Organize Volunteers with Less Work

    I became K-12 last year, so I was looking for any and everything that could save me time.  I had post-it notes covering my desk before school even started!  During all the chaos, I kept getting e-mails from VolunteerSpot (now called telling me their website was "free" to use and could help organize my volunteers.  Hmmmmmm. . . . okay, I was desperate, so why not give it a whirl?
     I set up VolunteerSpot to organize people bringing desserts for my fall choir concert (my FIRST secondary concert EVER!).  Guess what?  It was all that I had hoped it would be--and a little bit more!  So please let me tell you about it in case it will help you next year in your teaching!  I imagine you could use this for costume prep, parties, parents volunteering to help students learn speaking lines, etc.  Sound good?  Yep!

What is is a website that allows you to create an event and describe what volunteers you need.  You are then able to share this event with others through e-mail, a link, social media, or a button on your website.  Parents can follow the link to see what volunteers are needed and can sign up without you being the middle man (or woman)!

(I think a tear may be rolling down my cheek . . .)

How do you use it?

1.  Sign up for an account using your school e-mail so that all communication goes to your school e-mail.  Then it will take you to your Dashboard.  This is where you get stuff done!

2.  Click on "Create New Sign-Up." 
3.  Pick a date to create an event:
4.  Add spots for the volunteers you need: (You can even create a repeating schedule!)
Here's what it looks like when you add multiple spots:  

5.  When you are done creating spots and click "Next" it will take you to back the calendar view--but don't stop there!  Go to the bottom and click "Next."  It will take you to a page where you can customize your event's appearance to match the theme.  LOVE this!  Pick an icon, then scroll down to pick the background design.  Click "Next" when you're done.
6.  Pick an option for how you would like to share it with parents.  I personally send the e-mail to myself and then copy it to my choir parent lists.  But do whatever works best for you!
7.  Then you can finally click "Done!"  It will show you all of the nifty features you will be able to add if you go premium, but for my purposes I haven't needed that :)  To go back to see your event, you can click "Dashboard" in the upper left corner.  Here's what it looks like under "My Sign-Ups" now.  (I signed up for a volunteer spot so you could see what it shows you.) 
8.  Click "Preview" if you want to see what parents will see when they go to sign up.
9.  Go back to "My Sign-Ups" on your Dashboard.  If you click on the title of the event.  It will take you to the calendar view.  Click on your even in the calendar view and it will pop this up:
Pretty nifty, huh?  

It gets better:  This website sends reminders on its own to the people who sign up--YOU DON'T HAVE TO REMEMBER TO DO IT!  However, if you want to send a message or a thank-you to your volunteers, go to "My Sign-Ups" and click on "Manage" and then "Messages."  You can also print reports, etc. to see the status of your sign-up all through the "My Sign-Ups" section.  LOVE IT!

Is it really FREE? 

YES!  As far as I can tell, unless you are someone who has to organize a marathon, I think you will be more than happy with the FREE package!  You can always upgrade to premium if you really want to :)

Is it worth the time?

Yes, there's a small learning curve when using, but it pales in comparison to the amount of time I used to spend making flyers, sending e-mails, and making phone calls!  Work smarter, not harder right? 

Give it a try and let me know how you used it!  I would love to hear how you saved time!

Catch you next time I have something Noteworthy!

6 Tips for Burnt Out Music Teachers

Feeling burnt out in the music classroom?  Stop feeling overwhelmed and get back to why you love teaching!  Check out these 6 tips to help you feel refreshed instead of stressed!
     Most of us have been there.  You had a great passion for teaching music most of your career, but now you are just done.  Kaput.  Burnt out.  
     I've had my fair share of this as I've gone from K-5 to K-12 this year.  Most of the time I've held it together, but there are some days where I just want to make it through the day so I can go home and not think about teaching anymore.  I can't say I've completely mastered not feeling burnt out (though with 3 weeks left of the school year I would say that's normal!), but here are some tips I have learned through the ups and downs of my year.

