With the new school year already underway, it feels like we barely had time to catch out breath this summer before having to figure everything out, and for the long-term versus a few months. Whether you are a classroom teacher or a studio owner, there is a fresh set of challenges ahead that are teaching-related as well as interpersonal. There is so much more to consider.
Your students are still excited about learning music, but they’re facing academic challenges in every subject area. On top of that, there are those parents who are worried about losing their jobs, and of course concerned about health and safety. You may notice a lack of motivation in your students, and keeping them informed and connected is tougher now.
Maybe you’ve only taught music in-person, but this year you need to move your studio or classroom online. As a virtual teacher, you want to still effectively teach music to your students but might not know how. You want to stay informed when it comes to moving your own studio/school online due to COVID-19 and with so much information out there, it can get confusing knowing how to do this. There are a few ways to tackle this year with less stress, let's dive in.
What It’s Like To Run a Music School
The Difficulties A School Admin May Run Into
Running a music school isn’t easy, as you’re very well aware of. With every day, week, month, and year, new challenges present themselves.
Here are just a few of the problems you may arise:
- Parents cancel lessons last minute
- One of your own children ends up getting sick and you have to cancel a lesson
- You need to find music and the book you need is out of stock
- Budgeting and expense sheets
- Learning your students varying needs, learning styles, and personalities
- Keeping your students motivated
- Advocating for the importance of music education
When you take these problems online, things can get even more stressful, because now you’re communicating strictly virtually. Back in the Spring when COVID-19 hit, you were probably scrambling trying to figure out what to do. The doors to your in-person music classroom or studio were all of a sudden closed and you found yourself needing to think fast and come up with an online solution - with a mixed bag of success.
Benefits of Having a Music School Online
It’s so amazing in the day and age we live in that virtual learning is an option. Growing up, I took in-person piano lessons, because that’s all that was offered. Now families have so many opportunities for their child to learn music, even if it’s all done online.
The awesome thing about platforms like Tonara is how all students can still come and learn together. It ends up feeling like a classroom and even better, a community. The students can see the progress that their fellow classmates are making, offer encouragement, and can get support from you, as their teacher.
"You can still foster that sense of community and a “classroom” environment even if you’re teaching on a screen."
If you’re a music teacher in a traditional classroom setting, your students are continuously learning cooperatively, working with a partner or in small groups, and learning music together as a class. It's important to maintain this when your music teaching happens online. You can still foster that sense of community and a “classroom” environment even if you’re teaching on a screen.
Music is still being learned by your students and they’re still excited to engage with what you’re teaching. Although things may look a bit different, knowing that you get to still provide active music-making is so exciting.
Keeping Track of the Teacher's Work and Students' Progress
As the admin of a school, you’re tasked with keeping track of your work and also monitoring your students' practicing. It’s a daunting task to juggle both being a teacher and the school admin. You want to teach music to your students, but it seems like you’re spending more hours on the admin side of things than you’d like to.
Set aside certain hours in your week that are just for administrative tasks. These are times you won’t schedule any lessons and will strictly focus on those other tasks. Make a list of what needs to get done, so when you sit down to work, you’ll slowly be able to go through it and mark things off. Choose times when you know you’ll be able to focus, whether that’s in the morning, afternoon, early evening, or late evening.
Along with your teaching tasks, you still need to track your students progress. You can do this by keeping track after each lesson and jotting down notes, sitting down at the end of your teaching day to gauge students' progress, or better yet, you can track them directly in Tonara. Keeping students motivated to practice is part of what will prompt them to actually sit down and do it. Help them stay motivated, check in on them, and offer rewards when they keep going.
Bringing a Music School Online
The Difficulties and What To Consider
When making the choice to bring your music school online, there are tough decisions to consider. You may have had to learn quickly in the Spring how to teach virtually. But, you realized how you were able to adapt and adjust, even if it wasn’t easy. Hard things just take time, consistency, and effort.
When you became an in-person music instructor, you didn’t know how to do everything from day one, but learned as you went. You used each lesson as an opportunity to grow, and each year moving forward, you continued to improve. The same applies with teaching virtually. You might feel like a teacher who is just starting out all over again, but it's good to allow yourself to feel these hardships and emotions. But, don’t stay stuck. Know that you can and will continue to move forward and will be able to meet your students right where they’re at, even if you’re teaching virtually or just doing partial virtual teaching and the other half in-person teaching.
Forming relationships with your students is important. It may feel like you can’t connect with kids while teaching virtually, but you positively still can. It will just look a bit different. You can still connect with them by chatting on an app like Tonara, have face-to-face interactions on Zoom, or even make a phone call to check-in. Sometimes technology can create an overwhelming need for teachers to move to the virtual world. Choose what you’re comfortable using and stick with it. My advice is to use only 1-2 platforms and then keep going.
Tracking the Work of Students Online
During this time period of COVID-19, tracking the work of students online is important. You’re used to tracking their progress in-person or even partially online, but might be finding it’s strictly virtual now. So, how do you do this?
Have students show you what they’re practicing. Create lessons or assignments through Tonara for your students to work on. Set up goals and then reward them with stickers and a job well done! Positive praise with kids goes a long way, especially while learning virtually. Make sure students know what you expect and then let them know how proud of them you are when they achieve their goals.
You get to decide as a teacher how you want things done in your studio. The same way you make decisions in-person is how you’ll make choices while teaching online. Decide how you want to hand out assignments, when you expect them to be finished, and what ways you’re going to track your students. Then, do it! Keep it simple as to not overwhelm yourself and know that if something isn’t working, you can always change it up later.
Making a Positive Transition
You know how overwhelmed you’re feeling right now? Just think about how your students must be feeling. These kids are living during a Pandemic and are needing to deal with wearing masks, having all of their education moved to online learning, and may have parents working from home. It’s so stressful on families right now as they cope with emotions, mental exhaustion, juggling of schedules, virtual learning, and staying healthy.
Music education is more important now than it’s ever been. Along with being bored at home, kids need a creative outlet. They’re struggling with emotions and need all the support and guidance they can get.
So, how can you make the transition to virtual learning a positive one? By keeping all of that in mind. Remember that although this may not be what you signed up for, it’s also not what your students wanted either. Keep a positive mindset and always encourage your students. Share your love of music with them, keep a big smile on your face, and ask them questions about things going on in their life.
Jessica Peresta is the online piano teacher and elementary music podcaster at the domestic musician. She’s passionate about music education and loves inspiring others to teach, learn, and thrive as musicians and music teachers.