Keep Calm and Breathe On

keep calm

Stop what you are doing. Turn off the news. Notice your breath. Is it shallow? Tight? Relaxed? Are you holding your breath? Take a second to lower your gaze (or close your eyes) and inhale for three counts, hold for three, exhale for three and hold for three. Repeat as necessary.

This simple box breathing exercise is a fantastic tool to connect with your breath. Now that you are breathing, let’s take a moment to pause from the stress that is seemingly surrounding us. 

As music teachers, we constantly wear many hats and juggle many balls. This time of year in particular, we are usually planning conferences, concerts, Music In Our Schools Month activities, musicals, field trips, not to mention our daily lesson plans. It’s a lot—even on a good day. And now that life has thrown us a huge curveball, we need to take a moment to stop our fast-paced lives so we can respond to what’s happening. 

You First

How can we be the teachers our students need us to be, when we too are trying to navigate this new reality? First things first: take care of yourself. This is not selfish; it’s a necessity. It is why we are told on an airplane that in the event of an emergency, we need to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first. You literally cannot give something you don’t have. So, if you are not calm, don’t have a level head, or don’t have any energy left, you cannot give your students what they need. 

What does that mean? Well, again, take a moment and notice your breath. Are you breathing? Every breath you take gives you a chance to connect with your body and become present in the moment. Your breath has the power to regain your focus so you can continue to do the tasks you need to do.

Create a new Routine

If you are going to be home for a few weeks, it can be helpful to make a daily schedule. This will give you the ability to compartmentalize your responsibilities with school, and your role at home. Set aside specific times to do school work so you don’t feel like you are working all of the time. Block out a few hours in the morning and a few in the afternoon so in between, you can put the work away. While a schedule seems rigid, it actually provides a good structure that can allow you to go through your day with purpose. This will be extremely important because it is easy to feel overwhelmed with everything that needs to get done. 

Lean into your new routine. While this change is only temporary, why not see it as an opportunity to slow down? Maybe now you finally have a few extra minutes to stretch in the morning, or to really enjoy that cup of coffee that you now have time to drink at a leisurely pace. Read some books, exercise, knit, write, compose, paint…whatever! Do the thing you always wished you had more time to do. 

If you’re like me and have young children of your own, their school work needs to be part of this new schedule as well. Today before 11:00 we exercised with, made cookies, read stories, took a walk, colored, and had quiet time so I could write this blog! Maintaining a schedule will give you the flexibility to take care of your responsibilities at home and at work (whether you have kids or not).

Reminder: *BREATHE* 

Are you breathing?

Grant Yourself Grace

While you are busy learning how to be an online music teacher, you must be mindful of your student’s needs. They are also navigating through their own experiences with these new circumstances. While yes, you need to provide quality lessons as best you can, take off your superhero status for a minute. You cannot change the situation. You can only do the best you can with what you have. They are also learning how to be an online student.

Still breathing? 

Keep it simple and start with what you know. If you are feeling lost in the digital world, there are now many music teachers who can help you. The new Facebook group Music Educators Creating Online Learning is a great start. Also, Alfred Music’s sister company, Smartmusic, has made their subscriptions free for those students and teachers from schools that have closed. 

If you are not able to provide work online due to inequity of internet access, give them an assignment based on something that you really want your kids to know. Maybe it’s note names and rhythmic values. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s a project on their favorite song or band. Maybe it’s creating a playlist that represents different emotions with an explanation. Perhaps they can compare and contrast songs from a list you create. Maybe they create the list.

Let go of creating the perfect plans. We are in uncharted territory here and you need to remind yourself of that perspective… I know I do! It’s going to be messy, but we are all in this together.

Make Music  

Last Thursday, at the end of the day, the teachers in my school were told that things were going to change in the upcoming weeks. Schools were already closing and looming over our heads was the stress of creating online plans while coping with thoughts of what this pandemic would mean for us in our personal lives. After a lot of venting, we all decided to grab an instrument (or a microphone) and just play. It was so joyful and truly transported us away from our worries, if only for a few minutes. I encourage you to do the same. As music teachers, we certainly understand the magic of music. I implore you to make music a part of your daily routine to stay connected and elevate humanity in the most beautiful way. 

And above all else, BREATHE

Jen Rafferty

Jen Rafferty is currently the Chair of Cortland Music Department in Cortland, NY and teaches middle school choir and general music. In her tenure at Cortland she has been recognized for her passion and excellence in teaching, receiving the regional Apple for the Teacher Award and the Cortland Peer Recognition Award. Jen’s commitment to education has taken her to a national platform as a clinician working with other teachers and music departments to share best practices in the classroom and department organization.

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