No Music Teacher Ever Wants to be Just an Employee

It is often said that great teaching is about making connections. Connecting with students through music is something that every successful music teacher has experienced.  I’m not sure if  non-music educators know or truly appreciate the extent of the powerful, emotional connections that exists in the music rooms of their schools.

A few weeks ago, my high school band was rehearsing a beautiful arrangement of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” The band was connecting in a way that I could feel that every student was totally focused on playing beyond what was printed on their sheet music; they were focused on creating music.

We have a few skylights in the room, so I asked a student to turn off the classroom lights, and we played the song again with only the faint light that was coming through the skylights. The students knew immediately that the change in lighting was adding another level of impact to their music.  After the release of the softly played final chord, the room of seventy-two teenagers remained motionless and still just soaking in what we had just created.  

I am positive my non-music teaching peers connect with their students, but I will hold fast to my belief that it’s different in a music class. The power of  music coupled with the process of both students and teacher creating something together makes our connection unique.

As I sit 59 days away from my retirement and walking out the door for the final time, it is more and more apparent to me of another enormous, powerful connection that exists.  The connection to the program that I have focused on for a career.

I had always planned on stepping away and not interfering when my replacement came in, but I had also realized that I could never totally walk away from the program.  I had always planned to be on the sidelines cheering for the program. For me, my program has never been a job, a classroom or a paycheck.  

The connection that every successful music teacher has to their program needs to be acknowledged as a powerful and vital aspect of a school’s culture. If you remove that connection, you end up just an employee teaching a class, and no music teacher ever wants to be just an employee.

Retiring Isn’t Easy

Recently, my school board accepted my resignation to retire from teaching at the end of this school year. Although it was no surprise to me or my family, the school and my students all thought I would retire at the end of the next school year. Being fully vested in the retirement system along with some potential employment opportunities made this year the year to retire.

When I started this blog, I chose to name it “A Teacher’s Coda” because I knew these were my last few years of teaching. Now that I entered into my last semester, I can tell you that retiring, from something you love, isn’t easy. You will experience different emotions. A sense of accomplishment when looking at back in time. A sense of excitement for what the future will bring you. And a sense of sadness when thinking about the future goals and events that your students and school experience without you.

Without a doubt, I will miss being around students more than anything. If retiring from teaching is in your future, brace yourself. Saying goodbye to your students will leave an empty feeling in your heart.

I have one semester left. It’s both exciting and sad.

5 Simple Tech Hacks for Google-Savvy Students

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Below are widely used simple tech hacks used by many Google-savvy students. You do not need to be a major computer geek to do any of these.

#1 Make & Use an Online To-Do List

As a teenager, your life isn’t as carefree as it use to be in grade school!  You’re a busy teenager with a lot of things you have to get done.   A To-Do list will make your life easier!

There are many great to-do list apps to choose from; try “Google Tasks” or “Google Keep” both work great on mobile devices.

#2 Make & Use Google Calendars

Make it easier to remember where you need to be. You have commitments at school, at home, at work and many other places. Learn to use an online calendar. Create and share an online calendar with your family. Then when you mother says, “I didn’t know you were doing that.” you can reply with, “Mom, it’s on our family calendar.”

If you have a problem, search Youtube for a how-to video on “Google Calendar.”

#3 Work in the Clouds Not on a Computer.

Your best ideas are likely come to you when you are not sitting at a computer. Create and store your work online, then no matter where you are, you can access your work. If you are going to be working without an internet connection, download the file to work offline, and then sync when you are back online!

Do you have a teacher telling you that Google Docs is not used in the “real world?” Well, it isn’t true! Over 64% of Fortune 500 companies use Google Docs, and many of the nation’s top universities have also embraced Google Apps.

  • Google Docs
  • Google Sheets
  • Google slides
  • Google Sites
  • Chrome Apps & Extension

#4 Study Together Without Being Together 

When a teacher gives you a study guide, you should enter it into a Google Doc and then share it with everyone in your class. Your classmates and you can then add what you know to the study guide.  Doing this isn’t cheating, it’s collaboration!

#5 Save more than just Google Docs in Google Drive

Take advantage of Google Drive storage and store more than just Google Docs in Drive. Here are some ideas:

  • Take pictures of your teachers notes on their marker board.
  • Take pictures of important pages within your textbook. (Remember your textbook is copyrighted, and you can not copy your entire book. However, you can take pictures of a small portion of your book as long as you do not share these pictures with others.)
  • Copies of class handouts (Save time and ask for digital copies of the handouts.)
  • Video recordings of class experiments / projects
  • Audio recording of a class lecture (Be polite and ask for permission before recording.)

