self care

Making It Work: Self-Care for Music Educators in December

December is a crazy time for music educators. There is a lot on our plates. We are still teaching all of our regular classes as well as preparing for a concert (or five), with all of the details and logistics that go along with that. Many of us have gigs outside of school at church or other venues with extra rehearsals and performances. Top it off with an extensive list of personal and family activities and preparations for the holidays. It can become a bit daunting. Roger Sams and I put our heads together to create a list of ways you can take care of yourself so you can enjoy the wonder and beauty of the season.

Look for the good.

When I am neck deep in a to-do list for concert time and running through the final rehearsals with my kids I do my very best to take a deep breath and look for the moments of joy and beauty the children have created. It helps me to enjoy the process with the children. When the performance is over and 300 parents are happy and that one critical email comes through, I go back and read the complimentary notes from parents and kids again. I remind myself that 300 parents were thrilled, make note of any legitimate concerns and move on.

Carve out few minutes to nourish your soul with beauty.

Take a few minutes to watch your favorite Pentatonix video on YouTube, listen to a favorite selection of music with headphones, look at art for five minutes and focus on the visual in front of you. Pet your dog or cat and be attentive to their response. Take a five-minute walk outside around your school or neighborhood and focus on the beauty around you. You will come back to your work refreshed and be more productive.

Know when enough is enough.

Yes, I know that the fabulous idea of having red and green streamer ribbons for 40 kids during the final song on the program would be amazing. You have been to seven craft stores and can’t find what you need, or you purchased everything that you need and are now up at 3AM making streamer sticks two days before the concert. If those last details are making you (and your family and possibly your students) crazy because you are overwhelmed and exhausted is it really worth it?  Sometimes it is better to let it go, and really enjoy the beauty you and the children have created together.

Make a point of eating the best quality food you can.

For most of us cooking at home every night during concert season is not likely. When you do get a meal in, make double and freeze half for next week or exchange with a friend. Have to pick something up? Perhaps choose a prepared meal from the grocery store over fast food. Cook a big pot of soup on the weekend and bring a little for lunch each day. Sheet pan meals have become a favorite in my house. I throw meat, veggies and potato on a large sheet pan with spices and roast while I get other things done. Thirty minutes later, dinner is ready!

Know when good enough is good enough.

Often times the children will have a really hard time in those final rehearsals. More often than not, they pull it together when they are in front of an audience and it really matters. I am not saying that you should lower your standards, but we do need to remember they are children and this is supposed to be fun! Many a terrible dress rehearsal has been followed by a stunning performance. Trust it will all work out.

Schedule time to be attentive to yourself.

Schedule time for yoga or stretching. Carve out 10 minutes to pray, meditate, or focus on your breath. Take a hot bath or get one of those 15-minute chair massages at the mall.  A quick manicure or pedicure can make you feel rejuvenated. Taking time to read a short inspirational passage from a favorite text does the trick for some. Do something that makes you feel good. You deserve it!

Remind yourself why music makes you happy.

When you are really stressed out at school, take five minutes, close your door and play your instrument or sing or play a favorite song and dance with abandon. Remind yourself why you decided on a career in music education and how music makes you feel. It will prepare you for that next class or rehearsal by putting you in the right frame of mind to share that feeling of joy with your students.

Please share your tricks for self-care during the busy month of December in the comments below so we can all enjoy the concert season. Your solution may be just what someone needs to “Make it Work.”

LeslieAnne Bird

LeslieAnne Bird is a music and movement educator at University Schools in Shaker, Ohio. She teaches general music and choir to fifth through seventh grade young men and is an adjunct Professor at the University of Akron. She has previously taught in North Olmsted & Cleveland Ohio as well as in Prince George’s County, Maryland. LeslieAnne is a national presenter. She has served as vice president and membership chair for the Greater Cleveland Orff Chapter and is currently serving as the content curator for the Teaching With Orff community. In addition, she is the owner and CEO of Three Little Birds Music Education Services LLC where she offers teacher training, coaching and musical experiences for children and adults. She earned Orff Certification from Baldwin Wallace University in 2014, and has completed Music Learning Theory General Music Level One, Level One World Music Drumming training, Level One Google Certification and has earned the Ohio Master Teacher designation.