1.  Remember why you wanted to teach music to begin with.

     Sometimes going back to the beginning of it all helps take the focus off of the day-to-day and helps you remember the overall picture.  For me personally, I wanted to teach music because it was such a big part of my life growing up.  It was something I was good at, but more importantly, something that fulfilled me.  I am forever grateful for the teachers I had who helped to foster my love of music throughout my life.  I wanted to be that to someone else someday.  I didn't realize how challenging music education would be, but I knew that I could impact the lives of students the way my teachers impacted mine.

2.  Keep a wall of encouragement.

     Students sometimes make our day and we shouldn't just forget about it and move on.  I keep a folder with encouraging notes from students from the entire span of my career.  I also make sure to put notes and student art work up on the walls of my classroom so that I see them when I'm getting discouraged or overwhelmed.  And just when I hit a wall this year and literally wanted to quit education all together, one of my students wrote me a note.
I will NEVER throw this note away.  NEVER.  This student is a dream--so talented and such a wonderful person.  But she's mine and you can't have her ;)  We all have those students we would sob if they left our school, and she's one of mine.  And guess what, she appreciates me!

3.  Choose your attitude.

     Yes, we've all had to do a million PD's on school environment.  A few years ago, our principal had us read a book about the Seattle Fish Market and the concepts they used to make it a positive place for its workers and customers.  I don't know about you, but handling fish sounds way less fun than teaching music, so if they can make handling fish fun, certainly the ideas can help teaching!  One of the mantras we repeat over and over at our school is "choose your attitude."  Yes, it's true, some days I don't want to put on my big girl pants and choose my attitude, but you'd be amazed at how a conscious effort toward thinking positive can help your overall day and year.  Especially when you can help your co-workers do the same thing.  Complaining won't get you very far, problem-solving will.

4.  Surround yourself with positive people.

     I'm lucky to work at one of the best schools in the world.  Seriously.  We don't make a lot of money or have a flashy building, but the people are top notch.  We all work together to accomplish our goals at our school.  It's not about your classroom, it's about how it affects the school overall.  Yet, we still care about each other individually.  I was lucky enough to have a co-worker tell me in the nicest way that she saw how I was becoming negative as the year went on and it bothered her because I wasn't normally like that (thank you K-12 . . . ).  It actually helped me, because it reminded me to go back to the positive person I was before.  Now if you can't find a positive person in your building, make sure that you find someone outside of work who you can meet for coffee (or chocolate) to talk about your struggles in a constructive, problem-solving way.

5.  Go to professional development.

     Sometimes I'm overwhelmed and the thought of going to one more PD makes my head want to disintegrate.  But, most times, PD really helps re-energize me!  One of the best things that happened this year is that I had a clinician come in to work with my choirs.  It really helped give me new ideas and a way to move forward where I felt like the choirs were learning more and sounding even better than before.  I also went and observed another choir classroom for a day.  Those experiences were invaluable to me this year and provided a great pick-me-up!

6.  Re-ignite your own passion for music.

     My friend Bethany and I decided to get season tickets to the Wharton Center this year.  AKA--6 Broadway musical productions in one year!  It has been so much fun to go watch musical theater productions that touch my soul while I am watching them. They also give me new ideas for my own musicals.  And did you know you can use those tickets as a tax write-off?  Back to the real point though--watching a musical makes me remember why I do what I do.  I LOVE music and I LOVE how it affects the people who create it and listen to it.  What are you doing to make sure you remember how much you love music?

I hope these ideas give you something to think about.  I will probably have to come back and read my own post in the future and I'm okay with that.  Don't give up because something is hard, if it's worth fighting for, then do it.

Catch you next time I have something noteworthy!

K-5 to K-12--Part 1: Observations

I had 10 years of K-5 teaching under my belt last year and was comfortably living "the dream."  I knew the routine for shoe-tying, nose picking, puking, elementary musicals, and all other fun elementary experiences.  AND THEN THEY MADE ME K-12!!!! 

