Voice with Vielka: Teaching Kids To Sing With Confidence

Teaching Positivity with Peggy Rakas

July 16, 2023 Vielka Season 1 Episode 3
Teaching Positivity with Peggy Rakas
Voice with Vielka: Teaching Kids To Sing With Confidence
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Voice with Vielka: Teaching Kids To Sing With Confidence
Teaching Positivity with Peggy Rakas
Jul 16, 2023 Season 1 Episode 3

Have you ever been working with a young singer and then as they start to go outside of their comfort zone, they stop and say “I can’t”? And then maybe you’ve even thought…”I can’t teach someone who says I can’t”! 

Here today is a guest that will help both teachers and students get unstuck from this kind of thinking and share useful tools that transform and bring out our best. Today we welcome to our show the founder of Teaching Positivity, Peggy Rakas, talking about growth mindset, optimism, and power of "yet".

Show Notes:

  • 00:00 - Introduction to founder of Teaching Positivity, Peggy Rakas 
  • 03:12 - Peggy talks about her musical teaching story 
  • 04:40 - Peggy speaks about her journey as a music student and how it influences her teaching 
  • 05:53 - Peggy speaks about overcoming her stage fright through therapy, alexander technique, and experience
  • 07:50 - Peggy speaks about her shift from educator to positive psychology 
  • 13:45 - Peggy speaks about the impact of teacher expectations of students, growth mindset, and the power of “yet”
  • 18:56 - Peggy discusses application of tools through support with an “I can’t” student - time, patience, and intelligent work
  • 23:55 - Peggy talks about the value of celebrating success in the studio - the positive feedback loop
  • 27:32 - Peggy discusses helping students replace negative self-talk - connect to your own north star
  • 35:03 - Peggy discusses measuring student success 
  • 37:46 - Peggy gives advice to new teachers - sleep! 
  • 42:37 - Peggy talks about what makes an award winning teacher - connect, dream, and prepare - with students, colleagues, and workspace
  • 45:24 - Peggy answers rapid fire questions 


Harry Chapin Practice-a-thon

The Hidden Messages in Water by Masaru Emoto

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg

The Learner Lab Website (The Pygmalion Effect) 

Connect with Peggy:

Learn more about Vielka at www.vielka.com and follow us at @voicewithvielka.

Graphic Design by
Jeff Yas
Podcast Music by
Andrew Markus

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Have you ever been working with a young singer and then as they start to go outside of their comfort zone, they stop and say “I can’t”? And then maybe you’ve even thought…”I can’t teach someone who says I can’t”! 

Here today is a guest that will help both teachers and students get unstuck from this kind of thinking and share useful tools that transform and bring out our best. Today we welcome to our show the founder of Teaching Positivity, Peggy Rakas, talking about growth mindset, optimism, and power of "yet".

Show Notes:

  • 00:00 - Introduction to founder of Teaching Positivity, Peggy Rakas 
  • 03:12 - Peggy talks about her musical teaching story 
  • 04:40 - Peggy speaks about her journey as a music student and how it influences her teaching 
  • 05:53 - Peggy speaks about overcoming her stage fright through therapy, alexander technique, and experience
  • 07:50 - Peggy speaks about her shift from educator to positive psychology 
  • 13:45 - Peggy speaks about the impact of teacher expectations of students, growth mindset, and the power of “yet”
  • 18:56 - Peggy discusses application of tools through support with an “I can’t” student - time, patience, and intelligent work
  • 23:55 - Peggy talks about the value of celebrating success in the studio - the positive feedback loop
  • 27:32 - Peggy discusses helping students replace negative self-talk - connect to your own north star
  • 35:03 - Peggy discusses measuring student success 
  • 37:46 - Peggy gives advice to new teachers - sleep! 
  • 42:37 - Peggy talks about what makes an award winning teacher - connect, dream, and prepare - with students, colleagues, and workspace
  • 45:24 - Peggy answers rapid fire questions 


Harry Chapin Practice-a-thon

The Hidden Messages in Water by Masaru Emoto

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg

The Learner Lab Website (The Pygmalion Effect) 

Connect with Peggy:

Learn more about Vielka at www.vielka.com and follow us at @voicewithvielka.

Graphic Design by
Jeff Yas
Podcast Music by
Andrew Markus

Teaching Positivity with Peggy Rakas

Vielka: [00:00:00] Welcome to Voice with Vielka, the podcast dedicated to the ongoing quest for finding how to best teach kids to sing with confidence. I'm your host Vielka, and I'll share my experiences as a performer, educator, founder, and mother for the last 20 years here in the heart of New York City. Thank you for joining me as I share with you the amazing people, practices, and talking points to help us grow together as singers, educators, entrepreneurs, and human beings.

Have you ever been working with a young singer and then as they start to go outside their comfort zone, they stop and say, "I can't". And then maybe you've even had that thought yourself [00:01:00] where you think, " I can't teach someone who says 'I can't'". Here today is a guest that will help both teachers and students get unstuck from this kind of thinking and share useful tools that transform and bring out our best.

And isn't that what we're all in this for? She's amazing. I'm so excited to have her here with us today. So we are welcoming to our show, the founder of Teaching Positivity. Peggy Rakas, and she's going to share with us thoughts around growth mindset, optimism, and the power of yet. A little bit more about Peggy.

Peggy founded Teaching Positivity in response to the stress that statewide testing was creating in her school district in North Merrick, New York. Ms. Rakas has created positivity workshops for teachers and staff based on nurturing techniques and happiness boosters from positive psychology and has taught workshops at the New York State Music Conference, the [00:02:00] Balanced Mind Conference, and the Suffolk Symposium.

