The Teaching Mistake You May Not Know You’re Making

In the early 1900’s an American shoe company decided to expand it’s reach globally. They sent two of their best salesmen to the remote countries of South America to take the shoe market by storm.  Both salesmen began making their sales pitch while traveling in different parts of the continent, and after a week both men telegraphed back to the home office. The first salesman telegraphed “No hope. These people don’t wear shoes.”  The second salesman telegraphed “Wonderful news! These people don’t wear shoes yet!”

Smile & Frown

It often amazes me how differently people can see the same situation.  It also amazes me at how differently I can see the same situation from day to day.  There are just days when nothing seems to go right, and everything I look at equals “No hope.”  Then a day or two later, the same situation equals “Wonderful news!”  Nothing changed, except my attitude and outlook on the situation.  If you’re anything like me this cycle happens far to often, and when it does everyone around me is affected…unfortunately it’s rarely in a positive way.

The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Zander and her husband Benjamin Zander is a wonderful book that examines our view of the world.  You really must read the book in order to fully appreciate this all to brief and inadequate summary, but the idea of the book is that we have the power within us to look at any situation and choose to see it as a positive or negative, and to look at any human as good or bad.  If this is true, why would we ever intentionally choose to view a situation in the negative? Yet sometimes we do just that.  We unfortunately impose our negative feelings on our view of others.

My encouragement to you is to enjoy the weekend ahead.  I know it has been a very draining week for me. Make sure you spend time with those you love. Enjoy your break away from the classroom. But Monday morning, I encourage you to return to the podium with a different focus: to look for the best and brightest in every student.  Look at every situation as a positive, or at least an opportunity for a positive. Being intentional about this one aspect can completely transform your teaching, and the experience your students have in your classroom. Like a small pebble into the center of a pond, your intentionally positive attitude can cause a ripple effect among your students.

How can we assess if we’re having a positive impact on our students lives?

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What Mozart Can Teach Us About Creativity (In His Own Words)

Yesterday marked the 258th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, arguably the greatest musical talent to ever walk the earth.  It amazes me that even 200+ years after his death his music still maintains a universal appeal…from my 91-year-old grandmother to my 14-month-old daughter, to a bunch of my junior high band students (shout out to Mozart House!)…his music still moves all of us and influences our lives today.

Don’t you wish you had his creativity?  Wouldn’t it be great if we could sit down with him and ask him how he managed to write such music?  Well you can…sort of.  Here’s three things Mozart can tell us, in his own words, about his creative process.

wolfgang_amadeus_mozart1) “I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.” 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all operate that way instead of the constant fear of what others think?  Even when it comes to the art of making our music, and sharing our emotions through the music-making process, we still try to do this through the filter of what’s popular.  Like me you’ve heard some of the standard repertoire pieces performed the same way time and time again at contests because it’s the popular, and safe way to perform.  I’m sorry…safe is boring.  Let the music and the emotion within influence how you approach a piece of music, and allow it to transform you and your audience in the process.  Don’t just regurgitate what everyone else has done a thousand times! Creativity in music making is an essential part of what we should be teaching our students.

2) “When I am…completely myself, entirely alone…or during the night when I cannot sleep, it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how these ideas come I know not nor can I force them.” 

Like Mozart, I have found that some of my most creative and productive times are when I happen to wake up and some random hour of the night with my mind racing.  The next time this happens, try to focus that 2:00am jolt of energy into something creative.  Paul McCartney wrote several of his songs this same way.  If nothing else, keep a notepad and pencil close to your bed so you can write down those brilliant early morning ideas.  Doing this has benefitted me several times.

3) “People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to compositions as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times.” 

We must study the greats!  Spend time looking, listening, and studying the works of the great artists in your field to understand how you can improve.  This is especially true in music, but applies to all areas of life.  People become leaders in their field because they have learned how to do something others can’t, so why wouldn’t you want to find out their secrets?  Listen to great music, study the scores, read about their lives or talk to them if they’re still alive, watch the great conductors rehearse their ensembles.  Whatever it is you’re wanting to learn, be willing to humble yourself to learn from the truly great masters because the payoff can be huge!  Learning how others create their art can spark creativity in your own life!

Two discussion questions today:

What is your favorite composition by Mozart, and what helps you to be creative?

5 Easy Ways to Get More Done in Less Time!

“If you spend fifteen minutes planning your day, you’ll be able to accomplish twice as much.”  I remember a professor telling my class this when I was a freshman in college.  At the time, I was neck-deep in my first semester with mid-terms fast approaching and doing everything I could to simply stay afloat.  “I don’t even have fifteen minutes to spare,” I remember thinking to myself.  I wonder how much less stress I would have had (not to mention better grades) if I had simply listened to my professor. Since then, I’ve become much more disciplined at time management and have actually managed to have success at work and still have a life with family and friends outside of the school.  Here are five time management tips can help you reclaim some time for yourself.

