This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the NIME6 (Narrative Inquiry in Music Education) in Boston. My dear friend and colleague, Nick McBride, and I presented our personal narratives on our reflections on narrative research. I also attended a workshop by Patricia Leavy who shared with ideas on writing and encouraged us to write at least ten minutes every day. So, here I am at school at 7:00 writing. Jazz band is done for the year, but by contract we are supposed to be here, so I guess I will take advantage of the opportunity.
Today’s post is not really about teaching tips or ideas, nor is it about research. It is about self-care. I know. . . I KNOW. Self-care is all the rage, right? Everybody is doing it! BUT WE AREN’T. Today’s post is prompted by one of the conversations that took place after the delightful Tami Draves presented a paper “Class, “FirstGens,” and Music Education.” The paper itself was wonderful, but it was the conversation that took place after the paper that caused me to pause: self-care in music education and for music educators.
We live and breathe in a society that is fueled by the hustle; fueled by 60 hour work weeks, working on the weekends, working during dinner, working all.the.time. In the discussion after Tami’s paper, we discussed how schools of music perpetuate this in a potentially unhealthy way. Undergraduate music education majors attend class during the day. Between classes they practice ___ hours. Evenings are often filled with rehearsals, required concerts, more practicing, studying, and potentially a job to help pay for college. For music education students this often translates to when they come into the profession: during the day they teach, some stay after school for HOURS working with students, or grading. Many music teachers are gigging musicians in their after hours as well. Many high school music teachers find themselves at multiple pep bands during the week, musical rehearsals, district meetings….etc. OH….and sometimes teachers want to have a family, so they have to navigate the complexities of that as well.
Where does self-care fall into place in all of this? I am not talking about the occasional mani-pedi with your girlfriends, or a night of poker with the guys (sorry about the complete gender stereotypes there….). But what about taking time for YOU to bring alignment with your mind/body/spirit? Let’s be honest-this is so far off the priority list for many of us that when we realize that we need to take care of ourselves, it is often too late or we feel completely lost.
Case in point. This year has been a struggle for me. Not with school. Not with research, but with my self-care. I foolishly got myself involved in seven conferences, six of which I presented research or teaching strategies. This is just the beginning of what I overcommitted myself to and around late January/early February my body decided that it had about enough. My brain was going nonstop and my body could not keep up. This stress led me to have a resurgence of hepatitis A and adrenal fatigue. When my doctor looked at me point blank and stated, “you have to rest,” I actually replied “I am not sure I know how to rest.” Seriously. I had backed myself into a corner of constantly going that I wasn’t sure how to get myself out. It was scary. I didn’t realize what I had done because I had thought that this was the norm. It is not. Our bodies were not designed to be a work horse going all day. Our bodies, especially our major organs that deal with stress hormones, do not recognize the difference between mental/emotional/physical stress. I had ALL the stress going on. And I don’t mean “oh shit, I am so stressed out.” I felt like I was THRIVING on this. It kept me going. I felt like I was making a difference in the world. What I didn’t see, and what everyone else around me saw, was that I was starting to fall apart. In the wise words of my CrossFit coach, Logan, "Sarah, you need to chill the fuck out."
SO….self care. I have learned that simple things are REALLY important to the healing of my body, my brain, and my overall outlook. Everyday I take really big belly breaths when I start to feel anxious and that instantly centers me. Sometimes I have to take a few breaths in a row. This type of breathing brings my shoulders down, relaxes my faces, lowers my blood pressure, and reminds me to just ‘be’.
Every night I listen to a meditation to calm my brain. I never make it through because the voice is SO relaxing. In this meditation (there are a bazillion apps out there) I focus on breathing. . . again, breathing is just SO important. We often forget this when we are in the heat of a day of teaching and our shoulders rise up and we become tense.
Yoga. I used to think I needed to go to a yoga studio and get a major sweat on to receive any benefit from yoga. This is so not the case. I really love Yoga with Adriene because she is super real, her practices are very much about no perfection, self-care and self-love.
Therapy. Yep. Therapy. Talking with someone who actually doesn’t know me-someone who can look at me and my life objectively and provide some outside perspective has been super helpful.
Saying “no” and being ok with it. I’ve had the chance to turn down some opportunities recently and it has been empowering. Before I was saying ‘yes’ to everything because I was nervous that the experience would not happen again. You know what, it is ok because we can’t do everything all the time. I realized this in March that, as a perfectionist, trying to be 100% at 100% of the things I am doing 100% of the time is just not sustainable. Something will suffer.
Allowing yourself to just “be”. Damn, it was HOT yesterday. Our basement was nice and cool, so instead of cleaning and being outwardly productive, I watched two movies, stayed where it was cool, and just enjoyed relaxing. Five months ago, I would have deemed that as being lazy. Now I deem it as enjoying a day off.
Sitting in silence. As a music teacher, I spend 8 hours a day (or more) immersed in sound. Sound is everywhere. I have taken to turning off my radio on my drive home so I can just sit in silence. It is glorious.
Taking joy in the simple things around you. I really love the beauty of nature. Each morning I look outside my kitchen window, take in a big belly breath, and thank mother nature for creating such beautiful colors and sounds. This time of year is especially lovely as the birds are up bright and early, it is quiet in the morning, and flowers are starting to grow and bloom. The breath just brings it all together and just grounds me.
Some people find that journaling, walking, reading books, and other forms of exercise can be modes of self-care. As long as YOU feel better afterwards, are refreshed, feel more calm, and centered, I think you can do whatever you want.
But let’s be real here. This is super important. I would hate for anyone to go through what I experienced. I mean, it wasn’t the worse thing in the world, but it was incredibly frustrating and I am still figuring it all out. By no means am I a self-care expert. I am still on the journey and will always be on the journey. I do think it is important that we talk about these things as we can only get by on adrenaline and coffee for so long. I do think that it is important for our profession to understand that we should address these issues for the sake of the humans that are working with young humans. I do think that this is something that perhaps higher education needs to look at in how they model and practice self-care with future teachers.
I would love to hear how YOU practice self-care-even if you are not an educator. We can all learn from each other. Thank you and make sure to give your self some love today :D
Guitar 2 really took a turn the past week and a half. Students really enjoyed working in SoundTrap while they mixed the most recent album. As they were working in SoundTrap, many of them asked if we could do a project where they could create their own music. Why not? Music is music and guitar is one vehicle through which we create music.
Here's the cool thing about SoundTrap: it's cloud based, which means it is accessible on any device. There is even a SoundTrap app, so the students could access their songs via their mobile devices. It works on Macs AND PCs. Super cool.
I thought it would be fun if the students created a South High Soundscape, where recorded sounds from our school found their way into their songs. We listened to to versions of Soundscapes: Steve Reich's "Different Trains" and "City of God's Son" While these might push the envelope of a "soundscape" I thought they might provide two contrasting styles.
What the students put together is uniquely them and intriguing. When I asked them what they enjoyed about the project they replied that they enjoyed creating their own music (even if using pre-established loops), that everyone's creation was different, and there was freedom. Although-that freedom was met with a bit of anxiety at the beginning of the project because there was just SO MUCH for available for the students to work with.
Below is the project description along with some of the songs (students gave me permission to use their work.) Some students, like Diego who wrote "Doors" were very thoughtful in their approach. Diego shared that each section starts with a door sound that he recorded. He indicated that doors open and close to different sections of a school and therefore each time you hear the door in his composition, there is a new and different sounding piece. Woah...that's deep, man. (Also, this is Diego's first time being in a music class).
Please enjoy and please feel free to use this assignment in your own classroom. I believe this kind of music experience can work with ANY grade in ANY setting!