Saturday, July 24, 2021
Saturday, June 26, 2021
Friday, June 25, 2021
Sunday, March 28, 2021
Today is the last day of 2020. Obviously, it's been a challenging year for everyone. There have been huge health challenges for so many people across the world, income and economic challenges for workers, teaching challenges for folks in education, learning challenges for students across the world, social, racial, and political division and mistrust, and certainly emotional challenges that accompany all of these for folks in so many ways.
Our world is in desperate need of healing. And, individuals are in desperate need of direction, purpose, and peace. This has been the topic of many conversations for me in recent days and weeks. and I would like to share just a couple of thoughts as we move into 2021.
I will begin with a quick story about my college age son. He is currently a sophomore at the University of North Carolina and has experienced his own challenges with the pandemic and all the uncertainty which accompanies it. Last year, as a freshman, he made the decision to become a leader in the Young Life program. As a Young Life leader, he is tasked with leading Young Life activities and club meetings at a regional high school. In addition, he will forge relationships with the high school students who attend the meetings and endeavor to be a positive role model in their lives. The Young Life leaders at his high school were very good to him and he is giving back in a similar way. During his freshman year, when he was deciding if this was a good activity for him, we had quite several deep conversations. At one point, he told me that when you are a Young Life leader, you wake up every day asking yourself, "How can I care for someone else today?" I have thought about that quite a bit over the past year or so. I am not sure that I could have said that when I was 20 years old. That is a pretty cool daily mission for a college sophomore.
My wife has been listening to a the Spotify Daily Quote recently which encourages folks to consider a quote and then expands on that quote to some extent. Recently, the quote of the day was from reggae rapper, Bad Bunny. While the quote itself doesn't have strong application to my thoughts today, the insights that followed the quote precipitated some interesting thoughts for my wife. In the pandemic environment, we like so many others have been home constantly. So many of the daily tasks have become repetitive, mundane, and at times laborious. The one that is hit her hardest has been cooking for our high school senior son. He is an athlete and on a special high protein diet to build muscle and strength. In support of that diet, my wife finds herself making baked chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, and white rice every day. His diet involves five meals a day and the work to keep this specific food available to him is never ending. It could easily become a very negative chore on her list. She was explaining to me that it is so much more positive to view this to-do list as an opportunity, rather than a chore. She mentioned to me that the concept of chores was strong in her home growing up. And, it is so much more enjoyable to accomplish things, rather than simply complete chores. Her mission, in this task of cooking, is to support our son's athletic goals. Viewing those darn sweet potatoes as part of a mission is a much healthier way to approach the task.
I feel like I have been fairly successful in this pandemic environment. I have been able to maintain a positive attitude, starting each day with a sense of joy. The word I have used with regards to my work over the years is mission, which brings me to the point of this essay. For me, approaching each day with a mission mentality is an important key to happiness, fulfillment, and a general air of positivity in my daily life. When I approach my tasks as mission, there is a much greater purpose. Mission implies importance. Mission implies commitment. Mission speaks of doing something for the greater good which is much bigger than one's self. I believe that we can find mission in virtually every move we make during the day.
When I was a young man, I had an awesome job at a local jewelry store in Indiana, PA. My work at the store began as simply a way to make a little bit of extra money. I learned how to engrave jewelry, do basic bookkeeping, and greet the public on the floor of the store. But, after a period of time, the work at the store became more of a mission. I became much more committed to my close friend who managed the store, the ownership, and most importantly, to the mission of providing folks with friendly service, reliable quality, and a trusted voice in their purchases. I developed a true loyalty to the mission of the store and developed deep relationships with the folks that taught me about the business. I approached my job with a mission mentality.
