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Opportunities of Teaching online

After teaching online for 20 years I suddenly found myself in the position of teaching online. With Covid 19 distant learning was the only way to connect with my students. 

I want to talk to you today about the challenges and the opportunities that have come up in my private studio and how it has changed my views about teaching lessons online. 

On day one, I my attitude was not great. I mean I just learned we were going into lockdown and that our lives were going to be altered. This also meant I had to figure out how to convey information through less than ideal situations. 

Well, every week things have gotten a little better. I really worked to create value in my studio. I wanted students to use music to help release some of the tension and boredom that was occurring. I wanted to offer ‘more’ of myself, and not less. Here are some things that I did that changed my attitude. 

I had to re-evaluate everything! I started with equipment. I already had a professional microphone, but I did not have a professional webcam. I recently got that. And I am finding that having a crystal clear image along with the best audio gives the student a better experience. I also got a ethernet port, so now I can have a more stable connection for students. These small things can make the challenges of connection a little easier. I wish I had done these on day one, but it did take many weeks.

I usually start each lesson with a little check in. How was your week, where are the challenges, etc. When I asked students how they were feeling, many of them said they were tired, despite getting plenty of sleep and having less activities. To be honest I was feeling a little bit like this as well. I began to attribute this to lack of energy exchange. We are in the same four walls, without the changing environment of new teachers, classrooms, and friends. How did I create motivation and energy with these new challenges? 

I found that if I needed to add more ways to connect and goals for my students. I started a couple of challenges. For the month of April our studio had a challenge of playing as many scales cleanly as possible in under 3 minutes. They could send me a video, play it in lessons or studio class. For every scale they played I would donate one meal to Feeding America. One meal only costs .10 (not sure how), but this experience helped some students feel like they were making a contribution. I had 30 students participated and they played 708 scales during that time. It was a success, but we were going into May. So now what? Well I decided I would do the same charity, but for May I would award 3 points for every day students practiced. This gives them a goal, and me a chance to check in with them at the beginning of lessons. Many of my students were reporting not feeling as motivated without band. I am not sure what I will do in June, but I feel good myself donating this way- so I will figure something out. I found that this situation has made me think much more creatively. 

I also started offering a free studio class for my students on zoom. I have never had time to do studio classes before, and because my students have very different schedules it would have been difficult to have them in the first place. I found that I really enjoy this time with my students. Yes, it is much more planning. I come up with a concept to talk about as a focus. But we also do a warm up, duets and mini masterclass at the end. With the screen share feature, I could put up a duet and play the second part, and students could have the experience of playing a duet with me. Of course I don’t get to hear them, but it was a good work around.

I also offered a virtual recital on zoom. What an interesting experience! We had audience members from India, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, as well as various parts of the US. These family members would never get to have that live experience without that format. We also used the chat feature to give and receive encouragement. Very different than the traditional applause, but I found it very rewarding. 

As an educator I feel this challenge has really helped me grow as a teacher. I have found that I my words are more descriptive and different somehow than in face to face. I want to make sure my message is clear. Sometimes the audio from the students end is not always crystal clear. I have found that I am listening in new ways, almost more analytical. Putting what I am hearing and what I know about the player to formulate a clearer audio in my head. I am listening so carefully and differently. In many ways I feel like it has improved my analytical skills and listening skills. 

I am also seeking out more information and material much more. I don’t wait to go to the NFA convention to stock up on my info! I am ‘meeting’ new teachers online and we are sharing information. The flute community has always been supportive of one another, but I feel like this situation has really brought out the best in the community. 

None of us know exactly how this situation will unfold. And we are at a time of high stress, but I believe that our profession and our students will be victorious and arrive stronger on the other end. Be well! 

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