We’ll Take a Cup of Kindness Yet…

What is it about January 1st that makes people want to change? Is it the idea that a new year equals a clean slate? Do we really get more motivated at the strike of midnight? Who knows! I have to admit, I do slightly play into the hype. The new year is a time when we all take a look at what we have done and accomplished in the last 12 months and decide how we want to better ourselves in the coming new year. I don’t typically like to use the word “resolution,” as it has a bit of a flakey connotation to me; I much prefer the word “goal.”

In the spirit of Auld Lang Syne, here are my goals for 2012:

Become more organized.

Personal: I believe that clutter equals stress, and I constantly feel like I cannot fully relax at home because there are things that need to be organized. My goal is to organize these areas of my home and develop systems to keep these areas clean and tidy so that I can more fully enjoy my time at home.

Professional: Part of my advice for new teachers is to stay organized. Even though this is my fourth year of teaching, it’s my first in this position and in elementary school and I could definitely use some attention in this area. My goal is to better utilize online resources to streamline my lesson planning as well as to create systems in my classroom for better organization of papers, music, and classroom materials.

Plan ahead.

Personal: Even the control freak in me realizes that we can’t always plan for things or events in our personal lives. My goal is to better plan out the things that I HAVE to do (I’ve been known to procrastinate heavily when it comes to chores and car maintenance) so that I can better enjoy the things that aren’t planned….hopefully they are more fun! 😉

Professional: Planning ahead in my teaching lessons has never been something that I’ve done well, and I am not entirely sure why. It’s been especially tough this year because I am surrounded by so many new resources and so much new information for elementary music that I find it hard to pinpoint exactly what I want to work on with my kids. My goal is to plan my lessons at least a week in advance, though I am striving for two. Consequently, I am hoping that planning further ahead will help with cohesiveness between lessons, particularly with my older students that I only see once a week.

Make more time for people.

Personal: I am by no means a hermit, but I do enjoy my alone time. My goal is to make more time to connect/reconnect with the people in my life, especially my family. We suffered quite a few losses this past year, and it reminded us all that life is too short and very fleeting – you have to enjoy the time that you have with each other and make the most of it. That’s what I intend to do.

Professional: I want to make myself more available to my students and colleagues in the coming year. My goal is to set up extra help time for my students before/after school – many have requested it, but the first half of the year was quite an adjustment for me and I could never wrap my head around it. I also plan to eat my lunches in the faculty room or with other teachers instead of working and eating – the faculty at my new school is so sweet and wonderful. I want to get to know them better and for them to know more about me.

Of course, there are other things that I plan to work on, both personally and professionally. Another big goal is to eat healthier – I tend to get tunnel vision when I am working on a project and I often forget to feed myself! Admittedly, I can also get lazy and resort to fast food when I’m “not in the mood” to do anything. By eating healthier and at home more often, I will save money as well as help my often weak and unreliable immune system. I will also be participating in the Project 365 photo challenge (though it will be 366 this year) to help me better appreciate the little things in life. I created a new Posterous account just for the challenge!

I’m hoping that by writing out my goals and committing to them in front of all of you, I will hold myself more accountable…I hate to disappoint!

What are your goals and resolutions for 2012? Would love to hear about the things you plan to work on both personally and professionally!


Being a “Paper Trained” Musician

Music note piano keys

I am a musician and I am a music educator. 

These are two of my favorite ways to describe myself and what I am passionate about. I also believe that being good at one makes you better at the other. When people hear that I am a musician, I usually get one of two responses:

  1. Wow, that’s awesome! Can you sing something/play something/write something for me?
  2. Wow, that’s awesome! We should totally jam sometime!

While I could write an entirely separate post on the first response, the second one is the one that frightens me the most. Why, you might ask? Well, I am what I like to call a “paper trained”musician.

I may not be the first to coin the term, but to me, being paper trained means that you can only play when you have a piece of music in front of you. In my case, I feel comfortable sight-reading pieces (piano, flute, vocal) up to a fairly high level of difficulty. Ask me to play from memory or to improvise something and I will shrivel into a tiny, musical blob.

