A Personal and Professional Pivot
Make It Simple, Not Stressful
By NAfME Member Lori Schwartz Reichl
This article was originally published in the April 2020 teacher edition of In Tune Magazine.
“Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.” ~ John Wooden
I’ve been involved in education for more than four decades—as a student, a child of career-educators, an educator, a certified administrator, and most recently as a parent. Upon the birth of my two children, I went on leave from my school system. Originally, I was interested in part-time work, but I was not permitted to remain in my position to do so. I was told I could teach at a different level to secure part-time status, but I had no interest in the positions presented to me. I offered creative solutions to maintain employment, engagement, and enthusiasm, but the school system would not consider options outside of the box—particularly for one employee, let alone all.
I didn’t want to completely leave the classroom, put down my baton, walk away from the profession, or dispose of everything I had learned, gained, and created. I simply wanted to slow the pace a bit, spend more time with my own children and family, and reexamine my personal and professional goals.
I contacted my immediate supervisors, the superintendent, human resources, and education association to notify them of what I had learned during my tenure as an active employee and one on leave. I hoped for changes in the system and wanted to help. When I spoke with these people, they would say, “I wish things could change,” but no actions were made. When someone would eventually return one of my phone calls or emails, I would typically receive a message letting me know that they would “look into my situation,” “would speak to so-and-so,” or “get back to me soon.” I wanted educational leadership to re-examine how the profession supported and nurtured employees, offered options for part-time teaching, considered remote working, and valued varying schedules. It was unacceptable that other professions seemed to examine, evaluate, and extend offers for part-time or remote work, but education would not.
Now, I find it ironic that during a global pandemic, the entire educational profession has had to do what I, and countless others, have desired. When previously encouraged by stakeholders to examine such adaption to the profession, there was hesitation, doubt, and, at times, disdain. Now, education and its leaders, educators, students, and communities have been forced to pivot without notice—and do so with positivity, productivity, and promise.
Many of the feelings that colleagues have been expressing due to school shutdowns, I experienced four years ago when my leave status began. I, too, missed interacting with my students and colleagues, leading a class filled with live learners, conducting a musical ensemble, and making music as a community. At times, I felt isolated, out of control, or anxious. I doubted my decision, my strengths, and my beliefs.
However, from this uncertainty, came a clear vision of what I wanted, and set out to change personally, for our profession, and for anyone—anywhere—who would listen, observe, or appreciate:
- To maintain a healthier balance of home and work life
- To serve as a resource beyond my school system
- To demonstrate creativity in my profession
- To prove that teaching, learning, and mentoring can effectively occur beyond the walls of a school building
- To value parenthood
- To appreciate educators
- To embrace change
These goals are similar to ones I am now seeing my peers embrace. On social media alone, I’ve watched family, friends, and colleagues post fewer selfies and more photos with their partner, spouse, children, or pets than they had previously. More Facebook groups have been established to share ideas, offer resources, and answer questions. Colleagues are creating joyfully and uniquely composed welcome-back videos and lessons for their students, complete with digital characters, images, sounds, and songs. Educators from across the globe have been meeting virtually to converse, collaborate, connect, and mentor. Likewise, parents have engaged in many indoor and outdoor adventures with their children. Futhermore, essential workers and educators are being publicly acknowledged and appreciated.
Values are changing. Education is finally evolving. Along with numerous educational and musical cancellations and postponements, the exploration, creation, and appreciation of valued family time, distance learning, diversified instruction, virtual meetings, unique collaborations, resource contributions, and refreshed creativity have all emerged.
Based on my experiences while on leave these past four years, my advice to all educators who have had to immediately pivot in their thinking about resources, teaching spaces, and living situations is simple and sincere:
1. Return to foundational principles.
There is no reason to immediately reinvent the wheel. However, virtually go back to the basics—at least for a portion of time. Revisit basic theory concepts, vocabulary, and practical pedagogy. Maintain similar management techniques that simultaneously function virtually, such as setting academic and behavioral expectations, redirecting behaviors, engaging all learners, utilizing questioning, praising on-task behaviors, and other strategies for success that typically are effective.
2. Focus on the sustainable.
At some point we will return to our classrooms, rehearsal halls, private studios, and programs. Will we want to return? Will we fully return to “pre-pandemic” conditions? What expectations will be placed on us to encourage both live and virtual teaching? Be careful what you create. Consider the time and effort it has taken to design new online instructional material. Can you maintain this rigor if asked to continue virtual teaching? Remain positive, persistent, and purposeful at a pace that is sustainable, not strenuous.
3. Review resources.
Allow others to guide, share, and assist. However, not all ideas and material will be adaptable to your situation, attainable for your skill set, or necessary for your sanity. Pick and choose what is helpful, healthy, and applicable. Be certain to thank and acknowledge others, and implement their ideas in a way that will enhance your particular needs and those of your students and family.
4. Fuel your mind, body, and soul.
Get outside. Garden. Drink water. Exercise. Cook or bake. Read. Journal. Meditate. Listen to and make music. Sleep. You know the drill! We are seeing and hearing these reminders, and many more, everywhere. Do as much of what you enjoy—as often as you can.
5. Connect with others.
Continue to confirm the well-being of your students, colleagues, neighbors, friends, and family. Call, text, message, email, write a letter, or send a card. Let them know you are thinking of them, proud of them, miss them, and care for them.
6. Be grateful.
Some days will be more or less productive than others, particularly if you are working virtually from home, and while fulfilling the responsibilities of caring for family members who are isolated with you. Enjoy them. Take advantage of the opportunity we have been given to explore, experiment, and engage—both professionally and personally. Pivot with pride and passion and replace the need for perfection with purpose and promise.
Are you making key changes during this period of uncertainty and designing a clear vision for moving forward? Make it simple, not stressful.
About the author:
NAfME member Lori Schwartz Reichl is an author, educator, and consultant. Visit her at makingkeychanges.com.
Join Lori for a graduate course reflecting the ideas shared each month in this column: AMUS 605: Making Key Changes: Refresh Your Music Program, 3 credits, through the University of the Arts. An online course format will be available this summer: https://www.uarts.edu/sms.
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.
Catherina Hurlburt, Marketing Communications Manager. May 5, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)