Planning for the Inevitable
Navigating Challenges in and out of the Classroom
By Amy Kraft and NAfME Member Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl
“The tests we face in life’s journey are not to reveal our weaknesses but to help us discover our inner strengths. We can only know how strong we are when we strive and thrive beyond the challenges we face.”―Kemi Sogunle
On the morning of March 23, 2023, I woke to a terrifying text message from my longtime friend Amy. She had sent the message to three of her close college friends. Amy let us know that she and her 13-year-old daughter were in a terrible car accident the night prior. Her daughter had been released from the hospital at midnight with minor injuries, but Amy was transported to the trauma center for several severe injuries. Amy was able to text with her right hand which was the only limb that was not impacted by the accident. In her scrambled text, Amy informed us that she could not move her body and to pray for her.
After the initial shock, I immediately shared this information with my family. We contacted Amy’s husband to try to get more information. By the end of the day, we had learned about Amy’s condition and the multiple fractures that she endured. We were waiting to hear what surgeries she would undergo and a plan of recovery. Four days after receiving that frightening text message, I was able to visit Amy in the hospital. What I found was a friend who was alive. For this, we were most thankful. However, except for speaking, eating, and the use of her right hand, Amy could not do much of anything else alone. My most positive and physically fit friend was temporarily confined to a chair and relied on others to help her in almost every way. Amy had a long recovery ahead of her, but she was equipped with the approach to succeed. What we would discover was Amy was stronger than we all knew and that she would teach us a few lessons through her journey of healing.
For a few months prior to the car accident, Amy and I had discussed co-authoring an educational article together. We bounced around a few ideas but never settled on one particular topic or a timeline. About six weeks into Amy’s recovery, it was clear what the topic should be, our intention for collaborating, and when to write it. Although the format looks different than originally intended, the content is far greater. Together, Amy and I brainstormed the reason, layout, and content of this impactful article. Here is Amy’s inspiring message:
As educators, our professional lives revolve around planning. We plan lessons, units, field trips, concerts, parent conferences, and the list goes on. But what happens when our plan is suddenly interrupted by an unexpected bump in the road? How do we respond to a challenge in our personal or professional life that seems to block our carefully designed path?
When I least expected it, life presented three major challenges within three short years that were not part of my plan. After being home with my children for seven years, I planned to return to teaching in a public school as a music educator. Instead, I ended up in the general education classroom teaching math, reading, writing, science, and social studies. A month after embarking on this new career challenge, our son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Our family was forced to enter the world of insulin, syringes, carb counting, and blood glucose meters. The final challenge occurred a few months ago when my daughter and I were in a serious car accident, which caused me to suffer a multitude of injuries. I was forced to miss the remaining two and a half months of school. Through these experiences, I have learned that challenges can be a setback, or they can be used to propel our lives forward. We can’t control the challenge, but we can control our attitude, atmosphere, and adaptability.
Challenges possess an extraordinary power to transform us into stronger individuals. Each hurdle offers an opportunity for growth that pushes us to discover new strengths and skills. By embracing the challenges that come our way and making adjustments to our attitude, atmosphere, and adaptability, we can demonstrate that setbacks are simply a detour to an original plan.
Consider these strategies when life throws a hurdle your way:
As a result of the car accident, I broke both my feet, fractured my sacrum, and had surgery on my hand to repair several broken bones. A few weeks after my car accident, while on the phone with the medical receptionist, she seemed surprised as she listed the many x-rays scheduled for my next appointment. She asked me if the information was correct, and I replied that everything was accurate. I will never forget her response: “With all that’s wrong, how do you sound so happy?” Indeed, I suffered many fractures and was barely able to walk, but I was determined to move forward with an attitude of gratitude. At times I was tempted to focus on the fact that my life had been turned upside down, but I instead adjusted my attitude.
