First Comes Love, Then Comes Mastery
Connecting Socially, Emotionally, and Virtually as a Community
By NAfME Member Lori Schwartz Reichl
This article was originally published in the March 2020 teacher edition of In Tune Magazine.
“What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” ~ Helen Keller
Education as we know it changed forever in March 2020 when our nation’s schools shut their doors due to the coronavirus. Each school system set its expectations and standards for instruction differently. Some halted instruction, a few sent students home with work to be reviewed, others suggested online learning activities, and many insisted that instruction would continue virtually. Whatever the initial directive, it became increasingly clear that the original school closure time could be extended. The lack of direction, confidence, and preparation created anxiety, fear, and stress for all stakeholders including students, parents and guardians, educators, and administrators.
Initially, we, as music educators, grieved many losses. We grieved the loss of routine. We grieved the cancellation of performances, adjudications, festivals, and trips. We grieved the inability to create musically, to collaborate socially, and to connect emotionally. We missed our students, our colleagues, and our beloved communities.
Then, educators united. One by one, teachers offered ideas and resources for teaching virtually. The rush to produce an online tutorial, podcast, or video, or a virtual activity, assignment, project, assessment, festival, or any opportunity to keep our students engaged in learning, creating, performing, and responding was accomplished at lightning speed. I can’t speak specifically to what was occurring in other subject areas, but in the music community colleagues cared, shared, and were aware of the opportunity to impact and engage students in the production, evaluation, and appreciation of music. These concepts were amazing, creative, and often different from our normal, daily lessons.
I had many initial thoughts.
- I am not as technologically skilled as others posting online.
- I don’t have the immediate time or energy to learn these skills to the full extent I desire.
- How will I maintain a high level of teaching?
Regarding home life:
- How will I replace my child’s teacher?
- How will my husband and I each carve out focused professional time every day when our very active young children are social-distancing with us?
- Shouldn’t I first be concerned with my students’ overall well-being?
- Will virtual teaching reach all students?
- How can I help my colleagues and their students, families, and communities during this period of uncertainty?
So, what did I do on March 14 when the uncertainty crept in at full force? I drove to McDonalds, ordered comfort food, inhaled a Shamrock shake, talked through the situation with close companions, and tried to drown my worries with food and sleep. At 12:30 AM, it became clear that I was on a sugar high and would
not sleep, so I opened my laptop and started brainstorming.
I first thought about my colleagues who were directed to halt instruction. What would they do at home on the first day of social distancing? How would they react to not being present in their classrooms with their students? I then thought of my colleagues who were required to make online learning immediately available. Will every student have access? Will every student engage?
Initially, my strengths didn’t seem helpful. I didn’t know how to create a virtual ensemble, online learning assignments, and so forth. Instead, I focused on what I could offer. I created a resource on my website entitled “Reflection” that encouraged educators to carve out a few valuable moments each day to reflect on their programs and refresh their teaching. It captured everything I am doing professionally to support and mentor teachers and had found myself doing each day during the social-distancing period to motivate myself.
I generated a lesson template in a brief format for others to implement, if they chose to do so:
Reading: An article related to the day’s inspirational theme.
Reflection: A synopsis of the reading and questions for reflection.
Refreshment: A task to be completed that expressed the day’s theme.
Review: A short video in which I recapped the day’s theme.
On March 16, I posted the first lesson which aligned with the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s (ASCD) belief that a whole child approach to education “ensures that each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.” How could I possibly begin teaching students virtually before I confirmed their safety, accessibility, and well-being?
Reflection: Which students are you most concerned about regarding the limited physical, social, and emotional connection, and/or their ability to maintain a practice/study routine at home during this period of social-distancing?
Refreshment: Send a personalized message to each of these particular students (through school email, online instructional messaging, snail mail, via the parent/guardian, a telephone call, etc.) informing them how proud you are of them, how much you will miss their presence, and how you hope they will remain motivated to learn at home.
A later lesson posted on March 20 continued with the theme of the first lesson encouraging teachers to continue to connect individually to as many students as possible.
Reflection: The abandonment of a school routine, stressors of a home life, the fear as the coronavirus continues to spread, and the uncertainty of if or when school will reconvene this academic year is impacting our students’ physical and mental health. We may not know which students have a parent or guardian at home with them during this school shut down; if they even have a place they call home; if they are being fed; what their family life entails; and how they are dealing with this situation. We must first be concerned with our students’ well-being before we can proceed with teaching.
Refreshment: Continue to send personalized messages to students.
I quickly realized that I was capable of more advanced technology than I originally thought. I weeded through tutorials and online posts and found ideas that I felt confident to implement. I resorted to more lessons on theory, vocabulary, and fundamental practice routines that I knew would be effective. I set up a very flexible routine with my own children, that included bursts of small academic sessions with my preschooler. I was amazed at what she knew, how much she enjoyed partaking in her “schoolwork,” and how she loved learning with Mommy. I laughed, cuddled, played, walked, spoke, read, and sang with my children more. My husband and I started exercising together, taking turns working with few distractions, playing games, and eating as a family for every meal. I checked in on family and friends more often than usual via many forms of communication. I sent messages of care and concern to my students. I loved everyone around me first. Then, I attempted to teach.
When school closures end, and instruction returns to the classrooms, rehearsal halls, and private studios, what do we want our students to remember? I hope it is not that they mastered a musical concept, but rather that we connected socially, emotionally, and virtually as a community of compassion.
About the author:
NAfME member Lori Schwartz Reichl is an author, educator, and consultant. Visit her at MakingKeyChanges.com.
Join Lori for a week-long graduate course reflecting the ideas shared each month in this column: AMUS 605: Making Key Changes: Refresh Your Music Program, 3 credits, July 20–24, 2020, through the University of the Arts at the Villanova University location in Pennsylvania. An online course format will be available this summer: https://www.uarts.edu/sms.
The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.