The Butterfly Effect in Online Teaching

If you are not familiar with the butterfly effect, it is essentially when small changes can make bigger changes happen. Whether or not you may agree with the butterfly effect theory, you might agree that this past year and a half most of us had to make many small changes for lessons to continue. Many found themselves in a situation that forced them out of their comfort zone. Online lessons became the solution to keep the "doors" open and continue teaching. The small changes we have made this year with online lessons, ultimately created a beautiful array of lessons learned. And I think you might agree, in time, created some big changes in our lives (some more than others).

Today I wanted to share some lessons teachers learned from those changes and some quick tips that help make online lessons work and benefit one another.


This year we learned that we CAN do hard things. We learned that even if we have never experienced teaching online before that it doesn't have to be complicated. 

Lessons Learned from Teachers- 

"I’ve learned I’m not too old to learn something (or a lot of somethings) new."

"I’ve learned although I’m technically challenged, I CAN do Zoom and FaceTime."

"I have learned that my students CAN still progress while doing online lessons."

Quick Tip:

Start simple and then if desired, start stepping further out of your comfort zone and try new things. 


Even though it may be through a screen, we learned that we can still connect with our students. We learned how important it was for that connection. One reason I love Tonara so much is that it makes the connection with students so easy and meaningful.  

Lessons Learned from Teachers:

"I’ve been able to connect with some students already who have chosen to check out the music page and say hello. It’s been nice seeing that they are doing well and I’m looking forward to connecting with them as we do this distance learning thing!"

I’ve learned that we all need connections. Connections between people, loved ones, friends, teachers and students, neighbors…. even strangers (who become friends)…we need connections! And I’m so grateful for them!

Quick Tip: 

Connect with your students outside of lesson time through Tonara by setting up a performance room (chat group) where they can share and support each other.   


Often the best ideas are created out of need. I have seen this firsthand from teachers who have come up with creative ideas to make online lessons not only work but engaging and fun. 

Lessons Learned from Teachers:

"I make each week a SPIRIT week with themes-just finished Disney week & moving on to Sports week - seeing the students in Mickey Ears or T-shirts brought joy & gave them something fun to share with me that week!"

"I created an incentive program for students to have low-tech, low-data contact with the studio, to keep music in their daily lives and a reason to be at the piano still. It has made a difference!"

"I am making adapted books for my students."

Quick Tip: 

Think of a current need you have with your students. Now ask yourself how can I get a little creative to fulfill that need? 


Laughter is truly the best medicine. I'm sure you can think back on plenty things that went wrong when you first started online lessons. These make the best stories! I remember a family who was not prepared when we connected to their first online lesson. Even though I did my due diligence in sending appropriate instructions to the parents ahead of time, when it was time to connect nothing was ready. It ended up taking the kids the first 10-15 minutes of their lesson trying to manipulate the iPad just right so I can see them. I just sat there and chuckled while they looked around the house for something that would work.  

Lessons Learned from Teachers-

"I learned to put a smile on my student’s face by putting their pass stickers on my forehead!"

"I get to see the priceless expressions on my students’ faces as they play. I see joy, silliness, “oops, I made a mistake” and my favorite, pride when they accomplish something!  When I sit beside them or stand behind them, I miss all those expressions that are very telling to how they are feeling about their music and their playing!! It’s been a window into them."

Quick Tip: 

When all else fails, just laugh!


Boy, have we learned a lot! Whether you were brand new to online teaching or have been doing it previously, I think we would all say that we learned something this past year and a half. What have you learned?

Lessons Learned from Teachers:

"Think of your communication as passing the mic. Only one person can speak at a time.”

One other would be giving very specific instructions – play to measure 9 or play m. 9-16 and then stop"

"I remember watching Mr. Rogers with my kids and how he would always show up with one item that had to do with the lesson of the day. I’ve tried doing this and it works! The little ones are totally engaged and want to know what I will have at each lesson!  Who knew!"

"One thing that helps me a lot in online Zoom Lessons is to have Keynotes (PowerPoint) created ahead of time that I can bring up and use as one might use a a white board. I have trouble writing on the Zoom white board with any clarity. Creating clear graphics and samples of a concept or MARK UPS of music ahead of time allows me to communicate more clearly. I simply share my screen and ask them to follow where my arrow is pointing and lots of check in questions to be sure they are following. So much easier than trying to film my white/magnet board or write on that crummy Zoom Whiteboard."

"I ask more questions instead of doing so much for the students,"

"My best teaching tip is to have all your books and teaching materials ready to go. If you’re using Zoom, take photos of every piece and theory page you think you’ll use that day. That way you can bring them up on the computer screen when you need them."

"I’ve learned that I don’t need to recreate the wheel to make this work. Just modify what I already know and do and keep moving forward."

"One thing I have learned during online lessons is not to cram so much into one lesson and to just slow down to adjust to the student’s pace."

Quick Tip:

Remember to do what is best for YOU and your students. You don't need to do it all. 


When we have an attitude of gratitude, we allow ourselves to receive blessings and in turn, can bless others. What better way to bring joy into our lessons? I love this quote from Maya Angelou... 

"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."

Lessons Learned from Teachers:

"I’m just so pleased and feel privileged to keep teaching and actually thriving with online lessons.  I didn’t think an aging gal like me could do it but with all the online help and great manipulatives I’ve collected over the past couple of years, I’m able to engage my students and help them continue their piano learning AND keep something familiar in routine and relationship."

"One positive thing I have learned is that kids do really welcome the presence of THE ARTS in this time!"

"I’m enjoying the positive reinforcement from my studio families about how important I am to them. The response I’ve received is nothing but positive. It is obvious my families feel I am a positive presence in their lives and it’s been wonderful to feel that positive energy!"

Quick Tip: 

Like the butterfly, we have had to go through many changes this past year. What have we (or our students) achieved that has allowed us to delight in the beauty? Write down a list of things you have learned from those changes. 

Jennifer Foxx is nationally recognized for her teacher resource blog, Music Educator Resources. She runs a successful piano studio in Arizona and enjoys presenting and creating engaging music resources and curriculum for teachers to use in their studios. You can find those resources here.

A big thank you to those who shared your lessons learned! Mary T, Claire C, Dave T, Krista D, Teri B, Lori F, Dawn K, Priscilla H, Christina C, Deborah S, Jennifer H, Juliana G, Debra D, Kim M, Sharon E, Pam M, Natasha V, Catha M, Donna R, Tiffany M, Sue M, Tessa A, Becca H, Heather B, Angela R, Deirdre S, DB, Juanita S, Diane C, Melissa B, Marla M, Teresa P, Karen V, Amy R, Leigh S, Christina A, Michelle M, Chrissy A, Ruth M, Emily S, Laura B, Kristi R, Jennifer S, Linda R, Jolynn H, Marie M, Kristine K, Mardi S, Pamela F, Heidi N, Deb F, Kellie M, Donna S, Julie A, Debbie M, Chris M, Diana M, Saundra R, Kelley K, Betsy B, Gillian B, Karen R, Stephanie S, Stephen and Maria, Sharon M, Jo P, Glynda M, Monica L, Anna O, Marti A, Emily F