1. Create a “Steak List” – In his book, EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches, author and money guru Dave Ramsey shares his process of making a to-do list.

First begin by making a list of all activities that you feel need to be done today.  Once you have your list, go back through and put an “A” beside everything that must be completed today. Examine the remaining items and place a “B” beside the items that may not need to be done today, but definitely soon. Anything else on the list receives a “C” and will be moved up in priority when “B” or “A” when priorities allow.  Finally, go back through the each letter of the list and prioritize those items by number, meaning item A1 (where the steak list gets its name!) is the most important thing to do that day, A2 is next, and so on.  Complete this list in order and don’t deviate! When A’s are all complete, move on to B’s, and finally C’s.  This really sounds more complicated that it is…in fact, it probably took you longer to read this paragraph that it will to make your “Steak List.” The first time I made a list, I actually completed everything on it in one day!  It’s amazing how this little exercise can increase productivity so much!

2. Create an Ideal Calendar and Stick To It! – I have an abundance of demands on my time between my regular school responsibilities, weekend contest events, family gatherings, church functions, and other life events…life is truly crazy at times, but keeping an accurate calendar really helps keep me sane. Parkinson’s Law states, “Work will fill up whatever time you have allotted for it.” If we’re not intentional with our time, we’ll inadvertently waste much of it.

Michael Hyatt recently published a podcast entitled “How to Create More Margin in Your Crazy-Busy Life,” where he mentioned he had created a mock calendar of his ideal week. In this calendar he intentionally set up time to spend on himself, his work, and his family, and vowed to stick to that calendar outline when scheduling future events. This is an exercise that admittedly both Hyatt and I have done in the past, and have gotten away from.  I’m finalizing my ideal week and will begin scheduling accordingly soon.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

3. Delegate – This is an item that I have found easier to do the longer I’ve taught.  When I first started, I wanted to do everything myself so I knew it was done right.  After spending endless hours at the school (as late as midnight several times) and still not getting everything done, I realized I simply couldn’t do it all.

Let’s face it…there are simply some things that only you can do! That’s why you have a job!  You are a uniquely qualified individual that fits a very specific need in your workplace.  There are simply some things that can’t be done by other people, and those are the things you need to stick with!  If it can be done by someone else, then delegate that responsibility to your assistant, or a student leader/volunteer.  You shouldn’t spend your time stacking chairs when work remains unfinished that only you can do. Say it with me…”Delegate.”

4. It’s OK to say NO! – For some reason our society views “No” as some sort of a new two letter swear word that should never be said by anyone that wants to be successful.  But saying “No” is the only way we can eliminate a lot of distractions from our life.

What is your primary goal – as a music educator, a spouse, a parent, a friend, or a human being?  What are you ultimately trying to achieve with your life?  Remember that “Steak List” from earlier?  Well, if something comes up that isn’t an “A” or “B” on your list of life, then it’s a “C” that needs to hear the word “No.”  Sometimes really good things are in actuality really big distractions that keep us from reaching our life’s goals. Saying no to something, even if it’s a really cool opportunity, will actually benefit your career, and your life, in the long run.

5. Plan Ahead – We talked about starting your day with fifteen minutes of planning.  Try ending your day in a similar fashion, but with a further look into the future.  At some point in the evening, perhaps just before you begin your bedtime routine, take a few minutes with your calendar and look for any upcoming events that may be on the horizon.  With those forthcoming events in mind, I’ll usually jot down a few items that need to be prepared ahead of time to place on tomorrow’s “Steak List.” I find when I take these few minutes in the evening to plan ahead, I am much more prepared for the next day, which for me eliminates a lot of stress.

What tips do you have for managing time well?

Can’t Keep Up? 11 Technology Tools to Simplify Your Teaching

I think I have a fairly unique job description.  I teach High School Band, Junior High Band, Jazz Band, Beginner Band, and Guitar Classes.  And because that’s not enough to keep me busy, I’m also the Assistant Technology Director for my district.  While it’s sometimes annoying that I can’t focus all my resources toward teaching music, the cool part is I’m constantly working with technology, learning about new tools available to the world of education, and teaching teachers how to use these tools.

I always grasp onto those items that will save me lots of time and frustration.  Hopefully, I can save you a lot of time by sharing my favorite (and mostly free!) solutions with you.  I also want to stipulate that I am in no way making any money, or receiving any incentive for recommending these products.  I’m recommending them because I use these services personally and professionally, and have found them to be great products.  And if you like what you see, feel free to share with others!