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  1. Gina DePaoli on December 7, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    Thank you for this article. Letting go of those perfect concert plans and relishing in the accomplishments that have already been made is exactly what I needed to hear. Reminders to take time for our own rejuvenation are also very much appreciated.

  2. Jill Murrell on December 7, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    Great advice! Beth Ann Hepburn and I were talking about this today with her student teacher. And the need for some sessions about the topics you mentioned at upcoming Professional Development Conferences.

  3. Corinna on December 8, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    This is exactly what I needed to hear this week! Thanks for the great suggestions and reminders.

  4. Maria Pflegl on December 12, 2016 at 4:18 am

    Love this! It is so important! I would also add the idea of putting on Christmas music or other fun music of different tempos and just doing a crazy dance with your students then freeze (rest) they will learn the different Italian tempo words, and have a great time! You all will laugh together and this is what music class should be about sometimes.

  5. Katie Peterson on December 14, 2016 at 11:00 am

    Drink lots of water during the day! It’s easy to get dehydrated.

  6. Becky on December 14, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    My principal and I went another direction this December and the only performance I was scheduled for was my choir singing three songs at a PTA. At first I was really excited bc 31 years of Christmas/Holidays Musicals had worn me OUT. I thought I would be so happy but I felt a little guilty.

  7. Cristen on December 5, 2017 at 8:38 am

    Try to rephrase things. When you start thinking, “oh I HAVE TO set up for the concert/hold the extra rehearsal/practice for the singalong etc,” stop. Restart the sentence with, “I GET TO set up for a concert/have an extra rehearsal.” Five years ago I had just moved and was in a brief period of staying home and not teaching. I had no performances to practice for, no groups to lead, singalongs, or anything and it was such an empty feeling. It is hard, busy work this time of year but it is a gift!

    • sheila o shea on December 11, 2017 at 10:00 am

      I like that!

  8. Teresa on December 8, 2017 at 6:42 am

    I learned to give myself a break with family Christmas. I asked my kids and husband to take over decorating. I cooked the Thanksgiving meal and left Christmas to in- laws. My husband and I developed a tradition of picking out a silly snowman decoration at a local store each year – a fun date. . . .
    Recognize that something has to give, and have some good humored fun with being less than perfect.

  9. Kristin Smith on December 19, 2017 at 6:45 am

    Also essential – know when to ask for help. You most likely have individuals in your school who are willing and able to assist with tasks you have at hand! Can’t hurt to ask, especially if you’re “the new guy.” Sometimes others in your school community may have talents and experience and are very willing to lend assistance that can make your event feel much more manageable and enjoyable. 🙂

  10. Maria Pflegl on December 15, 2021 at 8:31 am

    Thank you so much for this. Many people will preach that self care is important, and well meaning administrators do “talk the talk” as well- but still expect everything to all go perfectly every time, then hardly show up to support us. From them, it is hollow advice.
    However, It is so wonderful to hear this advice from seasoned professionals who have been in the trenches and know what our world is actually like during this season.
    Thank you for the reminders and for being awesome.

  11. Maria Pflegl on December 15, 2021 at 8:38 am

    So true. I go from our fall musical in November straight into Christmas programming…with a little breather for Thanksgiving. This year-I developed bronchitis on Thanksgiving day and instead of having a shopping date with my hubby on Black Friday i was in urgent care getting covid tested and prednisone!
    So, I understood that my family had to do the decorating and handle getting me fed and watered for a couple more weeks after tech week-while my brain was yet absorbed again and poisoned with Christmas programs. Then I was able to focus on the work, get the rehearsals done joyfully and the programs came off beautifully last week and this week. Youre so right! something had to give-and I am so thankful for my family.

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