when no one is looking… because, your mother would say, “You know better!”

Please feel free to comment… I would appreciate hearing from you!



© 2017 Paul K. Fox


Photo credits (in order): from “Ethics” by Olivier Le Moal; from “Ethics” by 3dman_eu, “Club” by qimono_eu, “Cube” by 3dman_eu, “Questions” by geralt_eu, “Confidential” by HypoArt, “Woman” by geralt_eu, “Board” by geralt_eu, “Males” by 3dman_eu, “Business” by Maialisa.