She's a popular presenter for Nassau and Suffolk County professional development classes and school districts across Long Island. In 2012, Ms. Rakas received the Nassau County Scope Teacher of the Year Award and is a two- time recipient of the Merrick Teacher of the Year Award. She was nominated for the prestigious Disney Teacher Award and the New York State Teacher of the Year.

Ms. Rakas is the founder and coordinator of the Harry Chapin Practice-a-thon, a non-profit that raises funds for food banks across New York State. Ms. Rakas is currently an adjunct professor at Hofstra University, a certified optimized life coach specializing in positive psychology, a clinician for Smart Music, and an approved teacher for the Yale course for high school students called "Psychology and the Good Life".

She's a proud graduate of Bowling Green [00:03:00] State University and Queens College. Peggy, welcome. We are so excited to have you here today. Such an honor. 

Peggy: Vielka, thank you so much for inviting me. 

Vielka: Of course. So Peggy, I just want to start by asking you to just share with our listeners, what is your story? Tell us about your background a bit.

Peggy: So my story is that I was very lucky and I knew that I wanted to teach music the minute my seventh grade band director put a flute in my hand. The, that day I, I'm just, I feel so blessed because people don't have that clarity of a profession. Then when I started teaching though, I started in Ohio, I was doing middle school and high school band and it was so stressful that I quit teaching. I just couldn't do it. And I, but I also wanted to be a flute player. So I moved to New York City, took my flute, tried to be a player. And then one day a week and the second year that I was in the city, one day a week, I taught for a parochial school and the other [00:04:00] six days, I tried to be a flute player and worked in a music store.

And I was happy one day and kind of sad the other six so I also feel really lucky that I had that I left teaching that I realized it's my home. I came back and I just never look back taught elementary band for 30 I think I spent About 30. I have to count. I lose count. Something like 36 to 38 years in a classroom. And then I retired and then I found positive psychology. So I have a new love. 

Vielka: Wow. That is just incredible. I mean, to have that sort of amount of time in the classroom and then to be coming in with this new passion of yours, you just have a wealth of information. I'm really curious. What was your journey like as a music student and how has that influenced? Or did it influence your own teaching practice? 

Peggy: My first band director was such a nurturing man that I really felt like I could do anything. He [00:05:00] totally believed in me. He also gave me all sorts of opportunities. I was the librarian. I can just remember vividly making giant dogwoods to decorate our spring concert.

And... So my beginning of my journey was was really delightful, and I always had nurturing, nurturing students. And so I really took from that, just that it was about care, that really what makes a difference. A good teacher is that he connected with me and he cared deeply about me. And so I take that into my.

My teaching as the number one thing that I have to do with kids is I have to connect. I have to show them that I care. I mean, I could not agree more. And I think we all strive to be that teacher. And hopefully, we've all had at least one person in our lives who gave us that kind of care and attention.

And it makes a world of difference, doesn't it? Amazing. While you were either as a student or perhaps more as a teacher, I think now that we're kind of shifting into the teaching [00:06:00] mindset, can you share with us what was the hard obstacle for you that you had to overcome? I had debilitating stage fright... really, really debilitating. I was so frightened my first year of teaching. I was doing high school. I had to get up in front of the marching band and I was the assistant marching band director of a pretty, really good music program. And I'm conducting the Star Spangled Banner in front of everybody up on the ladder and I'm petrified.

I am just petrified. And for the life of me, I don't really know how I kept going because I was that scared. But I honestly, it was, it was a long process. It also affected my playing too, as you can imagine. So with the process of therapy, number one, Alexander technique, which I studied in, which really helped me tremendously and just experience.

You know, I like to tell everybody out there, if you have. debilitating stage fright, it gets better. Like [00:07:00] a lot of things get better when you get older, because you just kind of realize it's just not that important. You know, it's really all right. So if, if you prepare, just prepare, if you want to study stage fright, there's all sorts of nice techniques too.

Now that I do, you know, I'll say I'm excited instead of I'm afraid. And just that little mental shift really helps me a lot. So that was my biggest thing to get over was fear. 

Vielka: Well, I'm sure almost all of our listeners can relate to that because anytime you're stepping outside of your comfort zone, be it as a performer or as a teacher those kinds of nerves come up and I'm, I'm loving the, I'm excited.

Peggy: I love, I'm I love the excited. I wish I knew that earlier. I think that one's really helpful and the power pose. Amy Cuddy power pose. We just stand like superwoman for a moment. That actually is really quite helpful also. 

Vielka: Fantastic. So tell us a little bit more about then how you shifted from All of this experience as an educator and then moved [00:08:00] into positive psychology.

How did you come upon this new passion and, and what keeps you passionate about it? 

Peggy: Now, two things. One is this book right here, The Hidden Messages in Water. And it's this scientist, Masuro Emoto, who took pictures of water crystals as they were water, as it was turning into water crystals. And he took some absolutely stunningly beautiful pictures.

Then he would actually send messages of, actually this is a cute one. This is, this is the Beatles yesterday. This one is Elvis Presley's Heartbreak Hotel. Isn't that awesome? It's like, just so awesome. So it's a whole book full of pictures if he, if he sent messages of hate, which this is all very new age, but here we have some messages of hate and some crystals that have deformity.

And this has not been replicated, but a lot of research has been done on [00:09:00] how you think about kids. totally affects, affects what they become and how you teach them. So first I, I just. I was kind of shaped by, oh my gosh, it's not just what I do in the classroom, it's how I'm thinking about the kids. I have to watch how I, I have to go into the lunchroom and I can't complain about Johnny.

