I’m a music teacher turned small business owner, so you may be surprised to learn that I’m an extremely shy person. And like me, you may have assumed that shy people are part of a scarce minority. Yet in reality, almost half of adults describe themselves as being shy. Even more surprising; people aren’t born shy (Psychology Today, 2018). Rather, it’s a learned behavior, and an inconvenient one at that.
A business owner who dreads networking!? That’s me!
As a shy person, I often fear (or entirely avoid) meeting new people. This led to trouble in my first few years of teaching because I struggled to build a support system. I often ate lunch alone (by choice), and I had a hard time just “being myself”. I still struggle with this, but hindsight is a great teacher. I’ve learned how to better navigate social situations and step outside my comfort zone when necessary. I still play the avoidance game at times (to my own embarrassment), but I’m proud to have built a solid support system. Most importantly, they accept me for who I am (shyness and all).
Even if you’re not a shy person, you’ve probably experienced this social anxiety when starting a new job or moving to a new school. I can definitely relate, so I’m going to share my list of weaknesses and successes in building a support system. I hope that my experience as a shy person, gives you an idea for how you can build your own support system within your community.
I know this will be a lifelong struggle for me, and I imagine it is for some of you as well. I like having control, and asking for help means that I have to give some of that up. True, some things only you can do, but not everything. It’s not easy, but asking for help will benefit you in the long run. Not only will you avoid becoming overwhelmed by doing everything yourself, but you’ll likely gain some new friends in the process.
Try starting with something small, such as asking someone to help you fold program flyers. Or ask another music teacher in your district for advice. Not only will they be flattered that you asked for their opinion, but that small gesture could be the start of an amazing friendship. It’s also helpful to find out what kind of help the previous music teacher received. For all you know, it’s a long-held tradition for the other teachers or support staff to help you with specific tasks. You won’t know unless you ask.
I believed that I had to be socially outgoing before I was “good enough”.
Again, this is another battle I’m still fighting. To make it a little easier, I remind myself of this simple truth; diversity is beautiful, and it’s necessary. I need some of my friends to be outgoing and bubbly to help break me out of my shell. On the flip side, they need me to be a good listener who likes having deep conversations anytime, anywhere. We don’t have to be the same to value each other. Just as you don’t have to behave exactly like the teacher down the hall in order to be respected or valued by your colleagues.
The title of “support staff” doesn’t seem adequate. They’re the ones who keep everything in order from day to day with little recognition or thanks. Through all the people I met while teaching, I was probably closest to the support staff; specifically the custodians. They knew more about the school than I could’ve learned in a lifetime. And they were one of the few who truly understood the importance of music education. When I was having a rough day, they were there to remind me to be kinder to myself. They pointed out how heavy my workload was, and encouraged me to feel pride in my job.
Talk with your support staff, laugh with them, and learn from them. Their friendship will be invaluable to you, just as they are invaluable to your school.
I devoured music education blog posts
I’ve always been inspired and energized by music education blogs. I felt a connection to that community that I couldn’t replicate in my own school system, where I was the one and only elementary music teacher. I felt empowered by reading about the experiences of other music teachers. I was grateful for their lesson ideas, especially since I’d graduated college with the intention of becoming a high school band director. Now, (many) years later, some of my best friends are people I met through music education blogs.
Try reaching out to bloggers through their social media channels or by email. Personally, I love hearing from my readers and sharing experiences. I’m betting that most bloggers feel the same way. We can’t be experts in every single area of music education, which is why the online music education community is so important. If you aren’t sure where to get started, try joining a collaborative Facebook Group, such as The Music Crew Collaborative. I’m a proud member of this group, and we make it our mission to create a friendly and collegial atmosphere where you can find answers to your questions and share your experiences freely. The MusicEd Blogs Community is also a fantastic site with free resources for teachers of all experience levels. You can also try joining in with music education focused Twitter Chats. If you’re an elementary music teacher, search #elmusedchat or #elmused on Twitter. Lastly, I would be thrilled to hear from you through my own social media pages or via email.