Friendship as Mentorship
Colleagues Can Be Your Best Resource Professionally and Personally
By NAfME Member Lori Schwartz Reichl
A similar version of this article was originally published in the December 2018 teacher edition of In Tune Magazine.
“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” ~ John C. Crosby
The statement “I have a best friend at work” has been included as part of my school system’s Gallup survey, which measures employee engagement by using a series of statements that staff members are asked to rate on a scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The first time I read this statement, I rolled my eyes a bit. That’s because most music educators have little time to socialize with colleagues throughout the school day. Our schedules are crammed, and we often forgo our planning period or even lunch break in order to teach more sessions to individuals or small groups of students. We arrive early to school or stay late to schedule even more of these sessions. Finding time to enjoy friendly moments with co-workers can be a challenge. That said, I responded to the query of whether or not I have a close friend within the workplace by checking “strongly agree.”
When I take inventory of all of my friends, regardless of their profession, I come to realize that they have similar traits. They are ambitious, determined, meticulous, and proud of their work. They care about honing their craft, working with integrity, maintaining excellence, collaborating effectively, and supporting others. Many of my cherished friendships have evolved out of the workplace, and I’m certain that this has a direct correlation to the admiration I have for them as educators. When there is a mutual respect among colleagues, programs function more cohesively—and it feels like music is performed more expressively. With support evident, professional development is also easier to attain. Many of my co-workers have inspired me to think differently, try new techniques, or perform beyond my comfort zone or that of my students. Incredible friendships have come out of this.
Last month, I suggested writing a letter of gratitude to the most influential people on your educational journey. For my part, I initially thought of my father, grade-school teachers, private instructors, collegiate professors, student teaching cooperating teachers, administrators, and recently retired colleagues. In reflecting on these amazing mentors throughout my life, I also began recalling past and present music colleagues with whom I worked the closest. I thought about how they have supported and inspired me, too. They taught me invaluable lessons.
Do you recognize the strengths your colleagues possess? Often times we look beyond the walls of our school building or school system for guidance and support. However, some of the most skilled employees may work directly beside you. Do you utilize them as a resource? Have you acknowledged their contributions to you? Have you thanked them for the musical and professional gifts they have given to you? We often forget to thank those closest to us. Nevertheless, it is necessary.
Throughout my career, these mentors have turned into cherished friends:
Sue Snyder was pregnant with her first child when I started my band directing career. Upon her return from maternity leave, she preferred to teach general music. Because of this, a full-time instrumental music position was offered to me. Sue made it her mission to make me feel welcome and comfortable by introducing me to staff, including me in social events, and recommending my services. Sue taught me the importance of inclusion and kindness.
Celia Bowman is an elementary-school band director who inspires young musicians to begin playing an instrument. She was one of my primary “feeders” at the start of my career. Each time I watched Celia teach or provide an instrument recruitment presentation, she impressed upon me the importance of encouraging students to really enjoy performing music—which will help anyone approach music-making with confidence, creativity, and energy. Celia taught me that quality is more important than quantity.
Alison Parish and I were childhood friends who were reunited years later as colleagues. She served as choral director while I was band director within the same program for a few years. Her grace and passion for doing the right thing is always remarkable, as is her sheer consistency. Alison’s example taught me composure, integrity, and dependability.
Rich Roberts was assigned as my mentor when I began teaching in a new state. But we didn’t form our strong friendship until we spent several years conducting and coordinating our county’s middle-school honor band and secondary solo and ensemble festival together. Rich reminds me that everyone has his or her own way of working. Even though certain methods are different, it doesn’t mean that they are necessarily wrong. Rich has taught me to accept change, while allowing people, including myself, to “just be you.”
The long-time choral director and general music teacher at the school I transferred to was Cynthia Shepherd. Even with a revolving door of band directors and administrative changes occurring at her school, she taught with gusto—emphasizing the importance of her class. Cynthia taught me authority.
My longest partner in a school has been Sarah Castrillon. She serves as a well-respected orchestra director. She doesn’t let trivial things get under her skin; she manages to be fiercely competitive, yet with the brightest smile. Sarah taught me how to put things into perspective and that a little competition can be healthy and motivational.
A mentor is defined as an experienced, trusted advisor, but this influential confidante can be the co-worker located in the classroom next to yours, the music director at a neighboring school, or the associate whose program you admire.
Jenny Neff and I were musical directors and roommates on my second American Music Abroad Tour of Europe. When you spend nearly every hour of each day for three weeks with the same person, you either bond or bicker. We immediately bonded and conversed about our personal and professional goals and frustrations. Jenny taught me how to envision my future.
As I’m a woodwind player, one of the areas in which I have been less confident is teaching brass. Andy Spang has been my go-to guide for brass pedagogy, recommendations for repertoire, and simply to talk shop. We don’t always agree, but we always come to an accord on how to handle situations. Andy taught me that having an opinion builds character.
And then there is Jon Sindler, a colleague who entered my life when I was going through professional and personal changes. He served as coordinator of an honor ensemble that I was invited to conduct. As band directors, we started rehearsal swaps to critique each other’s ensembles. Because his actions always demonstrate that a positive outlook outweighs negativity, Jon helped rekindle my positivity and refocus my eye for new opportunities.
A mentor is defined as an experienced, trusted advisor, but this influential confidante can be the co-worker located in the classroom next to yours, the music director at a neighboring school, or the associate whose program you admire. Pick her brain. Listen to him. Allow this person to guide you, and show appreciation for the value he or she adds to what you do. You will be amazed not only at the knowledge you may gain but at the cherished friendship that may form.
About the author:
Lori Schwartz Reichl is an active adjudicator, clinician, conductor, educator, speaker, and writer. She is the author of the series “Key Changes: Refreshing Your Music Program” published monthly in the teacher’s edition of In Tune Magazine where she provides resources to enhance the music classroom and rehearsal space. As a journalist for Teaching Music Magazine, she interviews master educators. Lori also serves as Coordinator of Howard County Public School System’s Secondary Solo & Ensemble Festival, Executive Director of the Regional Repertory Wind Ensemble where she collaborates with prominent composers, Music Education Intern Supervisor at Towson University, and instructor of her private saxophone studio. Since 2001, Lori has worked in rural, suburban, and urban public schools. Her bands consistently receive superior ratings at county, state, and regional adjudications. During her tenure as the first full-time band director at Daniel Boone Middle School in Berks County, PA, she received the Superintendent’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. As band director of Oakland Mills Middle School in Columbia, MD, Lori was a finalist for the Howard County Teacher of the Year and Parents for School Music Educator of the Year Awards. Under her baton, the Oakland Mills Band received an Honorary Resolution from the Howard County Council and performed as the featured middle school band at the 2014 Maryland Music Educator’s Conference. Later that year Lori was asked to develop the music program for the county’s newest Title I school, Thomas Viaduct Middle School. In its opening year, the band received superior ratings at county and regional adjudications and was invited to perform at the state band festival. Learn more about Lori here.
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