Horror, panic--no wait a minute, I GOT THIS!  No I don't.  NO I DON'T.  Breathe, just breathe.  Everything will be okay . . . . . . . maybe.  I hope?  No, I CAN do this. . . . perhaps?

Such were the roller coaster thoughts of my brain as my whole teaching world was changed.

Flash forward:  I have successfully "survived" 7 months of being K-12 (elementary and choir).  It has been a ton of work, not gonna lie.  But, I thought I would write a blog post about my observations as a "first year" K-12 teacher.  I hope to add other K-12 posts in the future.  Perhaps it will offer some hope or help to those of your in similar situations.  If nothing else, I hope it offers the feeling that you aren't alone. 


(Keep in mind I went from elementary to K-12, so my observations will be about the 7-12 land . . . )

1.  Hormones:  Be ready for a whiplash of emotions from a lot of your students.  

Downside:  It would be amazing if they stayed in the same mood for two days in a row so I could figure this thing out!  I've had to learn not to take their moods personally.  You would think I would know this from 10 years of prior teaching, but nope!  It's a new type of patience to not respond to the ebb and flow of their teenage worlds.  Not to mention teaching students who tower over me . . .

Upside:  They understand emotions more when they sing.  They can connect with the music.  They get the goose bumps when something musically beautiful happens.  And they want to sings songs about love that my elementary kids always thought were "gross." 

2.  Words:  They know how to explain their thoughts better now.

Downside:  In elementary you tell a student to stop talking and they do.  In middle and high school they look at you and tell you they weren't talking to begin with.  (Ummmmm, then why were your lips moving when we weren't singing?)  And then they huff and puff for the rest of class and you are sure they are snap chatting evil things to their friends about you later that day.  I still haven't figured out Snap Chat . . . that's a lesson for another day! 

Upside:  They are smart.  Really smart.  I LOVE the ideas that some of them come up with.  Not to say elementary students don't, but I really love that some of them have such deep thoughts and passions now.  Politics.  Social justice.  Music.  Rap.  Fashion.  Sports.  Acting.  I love the connections I can make with my students about their interests.  And they get more of my jokes now!  Which they sometimes groan about, but hey, I'm just happy to have an informed audience!

3.  Friends:  Mean everything to them now.

Downside:  Their phones are their third arm.  And they don't seem to understand that they don't need them every second of the day.  If I have to tell one more person to put their phone away . . . Oh, and they make choices based on their friends rather than what they actually want to do.  I guess I forgot about that part of being a teenager. 

Upside:  Their friends motivate them.  Positive peer pressure is a great tool for getting students to learn and inspire each other.  Not gonna lie--I feel like I need to get more of the "positive" thing rolling in my 7-12 classes this year.  But I know it took me several years to really feel comfortable at K-5 and I have to expect something similar in the 7-12 realm. 

4.  Self-Awareness:  In other words, they are often only aware of themselves :)

Downside:  Think back to when you were a teenager.  Did you ever REALLY focus on what other people needed, or were you mostly concerned about yourself and how others saw you?  Teenagers are painfully aware of how others see them to the point that it is tough for me to watch.  I just want to tell them to be who they are and stop worrying about what other people think!! 

Upside:  They want to be loved and accepted by everyone--including you!  What have you done to make sure your students know you care about them?  Some things I have done:  gone to sporting events, sent post cards home about positive things I've appreciate about them, watched TV shows they like so I can talk about it with them, let them pick a One Direction song for our Pops Concert (please don't judge me!), shake their hand at the door (which they WILL adjust to, I promise), stretch to music they like on Fridays, etc.  AND, I really enjoy it.  It's the best part about my job--that I get to build someone up who I genuinely care about (an may remember me in the future since I didn't stop teaching them in 5th grade)  :)

I have a gazillion more thoughts, but these were the few I chose to write about today.  I would love to hear from other K-12 teachers.  Or even secondary teachers--good advice is always welcome!

Catch you next time I have something Noteworthy!

9 Vocal Health Tips for Music Teachers

By Philip, Frank [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

     One of the most challenging things for a new music teacher is figuring out how to keep their voice healthy.  Since I've been in the trenches for 11 years now, with plenty of vocal health struggles, I thought I would share some things I have learned.

