Ready, Set . . . Grow!
Reflection and Refreshment Are Necessary for the Future of Education
By NAfME Member Lori Schwartz Reichl
This article was originally published in the May 2020 teacher edition of In Tune Magazine.
“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” ~ John Maxwell
Music’s digital revolution in the late ’90s and early 2000s led to an evolution in music education that has gained speed ever since, impacting teachers, students, and families, among other stakeholders. Due to the global pandemic, the need for virtual teaching and learning may be immediate and limiting—as many aspects of creating, performing, responding, and connecting are deeply missed. However, along with great challenges have come remarkable opportunities.
Many teachers, schools, and districts are seizing the day—to create, collaborate, and connect not just locally, but globally. We are taking advantage of this moment to explore, experiment, and engage—both professionally and personally. And, hopefully we’ve taken the time to reflect on our teaching, our home lives, and ourselves.
The start of the upcoming academic year and its impact on education is uncertain, specifically music instruction and performance. However, let’s look beyond the fall and envision a future of new possibilities, opportunities, and growth for all stakeholders in education. How do we want education to look, feel, and sound not only for the upcoming academic year, but for the next five, ten, or fifteen years? It’s ironic that this pandemic is happening in 2020 when the goal of this new year was to determine if our vision was in focus. (Reference my January 2020 article “Vision 2020: Did We Make Key Changes?”). With this unexpected pivot, are we sharpening our vision by focusing on permanent growth instead of temporary measures as a result of this pandemic?
A few weeks ago, I accessed a social media educator support group and was drawn to one particular question posted by an elementary music teacher in Florida. It read, “What is your biggest realization as a result of remote teaching?” I spent almost an hour reading the responses from this single post. The answers were diverse, often lengthy, and a mix of positive and negative commentary. A majority of the responses demonstrated care and concern for all involved in the educational process. Some educators spoke of their individual feelings of stress, exhaustion, and contemplation of another career path. Others felt inspired to create new material, attempt new tools, and to permanently swap out former lessons with virtual ones. Some spoke with joy of students who typically aren’t engaged in a live classroom who now demonstrate superior learning online. Others, disappointingly mentioned students applying less effort, minimal practice, and even no engagement virtually. Some spoke of the taxing impact on them as parents and on the families of their students. Surprisingly, some mentioned that they’ve actually met a student’s parent for the first time—virtually—because the adult was assisting with tuning or repairing an instrument or solving a technical issue. And finally, some educators shared that administration has chosen to lessen the frequency of music, make participation optional or pass/fail, or even worse—eliminate it from the academic schedule.
If you have not yet done so, carve out some valuable moments to reflect and refresh on career, family, and self. Identify the areas of your teaching, your family life, and your personal life that you want to retain, refresh, resurrect, or relinquish as the future emerges. Consider the reasoning, significance, and impact on all. Share these concerns with those who influence educational decisions. Offer your input, experiences, and results. What do you miss? What do students need? What do families expect? What do we all want and require? What will help our teachers instruct, our students learn, and our families support? How will these considerations allow our teaching to be more efficient, communication clear and precise, performance engaging, and connections genuine—all while supporting the whole child as well as the social and emotional needs of all stakeholders?
Consider these four areas for reflection:
The busiest time of the academic year for music educators is often March to May. It’s a marathon of musical madness and memories! In addition to our own musical events and family performances, we often serve as clinicians, musicians, and audience members for colleagues’ rehearsals and performances. However, how did you feel and react in the absence of adjudications, performances, trips, and end-of-year activities? Did it feel like a complete loss or perhaps a relief? Did it provide an opportunity to breathe or did it bring on anxiety? Were you able to replace these events with an improved balance of self-care? Are you making memories with family members you may not have prioritized before? Are you dedicating more time to interests unrelated to the profession?
How has the vision of your classroom, course, ensemble, or program evolved during this period of virtual instruction? Upon return to your classroom, rehearsal hall, or private studio, do you plan to keep a majority of your pre-pandemic teaching and learning components the same? Or, have new and/or virtual lessons, activities, strategies, tools, or software emerged? What affirmative behaviors have impacted you, your students, and supporters?
While some students have demonstrated disengagement during virtual teaching, others are thriving. What do students need to remain motivated, engaged, and supported both in live teaching spaces and virtual ones? Prior to social-distancing, had we considered virtual options for students to evaluate, complete, or submit assignments, performances, or assessments?
How have you connected, networked, and obtained professional development during this global pandemic? Have you experimented with new applications and capabilities that you may not have known about, considered, or learned prior to the pandemic? Have you listened to or developed a podcast, watched or joined a webinar, used compositional software, or recorded, edited, or shared a performance using a new application? Will you continue to employ these tools beyond social-distancing?
My hope is that those in education can continue to pivot professionally and personally for an evolution in teaching and learning, family values, and personal growth with consideration for part-time teaching, remote working, and virtual engagement. (Reference my April 2020 article “A Personal and Professional Pivot: Make It Simple, Not Stressful”). Flexibility and refinement are necessary as the future of our profession emerges.
As spring blends into summer and the uncertainty of an academic plan for the fall looms over us, will we continue to accept change and creativity? When we finally return to our classrooms, rehearsal halls, and private studios, will we continue to employ some of the activities, opportunities, and necessities we utilized during social-distancing? Despite the memories that will haunt us of what was lost, will we remember what we learned and gained? Change has occurred. Will growth continue to emerge?
About the author:
Lori Schwartz Reichl is an author, educator, and consultant.
Visit her at makingkeychanges.com. Join Lori for a graduate course reflecting the ideas shared each month in this column: AMUS 605: Making Key Changes: Refresh Your Music Program, 3 credits, through the University of the Arts. An online course format will be available this summer from June 15–July 3. Registration remains open: https://www.uarts.edu/sms.
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