In my absence from school, I set up weekly Google meets to virtually visit with my students. I quickly realized that my attitude during this challenge had the power to strongly influence my students, too. At the beginning of the year, my students and I used popular songs to build community and create classroom affirmations. Two main themes from these songs were “Be the sun on a cloudy day” and “I can do hard things.” Each week as I met virtually with my class after the accident, I couldn’t help but notice the affirmation posters we had created that were still hanging in the classroom. I soon realized it was my time to live out our classroom affirmations in my own life. My students were literally watching me “do hard things” as I took baby steps with my walker and attempted to shine brightly despite the challenges. When I found the sun on my cloudy days, I became a sense of contagious energy and inspired my students to do the same.
How do you find the sun when your world seems so gloomy? After my car accident, the simplest tasks seemed impossible. Taking a few steps with my walker was exhausting, and I needed help doing pretty much everything else. Rather than focusing on all the things I could no longer do, I became motivated each day by the one new thing I could do that day that I could not do the day before. By adjusting my attitude, I saw progress in these small daily baby steps.
- Think of a challenge you recently faced. Can you identify three positive outcomes that occurred because of the challenge?
- Keep a daily gratitude journal as a reminder of the small peeks of sunshine on your difficult days.
- How can you encourage others to find the sun on a cloudy day?
When faced with a challenge I am always reminded of the importance of a support system. When making my professional career change, I looked to mentor teachers who could answer my (million!) questions, offer advice, listen to my concerns, and celebrate my successes. Upon our son’s diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes (T1D), we knew we couldn’t navigate this new world alone. We reached out to other families in the T1D community for support and guidance. Following my car accident, I needed to accept help for almost every task. I relied on community members to provide meals, friends to drive me to doctor appointments, family to help with house tasks, and colleagues to uplift my spirit with visits, calls, and emails. The support of others was imperative in my recovery. An atmosphere of support can make all the difference.
We conquer life challenges by adjusting our atmosphere and filling it with people who make the challenge a bit less daunting. Colleagues, mentors, family, and friends can be a lifeline during difficult times by lessening the emotional burden, offering fresh perspectives, and suggesting potential solutions. A support system can also remind you that you are not alone in your challenge and can foster an uplifting atmosphere of trust and support. Reaching out to others is not a sign of weakness. It often takes a team to overcome challenges, and it’s crucial to know that you have a team “on deck” when you need them.
- Who are the individuals or groups that you consider part of your support system?
- Are there any barriers or hesitations preventing you from seeking support when you need it?
- Can you identify any instances where seeking support in the past has positively impacted your teaching practice or personal well-being?
As educators, our identity often revolves around the content we teach. “I am a music teacher.” “I am a math teacher.” “I am an English teacher.” I taught elementary vocal music for eleven years so that’s who I was—a music teacher. You can imagine my shock when a director in my school district asked me to teach second grade—not music—but a second-grade general classroom virtually for the entire 2020–2021 school year! At the time, I was a guest teacher in the school district, beginning to consider going back into the classroom after seven years of being home with my children. Upon her asking this question, I immediately responded by saying, “I teach music! Not reading, math, and writing!” She replied with a simple statement, “A good teacher is a good teacher.” Her statement rang true that whole year. I accepted the challenge, made adjustments, and used the challenge as an opportunity to adapt my skills to a different environment. I’m so grateful that this leader in my district nudged me to try something different and embark upon a new challenge.
Was it difficult to write lesson plans that didn’t involve music? Yes. Was it challenging to teach 2nd graders how to read and write? Every single day. Was it uncomfortable teaching virtually 100% on Google Meet for an entire year? Absolutely. I initially wanted to say no to this opportunity because it felt uncomfortable and frightening. Instead, I faced the challenge with an open mind, an eagerness to learn, and a willingness to adapt. I thrived from this challenge. Music was no longer my content but was instead a vehicle to reach my students. I wrote songs to help my students remember types of figurative language, created raps to reinforce properties of shapes, and incorporated famous musicians in monthly cultural celebrations. By the end of the year, I realized that I was actually loving my new position.