I just can't because if I complain about Johnny in the lunchroom, I'm going to go right downstairs and subconsciously I am not going to be a good teacher for Johnny. Something is going to go wrong. So it was the first thing. Then the next thing that happened to me is quite personal, but because you guys are all singers, I'm going to share this personal story with you.

I was, this was a story of an Easter Sunday. So it's an Easter Sunday with at my mother's and mother in law's house is the most important day in the world. And she goes all out. It's like this huge feast. There's, there's eggs all over the yard. It's just a crazy good day. I started the day. in a choir loft [00:10:00] playing with a church choir, which is my holy place.

My holy place is to bring my flute up into a church choir where I also don't have to be afraid because I'm in a choir in the back. So I was having an awesome day and I was pregnant. This was my fifth pregnancy. And I was so excited. I, I knew that this was, this is the one. This is the one that's going to work because five was my lucky number.

And this is the fifth and it's a beautiful day. And I was, I was crazy, crazy happy this day. The next day on Monday, I miscarried. And I was, I had, I'd been through this before. I knew the pain of that miscarriage. And, and of course I went through that horrible pain. And then after a moment of probably, you know, a few days of processing this ridiculous grief.

I, I contrasted how I had been on Sunday with how I had been on Monday and that contrast with only one small change, like everything else in my [00:11:00] life, all the blessings I had, this crazy good family, this fabulous husband, this life that I had of teaching music, like the best life ever was all the same. And I had just had one little thing happen.

And if I could just look at my life through the lens that I had on that Easter Sunday, how much better off I would be if I could just remind myself of that gratitude. And at the time when that happened to me, it was really quite, it was a big shift for me. And I thought about sharing that story with the Resolve community, which was a community I was in of people who had were having fertility issues.

And but at the time, you know, I, I actually then went on and adopted a beautiful baby girl who is my pride and joy. And I could not, I, I have a perfect daughter. You know, the end of the story is I have this wonderful, perfect daughter. And I was a little too busy to go share this story with the resolve community, but the story stayed in the back of my mind. [00:12:00] How, if I could show people how to live, looking through a lens of gratitude, how much better their lives would be. And so that, that was really what got me into. And then when I found positive psychology and it was all about that lens, that's all it's about is how can we shape our lens?

What can we do to scientifically proven? We can. We can exercise. We can have gratitude practice. We can have mindfulness practice. We can journal. We can do breathing exercises. All of these things will shape our lens for the more positive. And I thought, all right, this is where I'm going. This is, this is where I need to be.

Vielka: Wow. There's so much to unpack there. And I'm so grateful for you to share such a touching and really personal story. And I think, you know, what it makes me think about is how we all have tremendous obstacles in life, right? It's part of the human experience and to be in a moment where it is so personal and you're expecting so much [00:13:00] and hopeful and then have loss and yet have the mental fortitude to come back and be grateful and just appreciate what you have. And it makes me think about sort of this attitude of the Universe or however you want to think of it, you know, working for you so that when things do come up, it's more of a character-building moment in a way of how can we then put on the lens that's going to best serve us to continue to be happy and get our best results. And I'm so happy that you had such a beautiful outcome with your daughter. So, congratulations! That's awesome. Just incredible. 

I want to take us back just for a second to, to really just for our listeners, emphasize the first part of this that you were sharing, which is about teacher expectations.

And the fact that there is a lot of research behind that, which is what you [00:14:00] think of your students as a teacher actually impacts the results, right, Peggy? Can you just sort of anchor that in for us one more time? Because when I first learned about this information, I was kind of stunned. I thought, I didn't realize research like that had been done.

And some of it, I think, would not be allowed today. With what, what they did actually for some of the original research. But the impact. So in practical terms, what does that mean we should be thinking as a teacher for each of our students, especially when perhaps someone's natural instinct might be to think, "Oh, this child doesn't have the 'talent'", quote unquote, or, you know, doesn't have it X, Y, and Z, or there's some sort of maybe judgment that's going in from the start. How can we kind of use this idea that we've learned from the research to reframe that and what impact [00:15:00] will it have? 

Peggy: Well, really quickly to tell the viewers the study that that really got to me, which is, I think, is what the rat study, the Robert Rosenthal rat study.

When I first thought about this, I didn't really have the research or the knowledge and I wasn't into positive psychology, so I was all about the water. You know, I was just about, all right, these crystals are going to change and I did experiments with plants and sure enough, the plants that you love grew taller than the plants you didn't. But this professor from Harvard named Robert Rosenthal did a study with rats and he labeled half of the rats dumb and he labeled half of the rats smart just randomly.

He didn't know if they were dumb or smart rats. He couldn't tell. Then he had his students come in and take care of the rats. And then after a week, just a week, I believe it was just a week, he comes in and he runs the rats through mazes. And the rats who were labeled smart ran faster through the mazes than the rats that were labeled dumb.

So somehow those students, by just calling one dumb and calling one [00:16:00] smart, maybe gave a little extra food to the rats who had who were labeled smart, maybe pet them, called them good rats and says, I'm sorry, you're a dumb rat, you know, but whatever they did, they subtly changed how they took care of those rats.

So that. That was researched and he then compiled all sorts of he did a meta-study of 500 studies to find the same thing. They did it in a school where they labeled. They didn't label them smart and dumb so that research to my knowledge has not been done, which would be entirely unethical, but they made they had, they labeled 25 bloomers in a middle school and told all the teachers in the school, here are your 25 bloomers. And those guys did two years' worth of work in the space of one. That's crazy. It's just crazy because we labeled them bloomers. So if we as teachers can really research, do some research about growth mindset and really [00:17:00] believe with all our heart that our brains are completely malleable and they can grow at any point they can grow at any part until the day we die, our brains can grow and learn, and that these beautiful incredible beings in front of us can get better. They may not all be Mozart, but they can get better.

