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Encouraging Observations During the Pandemic

Mike Lawson • Modern Band • December 3, 2020

It is hard to believe that we are entering the holiday season and are still engulfed in this pandemic. Currently, much of our country is going back into quarantine, with many teachers shifting yet again from in-person to blended to virtual instruction for the umpteenth time. However, there seems to finally be an end in sight with strong news on the vaccine front, and it seems like a good time to reflect on the lessons we have learned thus far.

As a team that constantly works on curriculum and training for modern band music teachers, we have learned a lot and been inspired by the thousands of teachers around the country that are flexible, hard-working, and willing to do whatever it takes to support their students during this time. These are a few encouraging observations we noted as we look forward to our continued work with teachers.

Mary: Teaching with “Grace and Space”

On a recent evening, I found myself with a group of amazing educators talking about songwriting, recording technology, latency, and how we could use complex tools and ideas to feed the hearts and minds of children — no small task. So, naturally the breakout rooms in Zoom decided not to work right when they were needed. The prepper-perfectionist in me was beginning to scream when one of these incredible teachers laughed and said, “Grace and space!” and everyone jumped into action to find a solution. I am blown away by the grace and space I have seen exhibited by teachers. They are fostering patience with their communities, their students, and themselves, and finding that sweet spot between expecting their students’ best, while accepting their students right where they are. They are using this time to connect with themselves and others, organize, and have a stronger voice as we look ahead to the future, and giving themselves the space to simply do their best and get by.

This is not to say there haven’t been moments of anger, frustration, loss, and other not-so-sunshiny emotions. However, my favorite definition of music is, “the expression of the human experience through sound.” Tears, anxiety, and even fear are parts of the human experience. So are joy, kindness, resilience, and laughter. I hope we all experience many of those happy moments together as the school year continues.

Tony: Learning New Skills

Over the past nine months, music teachers have shown an incredible amount of resilience and creativity, helping to sustain them and their ability to provide meaningful instruction to their students. Prior to the pandemic, nobody could have imagined what was about to happen or that all of a sudden, the need to be tech savvy would be a requirement.

While this has been a period of struggle and hardship, teachers also took this moment as an opportunity to grow and develop their skills in areas where they needed it the most. Some teachers with relatively strong tech and editing skills hit the ground running and began creating home-produced videos for their students each week, while others began creating compilation videos in order to have students collaborate remotely.

As uplifting as that has been, some of the most inspirational teachers are the ones who had limited tech skills and made the brave choice of conquering their fears by diving into the unknown. They have taken the time to attend online professional development courses focusing on how to operate a Digital Audio Workstation. Others focused on learning how to use applications like Final Cut Pro, iMovie, and Flipgrid. Through it all, these teachers have demonstrated by example how learning is a lifelong process and that it is never too late to pick up a new set of skills for your own personal and professional growth.

Spencer: Remote Teaching

Art such as TV shows, movies, photography, painting, drawing, dance, and music are all media that people stuck at home consume and participate in to survive quarantine. Professionals and amateurs in all these fields keep making art, even if the means through which they do has largely changed.

Like the creators of this art, the teaching of it has had to shift as well. The most successful teachers during remote teaching have been those that embrace the new norm. Live concerts? Not a chance. Rehearsing in person? Not worth the risk. Instead, they have taken to social media apps, learned new software, and gotten creative with new ways of sharing and creating engaging lessons for their students. Were they experts? Nope. Were they unsure of what the end result would look like? Absolutely. But they all had the same goal – to continue making and teaching music with kids.

This pandemic has taught me that arts teachers are some of the most tenacious humans I know. They can still challenge their students and engage them in creative outlets. They share ideas and support each other online and stumble yet learn along the way. They scrapped unit plans from September and embraced not being the expert. They know that the show has to change, but that the show must go on.

Scott: Redefining What Matters

For me, the defining characteristic of teachers during this time has been their empathy and dedication to their students’ well-being. Early on, we saw calls to just try and reach the students wherever they were, to be concerned with their daily lives, mental states, and needs rather than adherence to subject matter. I am consistently touched by stories of students who feel supported in their music making endeavors, teachers who help them use their voice and skills to tell their stories.

For all of us, this has been a time of extreme change and struggle, and watching educators support those students with whatever they are going through is a lesson I hope continues far beyond this pandemic.

Scott Burstein, Mary Claxton, Tony Sauza, and Spencer Hale comprise the teaching and learning department for the national non-profit Little Kids Rock.

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