  1. LastPass – Most of us juggle tons of passwords for the many sites we access daily.  The most common response to this is making every site accessible with the same password, but this is a very dangerous choice to make.  All a potential hacker has to do is crack one password and they have access to all of your personal records and your money! LastPass is the last password you’ll ever need. This web browser add-on generates secure passwords for each of your websites, remembers and will auto-fill them, and uses government level encryption to keep them safe.  When you leave your computer simply log out of LastPass and your passwords are safe, unlike saving your passwords in your browser. Don’t worry, your passwords are also accessible from any computer you might use via the LastPass website.
  2. Evernote – Evernote helps you remember everything! Think of Evernote as a giant cloud-based digital file cabinet for all of your materials.  Whatever you would usually store away in a file can be sent to Evernote with much better results. Either type a note, scan a document, or snap a picture.  These “notes” are all searchable within the program, including the text within each scanned document.  I routinely scan my music education magazines and use Evernote to store them in digital format. Later I can search these magazines using Evernote to find the valuable resources without having to dig through shelves of magazines hoping to find what I want.  Everything you put in is searchable and within easy reach on all of your mobile devices.
  3. Google Calendar – This is an essential part of my day!  I have different calendars set up for my band, work, home, and personal time and can view any or all of these events on one screen.  I can share events with my coworkers, allow them to view my calendar so they can make scheduling decisions without me having to be present, I can set reminders to alert me of upcoming events, and I can embed any of these calendars (like my band calendar) into a website.  I can now update my public band calendar that’s visible to parents on our website from my smartphone by just opening my calendar app.
  4. Audacity – Audacity is a free, open-source, cross-platform recording and audio editing program that is extremely easy to use and manage.  If you need to edit sound files, simply import them, utilize the easy to use tools to manipulate your file, and export.  I primarily use this program to record my rehearsals for review later using some old choir mics and a USB interface I found unused at our school. Simply press the space bar to start and stop recording.
  5. SoundCloud – Take all those sound files you want your students to hear and upload them to SoundCloud.  You can then embed these sound files into a streaming format on your website.
  6. SignUpGenius – If you teach music for more than a day, you’ve tried to round up volunteers and keep track of who’s working when…then you have to remind the people who volunteered of their time. SignUpGenius takes care of this entire exercise for you! Simply create a signup list using their website (which has lots of pre-made templates).  They host your signup list and you distribute the link via email, or link from our website.  Volunteers sign up for a spot, and the site sends them a reminder email.  It drastically simplifies the entire volunteer round-up process!
  7. Remind 101 – Want a safe way to send messages to your student group and parents? Remind 101 is a one-way text messaging system that students and parents can subscribe to.  You can send them SMS messages from any internet connected device (including your desktop computer), but they can’t text back.  I use this every Friday night to notify parents when we leave football games and when we’ll return.  You can also schedule reminder text messages so kids don’t forget to bring important items, or use it as a reminder for scheduled rehearsals.
  8. HootSuite – Have a Facebook account for your group?  Have a Twitter account too? Google+? Other accounts?  Manage the all from one easy to use website or app. Great functionality to post simultaneously to all your social media outlets, or to simply read all your feeds in one place.
  9. WordPress Blog For Your Band – It’s very fast and easy to create a basic website using WordPress for your school groups.  You can embed your Google Calendar, post to it via HootSuite, embed a Remind 101 widget to post those text messages to your website, and basically give everyone a home base to get all the information they need for your groups.  Create multiple pages, or multiple blogs for each of your groups. It’s all free!
  10. Google Docs & Skydrive – Both of these services allow you to create documents, spreadsheets, and slide shows from any device with internet access.  Don’t have Microsoft Word at home? Log in to your Skydrive (a Microsoft product) and create them via the web.  Google users can create similar Google-based documents in their Google account and export them in a variety of formats for use in other programs.  Both of these services include cloud storage, which brings me to…
  11. Cloud Storage – Lots of options here, but being able to access your most important documents from anywhere is a must! I personally use Skydrive, Google Drive, Copy, and Dropbox. While Copy offers the most storage space for free, each of these services has unique advantages over the others.  But with it all being free, why not take advantage of them all?

What sort of tech/education questions do you have?  Leave a comment below and I’ll answer those questions in an upcoming post.

Video Thursday – Andrew York Playing 1888 Torres!

Welcome to “Video Thursday” that features the great guitarist and composer Andrew York playing on a historic guitar built by Antonio de Torres in 1888, which York used on his latest album, Yamour.  The video was made and uploaded by Guitar Salon International who currently owns the guitar.  I hope you enjoy this awesome performance on an equally awesome instrument!

