The current pandemic is making a huge impact on the different areas of our lives. Regardless of age, race, and social status, people have to learn to adapt in order to survive the unpredictable. People's adaptation and coping mechanisms led to making choices from escape, isolation, or opportunities.
As an educator, I have felt the impact of the situation on my students, parents, and professional community. How will everyone make the shift? How can we leverage emotions to increase positivity?
In the beginning, I have experienced all these mixed emotions of being physically apart from my students. It was like a dead end, with no detour that can lead us back to that path of possibilities.
And the journey begins… I found the detours through a student who was once lost, but with parental guidance, she was able to pursue her passion and interest in music, despite the circumstances. The journey never became a solitary endeavor because another student joined in and took the challenge of making a collaborative online music performance. I truly believe that we all have choices. While some of us would choose to remain trapped in the situation, others have thought of ways to reconnect with the world and themselves through creative output or go on a personal mission to be part of something that can help. For my students and I, we all made a choice to focus on what really matters.
Going through this journey myself made me think through the process of learning, not only in the context of learning music, but learning in general where the use of technology is amplified.
How can I support students' personal projects and interests when some learning pathways have been curved by the circumstances?
This was one of my biggest challenges in the beginning. How will I communicate the most essential details of the lesson which were usually supported by physical gestures, actual on the spot demonstration, real-time observations, and feedback under normal learning environment and conditions? Do we just find a substitute or do we need to reinvent the entire communication process? How did I win through all the connectivity lags that made learning disrupted, dragging, tedious, and a complex process for all?
Hans Christian Anderson quoted "When words fail, music speaks." Sounds true but a hard reality when you are limited by the capabilities of what the mic, audio recorder or instrument can translate and communicate. How much detail can it capture? How keen are we as teachers in noticing these details that can mean a significant change. My learning takeaways were:
When words, visuals, and audio fail, use the power of our own body to communicate and express
I meant to emphasize the literal use of our own body to feel what is being communicated to us in the music. Regardless of age, there is no easier way to define and describe those expressive elements of music than through our own body, from the hands, arms, feet, and just about the whole body. Our body has its own natural way of responding to music. Restricting movement even in just one part of the body will make the entire mechanism tense. There is a whole science on this that makes it even more interesting. We all know how tension affects our cognitive and motor skills learning. So why not play, move, and imagine!
Trust the unremarkable power of asynchronous learning. It does work with good instructional design.
This is the most essential tool for me. Here, I get to see all the details that my students and I need to improve on. These details would include most of what I want to see so I can give clear feedback.
I have trained my students and parents to angle their video in such a way that I can see every motion that they make when playing different passages of the music. I do believe that most of the challenges would stem from poor or underdeveloped techniques. Learning all about the notes and playing them is only the beginning. I'd always emphasize the importance of good tone production in expressing the soul, language, and emotions of any music. Creating these sound nuances are made possible with a lot of perseverance and hard work. It is a never-ending learning journey, not to solely perfect a craft but to express it.
Asynchronous learning should not be perceived as a homework or a task that needs to be completed for the sake of compliance. It is our role as teachers to communicate a clear message to our parents and the students that these are all valid and reliable tools to ensure that learning progresses.
Relationship and Communication are Partners
Developing relationship is a nut to crack at the beginning especially to incoming new students. I guess it is a bit easier with students who I have personally spent time with. But still, I had to make an active participation and consistent effort to be able to sustain or grow that relationship not only with them but with their parents as well. Contributing factors in nurturing relationships include:
I take the time to make sure that I will be there anytime that they want to seek help or just
talk and share random conversations that may possibly connect us through.
Teaching does not end with planning and sharing these with our students. I believe our students can tell if we truly care. Paying attention to every little detail of their work matters as much as listening to anything, just about anything that they are sharing at the moment.
Learning is never a duet between a teacher and a student but a symphony that needs everyone (parents and peers) to take an active part in the process, ensuring individual roles and responsibilities are fulfilled in order to play beautiful music.
And after all of these communication challenges, the next curve can be blurry and hidden. Most often implied, and left unexpressed.
B. Socio-Emotional Pathways
How do we bridge the digital gaps so that our students can feel safe, supported, and cared for despite the blurs in the lines? Experiencing these blurs myself led me to realize that our students are going through a lot when they face the screen to receive and process all the information that we all wanted them to understand. It's not as easy as practice, then perform or watch, write, save then submit in a folder. A lot of other socio-emotional factors are involved every time students are tasked to perform, then be given feedback after sharing a part of themselves this to us or others. Going back to the value of good relationships, how well do our students know us to be able to perceive and accept feedback constructively? Similarly, how well do we know them so that we can be truthful, trusting, and open to our own vulnerabilities?
I could just imagine the courage our students need to face and accept the realities of themselves every time they perform for their family or us. How much more when they are to perform in public?
Conquering our fears takes not only courage but time and support. Both teachers and parents play a huge role in ensuring that students have adequate time to process all the information. Being prepared and ready for something builds self-confidence. Confidence calms fears if not overcomes them. When we are safe and secure, it is easier to get the upstairs brain to work.
The curves will always be there. How we journey through these curves is a choice.