And I think we just have to remind ourselves that we can teach them about growth mindset while we're teaching ourselves about growth mindset, you know, showing them the power of yet you alluded to when a kid says, I can't do something. You don't, don't make a big deal. You just say not yet. That's it. Not yet.

 Carol Dweck, the queen of growth mindset came up with the term, I believe. Claims that one of the schools that she went into changed their report cards and went A, B, C, not yet instead of D or F, which I think is a great report card. And I then immediately changed my report cards to A, B, C, not yet, or whatever I was using, excellent, outstanding, stuff like that.

But yeah, I think we just have to keep reminding ourselves. And, you know, we might [00:18:00] have to just keep, there's a wonderful video on this Robert Rosenthal. It's on a site called The Learner Lab. The Learner Lab. And it's right there. It says the Pygmalion Effect. And it's a great, oh, it's such an inspiring video to watch the whole thing.

And he gets to the end and there's all these neuroscientists talking about how the plasticity of all of our brain cells is quite amazing. Sorry, I'm not sure I answered the question.

Vielka: Well, I think you definitely did and there's so much gold in there. I wanna really see if we can just kind of take out some of the key words and ideas and put in the context of, for our listeners of voice teacher or a choral director or music teacher working with the student in voice.

So most of the time I'm in a voice studio. And so I want you to imagine we're working one on one with a student or maybe with a small group of voice students. So recently, I was teaching someone who is a freshman in high school.

She's a beginner student, a [00:19:00] beginner singing student, and she's spent a lot of time singing, but she hasn't spent that much time in lessons, maybe a couple here and there. And very quickly, as I started to ask her to expand her range and do things that she's not used to doing, she just stopped and said, "no, no, I can't, I can't".

In that moment. What one of these tools, how, you know, what would, what would you do, Peggy, if you were in the room with me, or if you were teaching her, how could you use either, you know, growth mindset or the yet or what, you know, what's going through your brain so that it filters and comes out in a way that can inspire her? 

Peggy: In that instance along with, Oh, no, you just can't do it yet. You haven't been taught the tools that are going to teach you. Okay. How to do this. I have those tools for you. I know that these tools make kids sing higher. And I know that if you practice these tools, you're going to be you're going to be right up there. [00:20:00] And you have to trust me because I know that this is true.

And I know that you can do it, you know, so to give them, it's about giving them the support. So that You know, I'm going to give you the support. I'm going to have, you know, here this particular, you know, I'm not up on my vocal pedagogy, but I heard some cool siren exercise things that you guys were talking about in your meeting, you know, like I, you know, just give them, let them trust you.

I can do this. I, with you and me working together, we can do this. And then, and then just say it's, it's, it's a matter of time, patience and intelligent work. So time, okay. You do need to put in the time. There is no shortcut to the time and and you make it easy for them to start. I think you were there when I came up with my It's working a little bit.

I I'm using it with my students, my just show up plan practice record where they have to show up for only two minutes and they get to check and it's working, I only have four students. So you know, it's not a big sample size, but the one that [00:21:00] it's working the best for is a eighth grade girl. I'm a little, I wasn't sure it was going to work with the eighth grade girl, but.

Just check. Just do it every day and just do it for two minutes, just like James Clear says in his Atomic Habits. Do it for two minutes. Do this exercise every day and let's come back. Let's see how high you sing this week and let's measure it and see how high you sing next week after you've done it and cross your fingers that she's a little higher.

Vielka: That's so fantastic. And I think it really illustrates for us how we can break things down so that it's very small, these little incremental steps. I know you were mentioning there, James Clear and Atomic Habits, which we've both read and adore highly recommend to anybody watching or listening. And basically how that would translate in the music room, what you were sharing, just to clarify that for practicing, which there's been so much debate around practicing, but taking that information and just saying, just show up, let's start there.

If you just show up, [00:22:00] rather than the overwhelm that could come with, well, you're supposed to be practicing for 15, 30, 60 minutes, whatever that number is. So to just reward and celebrate the showing up as the first big step because you can't do the rest without that first step. So thank you so much for, for, for getting that into our minds as a way to help our students.

Peggy: What I love too about singers, you can show up anywhere. Like you can show up if you're making your bed, you make your bed, you do this exercise right here, you just do it for two minutes while you make your bed or I just saw something on television. I forget it was, what's her name? She's a jazz singer and she's there interviewing her and she's walking around her house.

She's unloading her dishwasher and she's doing her vocal warmups. You know, just, she is, she says, Oh, no, I'm really serious about my vocal warmups and you can just see, she cleans her whole house and does her vocal warmups. So You could connect it to [00:23:00] something that they do to get them started. 

Vielka: Absolutely my, my one thing I always tell all of my students is sing in the shower, right? It's tried and true. 

Peggy: It's tried and true. The acoustics are awesome. Yeah. 

Vielka: Exactly. You sound great. You have that echo going. You've got the humidity. It's nice for your vocal cords, you know? So, um, yeah, to go ahead and what, what you're saying is habit stack, right?

So that you're stacking on the practice to something that you already do habitually. And that makes it easier to show up and just get that time in and clarifying for us that the time, patience, and intelligent work. Am I right? 

Peggy: Yeah. 

Vielka: That's outstanding. I love that. So helpful. 

Peggy: I didn't make that. That was Marcel Moise, who is a very fabulous flute player and a teacher. So he, he came up with that wording in French actually originally. 