As I finished up college and began my teaching career, my first teaching opportunity was in Palmyra Pennsylvania. I have written about it before, so I won't spend too much time on that work here. But, suffice it to say, that I approached that work with a mission mentality. The string program was quite small when I arrived at the school and I was challenged to develop the string program for the school district. I had a mission. It was clear. I committed to it fully and spent six years giving all of myself to that mission. (As a sidebar, I was having a conversation with my son about success in the workplace yesterday. I told him that I really believe that early in one's career, you must commit fully and be willing to put in long hours, hard work, and not be concerned about work-life balance so much. It's really not a popular stance in today's society, but in 1987 that was the way we did things. It was the era of the yuppie, long hours, and getting ahead quickly. I think this was seminal to my commitment to mission mentality.) My mission at Palmyra was successful and other opportunities came quickly. I had a similar experience at Eleanor Roosevelt high School and spent nine years there pursuing my mission before coming to the North Carolina School of Science and Math.
In the ensuing 20 years at NCSSM, my mission has changed from time to time. Most recently, I have been named Fine Arts Chair for the Durham and Morganton campuses. This is a new mission for me and I'm really excited about whatever the future holds. We are currently in the process of hiring administrators for the new school in Morganton and I am also happy to be guiding two new music faculty members through their transition into our school environment in Durham. I have a mission.
Obviously, the mission changed in March of 2020. Suddenly, the mission was to keep engaging students in Orchestra and music while caring for them as individuals through the two-dimensional Zoom environment. It is a tricky mission. And, throughout that time, to continue to support my other Fine Arts colleagues, advance the school’s mission, and navigate all of the stresses that go with working from home, family trials and tribulations throughout the pandemic environment, and personal emotional ups and downs. But, the great thing about having a mission is that one bad day doesn't change the mission. In fact, in some ways, it can galvanize one's resolve to do better in the future. That has certainly been the case for me. I have found that my failures of today become my challenges for tomorrow. This is the essence of mission mentality.
So, I challenge you today to consider what is your mission? What is your purpose? What do you hold in highest importance in your tasks throughout the day?
I believe there can be multiple answers to these questions. Some days, my mission is in family matters. I work to be a good example to my kids, a partner to my wife, and a helper wherever possible. Other days, my mission is in my art. I am practicing, writing new music, recording audio guides for my students, generating blog or video content, and other artistic endeavors. On the other days, I am a colleague, a teacher, a friend, a student, a son. Yet, in all these rolls, I can have a mission mentality. These roles and accompanying tasks are important to me. I approach them with purpose. And, I try to approach them with joy and good humor. As I often say in this blog, I am not perfect. I don't always achieve my goals. Sometimes, I lose sight of my sense of mission. Sometimes the tasks in front of me simply become chores. Those are my worst days. They are the days that I feel unfulfilled, unhappy, or downright depressed. So, I try to keep the days I lose sight of my mission to an absolute minimum.
Let me encourage you today to find your mission. It requires some deep thought. What do you hold as truly important - so important that you are willing to dedicate your time, your heart, and thoughts. What is your true purpose? Certainly there are multiple answers to these questions. You are likely doing many of these things already. But, are you committed to them as your mission? Perhaps 2021 is your opportunity to refocus or refine your sense of mission. Even the exercise of putting my thoughts in writing today has provided that opportunity for me. I wish all of you the very best as we move into 2021 and the continuation of the academic year. I know that so many of us are growing weary of distance learning and the pandemic environment. Hang in there! You have a mission. You can do this!
Friday, March 12, 2021
Monday, March 8, 2021
First, I want to thank all of the ASTA Members who participated in the moderated discussion on Sunday on Relative Topics for High School String Teachers. It was a great discussion and it was my honor to participate and moderate!!
I promised that I would seek out some more information on longitudinal involvement in the arts as a benefit toward college admission. I will place it here as I find more.
Check out this article as a start: Why Extracurriculars Matter in College Admissions
I believe that each of these articles will she some light on the process and give you some good talking points for your administration, colleagues, students, and families!
I will post more as I have it.
Again, thanks for participating and I look forward to the next time!
