5 Tips for Going Back to School, Online or In the Classroom

Mike Lawson • MusicEd: Mentor Minute • June 15, 2020

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One of the biggest concerns music teachers are faced with this month is this: What will our classroom look like when school resumes?

Whether it’s a return to in-person teaching with little or no regulation, in-person classes with massive regulation, a hybrid of in-person and online, or continuing online entirely, most of us just don’t know what it’s going to look like. And that can be a bit scary.

To help ease your fears, here are five things you can do to help ensure your return to school is as successful as it can be, regardless of the circumstances.

Think through potential scenarios. Though the list of options is not comprehensive, it may help to start with four potential ways your school could open: with little or no change from last year; with adaptations to maintain social distancing throughout the school day; with some combination of in-person and online; and fully online.

How might you adjust or adapt based on each of these scenarios? Will you have to push your marching band start times back? And if so, will that mean selecting different music, or maybe cutting part of the program? If you’re relegated to teaching “on a cart” and travelling from one homogenous homeroom to another, how will your ensembles look then? Or will you choose to focus on instrument practice at home and other musical skills at school?

By preparing yourself mentally you’ll be ready to take on the challenge of creating content for the entire school year. Build curriculum maps. I recommend thinking through each of the scenarios mentioned above and plan out your content for the entire school year. As a middle school band director, the bulk of my curriculum was laid out based on performances. That works great if we get back to the normalcy of minimally-restricted large ensemble rehearsals, but what if we are forced to limit our classes to groups of 20? Or groups of 10? What will performances look like then? Will you have small ensemble performances? Solo recitals?

It’s easiest to think things through from the back to the front. Start with what the students must know- what are the desired outcomes for the year? Lay out on the calendar when these objectives will be met. Then consider how you will know the students have learned? Will you do a playing test? Video project? Composition? What meets the core standards and is fun for the students, too?

Once you have your outcomes and assessments determined, then you can get to planning the class activities and assignments that will teach them what they need to be able to know or do for the assessments to demonstrate they’ve met the desired outcomes.

Set up your policies, procedures, and expectations. This should be as much like what you do in your in-person classroom already. Consider setting protocols for how students enter the room- both in-person and online. Will they come in one at a time? Sit quietly? Wipe down chairs and stands, or turn on their microphone and camera?

How will they be excused? Do you expect them to learn synchronously, or asynchronously? When is homework due and how do they turn it in? What are the behavior expectations for in the classroom and online?

By making these clear from the beginning and then consistently reinforcing them, you’re helping create a place of security and safety for your students. They’ll know what to expect and how to behave. They’ll also know that you care.

Share your plans. Once you have thought through the scenarios you may be faced with, come up with content that can be taught throughout the year, and set your policies and procedures, you are now armed with one of the best tools to advocate for your program: plans.

Your school admin may be facing some tough decisions as well as mandates and regulations roll out. Demonstrating to them that you’re prepared for a variety of scenarios and ready to adapt sends a powerful message about your commitment level and your value to the school.

Be prepared to nurture. Whether you’re allowed to continue teaching ensembles or not, your students may need a lot more love and care than you think. Consider the ways that you can build community and camaraderie between your students and yourself.

For your first day back, be sure to have an easy music-making activity, and a “getting to know you” option as well.

Remember that your students have likely been through as much stress and anxiety as you have. They may need more social interaction than you expect. Being flexible by allowing them time and space to talk and tell stories with each other will build the foundations of the types of relationships you’ll want to maintain year-round, whether you’re online or in-person.

An experienced K8 music educator, Elisa Janson Jones specializes in helping music educators build, manage, and grow thriving school music programs and have long and happy careers. She holds a bachelor of music, a master of business administration, and is currently pursuing a doctorate of education in instructional design. Elisa uses her vast and diverse skill set to help nonprofits, businesses, and music educators around the world. She serves as conductor of her local community band, a columnist for SBO Magazine, and is an internationally- recognized speaker. She is the host and producer of the Music Ed Mentor Podcast, founder of the International Music Education Summit and the Society for Online Music Education, and author of The Music Educator’s Guide to Thrive and The Music Booster Manual.

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