You can store many different file types into Google Drive.

Got another tech hack for the Google-savvy student?  Share it in the comments! Thank you.

It’s Always About the Learning and Never About the Device

In a perfect world, schools would never have to worry about budgets. Teachers and students would have at their avail any technology tool they wished. But we all know the perfect world will never exist. Educators need to overcome the mindset that hardware and software always needs to be uniform.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the biggest lesson that #byotchat has taught me in the past three years is that success within a BYOT classroom has nothing to do with learning technology. It’s about reimagining learning outcomes. It’s about letting go of the personal fears of not being in total control of every action. It’s about not needing complete uniformity with technology, and it’s about giving students the opportunity to create.

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9:00 pm ET

Principal McGee Isn’t Making our Morning Announcements

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 11.29.48 AMRemember how Principal McGee would make the announcements at Rydell High School in the musical “Grease?” Take away the secretary’s xylophone, and you wouldn’t be far from the actual way many schools made announcements in the past.

For years our school, like many others, had done announcements over our intercom system. Last school year, we stopped reading announcements over the intercom and started emailing announcements and posting them online. Change isn’t always easy in education, and this change wasn’t fully supported by all of our faculty and students. In the end, the benefits of going with digital announcements exceeded reverting back to announcements being read over the intercom.

In our first year of digital announcements, we made three mistakes.


announcements written to read are different from announcements written to be published.

At first, we kept writing announcements like we wanted them to sound over the intercom. Spoken announcements do not always translate well to written announcements. If we have rigorous demands on our students written communication skills, our morning announcements should reflect these demands.


Our second error was that we failed to take full advantage of the digital format. Our announcement remained exclusively in text format. Even though we had the capabilities to include pictures, audio, video (school YouTube channel) and so much more, our announcements remained exclusively in a text format.

Our announcements were announcer-centered not student-centered.

Our third error was that even though we wanted our students to know what was occurring in school, we didn’t send out announcements until 90 minutes into the school day. Even though we are a BYOT school, students rarely had time to check their email, school website, or school social media sites to learn about the announcements. We would post a printed copy of the announcements on a bulletin board in the main hallway, but with only three minutes between classes students didn’t have time to stop and read announcements.

Our new approach

This year we have made some significant changes that have not only improved student’s awareness of school events, but has fostered better communication skills between students and faculty.

Our first goal was to get the morning announcements out to students, faculty, parents, and the community prior to school starting each day. Our second goal was to take advantage of the digital format and to make the announcements something students wanted to read. To accomplish our goals, our faculty and staff only had to do two things.

  • Submit announcements by 7:45 AM
  • Write announcements for print

Along with these two requirements, we encouraged faculty, staff, and students to submit photos and videos of events at our school. Our morning announcements are now more appealing and engaging. Our delivery of announcements focuses not just on the announcements, but also the design of the announcements.

Our present day announcements

Our teachers have been great about sending me announcements throughout the day (or even a few days in advance). As I receive announcements, I paste them into a Google Doc. Within the Google Doc, I format the announcements, add photos and external links. Any PDFs that the school would like distributed are uploaded to our school website and then a link to that file is included in the announcements. I make it a habit to not include attachments.

At 7:45 a.m. each school day, I email announcements to all students, faculty and staff. I then copy and paste our morning announcements on to our school website, and our school Facebook page. Finally, I tweet out a link to our announcements via our school Twitter account.

Gone is the bulletin board

This year we are in a new building. Gone are the old main hallway, the bulletin board and the practice of posting a printed copy for students to read. Replacing the bulletin board is a flat screen television in the cafeteria. Announcements are now displayed on a television using Rise Vision software and a Chromebox.

Going one step further

We recently included a survey within our announcements with goals of:

  1. Learning the students’ preferred way of receiving announcements (school email vs. school social media vs. school website).
  2. Learning what the students wanted to have included in the announcements.

The results of the survey were that students preferred reading announcements via school email over our website or social media. Getting students to check their school email accounts routinely was a huge win for us and has resulted in faculty being better able to communicate information to their students.

Students also told us that in addition to school events, pictures and videos, they also wanted their announcements to include:

  • Information regarding colleges
  • Tips on being a better student
  • Technology tips to be more productive students

We’re making plans to include this additional information in further improving our lines of communications.  Now that we have made these changes to our digital announcements going back to announcements being read over the intercom would be a huge step backwards.