Vielka: Well, I wanted to ask two questions. Can you speak with us a little bit about what is [00:24:00] the value of celebrating and celebrating successes in our studio, especially, you know, for me in my generation, we did not really celebrate as much as I think children now are, and for teachers are being instructed to celebrate more. And it took me a long time to sort of understand, like, wait, why? Why are we celebrating something that's really small? Don't you have to work really, really hard and get to that end big, you know, thing result before you celebrate that?

So can you tell us a little bit about, you know, why? Why is it important to celebrate and celebrate these incremental wins. 

Peggy: So the research that I know about on celebration comes from BJ Fogg, who is a professor at Stanford and his book, it's either called Tiny Habits. I think it's called Tiny Habits, but he talks about how.

If you [00:25:00] want to develop a habit, and this was all it with habit formation, the research is on is on developing a habit. So not just like a one time. All right, you just you you have the winning, the winning shot in the basketball game. It's not really about that celebrating, it's about celebrating the process that got you to take that winning shot in the basketball game.

So if it's not about winning. Like just, you know, you've, you've achieved this giant big thing, but that you did this little tiny thing, your student right there sang her vocal exercises in the shower every day for two minutes. That's, that's a huge celebration. And if we celebrate that little kind of tiny incremental step that she took, she is more apt to repeat it. She's more apt to keep doing it. She's more apt to let it become a habit where she's no longer thinking about it anymore. If we can celebrate that kind of thing. And his research [00:26:00] just shows that without that celebration piece habits dry up and go away. So for, excuse me, I just hit my bongos.

Sorry, there's bongos over here, which has absolutely nothing to do with our class. But my hand gestures to the bongos, right? You. 

Vielka: I love it. A little emphasis for this, so pay attention everyone. 

Peggy: So, so just celebrating the tiny processes that where you can see a kid did the work that they needed to do and they got better and that incremental little bit of better as James Clear said that one percent gain is going to compound and it's going to become over years it's going to be some like ridiculous number of gain that you get from these little habits.

So I guess what they call positive feedback loop, I guess is the official psychological term for it. That

Vielka: is so helpful. And I, it's just making me think about when Peggy came and did a workshop for us at Young Singers Academy with our [00:27:00] faculty, and how we were really reflecting on how the brain works.

And really, to sort of simplify it, we avoid pain, and we seek pleasure. Right? So. What I'm hearing is that by celebrating these habits and these little wins, that then becomes wanting to seek more of that kind of pleasure, which, you know, as a music teacher and voice teacher, we're going to get results and really for the student, right?

Because how much better does it feel to be feeling good along the journey, rather than sort of that judgment or harsh words. And maybe you can speak to us for a second around that, because I think, especially for singers, we tend to, or at least, you know, in my experience, I certainly used to be very hard on myself, really a perfectionist.

You know, I, I was a [00:28:00] go-getter, right? So I'm in that practice room, I'm practicing, I'm doing my best to hit that node or whatever the target was. And I'm frustrated because it's not coming out the way I want or whatever. And then that little voice inside is sort of judging. Right. So you've got the nerve voice of like going on stage and putting herself out in front of other people.

But then there's also this voice of, you know, "Am I good enough? Wow, that was really bad." I think that's probably a common, you know, inner voice that a lot of our students might hear. And so, especially for young singers and children, where usually around the age seven, they start to shift their perspective a bit and become more judgmental, like, "Oh, that person's a good singer, and that person's a bad singer", and start to label.

How can we, as teachers, sort of help our students so that they replace that, that negative self talk and, and give them something, some [00:29:00] other tools of, you know, how they can be thinking. 

Peggy: That, that is a, that is a hard question. That is a hard question. And that is the crux of a lot of what goes wrong with kids right there.

I have two thoughts about it. One is that when people, anyone, when they're happier, they are more creative. They're better problem solvers. There's that's the whole crux of positive psychology. If we can lift up our own happiness levels, everything that we do, we look at it through a different perspective.

And what's happening to these kids is they're now looking at it through a perspective of judgment of comparison and of "I'm not good enough", rather than the perspective of "I have a gift and I'm going to share my gift with the world. And if. If my gift isn't as good as so and so's, I'm still going to share it."

I had a teacher once tell me, she said, "you know, you, you know, you're never going to be James Galloway". And I'm like, "I'm not, I'm not going to be James Galloway?" but, but yeah, "but you have [00:30:00] something to offer", you know, and that was a wonderful thing actually for him to say, because I have something to offer.

And so if I fall short of becoming James Galloway, this famous flute player, for those of you who don't know I still have something to say and something to offer. So I think. Keep that the celebration part really helps there to keep them positive and to keep somehow we have to get them to look through a different lens, a lens of how beautiful, how wonderful, how fabulous they are without tipping them into a big head, you know?

So there is like with all teaching, it's like, you know, you can't go too far this way and you can't go too far this way so is, is to just help them. realize how wonderful they are, how beautiful they are, how it's really okay to be who we are and present ourselves to the world. And it's, it's a dance though. It is, it is a hard dance, but just assure them that they're wonderful. 

And then have, if, if this happens to you, [00:31:00] if this happening to you personally, or anyone listening here for you to get out and just plain old work on your happiness. It might be take walks in the forest. It might be just when you walk your dog, just stare at a tree. 

That's what I do. Cause I, I tend to just, I don't always go out, but I wish I did go out more often and go stare at the ocean and go walk in the woods, but I do walk my dog every day. And there's some trees I'm really fond of, you know, so just find something that will light you up and give you direction. Is your North Star. Basically, you need to connect to your North Star and your kids need to connect to a North Star too. That the North Star is just about sharing the beauty that is your voice, sharing the beauty of that music.