Monday, February 22, 2021
I was recently quite honored to be involved in a NAfME town hall to discuss our "Mission" as instrumental educators. The event was scheduled for Sunday, February 21st starting at 1:00pm (Pacific Time).
The entire event was virtual and lasted a total of 2 hours. The first hour was a panel discussion facilitated as a webinar. Attendees were encouraged to submit questions and comments through the chat feature. In the second hour, everyone was able to join with their camera and microphones. The dialog was open to everyone in attendance! We continued with questions that were submitted during the panel and appropriately branch off into related topics fueled by the attendees.
Following the event, the panelists were asked to submit some of our thoughts in writing. I thought some of you may be interested as well. So, here are some of my responses from the Town Hall.
Why are missions/philosophies important in contemporary American Education?
Missions and philosophies are important in contemporary American Education, in my opinion, for three specific reasons. First, they provide individuals guidance for daily decisions and positions. When one is under pressure or faced with a difficult decision, core philosophies or missions serve as an important compass for thoughtful individuals. They provide clarity in times of crisis. Next, they are an important factor in personal career and job fulfillment. For me, approaching each day with a mission mentality is an important key to happiness, fulfillment, and a general air of positivity in my daily life. When I approach my tasks as a mission, there is a much greater purpose. Mission implies importance. Mission implies commitment. Mission speaks of doing something for the greater good which is much bigger than one's self. Missions are honest and go beyond "chores or tasks" in our daily work. Finally, a sense of teacher mission can promote student buy-in and investment in the work and content of the course. Students sense honesty. Real learning isn’t about content delivery. It is about modeling. Our students are learning MUCH more than our content every day in class.
What is YOUR mission as a music educator?
At its core, my primary mission is to serve as a musical and personal model for students. I seek to lead and serve in my every move as an instructor. I seek to love and care for my students and colleagues on a daily basis. But, in reality, my mission changes throughout the day. I seek to serve students as an example of Artist/Educator and I seek to promote and articulate concepts in functional and creative musicianship every day. I seek to model as an example of the term “steadfast.” I try to “move with purpose” throughout the day and bring tasks to completion. This goes hand in hand with my stated mission of “servant leadership.” I seek to build healthy unwavering relationships and promote honest, unbiased communication. Finally, another stated mission for me is to simply say “yes” to students whenever possible.
How do you craft your mission to best serve your community: what factors need to be considered, which factors are commonly overlooked?
I believe clarity of mission develops over a number of years and with thoughtful consideration. Our longevity in career and expectations of our position can help to clarify our mission as well. For me, early in my career, my mission was to become the best and most knowledgeable pedagogue I could possibly be. In the end, I was developing the tools of teaching during this time period. I was teaching in central Pennsylvania for 6 years and was charged with building a string program in my community. The next phase of my career was about 10 years in suburban Washington DC. I stepped into a position where the expectation was strong string and orchestra ensembles. So, my mission centered around conducting, building ensembles, and building community among my students. For the past 20 years I have been at the North Carolina School of Science and Math. Here, my mission varies significantly. I have many roles at my school and must nimbly move between them. I seek to serve as a model teacher, leader, colleague, mentor, and guide. When I apply my priorities and philosophies to the practical responsibilities of my everyday work the mission develops.
How are models for instruction supported/limited by your mission?
There are so many examples of this. The mission of modeling functional musicianship as an artist and articulating this as an educator guides virtually all of my pedagogy. This is outlined in detail in Ensemble Musicians Taxonomy of Mental Habits on my blog, “Thoughts of a String Educator.” I also believe that many of my models for instruction are supported by my mission to “Just say yes”, and “servant leadership.” For example, I model performance practices all the time and frequently demonstrate on my instrument in class. This is a direct reflection of a servant leadership model.
Finally, I would love to share my recent blog post, "Mission Mentality" here as well. It was written just a few weeks before I was asked to serve on this panel. Some readers may find it interesting.