What I Have Learned About Teaching Virtually
Updated: Jul 11, 2020
I wanted to take a few notes about some realizations I have had while teaching remote private lessons, virtual ensemble, and online drama classes. I would also like to acknowledge my platform and state that I support the Black Lives Matter movement and I believe reform is necessary for this country to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Scheduling is Everything: I teach classes, take classes, sit in on meetings, attend lectures, and coach lessons throughout the day; it took me a while to find my flow. I started to feel better about my private lesson schedule when I started to share my cloud-calendar with the families. Leave NO room for miss-communication!
The Platform Doesn't Matter: I 'prefer' Zoom, but only because I have used it the most. The share-screen feature is really handy in my private lessons; I have a tablet with about a dozen of music education applications that I would typically use in person - I have tried to keep that as part of my distant learning. The spotlight feature on Zoom was life-changing for my class of 12 children ages 5-7. Visual Cues are so necessary but can be difficult to maneuver in this virtual world.
Fast Internet Absolutely Makes a Difference: I have been quarantined with my family since the beginning. We are lucky to have enough devices for each of us to work on as we teach and learn virtually. We HAVE to plan who is going to be using the majority of the internet when. Whoever is teaching during the hour gets first dibs!
Be a Member of a Collective/Colloquium/Alliance/Association: I am so grateful for the conducting community. I have gotten to 'meet' so many amazing people over the past few months. I am honored to have heard so many of my modern idols speak... an opportunity that I do not think I would have gotten is the music world hadn't so gracefully transitioned online and open so many doors for young artists. A HUGE shout out and thank you to the Conductor's Collective, Conductor's Colloquium, ChorAmor, Professional Choral Collective, ACDA, NAfME, NATS and so many more organizations dedicated to the survival of Music in this time of Education chaos. There are still a lot of questions unanswered regarding how we will continue and transition into the 'new normal,' however, I know I have people in my corner and so many new resources.
Have a Designated Work Space: I am not a great example of this step. Private lessons are at the piano and classes are in the basement where I have room to MOVE! When I was still completing my IC coursework, I stayed in the bedroom. Meetings and lectures take place at the table.
Use Social Media in a Healthy Way: I attempted to purge social media due to the concerning screen time statistic Apple so graciously sends me once a week... but I felt so disconnected from my friends and family during the pandemic. Facebook groups have been a great resource for local educators and musicians. Instagram has been a great resource for keeping up with statements from some of my favorite political activists. I have been learning a lot about my privilege in this society.
Allow yourself to take a break: This is definitely the hardest for me. The health of your eyes, ears, and mind are compromised now more than ever before. Limit what you can of your screen time and opt for headphones over earbuds. Let yourself have a brain break at least once a day; do a puzzle, study a language, water a plant, listen to a podcast, take a walk, etc. I made the tough choice of taking a week off private lessons so I can catch up with myself. I had been teaching 16 weeks straight when I realized that my brain and voice were tired. Listen to your body and please drink water!
Over. Plan. Trust Me: I have taught a lot of drama camps for children in my career. We typically focus on acting, music, movement, and design. I typically keep every medium equally, however the past two weeks I have had to keep movement at the foreground at over 50% of the focused activities. Any kind of match-my-body, move with me, react to my guided story have been necessary to the performance goals of the class. Since design is so often individual or timed centers, it has been placed in the background and is mostly post-class activities. Sometimes I will create an ensemble rendering of a set, however the longer the students have to sit, listen, and watch, the more you turn into a television screen. The more interactive you can be with the students' bodies, minds, voices, and imaginations, the more involved they will be throughout the class.
Keep the Energy: Any kind of Kinesthetic Activity is beneficial for the lesson. I feel as if I am constantly having to prove to the students that I am real and I am speaking directly to them. I say their names constantly and directly address and ask questions throughout because it is so easy for them to forget I am not a Netflix special. Nothing is pre-recorded... it is all live teaching. Some of our students are used to a recording of their classroom teacher... it is so easy for these online lessons to turn in to a sit and get lecture. 5-year-olds do not want to sit through a lecture in lieu of camp :)