It's not about being the best person on the planet, unless of course you are trying to get into Juilliard, which I know you went through. So, but you know, there's a, we just, we just have to boost them up. We just have to keep them happy and keep ourselves happy. 

Vielka: Well, and I hear you [00:32:00] saying that essentially, you know, as teachers, we have the opportunity to be the model and to influence by what we are living and practicing ourselves.

So finding your own bliss, right? Be it that beautiful tree or, you know, whatever it is that that brings happiness to you is going to carry over into our work with our students and that they will surely see that and it'll come across and how we speak to them. I'm really letting them know that it's not about being the best.

It's about being your personal best. It's about being the best version of you. And it's really, in my mind, a unique journey for every individual singer. And it's really about finding yourself. And that's certainly my why of what I, why I teach is to help build confidence, self-confidence, to let everyone's inner light shine. And. And be more of who they're meant to be. 

Peggy: And [00:33:00] remind kids and ourselves that sometimes that if we work too hard and we worry too much and we fuss too much over the details that it's actually going to turn out worse than if after a certain point as long as we're prepared, you know, you can't skimp on the preparation, but if you're prepared.

And I just remember one time I was so I was a manic, manically, like everything had to be perfect for my band concerts, absolutely everything. And so I would stay after school that I would never go home between school and the band concert. I would stay there. I'd be all over the stage. I'd be fussing with the tuning of the timpani.

And I remember one day this middle school band director says, "you know, Peggy, you're you're going to be better if you just go out and take yourself out to dinner because you're fussing too much" like he's watching me. I'm in the middle school using his stuff. He says, "No, you're you're fussing too much you need to relax. You need to recharge yourself so that you have something to give your kids." And [00:34:00] we do it, we're all guilty of it and our kids are doing it too and they need to be reminded. It's important to breathe. And let those thoughts go because they're not serving us, you know, and just if you find yourself thinking that here, why don't you maybe try this breathing exercise. 

In today's New York Times, I think was it New York Times, they talk about the four, four, four, four breath, you breathe in for four, you hold for four, you breathe out for four, you hold for four, lots of research on that breath, that just will help you calm down and give these kids a tool. If, if you find yourself obsessing, yeah. Here's a tool that could help you and and it really could help them. 

Vielka: That's fantastic. So helpful And I love that breath work which especially as singers we think so much about our breath and sometimes just to give ourselves and our students the space to just inhale for four, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold for four, and just try it a few [00:35:00] times and see how you feel.

So Peggy, how would you say that you measure student success? 

Peggy: Ah, so ideally student success for me is to have a kid who loves to come to class, who loves to play their instrument, and who loves music. That's really all I'm going for. If I happen to get a kid who now is playing in the San Francisco Opera which I do have. It's awesome. That's icing on the cake. You know, that's wonderful. Those kids, although, you know, it's, it's really tremendously fun to take those kids dream exceptionally big for them and watch them just go up. You know, here I have my six, that flute player was playing in Anderson eight tubes that I did in college when she was in sixth grade.

And then it's, it's also fun. If you can, you know, dream big for somebody, it, the, what the rising [00:36:00] tide raises all boats, you know, they, I had this one trumpet player who also is a professional musician now, and I was teaching him Miles Davis's improvisation on four. So I taught the whole jazz band, how to play the song, the jazz band four, and then here's Miles's improvisation.

Well, you teach one kid this, the others want to do it. And then if you give the others that music, give them the support for how to play it, right in all the fingerings if you have to, who cares? Or in your case, give them recordings of people, you know, singers are always trying to, my daughter, my daughter loves to sing, and uh, she's always trying to match people's runs, you know, she's, all she wants to do is do all these runs.

But You know, dream, dream, dream big. But if I have a kid who's happy, who comes to my classroom, who's working, you know, at some, you know, decent level, and who improves every week and gets better, I've totally succeeded. That's, that's really what it is for me, just to watch them get happy and take that love of music and [00:37:00] be happy when they're Walk in.

Like some people used to say the band room was a magical place. I'm sure they say that about a music studio too. And that's, that's when you've succeeded. They come in because magical things happen in the band room. 

Vielka: Oh, that's so inspiring. I'm going to be thinking of that now this as a magical space. Thank you for that. 

Peggy: It is. We have magical spaces. We're so lucky. Who else has this? Nobody. Art teachers. Close. All right. And the sports guys, they all get it. You know, the sports teachers make a team and we can make a team to his court choirs. What a, what a magnificent team and bands, a magnificent team. 

Vielka: Oh, absolutely. I definitely think of us as vocal athletes and I love striving for that, that team spirit. What advice would you give to Teachers who are just starting out? Maybe something that you wish that you had known when you first started teaching. 

Peggy: I regret I did not know [00:38:00] that you could overwork, that you could overwork and that it would actually be to your detriment.

That I did not know that if I spend every single minute before a concert tuning the drums and putting every single chair in exactly the right position, and then don't take myself out to dinner and breathe and recharge before my concert, that that is not the right way to do it. You know that I am serving from a vessel that has not been filled. I didn't take the time to fill my vessel. 

So my, my number one thing that I would tell teachers is you cannot serve from an empty vessel. You have to take care of yourself. It starts with you and more so in music and way more so in vocal, I would think because your body is your instrument. You guys just live and breathe literally music.

So I know that teachers, I'd say, I mean, vocal teachers probably on a whole take better care of themselves than instrumental teachers. I don't have no research to prove that, but I suspect you do because you know that your [00:39:00] voice is your instrument, but just be, make sure you're prepared. You, you really, there's, there's a song, a Britney Spears song called "You Gotta Work, Bitch".