1.  Drink plenty of water.

     And you may even want to add some electrolytes if you have low blood pressure.  Try using large water bottles that show how much water you are drinking so you can make sure to get at minimum 6-8 glasses of water each day.  I personally need more than 8!  Also, drinking room temperature water is more beneficial than hot or cold water.

2.  Warm Up.

     Humming on the way to work can go a long way.  If you don't have time for a real warm-up, trying warming up the first few minutes with your first class. 

3.  Amplify your voice.

     Microphones are awesome!  You can talk and sing quietly and your students can still hear you.  I have had a traditional wireless microphone and an infrared microphone.  Both have advantages and disadvantages, but they both make cool spaceship and Darth Vadar noises (which is all that really matters . . .).  In reality, amplification is shown to increase our students' focus on what we are teaching.  We are just as important as classroom teachers, so make sure you are included when new technology comes to the building.  You can also try to fund a project through Donors Choose or another fundraising method. 

4.  Only talk when your students are silent.

     Easier said than done.  Beginning teachers often talk over their students (including yours truly).  Don't do it.  Have a cue that requires little or no talking from you such as a bell or a clapping pattern, play it ONCE and then wait for silence.  It will take a while for students (and you) to adjust, but in the end, all of you will be happier.  Remember that many people lose their voice because of how they are talking/yelling, not how they are singing.  Are you talking without stress?

5.  Frontal voice placement.

     I at one point in college, I was singing with my voice placed in the back of my throat.  It didn't necessarily sound like it, but I was.  My voice teachers didn't notice it, but boy did I!  My voice hurt to sing.  When I was at grad school, we had a music theater person come in and they talked about how forward their vocal placement was and had us do some exercises with them.  This was a game changer for me!  My voice lasts longer and my range is wider when I sing with frontal placement.  Find someone who can help you if you can't figure it out yourself.

6.  Hang up signs to remind yourself.

     Certain things like drinking water and being quiet until the students are quiet aren't easy to remember when one student wants to show you their tooth fell out, two students get called to the office, you are being observed, and you have a new lesson in front of you.  Hang signs up in your room somewhere that will help you to remember whatever it is that most often causes you to lose your voice.  Be proactive!

7.  Don't be afraid to have a non-singing back-up plan!

     We all have days when our voices aren't cooperating.  If you are sick, don't be afraid to deviate from your golden lesson plan and give your students something else for a change.  I have music bingo games they play (and love) as well as a set of sing-along packets I made from Music K-8 magazine.  And BONUS:  these also make great sub activities for non-musical subs.  They still have value too--the bingo games reinforce note names and the music packets allow students to experience more types of music and increase their reading fluency (your principle will love it if you throw that term out there!). 

6.  Treat acid reflux, allergies, and asthma.

     I have been "blessed" with all of the above.  They were absolutely killing my vocal cords and I had no idea.  It wasn't until I talked with my doctor about how and when I lose my voice that I realized how much it was related to my overall health.  When and what you eat and even how you wash your sheets can make a big difference.  Make sure you talk with a doctor to get these regulated the best you can.  (Nasal spray is great!) 

9.  If your voice continues to struggle or hurts regularly when you sing, see an ENT with a singing expertise.

     I had nodes in college.  Let's just say yelling at the top of your lungs during a basketball game when you are a vocal major is NOT highly recommended :)  It wasn't just because of that, but I had to take an entire semester off from singing.  It was so hard to do, but I can tell you I have never appreciated singing more than the first note I sang when the semester was over.  I am more conscious of when my voice is stressed now and try to pinpoint the cause rather than just "get better."  Sometimes taking a rest is needed.  Plus, it is challenging to sing with proper technique when you begin losing your voice, so be aware of that.  

     You will undoubtedly lose your voice at some point, but keeping your voice as healthy as possible makes a big difference.  May the odds of your vocal health be ever in your favor!  Catch you next time I have something noteworthy!