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It’s once again that time of year when students are applying for degree programs, young artist programs, bursaries, scholarships, summer festivals, and grants.  With each application, letters of reference are required and are an integral part of administrators being able to gauge the talent, dedication, potential, and suitability of each candidate.  In order to be a teacher fully dedicated to the future of your students, there are several elements of reference-writing that need to be observed, and being able to write an accurate, honest, suitable, and suitable letter of reference is a huge part of being able to propel your students forward to their next level of achievement.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

1.  Make sure your students request letters as early as possible. I usually insist on at least two weeks notice before the letter is due to allow for my busy schedule.  Always insist on clarity regarding which institution needs the letter, which person, office, or department it should be sent to, the correct mailing address, and when the deadline is.  Be sure to differentiate between arrival deadlines and postmark deadlines, as arrival deadlines will often require mailing over a week ahead of time at certain times of the year (ie. the holiday season).  Another good idea if you have students applying to multiple programs or institutions is to request a full list of places that need letters, along with addresses and deadlines.

2.  Determine the format of the reference.  Does the institution require a letter to be sent with the application or can it be sent separately?  Can it be sent on letterhead or does it require the school’s own customized reference form?  Does it need to be typed or handwritten?  Do they request a paper copy or do they want it sent as an attachment?  Does your student need you to send the letter via a placement service such as Interfolio?  Being clear with the format will get an important technicality out of the way that can alleviate big headaches as deadlines approach.

3.  Determine what the recipients of the letter might be looking for.   [···]

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Welcome to 2009! I’m going to go a bit off-topic this month, and share with you something I’ve learned recently, that’s helped me be more productive. You could apply this to your studio, but it really applies to all areas of life.

Many of us create new years’ resolutions at this time of year. Unfortunately, they often only last a few days or weeks. How do you get a habit to stick in your life permanently?

I don’t claim to know all the answers, but one thing that’s helped me establish the habit of daily exercise, for example (I’ve been doing it consistently for three months now), is the understanding that forming habits is like a rocket ship blasting off into space.

We’re told that it generally takes about 30 days to become acclamated to a new habit. The first 10 days is like the initial lift off of the rocket – it takes a LOT of effort and energy to get off the ground. The next 10 days, you’ll still have to resist to get past the “gravity” of past habits (like the earth’s atmosphere). It might be easier than the first 10 days, but it still won’t feel natural, and there will be resistance. But if you can persist through the last 10 days, it will start to feel more natural for you, and it will become an automatic part of your life and your daily routine.

It’s amazing to me how simply expecting this 30-day resistance, can help overcome it. I’ve also found it helpful to only focus on trying to form one habit at a time. Now that daily exercise is a habit with me, I’m working on integrating service and volunteer work on a regular basis in my life.

Whatever your goals, I wish you a fantastic 2009 – and hope that you can make it your best year ever, in your teaching, and in all areas of your life. 

Brandon Pearce, President
Music Teacher’s Helper

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