Forget the Rules and Just Be You
By NAfME Member Lori Schwartz Reichl
This article was originally published in the December 2017 teacher edition of In Tune Magazine.
“I don’t believe what you say. I believe what you do.” ~ Anonymous
I once attended a music education conference with 100 business cards in tow. Typical, clumsy me—I dropped them on the floor in front of colleagues I hoped to impress. I felt ridiculous. Rather than listening, learning, and engaging in meaningful discussions, I kept contemplating the best time to hand someone my card. I wasn’t focused, I didn’t have the best interest of others in mind, and I certainly wasn’t embracing my uniqueness. By the end of the conference, I realized I hadn’t distributed a single card. Never again have I arrived at such an event with the intent of distributing my own propaganda.
In this technological age, one simple online search will locate the person, program, or organization that fascinates you. If someone likes, is inspired by, or wants to collaborate with you or your program, they will find you. You don’t have to tell them. Your actions should show them.
There are numerous resources on how to network and build your personal brand as an educator. But in addition to searching those out, you may also want to consider how you act each day—even when no colleagues are around. Keep the following five points in mind:
1) The best form of networking is reputation.
Your reputation begins within your classroom. How do you make students feel? Do you inspire them and continue to improve student achievement? Do you prepare diligent lessons and study your scores? Have you found a good balance of praise and critique? Do you greet students at the door, develop a personal connection with them, and explore their fullest potential as musicians? If you aren’t individually identifying with students, the likelihood that you’ll impress colleagues is slim.
From the classroom, your reputation spreads into the rest of your school. It’s there in how well you collaborate, how you show support, how organized and deadline-conscious you are, and how much you participate in non-musical activities. Eventually, through your own enthusiasm, compassion, gratitude, and communications skills, your reputation will become known to the whole community, and that’s not a bad network to have.
2) Be the same person privately and publicly.
Regardless of their age, people understand genuineness. Having the best interest of your students at the forefront of your mind, rather than how something can benefit you, is the core of education.
What do your colleagues think of you? Don’t be afraid to ask them what they feel are your greatest strengths. But follow with a question about your limitations, too—musically, organizationally, and communicatively. Don’t sacrifice your beliefs or morals for success. Teach how you live.
I once applied for a position that required letters of recommendation to be written on my behalf. I was certain each mentee, colleague, and administrator I asked would write about my organizational skills. Although this strength was mentioned, a greater theme emerged. Each reference commented about my passion for teaching and compassion for others, while often using the phrase “caring heart.” I was touched. In attempting to treat each student as family, I hadn’t realized that adults picked up the same feeling from me.
3) Be so good they can’t ignore you.
Do your colleagues find inspiration in what you’re doing? Do they call on you for opinions, suggestions, and recommendations? Do they ask for guidance regarding their program, recruitment, schedule, or teaching style? If so, then you’ve sparked their interest. Take time to mentor them by sharing your thoughts and experiences. In turn, pick the brains of those colleagues you admire and hope to emulate.
I can recall the point in my career when I began receiving such frequent questions. It made me feel both respected and resourceful. I realized that I have a duty not only to instruct and inspire my students, but also to educate and motivate my peers.
4) Supporting another’s success will never dampen yours.
The immediate interaction of social media has led many educators to post their successes and student accomplishments online. I struggle with this and wonder if I should do the same, or “like” every post I read from colleagues who so freely share. I often do neither, for various reasons—one of them being that I start hearing the voice of my grandmother saying, “Self-praise stinks.” However, others clearly see such posts as a way to network and generate opportunities, and if it’s working for them, then they should continue with it.
Even if this form of communication isn’t your style, not acknowledging what others are doing can send the message that you don’t care. Regardless of whether you “like” or comment on a status, be certain to acknowledge what your colleagues are doing—at some point. Send a personal message, call them, or congratulate them in person. We all find satisfaction in receiving praise.
5) If you’re thinking like everyone else, then you aren’t thinking.
If you are fully imitating others (see my article “Embrace Your Uniqueness: Gaining Inspiration without Plagiarizing”), then you won’t have complete control over the results. Be true to who you are. Remain passionate about your students, the music, instruction, and our profession. Be positive. Don’t complain. Strive to be the best version of yourself each day, both for your own sense of pride and for the benefit of your program. Others will be drawn to your candor, confidence, and creativity, and in turn this will allow a glowing reputation to manifest itself.
Forget the rules. Just be YOU!
About the author:
Lori Schwartz Reichl actively serves as an adjudicator, author, clinician, conductor, instructor, and speaker. Lori is the author of the “Tools for Educators” series entitled “Key Changes: Refreshing Your Music Program” published for InTune Monthly Magazine’s Teacher’s Edition, where she provides resources to enhance the music classroom and rehearsal space. Her column has been transformed into a summer graduate course that she instructs through the University of the Arts. Lori’s articles are also featured each month as part of the National Association for Music Education Music in a Minuet blog. In addition, her publications frequently appear in the Maryland Music Educator Journal and The Woman Conductor Journal. Lori also serves as a journalist for Teaching Music magazine and writes program notes for composers. In Maryland, she serves as artistic and executive director of the Regional Repertory Wind Ensemble, coordinator of Howard County’s Secondary Solo & Ensemble Festival, conductor of the Howard County Middle School Honor Band, and the Maryland state chair for Women Band Directors International. Visit her at MakingKeyChanges.com.
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August 13, 2019. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)