Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A. Seasons and Finding Fulfillment

In recent weeks I have been thinking a great deal the various seasons that we experience in a career. It seems to me, as I complete my 31st year as a teacher, I have experienced 3 significantly different seasons in terms of how I relate to students and how students relate to me.

The initial phase is the first 5-10 years. For this article, I will call this “young teacher.”  The middle 15-20 years will be referred to as the “Advancing Professional.”  Finally, the 20 year plus teacher will be referred to as the “Seasoned Pro.” The transitions between seasons can be difficult and certainly have been for me to some extent.  I have realized that we must be mindful of the seasons and our role that we serve for our students and for our teaching community in each of these seasons.  If we are not mindful and reflective of these seasons, things can become difficult for us.

About 18 months ago I developed a conference session for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Southeast String Teachers Conference. The session was created at the request of my friend, Dr. Rebecca McLeod, and centered around the topic of finding career fulfillment as a string educator. I presented the session in January, 2017 and it was very well received by college students and seasoned professionals alike. The session presented 7 different models for looking at career fulfillment and encouraged colleagues to consider which model resonated with them in the most profound way. I found the various models in books on the topic, on social media, through light research, and even created a couple of the models myself based on my life and experience, coupled with conversations with colleagues.

In May 2018 I was invited to give a session at the Music and Arts Directors Clinics in Fredrick Maryland. I was asked to present to a mixed group of music educators including orchestra, band, choral, and general music teachers. After thinking about it for a while, I suggested the Career Fulfillment session as one that might resonate with my colleagues from a variety of disciplines. I spent a good deal of time revamping the session and updating it to match with my audience and current thinking. As part of the updating process, I began thinking about how we find our fulfillment in different ways as we move through different seasons of our career. This grew from the knowledge that the college students at UNCG responded equally enthusiastically to the content of the session as did teachers of 25 years or more. My guess was that the teachers at the Music and Arts Directors Clinics would be of a variety of ages.  This, coupled my own experience of the past few years and, frankly, struggling with some fulfillment issues, made the preparation process challenging and enlightening.  For a look at the session handout and the 7 models, click here.

One of the models which I developed is called “The Journey Begins.” In this model, I ask teachers to consider their sphere of influence as it relates to their students and their professional community (colleagues at work and beyond). I ask them to consider what their sphere of influence is or what they would like it to be during each of their career seasons.   In the weeks since giving the talk, it has become more and more apparent to me in my transition from “Advancing Professional” to “Seasoned Pro,” I have realized that I have not been reflective about differences in how students might relate to me how I need to be comfortable with my current sphere of influence and skill set.  This reflection is certainly an important facet of career fulfillment.  Here is an example of the potential discomfort and transition:  I am now the age of my student's parents or older.  Lets face it. Kids relate differently to their parents and their parents' peers than they do to younger adults.  My role is no  longer Mr. Laird the "cool (hopefully) young"  teacher.  I really do think that was once me.  But, that really can't be me any more.  Now I aspire to be the compassionate parental influence in my students' lives.  But, in my conversations with young teachers and advancing professionals, I may have the opportunity to share some of my experience and provide information, inspiration, or insights to their situation.  I have walked in their shoes and come out the other side.  My role and sphere of influence has changed and will continue to change.  We must be reflective to find peace in that transition.  (Otherwise we might even become dissatisfied or bitter.  Did you ever know a teacher in that situation?)

I have been privileged to spend the last 4 days with a small group (30 or so) of string educators from around the country at the Conn Selmer Institute.  Is part of our time together, I have had numerous conversations with pre-service teachers from many collegiate programs, young teachers, advancing professionals, and seasoned pro colleagues.  Many of those conversations centered around career, career advancement, time management, and overall fulfillment.  All of us, in one way or another, are chasing fulfillment though impact.  And all of us are in different seasons and phases of our careers and personal lives.  What a rich tapestry of conversation and ideas.

I encountered a pre-service teacher while at CSI who told me that he used to be an Environmental Science major and had changed recently to Music Education.  I asked how the change was going.  His response was that his life is now so much more fulfilling!  That  really moved me.  He, of course, had no idea who I was or that I was interested particularly in the concept of fulfillment. He was simply at the conference, soaking up all of the information he could from the expert faculty, and making connections with other folks that were interested in the same things ye was interested in.  He was seeking out the fulfillment that he was missing in his previous major.   I applaud him for chasing fulfillment and not reputation, money, or fame.  I assured him that with fulfillment in his sights as a goal, he couldn't go wrong!

What season are you in?  Have you been reflective about transitions from season to season?  Have you experienced any of the discomfort I describe?

My Dad spend over 25 yeas as a school superintendent and retired over 20 years ago.  I was telling my him about this line of thought a few weeks ago.  As part of the conversation he mentioned that it reminded him of some of the research he did on Maslow and Self Actualization as part of his dissertation in the early 1970's.  Come back to my blog in coming days part part 2 of this article where I take a look at Maslow's research and theories and attempt to superimpose them on this concept of career fulfillment.

Meanwhile, I wish you all fulfillment in your career and life as a music educator or in whatever you do!


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