The Post-Pandemic Choir Class

SBO Staff • April/May 2020ChoralMusic Ed: Mentor Minute • May 27, 2020

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For many of us, the biggest struggle right now is not knowing what reopening schools will look like for our next academic calendar year. Many states and districts are still formulating the guidelines that music teachers will be forced to follow, and some of these may require creative adaptations that we struggle to foresee.

That being said, there are some things that we can do to effectively plan for next school year and be prepared for whatever situation we may be faced with. Not only can having a plan help us feel more secure with the future, it can also be one of our biggest tools for advocacy. We can effectively demonstrate that music can be taught in a variety of scenarios, compliant to the guidelines we’re given.

Conversely, one of the most detrimental things to our program would be to say that there is only one way to teach choir, which is non-compliant to the guidelines dictated. Demonstrating our adaptability, we can show our administration that we are willing to be compliant and creative, which makes us a valuable member of the staff, and choir an easily-accessible option for students.

When I was working on my master’s degree in business management and strategy, one of my favorite classes was Risk Management. In this class we were given a task to create a plan for a company that would help them minimize losses, regardless of the scenario. We had to think through all of the potential ways that those losses could come: natural disasters, trade wars, economic crashes, and even mass illness. We then had to formulate a plan to mitigate those risks: what could we do to avoid them, prepare for them, and then minimize the losses if they did happen.

As choir teachers, we can take the same approach to create a plan for minimal instructional loss. By systematically thinking through the potential scenarios we might be faced with, we can formulate a series of plans that can help us not only mitigate the risks to our students, but also how to continue teaching them if a scenario actually happens.

Though the application may be different, the process to create these plans is the same. As you read through these steps, keep an open mind and a notebook handy.

Step 1: List your assets

Make a list of all of the things that you have to work with to create learning opportunities for your students. Do you have printed music? A classroom? An online classroom? Video conferencing? Software? Curriculum? By creating this list, you’ll know all of the things that are at your disposal as you go through each of the next steps.

Step 2: Imagine the scenarios

For our current pandemic situation, there are four main scenarios to consider: 1) no restrictions, it’s back to pre-pandemic conditions; 2) restrictions, students must be kept apart as much as possible, smaller class sizes, plenty of cleaning, and fewer contact hours; 3) a hybrid of online and in-person classes, with choir meeting only a couple of times per week, if at all; 4) continued online-only instruction.

Step 3: Formulate a plan for each scenario

Think through each scenario and consider how this will look in your own classroom. The first scenario might be simple: curriculum and planning are similar to what you’ve always done, but perhaps you put more emphasis on how your students enter and exit the classroom, and how you keep things clean and as sanitary as possible. The next scenario is the most challenging in my mind. It’s going back to in-person, synchronous learning, but having to keep kids at least 6 feet apart. This means setting up new procedures for how they enter the classroom, where they stand, how you hand out music, and how you dismiss.

Step 4: Consider implementation

For each of your plans, think through what this will look like for your students, both in the content (what you’re teaching) and the context (how you’re teaching it). The content is what you’re already an expert in: learning music through singing. The context is more tricky and requires us to consider student behaviors, emotional needs, and supports. In this case, you get to look back through your content plans and ask yourself, “How can I continue to foster the emotional well-being of my students through each of these scenarios?” For the hybrid scenario, for example, you may consider implementing a daily “chat and sing” where you give students the opportunity to log in and visit with you and their classmates, and sing along to videos you screen share while they are muted. This gives them a chance to foster a more relaxed camaraderie so that when you do get them in person and are required to implement physical-separation procedures they will be more compliant because you’ve given them an outlet to be social.

With these plans in hand you are fortified to face any scenario your administration may be forced to implement in your organization. It is important to note that the vast majority of school administrators don’t want to cut programs. Most see an enormous value in music and the arts, and will fight to keep them if they can. By creating a learning plan that works through any potential scenario we’re given, we help our admin to see that they don’t have to cut choir to save the budget. On the contrary, it can be one of the strongest assets for  student academic success and emotional well-being. 

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 diverse knowledge base and skill set to support the teaching and learning of music internationally. She serves as conductor of her local community band, a columnist for Choral Director and SBO Magazines, and is the founder and admin of the Music Educators Creating Online Learning Facebook Group. Elisa is an internationally-recognized speaker, and has presented at national, state, and local conferences as well. She is the host and producer of the Music Ed Mentor Podcast, founder of the Society for Online Music Education, author of The Music Educator’s Guide to Thrive and The Music Booster Manual.

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