Ok, you might say, just make sure you have music in front of you at all times and it won’t be an issue. To me, it still is. I don’t want to be the music teacher that has to say no when students ask me to perform something for them. I don’t want to be the person that just wants to sit and play the piano, but has to first fish out  a book or two to find the right piece. I was always jealous of the jazz kids in undergrad – they always looked like they were having so much fun and were so relaxed! While I loved studying classical music, I was always worried about getting each note perfect, something that I believe added to my reliance on physical music.

I didn’t realize how being paper trained really made a difference until I got into the classroom – specifically, my final semester of student teaching. I was matched with an incredible cooperating teacher who was the complete opposite of me – no paper training there! In fact, putting music in front of him (think Bach or Handel) would slow him down. He would often solely look at the guitar chords of  a piece and improv the piano part from them. He never played the same accompaniment twice, and I believe the students benefited from it. They, in turn, were less reliant on the piano and more self-sufficient.

Now that I have my own program and my very own students, I want to become less paper trained and more free with my playing and musicianship. Thankfully, I am still in the same district as my cooperating teacher (we were sharing a room up until this year), and we often joke that when put together, we make one complete piano player! I don’t want to pass my stiffness or my fear of not reading the music off of a sheet to my students – instead, I want them to feel confident  with improvisation, playing by ear, and creating accompaniments within given boundaries.

But how can I do that?

It starts by bettering myself and my musical abilities. In the past few years, I have:

  • Taken jazz courses
  • Taken theory courses (to become more familiar with chord voicings)
  • Begun listening to more jazz music
  • Practiced creating accompaniments from guitar chords
  • Continued to practice playing different styles of music (I tend to want to play the pretty, flowing stuff all the time)

In the end, our responsibility as music educators is to better ourselves so that we can then better our students. Don’t settle for what you know; always strive to learn more. NEVER stop learning! My hope is to look back in 35 years and know that I put in the effort to learn and achieve new things, and that my students were better because of it.

Are you “paper trained?” How do you deal with it, both in your personal and professional life? Are you at the other end of the spectrum? I would love to hear your comments and thoughts!

Photo courtesy of http://www.layoutsparks.com/1/215745/piano-music-notes-keys.html

I’m Thankful For….

Being Thankful

As a part of our last-day-before-break-lesson yesterday, I taught my 1st and 2nd grade students a Thanksgiving Song that I learned when I was their age. It was always near and dear to my heart, and it really hit home to be on the teacher side of the song this time around. I will admit, I got choked up.

Hearing all of the children’s voices singing, “There are many things I am thankful for…” made me really start to think. This is the time of year that everyone starts to speak up about the people and things that they cherish, and I am no different. I would like to think that I show how much I appreciate everything on a daily basis, but the truth is, we can always do more.

An unexpected loss always makes you reevaluate the way you handle yourself and your life. Did I tell my family members that I love them often enough? Do I thank people for the little things? Do I reach out and connect/re-connect with the people in my life that I am missing? Did I offer help/support to someone in need? These are the things that I have been thinking about the past few days, even months.

  • I’m thankful for the family that I still have, no matter how far apart or out-of-touch we may be.
  • I’m thankful for the few close friends that I hold dear.
  • I’m thankful for the many new connections that I have formed through undergrad, grad school, my job, and my wonderful PLN.
  • I’m thankful for having a job that makes me happy and gives me a sense of purpose.
  • I’m thankful that I have been afforded the opportunities that I have been – my life was in a very different place 5 years ago.
  • I’m thankful to be alive and healthy and happy.

Life is so very fleeting and you never know when things will change – cherish what you have now and don’t ever throw away the chance to be with someone you care about or the chance do something that makes you happy. Don’t wait for a holiday or an unexpected event – start now.

Photo credit: formerlyfluffy-wls-blog-success-demands-actin-100-things-to-be-thankful-for.jpg

What Happens After College?

