If I Could Turn Back Time

A Letter to My Younger Self

By NAfME Members Lori Schwartz Reichl and Neil Anderson


Dear Younger Self,

Congratulations! You have finished another year of your career, one that has forced you to reimagine, recreate, and reflect on who you are and what you stand for both personally and professionally. You have persevered. I’m certain you will continue to do so in both the good and bad times. This year may have caused more confusion and uncertainty. Do not worry. You never have to apologize for taking the time to figure things out. Silence the critics who are telling you to follow a predetermined path. Rather, do it your way—blazing your own path in this amazing world. You are exactly where you are meant to be! By accepting this now, you will be truly amazed at the human, educator, and leader you will become. The journey will not be easy and there will be days you will want to give up. That is expected. The key, however, is not to give up or give in, rather take every experience and learn how to improve, grow, and shine. As the dog days of summer settle in, the start of a new academic year is peeping around the corner. With that comes new challenges in an ever-changing world. You are ready to accept, tackle, and win them. Before you do though, here are a few reminders to kick off your most successful year ever!

blank letter to younger self in envelope with decorative wheat

iStockphoto.com | Yulia Gusterina


With Students:

  • Recruit them all.
  • Build relationships first. Teaching comes second. 
  • Put them first; never in the middle. Students should never be the pawn in an adult game of chess.
  • Give them a voice in their classroom, ensemble, program, and community. 
  • Calendar your email time for non-instructional time. Your students deserve your full attention while in your care. 


With Colleagues:

  • Communicate with all stakeholders—students, families, campus faculty, and the larger community!
  • Learn the difference between a leader and a manager. Good leadership takes a well-balanced heart, head, and hands. 
  • Realize that administrators want you to succeed. Involve them in instruction, invite them to your events, and never, ever allow them to be caught off guard.
  • Collaborate with colleagues of other disciplines. Remember, the care of students is the responsibility of all campus faculty. 
  • Check-in with your music colleagues at other school sites.
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate! You cannot do it alone. Do not be afraid to ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness, rather a show of strength.


For Yourself:

  • Locate a mentor! Whether from your campus, or a colleague across town or state lines, find someone you can talk to, meet with, and challenge you to reflect on your practice. 
  • Plan (in addition to school and district professional development) your professional learning for the year, such as clinics, conferences, observations, and such. Request your substitutes now, so you can plan lessons and coverage accordingly.
  • Re-evaluate both your short and long-term personal and professional goals. Where do you want to be in three years, in five years, and beyond? 
  • Leave work at work. Your friends and family deserve 100% of your time and effort just as your students do.
  • Do not worry, nobody has it all figured out. Failing will occur. Over time, it will get easier. I promise you. Believe me. 
  • Have fun! This is the best profession in the world, and you get the opportunity to experience it every single day!
  • Take care of yourself. From eating healthy and not skipping meals, to drinking plenty of water. Self-preservation starts with self-health. Do not be afraid to play that round of golf, go for that run, or experiment with that new hobby.
man running on road

iStockphoto.com | wundervisuals


The journey is often the destination throughout this wonderful profession and path you are creating. The obstacles that you will face will be plenty, but you can fiercely face them. Do not walk around them, over them, or dive underneath them; rather proceed with little regret, and embrace all that you will experience. You will stumble, yet you will learn from these missteps. 

Through it all though, the most important priority is to remember why you entered into this profession. Never forget your focus and your guiding light. The successes, performances, festival ratings, and trophies are just mere accolades along the way, simple byproducts of the hard work and vehicle we use to impact a student’s life. You pursued this profession to share the gift of music and to encourage better citizens for our world. These tasks come with a tremendous responsibility and a challenge I know you can continue to accept. So, keep going! Create memories, build legacies, and change people’s lives. You will be amazed at what you (and your students) will accomplish!


About the authors:

Neil Anderson

Photo credit: Nikka Robertson

NAfME member Dr. Neil Anderson is the current Principal of Golden Hill Elementary School of the Arts in Fullerton, California. Prior to this appointment, Dr. Anderson has served both in the secondary instrumental classroom, as well as a Coordinator of Visual and Performing Arts. With research centered on mentorship, as well as meaningful, relevant professional learning for music educators, Dr. Anderson is an advocate for beginning and developing music educators. He is the host of the Musings From The Cheap Seats podcast, interviewing artists and educators to gain better insight into the intersection of life and the arts. Dr. Anderson can be contacted at nanderson78@gmail.com.

Lori Schwartz Reichl 2021

Photo credit: Rick Twigg Photography

NAfME member Lori Schwartz Reichl is a champion of mentorship and motivation in education. Lori has parlayed her experience of establishing and maintaining music programs in various educational settings into a portfolio career of serving as an active adjudicator, clinician, conductor, instructor, speaker, and writer. Lori is the author of over 70 articles and interviews for an assortment of education publications and the leader of countless professional development sessions designed to support K-12 educators and inspire collegiate students. Learn more about Lori at MakingKeyChanges.com.

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

July 13, 2021. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

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