Do you know this song? You better work, bitch. She, she says, if you want a hot body, if you want a Maserati, you gotta work. So there is, you do have to do the work. You can't wing it. You just can't wing it. The minute you start winging it, bad things happen. You got to be over prepared, but you also have to balance that with your sleep.

You can't be staying up all night like I would doing finale arrangements for my kids. It's just not. Productive, you know, so you find that, that Aristotle's mean right there in the middle, you know, where you're not working too hard and, but you're, you're still taking care of yourself. So just take care of yourself.

Uh, energy comes for that. Einstein said, I said, no Freud, Freud said the most important things in life are work and love. But without energy, you [00:40:00] can't work very well and you can't love very well. So it's about your energy and do what you need to take care of your energy. Eat right. Exercise. Go to bed. Go to bed. Number one. Probably, you know, don't stay up late at night and read the end of your book just because you can't help but get to the end or binge watch whatever it is. Put your phone away at night. We spend, I think, at least four hours a day on our phones. I think this is the national average. So, you know, make sure that you get that phone away from you at night so that you to be notification free. I think that's what I would say. 

Vielka: That is such powerful advice, especially having seen and experienced so many teachers who I think are some of the best people on the planet. Such givers and do tend to overwork themselves and really hit burnout. A lot of teacher burnout. [00:41:00] So I think the words are really important that you're reminding us But it actually is better to not work sometimes and to just go back to what you were saying before about getting happy, find your happy spot and energize, stay energized, get yourself energized. And you know, it's a red flag and sort of a. signal for yourself if you're starting to feel that energy drop or not having any time and you're just on your device till the end of the day and getting very little sleep. I'm taking away from what you said that those are all signals like, "Hey, you need to put on the brakes and actually just breathe, do something other and sleep and, and get energized so that you can give more to others and not burn out yourself." 

Peggy: And it can be hard because like you follow your bliss or once you get into flow, like you can, I can dive into flow working on my presentations and I can just dive in [00:42:00] there and I can live there for hours. And then forget to eat, you know and I can still and I did that when I was younger with my band stuff and now I'm doing it with this stuff and you just have no, no, no, if I don't eat, none of this matters, you know.

Vielka: I'm laughing because that's 100% me, Peggy, where I just, I love what I do. I'm in it and I can just. Block out the rest of the world. Nothing else matters. Hours go by. I haven't fed myself. 

Peggy: Our children are neglected, like all sorts of things are happening. Right. I forget to feed my dog. 

Vielka: Yeah. Let's see. I want to know a little bit more before we go into our rapid fire. Just about all these amazing awards that you've won as a teacher to be an award-winning teacher. That is just. Wow really inspiring. And I guess I'm just so curious, like, what, what does it mean to you? You know, what does it, what makes an award-winning [00:43:00] teacher? Uh, what, what can you give us as inspiration of, you know, this is, this is why you were selected. What, you know, people said to you and, and kind of, yeah, how you would inspire us to be our own versions of an award-winning teacher. 

Peggy: Well, thank you. I actually didn't ever get the Disney Teacher Award or the New York State Teacher Award, but I was nominated. It was, it was crazy cool. It really was like a celebration. Like I was so, so excited. So I would say there's three things that anyone can do.

If they want to be an award-winning teacher, you have to connect with your kids. I would also, I didn't used to say this, but you have to connect with your, if you're in a public school, now this is different for you, but you connect to your colleagues, connect to your workplace. And don't forget that that connection is the number one thing that you can do if you don't connect with the kid if you don't call them by name.

If you don't. [00:44:00] You know, remember, I mean, you can, if you need to write down that, you know, so and so loves soccer, you know, just, you know, write down little things about a kid. So when that kid gets, Oh, how was your soccer game? How are your soccer games this week? You have to connect. 

And then. You have to dream, you just have to dream big and you just have to be inspired. I'm so inspired by the Suzuki program that we talked about in your, this Dr. Shiniki Suzuki, who brought kids of any level of any aptitude and got them to play amazing things because there was no limit. He gave them the support they needed to get up there. He modeled constantly. I played a lot for my kids.

So I would, I would tell all of your people sing a lot for those kids, give them fabulous recordings to listen to, have that be part of their homework while they're, while they're making their bed in the morning, put on this recording right here, do that for two minutes a day, make that [00:45:00] into a little micro-habit that they can install.

And then the other thing is, is lots of preparation. You can't skimp on the preparation. Just always just like the Boy Scout motto, "be prepared" and just be prepared while you're remembering to eat and go to bed at night. 

Vielka: Oh my gosh, that is so inspiring and really specific. So thank you. You've given us a lot to think about and to aim for.

All right, we're going to move into the rapid fire round. Are you ready? 

Peggy: I think I'm ready. I think I'm ready. 

Vielka: Okay, so just whatever comes first to mind. We're just going to go for it. First question of six. Singing is fill in the blank. 

Peggy: Joy. Singing is joy. Even when it's sad, it's joy. It's because it's connecting to your heart. Singing connects with you guys are so lucky you have words. You're so lucky you get all the power of music and you get words. It's really good. 

Vielka: Teaching is [00:46:00] blank. Fill in the blank. 

Peggy: The most rewarding profession on earth. When, when it works and you look at your kids and they're succeeding, I don't think, I can't think of anything. Imagine heart surgeons who see their patients up and walking around. That's pretty rewarding too. But We have just, we have the best gig on the planet. 

Vielka: I agree. All right, you are nervous walking on stage. What's the first thing you do? 