The health challenges I faced from the car accident also required my family and me to make adaptations. I didn’t stop doing things. Rather, I learned to do them in a different way. I used a grabber to pick up objects from the floor, a stool to make showering easier, and an adapted walker since I couldn’t use my left hand. My family adapted by helping out with jobs that were typically done by “mom.” Think about the power adaptations have in the classroom. When our students feel challenged, it’s often just a small accommodation or support from another person that will enable them to experience a feeling of success and independence.
- Have you ever been asked to try something new and step out of your comfort zone? Did you seize the opportunity?
- Think of a student who is struggling in your classroom. What is an adaptation you can add to your instruction to help them feel successful?
- How can you “nudge” your students to try new things and adapt their talents in different ways?
It is inevitable that we will face challenges in our personal and professional lives. We can’t plan for when the bump in the road will happen, but we can be prepared with a potential plan for how we will react. By adjusting our attitude, atmosphere, and adaptability, our challenges may soon become our greatest strengths both in and out of our classroom.
About the authors:
Amy Kraft began her career in education in 2002 after graduating from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. With 14 years of teaching experience, Amy dedicated 11 years to teaching elementary vocal music for Harford County Public Schools in Maryland. During this time, Amy earned a county curriculum award, wrote elementary music curricula, led professional development sessions on integrating technology into the music classroom, and served as Teacher-in-Charge after earning a Master of Education in Administration/Supervision. While staying home to raise her young children, Amy taught private piano lessons to students ranging from 4 to 80 years old. In 2020, Amy was hired to teach second grade for the State College Area School District in Pennsylvania. She is currently a third-grade teacher for the district at Spring Creek Elementary. From her experiences, Amy now has the unique perspective of both a specialist and general classroom teacher, and she has skillfully merged her musical talents and knowledge to enhance her classroom learning environment and instruction.
Amy has a passion for cultivating positive relationships, empathy, and kindness within her classroom. Amy’s monthly kindness projects, which are planned and executed by her students, aim to benefit the local community and beyond. These projects have supported various initiatives, including creating firefighter survival kits, assembling healthcare hero care packages, creating peace paintings and writing letters to Ukrainian preschoolers, assembling Jared Boxes for children in hospitals, and collecting donations to support Out of the Cold, a local homeless shelter.
Amy and her husband have been married for 20 years. They reside in State College, Pennsylvania, with their children Clara and Henry. Through her dedication to teaching, music, and community service, Amy Kraft has impacted the lives of her students and the broader community.
Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl is a champion of mentorship and motivation. Her mission is to encourage individuals to reflect on our professional practices while making key changes to refresh strategies representing a shared vision to enrich the classroom, company, and community. Dr. Reichl’s unique experiences have permitted her to expand her multifaceted career into a portfolio as a frequent educational consultant, adjudicator, guest conductor, university instructor, and motivational speaker. Her motto is “Embrace Uniqueness!” and she lovingly encourages everyone she meets to do the same.
Dr. Reichl is the author of nearly 100 educational articles that have been reprinted with permission by more than 10 organizations worldwide. Since 2019, she has had at least one article per year highlighted on the Top-10 Most Accessed Music Education Blogs for the National Association for Music Education, earning the #1 spot in 2022. She designed these mentoring pieces into two graduate courses that she instructs at The University of the Arts (Philadelphia) and VanderCook College of Music (Chicago). She also creates inspirational content for a monthly newsletter emailed to thousands of subscribers. Dr. Reichl has had the opportunity to present more than 100 professional learning sessions or keynote speeches, guest conduct more than 50 honor bands, and adjudicate instrumental music ensembles throughout the nation. In addition, she has been interviewed for nearly 20 education and leadership podcasts.
Dr. Reichl has served as a proud educator since 2001. In Pennsylvania, she received the Superintendent’s Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Daniel Boone Area School District, and in Maryland, she was a finalist for the Howard County Parents for School Music Educator of the Year Award and the Howard County Public School System’s Teacher of the Year Award.
Contact Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl and invite her to collaborate with your students, educators, and administrators.
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.
June 6, 2023. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)
June 6, 2023
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June 6, 2023. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)