With only a few pages left in this chapter of our lives—the chaotic one about suddenly having to teach remotely during a global pandemic—teachers across the country are now likely wondering how to turn to the next page. What comes next? How do we end the year on the highest virtual note possible? Further, what does the next school year look like and how can we be prepared?
While there’s little certainty in any of the answers to these questions, the best we can do is be prepared for any number of outcomes. Here are ideas for maneuvering that process.
1. Recognize Your Resilience
When you first received the news that you needed to become an overnight virtual music teacher, you had your doubts. Though the fear and uncertainty are still very valid, so is your creativity, community, and collective passion for helping your students experience the joy of making music. You’ve made the most of a dire situation, and through the sweat and tears you will carry your students across the finish line. Yes, there were painful sacrifices that had to be made along the way—no end of year concerts, no graduations, no award ceremonies, no goodbyes on the last day of school. The point is you found a way through, so first and foremost, you and your students’ resilience deserves recognition. Consider taking time during a virtual class meeting to acknowledge and celebrate this with your students—you made it, and you are all an inspiration.
2. Reflect, Rest, and Recharge
The school year will come to a symbolic end as you close your laptop, or hit the power button on your computer for the last time. With final grades submitted and students on summer break, it’s time to actually process the events of the last few months. Once you’re on the other side of this initial phase of pandemic life, you’ll have a lot of thoughts and feelings to sift through. This will be a unique summer break, and now more than ever, it will be important to focus on your physical and mental health. Unplug—literally and figuratively—and focus on you.
As you process and reflect, in the background of your mind, consider what worked and what didn’t work regarding your remote instruction experience. What did students respond well to? Understand that you finally have somewhat of an advantage—you know you can survive a virtual school semester on extremely short notice, and now you have time to actually plan ahead with that experience under your belt.
3. Rerouting the Roadmap
At this point, we still don’t know exactly how the next few months and years will play out. But in this step of the preparation process, having a few plans ready-to-go at a moment’s notice will help ease the burden of the unknown.
Route #1: Planning for a Normal Semester
Chances are, you’re used to planning in-person lessons, rehearsals, and classes for any given semester. So, this outline should be relatively easy compared to the semester you just completed and didn’t plan for. In the event that school resumes normally in the fall, this should be a cinch!
Route #2: Planning for Another Remote Semester
Here’s where you get to really evaluate the wins and losses of the virtual teaching experiment we just finished and build the framework for a virtual semester that will go as planned. What online services, websites, and platforms did you use? Will you need a Zoom subscription? What about SmartMusic? Google Classroom? What repertoire and lessons would work well for an online space? Would you assemble a virtual ensemble performance or recital? If so, what equipment or knowledge do you need to acquire? Now is the time to research, talk to colleagues, and map out your ideal virtual semester.
Remember—music has always been a fantastic tool for teaching self-discipline. Perhaps another remote semester could really be about teaching the importance of practice, the art of self-evaluation, and individual musicianship. Think of all the lessons that music teaches us that extend far beyond the notes on a page. How can those be incorporated?
Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from students who just experienced your class remotely. They are the ideal focus group!
Route #3: Planning for a Rotating Schedule
In the event that your state, district, or school takes the route of a rotating schedule, consider the best of both worlds. How can you be most effective in both physical and virtual spaces? Try to plan for a smooth transition back and forth. How can students’ time at home both supplement and prepare them for what you’ll accomplish in person? Naturally, you may want to focus on playing in person, and assign listening and theory exercises at home. This is an opportunity for you to get creative.
Another approach may be to consider your end goal first, then work backwards from there. Schedule out the semester strategically, leaving as much room as possible for flexibility. As we’ve all learned, things can change at a moment’s notice.
4. Remember What’s Really Important
Chances are there will still be bumps in the road to come and we may not realistically be able to prepare for each and every scenario. Yet as musicians, as much as we live and breathe preparation through routine practice and rehearsals, we’re also masterful improvisers. We’re encouraged to spontaneously compose—we literally make up melodies on the spot. We’re taught to keep smiling on stage when the performance falls apart. We’re still successful if we just keep playing. When students first learn how to improvise, they’re often encouraged to play freely and are told, “There are no wrong notes.” Educational anecdotes like this can remind all of us that as long as we try—as long as we’re making music—there is no wrong approach. This same attitude can be applied to your teaching. Of course, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes—and it’s not always easy—but all those years you spent as a music student preparing to lead in a traditional classroom setting also prepared you for this. Just keep playing.