Graduation - definitely something to sing about!I was recently asked to have an informal chat with a group of pre-service music educators about what happens once school is over – how to find a job, the interview process, and surviving the first year of teaching. It was quite an honor!

I began to worry that having only four years of teaching under my belt, none of which were the same position as the year before, put me at a disadvantage. What could I really have to offer these soon-to-be educators?  Here are just some of the things that we chatted about and some of the resources I was able to share with them:

 Finding A Job

  • In Pennsylvania, the first place that pre-service teachers want to look is PA REAP – most school districts post position, even if only for 24 hours, on this site. Creating a profile can be a bit tedious, but it is worth it in the end.
  • If you plan to teach in a state other than the one that is certifying you, start looking into “certificate reciprocity” – what you need to do to ensure that you can teach in another state. Each state’s requirements can be found HERE


  • Take as many as possible. No one really loves to go on interviews, but it is great practice!
  • Don’t let interviews get you down! If you leave with a not-so-great feeling, that job probably wasn’t the best fit for you or the district.
  • Bring organized documents and examples. I used an interview portfolio that contained my resume, certifications, letters of recommendation, sample lesson plans, concert programs that I had been a part of and anything else that I felt was relevant to who I was as a musician and teacher. A stack of disorganized papers that you have to dig through does not send a great message!
  • Be honest and be yourself! Don’t pretend to know something that you really don’t – it always shows. One of my favorite lines that I used when I was asked a question that I wasn’t sure of: “What I lack in experience, I make up for in ability to learn quickly and desire to better myself as a teacher.”

Surviving the First Year

  • Stay organized! I did not have a classroom or a desk my first and third years of teaching – I taught out of my bag and was always on the move! Even in the toughest of situations, organization is key – for your own sanity and for your reputation. If we expect the students to come prepared, we need to set a good example.
  • Professional Development: attend as many conferences and workshops that you and your pockets can handle! Not only do you gather wonderful resources for your lessons and classrooms, but you make new contacts that may prove invaluable in the future. Great organizations in the Philadelphia Area are:
      • PAOSA (Philadelphia Area Orff Schulwerk Association) www.paosa.org
      • NAfME (National Association for Music Education) www.menc.org
  • Develop a PLN (Professional Learning Network)! This was the point that I stressed the most when speaking to the students. I cannot begin to describe the positive impact that joining and really using Twitter has had on my professional development. I never knew the amount of people out there that are willing to help and share with you, without even knowing you on a personal level. The connections I have made are incredible – we have shared lessons, encouraged one another, solved problems and even talked socially.
      • Use hashtags such as #musedchat, #edchat, #mused, and #mpln to find helpful advice and weekly chats that have to do with topics that interest you and are relevant to your position
      • Many of the points found in this post came from reaching out to my PLN using the above hashtags to ask what THEY would tell a pre-service teacher (thanks to @mecsings@jguarr@justine_robin, and @kfreesen for their contributions).

There are so many things to think about as you are getting certified and trying to find a job – these are just a few of them. If you had the chance, what would YOU share with pre-service educators? Please offer your advice and tips in the comments below!

Photo credit: http://www.musicnotes.com/features/promo/graduation/

Here We Go!

This is my first attempt at blogging!

Looking forward to sharing my thoughts, feelings, experiences, and classroom anecdotes with the world.

It is my hope that I will be able to use this site as a reflection tool – we don’t always take the time to sit and reflect on the happenings of the day, what we did that went well, what we could have done better. After polling my PLN, I was told that blogging was one of the best methods out there to do just that! I’ve read numerous examples, collected ideas, and I think that I am ready to go.

I am also hoping that this will be a place to gather and help spread the word about resources that may be useful in the music education field. I never knew about the vast world of resources out there for music teachers before I joined Twitter and began to build my PLN. I’m hoping that by blogging and sharing my thoughts and what works for me, the resources and contacts that I have will increase tremendously!

Any and all comments are welcome – thanks for reading!

Penguin Buddies