What Virtual Teaching Successes Did You Have Last Spring That You Plan to Carry Forward into Your Teaching This Fall?
Three NAfME Members Respond
Elementary Music Teacher, VAPA, SDUSD, San Diego, California
I had strong anxiety when I was first told about virtual teaching. During the first couple of weeks, I remember sitting at my desk for most of the day, my vision going blurry from staring at the computer, and thinking I was letting the stress of the situation get to me. So, I decided to find the hidden goods of virtual teaching.
As an itinerant teacher, I travel from school to school, so I always come with a specific goal in mind—usually related to learning a piece for a specific performance. Now I had freedom to be more creative, so I did things I never had enough time for, such as exploring more music history and the many ways to practice note-reading and rhythm learning. I taught and shared many aspects about music with my students, saw their reactions, and connected with them more than ever. It was inspiring and mostly fun.
“Now I had freedom to be more creative, so I did things I never had enough time for.”
I created more opportunities for the kids to create their own music and share their opinions. “Record yourself” assignments played an important part in the process. I encouraged my students to record themselves playing small parts of the pieces we were learning, share their own rhythmic compositions, and offer each other feedback. These assignments not only were a great music-learning tool, but also I saw family members cheer students’ performances and help students set up stages for their recordings. Some even tapped out a steady beat to help students with rhythms.
I wanted students to reflect on how music positively impacted their lives. I asked them to think of ways music could help them cope with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The responses were inspiring. Music was described as “a safe place,” “a way to bring joy to my home,” “what helps me to feel calm,” “the best way to help people who feel sad become happy,” and something that “helps me forget I have to wear a mask.” These responses reassured me about how important music education is in kids’ lives and the big responsibility we carry as music teachers.
The most important takeaway was the opportunity to learn more about myself. I found many ways to free my creative side. I found a new love for amateur photography that started by taking “cool” pictures of my instruments to use in my lessons. And being at home helped me feel inspired and less afraid of simply picking up my bass or my cello and start improvising.
Virtual teaching was hard and emotional, but I like to think it taught me a lot about myself as a person, as an artist, and as a teacher, and I plan to take all of that with me when school resumes.
Band Director, Mount Pleasant High School, Wilmington, Delaware
The first success, from a very philosophical and personal standpoint, has been the practical reminder that Mazlow’s hierarchy is real: We can’t expect students to be engaged in executive function and self-regulation if their first three levels of need are not being met. While this is always the case, it’s easier during “regular” times to assume students’ basic needs are being met. During this period, I have been more conscious of reaching out to students who weren’t completing work or who were exhibiting behavior changes to do a wellness check and see how they were doing in life before worrying about how they were doing in school. My hope is that this practice sticks with me as we return to in-person instruction over the next year.
“I have been more conscious of reaching out to students who weren’t completing work or who were exhibiting behavior changes to do a wellness check and see how they were doing in life before worrying about how they were doing in school.”
Without the pressure of meeting deadlines like concert dates, I was able to get kids engaged in more independent, creative projects. In my guitar classes, without the pressure of learning the ensemble pieces we were scheduled to perform in the spring concert, I was able to slow down and stretch out the songwriting unit from two weeks of 90-minute classes to six weeks of online instruction. Students had more time to sketch and revise ideas, try multiple approaches, and record multiple takes of assignments. The quality of the work I received felt less rushed and “checked off the to-do list.” There was evidence of multiple drafts of lyrics students otherwise would likely not have written in an effort to just finish the assignment. The added bonus was students being freer in recorded submissions than they would have been playing those assignments face-to-face or in class. While it’s impractical to stretch every unit into this relaxed timeline, I’d like to plan at least one unit of instruction that allows students to have a more relaxed creative experience.
Personally, I’m reminded how important it is for every one of us to take some daily time for ourselves and our families. Teaching is a demanding and time-consuming profession, and it’s easy to forget to carve out that little bit of alone time to engage in something that’s just for us. Daily walks have been a highlight of being forced to stay at home, and the time I’ve spent with my children doing a craft or school project (I’m now a certified aeronautical engineer after building one heck of a soda bottle rocket!), playing games, or just watching movies has been refreshing and welcome. My to-do list for next year will definitely include at least one night a week to continue doing this.
I’ve become very comfortable using our district’s learning management system and plan to continue to use it for everything next year. It’s a great place to gather all the “stuff” in a single location that students and parents are now familiar with using.
K–5 Music Teacher, Raven Stream Elementary School, New Prague, Minnesota
For me, teaching virtually is impossibly hard. My initial reactions to being asked to teach in this way were frustration, fear, and sadness. The thing I love about teaching is connecting with my students, so the heartache I felt being seated in front of a screen was enormous. I purposely selected a career that involved almost never being seated and certainly not facing a screen all day long. I would never advocate for this new way of educating as a replacement for the joy and heart and liveliness of real kids in real time.
Having said that, I couldn’t deny the reality that this was the only way I could connect with my students in the present. I decided to use my energy to grasp the parts of my classroom I could bring to them as they struggled with their own frustrations, fears, and sadness. I considered the way their faces calm, light up, and beam during the time at the end of class when I just sit and sing to them. I wondered how to bring that joy and calm and peace to them at home.
I remembered that during Hurricane Harvey, teachers read books to children via a public Facebook group. I wondered whether I could create the same kind of space, but one for teachers singing to students and families instead. The idea took off quickly, and now hundreds of songs are being shared with students from teachers around the world. The Singing Space is intended to be selfless giving to our kiddos—not self-promoting—so it is simply designed as a safe space for children to listen and sing and be. The part I found most surprising is the number of adults who have expressed the page as a balm to their own souls. Music is for everyone, after all.
“The part I will continue to carry with me is the importance of spreading joy through human connection in whatever form that is possible.”
The part I will continue to carry with me is the importance of spreading joy through human connection in whatever form that is possible. I will savor the time when I can finally look into the eyes of my students again as I sing to them.