5 Things Your Students Need To Hear You Say

As music educators, we have a unique relationship with our students that most teachers never get. Click here to tweet this! We spend far more time with our students than their other classroom teachers through rehearsals, sectionals, concerts, contests, trips, and the like.  We also get to see the same students year after year…as one of my seniors reminded me, I’ve been teaching their class for six years now, longer than any other teacher they’ve had, and probably ever will.  We may not realize it, but because of music we have far more influence over the lives of our students than their other teachers, and that’s a huge responsibility! Do something positive with it! Click here to tweet this!

800px-College_graduate_studentsAfter nearly ten years of teaching, both private lessons and public school, I find myself saying the same things to students each year…and unfortunately sometimes wishing I had said certain things along the way.  Being a dad now only amplifies them. Here’s 5 things that we should all tell our students, and our children, on a regular basis that may make them better musicians, but will definitely make them better people.

  1. Actions have consequences. – If only Washington could grasp this one…but that’s a subject for another day. Luckily I haven’t had to deal with too many major issues over the years, but there have been several moments where I have learned that students today don’t understand this main principle of life.  Some are surprised to learn that if they don’t do their homework they won’t pass their classes. Most don’t realize that their words hurt others until it’s too late. And none of them realize how fragile life is until a classmate is gone forever because their actions and bad decisions had eternal consequences. Realizing this one truth can change the way our kids approach every day.
  2. Music is far more than notes on a page. –Most of us decided to make our careers in music because of how music affected our lives.  We can sit here and discuss the likelihood of music students scoring better in school, having a better chance of going to college, etc., but what we should also be explaining to our students is how music enriches our lives.  It allows us to express and wrestle with our emotions and feelings in a way words simply can not.  In a country and world that is so widely divided today, music connects us without the slightest care of our ethnicity or political ideology.  Music empowers us to live up to our full potential and to be the quality human beings we were created to be. Click here to tweet this!
    As Henry David Thoreau said,  “When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.”
  3. Don’t be in such a rush to grow up. – Yes, high school sucked for me too.  I’m not one of those people who thinks the high school years are the best years of your life…they aren’t!  But there is a certain innocence that disappears a little more each year because kids are being pressured from every imaginable outlet to hurry up and act like adults.  And deep down don’t we adults wish we had a few more days where we could just be kids again and not have the worries of the adult world to deal with? Teach your students that their best years are ahead of them, but don’t be in too big of a hurry to get there…enjoy every unique phase because there are no repeat performances of this show we call “life.”
  4. You are valuable. – I teach in a socioeconomically disadvantaged school district (which is the fancy way of saying most of my kids have never seen an Xbox One.)  We have a program at our school called “Backpacks for Life” where generous people in the community buy food to send home with students every Friday so they can eat during the weekend.  I have students that live in shacks that aren’t as nice as the house I built for my dog.  To make matters worse, their parents are often absent and show very little concern for them, their education, or their ambitions in life. With a student coming from that type of situation it’s easy to see how they could have a very low self-esteem.  Yet in the music classroom, what they do matters!  They’re part of a team of musicians working together to achieve a common goal.  They may slack off in math class and nobody notices, but in a music class they are a valued part of the group.  At least they should be.  Do each of your students realize that their education is valuable?  That their lives are valuable?  Is your classroom a safe place where everyone belongs and everyone is valued? If they don’t learn these things from you, they may never learn it at all.  If you want a truly eye opening experience look up your student’s addresses and drive by their house after school.  It may shock you what they have to deal with on a daily basis. Make it a point to teach your students how valuable they are.
  5. Thank you. –  Most of us don’t spend enough time thanking our students for truly being the best kids around.  I was having a conversation with one of our staff members just yesterday when she stated, “You’re so blessed to get to work with all of the best students.” YES I AM!  There are some student names that bring fear and trembling when mentioned in the company of teachers on my campus.  I can happily say that I have no idea who they’re even talking about.  We are very fortunate to have awesome kids who have an equally awesome outlook on life, who love music, and who are full of energy and the willingness to spend endless hours at school with no pay just to make music and keep us employed. THANK YOUR STUDENTS!  Whenever they do anything that’s above the bare minimum, thank them!  You’re really teaching them that hard work is rewarded, and isn’t that really what it’s all about?

What did I miss?  What else should we be telling our students? Leave me a comment with that important message you teach your students!

Quotable Tuesday – Goethe

Welcome to a new segment of the blog called “Quotable Tuesday” (at least until I can come up with a better title!)  Each week I’ll post a great quote about music, or life in general that can hopefully give you a boost as you recover from Monday.  Today our quote comes from the great German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose writings inspired a number of musical works by great composers like Beethoven, Mozart, and a number of other German musical masters.  Enjoy!

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

What would you add as a daily dose to your life?