Peggy: Well now, I can tell you because I have learned about the power of saying, "I'm excited". I use this tool. All the time before every webinar that I didn't use it for you because you, you put me right at ease. You were very, very comforting. Thank you for that. But anytime I'm the least bit nervous, I am now excited. I'm just excited. And, and I'll do a Power Pose. And those are my two tools that really helped me now. And I know that It really, nothing really matters. It's all okay. It's all gonna be good. It's all good. 

Vielka: You're home alone. What piece do you love to perform [00:47:00] when no one's listening and why? 

Peggy: I love to perform Joni Mitchell's Blue on the piano and sing to it. And I've been playing that song since I was 20, I would say, and just something about knowing, you know, like we all people who, who give workshops in positive psychology, I suspect for the most part have had a little struggle with staying positive.

And I've had struggles with depression and knowing that there's this song that just sort of captures what some of my struggles were and how far I've come and how I've learned to overcome that. And then just the simple beauty of playing the piano. It's, the piano is so lovely. You know, they just hit it and it plays.

It's just like, so, and then, and then her music. I'm just obviously a huge Joni Mitchell fan. Of course, as singers, I think it's part of what we just naturally feel, that [00:48:00] we can sing our emotions and it's so meaningful. 

Vielka: Thanks for sharing that. That's such a cool window to have into you. What's an example of something ordinary you find extraordinary that you're grateful for?

Peggy: I had a friend die at 45 of breast cancer, and she left four little girls. And It hurt me so badly. And I just remember at the time I was brushing my teeth and it dawned on me that my friend, Debbie would never brush her teeth again. And how grateful I needed to be that I was still here and could brush my teeth.

So the one ordinary thing that I do every day is brush my teeth. I mean, this was years ago and I still think of her and like the memento mori, remember death. You know, we know that at any minute we could leave this planet and how we need to. We need [00:49:00] to live every single moment. We need to be grateful for every single moment.

We get to put toothpaste on our toothbrush and stick it in our mouth and, and brush. And I, I even came up with a A gratitude practice, the grateful teeth brushing where you just you're grateful for the water. You're grateful for something while you're sitting there spending that minute brushing your teeth.

So I would say it's teeth brushing. 

Vielka: I love the teeth brushing and I love the reminder that life is so precious and we're lucky to be. Finally, we are celebrating you. The sky's the limit. How would you want to celebrate? 

Peggy: Well, I have to say that just. Doing this, getting to know you, Vielka, and seeing your passion, and seeing that my work helped you, that is a celebration for me.

This podcast is a celebration for me, so I really, this is why, this is. These are the rewards that one needs when you're teaching, is you know that your work matters. And we as music teachers, our work [00:50:00] matters. Our work deeply, deeply matters. And especially in this time of divisiveness, singing matters more than, more than it ever did before.

You know, the Introducing kids to diversity, to the blend, to the harmony that makes a good singer is what we need in this world right now. But the celebration of having you have me on this podcast has just really touched my soul and I really thank you for it. But if the sky is really the limit I'd like to go to Hawaii, please.

Vielka: Great choice. I love it. 

Peggy: Good. I've never been and it's on my bucket list. 

Vielka: Oh, that's a must. I'm sure it's going to happen. And I'm so, so touched by what you said. And you are definitely, I knew the instant I saw you at a virtual conference that you were my people and that you totally got it. And, and what teaching and singing and music is, is really about.

So thank you [00:51:00] so, so much for being here, for sharing this time, for making time for us, for, you know, sharing with us these, these jewels that are going to really inform our practice and help both ourselves as teachers and our students. 

I want to share with our audience where they can find you and learn more from you. Your website is teachingpositivity.com and Peggy's also on Facebook. So look for Teaching Positivity, either the website or on Facebook. She has different. you know, events and workshops that she does. And her passion, as you can tell, is just unlimited. And her knowledge with music educators and how to blend in this force of positive psychology, so we can really take it from the old days of kill and drill and just, you know, about maybe actually being perfect on what's on the paper [00:52:00] to really inspiring our musicians, our singers to, to be their best, to have this journey of, of happiness and bliss for them and for you. So I'm, I'm utterly inspired and grateful and just thank you so much, Peggy. 

Peggy: Thank you so much and thank all of you for spending this hour. Please reach out to me. If you have anything you need to say, you can find my email on my website, teaching positivity, or it's peggyrakas@gmail.com. So I would love to hear from any of you and you're in good hands with this girl here with this young, fabulous woman. 

Vielka: Well, thank you. Thank you so much. 

Peggy: Thank you.

Thank you for joining me for this podcast. To learn more about my step-by-step approach to voice education, where I've consolidated 30 years of vocal study into four words, even a three-year old can [00:53:00] do, just go to www.vielka.com. That's V I E L K A.com. Happy singing!

Introduction to Founder Peggy Rakas of Teaching Positivity
Peggy talks about her music teaching story
Peggy speaks about her journey as a music student and how it influences her teaching
Peggy speaks about overcoming her stage fright through therapy, Alexander Technique, and experience
Peggy speaks about her shift from educator to positive psychology
Peggy speaks about the impact of teacher expectations of students, growth mindset, and the power of "yet"
Peggy discusses application of tools through support with an "I can't" student - time, patience, and intelligent work
Peggy talks about the value of celebrating success in the studio - the positive feedback loop
Peggy on helping students replace negative self-talk and connecting to your own North star
Peggy discusses measuring student success
Peggy gives advice to new teachers - sleep!
Peggy talks about what makes an award-winning teacher - connect, dream, and prepare
Peggy answers rapid-fire questions