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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Building Relationships Through Restorative Practices (even if you're virtual)

Building relationships with our students is more important than ever this year as we work through an ongoing pandemic, but it is also going to be harder than ever as we adapt our teaching to completely new formats, whether we're online or socially-distant in the classroom. Here are some ways to incorporate Restorative Practices, no matter what your teaching situation may be, to foster relationships as a music teacher.

I'm so grateful for the wonderful people who shared their insights with me to include in this post! Be sure to read to the end of this post to read more about who they are and find ways to connect with them: Alice Tsui, elementary instrumental/ choral/ general music teacher in NY, Czarina Francisco Jimenez, elementary general and choral music teacher in CA, and Michelle Rose, secondary virtual music teacher in NC.

What role can Restorative Practices play in building relationships with and among students as a music teacher who teaches hundreds of students?

Michelle: I have students fill out a "Get to Know You" survey via Google Form and then keep a spreadsheet with the answers that I pull up before each class. I create a column and make notes. I try to make it a point to talk to every student over a certain period of time depending on how often I see them. Usually, I try to reach out to 2-5 students per class so it doesn't become overwhelming.

Additionally, I have hosted virtual lunch bunches for my students. I usually host these once or twice per month and make them optional for students to attend. Sometimes I'll partner with another teacher and they'll invite their students as well. Students will eat lunch and chat with each other in my virtual classroom for 30 minutes during their lunch break. Sometimes we end up playing a game like "Would You Rather?" and other times we'll just chat.

Alice: Restorative Practice further builds relationships between students and among my students and I. So often we are eager to "get to the music" without recognizing that our students are PEOPLE first- people with feelings, thoughts, and ideas that do not always have to do with music. All of who they are are VALID, and an affirmation of their identities can occur through the restorative conversations. Affirmations can naturally lend themselves to being included in student compositions and music making as a form of self and collaborative expression. Only when my students can trust me for who I am can they truly then trust that I am here to help them express themselves through music.

Czarina: As a music teacher we have the opportunity to translate the musician's practice of "listening" into the way we create relationships. As a teacher, we need to realize that before we attempt to bring any practices into our workspace, we need to first bring restorative values and practices into our daily life. We need to nurture a restorative connection within ourselves and then we can nurture it in our community.

Clearly the key is not just specific actions we take, but a mindset and individual reflection as teachers! These are all things we can do whether we're teaching in person or online. Here is my post with more thoughts and simple strategies for how I foster relationships with students, coming from a restorative mindset:

It's so important to continue to bring ourselves back to what is most important, even as we deal with the overwhelming task of reinventing everything we do. None of our new ideas for making this work will mean anything if we aren't connecting with our students in meaningful ways and maintaining a focus on social emotional / character development. I encourage you to connect with the teachers who so graciously shared their insights for this post to learn more from each of them, as they all have important wisdom and insight to share:
Czarina is an elementary classroom music and choir teacher in Southern California. Her passions are creating culturally responsive music lessons and incorporating anti-bias/anti-racist social emotional learning into her curriculum. Connect with her at

Michelle Rose works at a full time virtual school where she teaches middle and high school music and directs the extracurricular virtual band and choir. You can connect with her on Instagram @the_musical_rose or by visiting her website

Alice Tsui (pronounced TSOY) is an Asian American/Chinese American pianist, music educator, scholar, activist, lifelong Brooklyn, New Yorker, and the founding music teacher at P.S. 532 New Bridges Elementary, an arts-integrated public elementary school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. As a product of the NYC public school system, Alice is passionate about decolonizing, anti-racist, abolitionist public music education and empowering the individual and collective voices of youth through music as expression. Learn more about Alice at and on Instagram at @MusicWithMissAlice.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Elementary Music Without Shared Instruments

Whether we're teaching virtually with our students learning from home, or teaching in person with a requirement not to share supplies and/or needing to teach from a cart, many of us are losing access to the majority of our classroom instruments for our teaching this year. And even for those music teachers who do have some ability to use instruments in class, that use will be severely limited because of the need to sanitize. Here are some alternatives to use for general music teaching when we can't use our instruments the way we normally would.

1. Individual Kits

If you're a music teacher and you've been on the internet at all this summer then you've probably seen this idea: create individual kits with some low-cost instruments so that students can continue to use them to play (from home or in school) without needing to share. There have been several music teachers who have shared low cost options for putting these together- if you have the time and the budget to do so, this is an ideal solution! Here is how Jennifer Bailey from SingtoKids made hers:

2. Body Percussion

This is an obvious point but it bears mentioning: there is a LOT we can do to replace instrumental playing with no equipment whatsoever! The trick to using body percussion long-term is to keep it interesting- take some cues from step routines and incorporate different ways of making sounds besides clapping/ patting. If you aren't familiar with step, check out Step Afrika! to get some ideas:

3. Virtual Instruments

If students have their own devices, there is a lot you can do with virtual instruments! Here are just a few examples that I've found (did you know YouTube instruments were a thing?!? Because I just discovered them recently and my mind was blown!):



4. Found Sound

There is so much we can do with "DIY instruments"! This is another way to use the idea behind the individual student kits without the time or budget requirements: have students put together their own instrument kits at home using common household items! Or if you're teaching in person, think about items students will have access to- desks, pencils, shoes, rulers, etc- and have them use those as instruments. Here are some more ideas for using found sound:

We're having to make a lot of adjustments to our teaching this year, but hopefully this experience gives us the opportunity to add some new tricks to our toolbox that will carry over into our long-term teaching practice, even when we return to "normal"! If you're scratching your head over how to handle not being able to sing in person this year, you can read my post on that below:

I am continuing to update my centralized page with all posts related to teaching and living in this "new normal", from distance learning lesson ideas to managing work from home life and everything in between:

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

First Day of Music Lesson Ideas: 2020 edition

After more than a decade of teaching general music I feel like I have a pretty good handle on how to start off the school year. I don't do the same exact lessons every year, but I have a formula that works! But this year... nobody has a "pretty good handle" on anything! My district is preparing for a hybrid model to start the school year with me on a cart, but with almost a month left before the first day of school I know things could change so I'm preparing for all eventualities. Here are my plans to kick off the school year socially-distanced, live online, and through posted online assignments.

A couple of years ago I shared my basic formula for my lessons at the beginning of the school year- if you missed it, you can catch up on that post below. Depending on what my teaching situation is, my plan is to adapt the formula to what I'm doing, so my ideas are based on the normal lessons I detail here:

The basic outline of my normal first day lessons goes like this:
1. Names and seats
2. Tour the room
3. Practicing procedures/ expectations (instruments, singing, movement)

Here are my plans to adapt those elements to different teaching situations.

1. Socially Distant / On a Cart

If I'm on a cart pushing into other classrooms, there's no need to assign seats or talk about the physical space! I can jump straight into an activity that allows me the opportunity to practice names and make an individual connection with each student. For older students I plan to use "Jump In, Jump Out" and just have students stay next to their desks, and for younger students I'll use a few different versions of "Hickety Tickety Bumblebee"- for K/1 I will probably do something like this video, and for 2nd/3rd grade I'll probably do something like the modified version Jennifer shared in her post here- but no matter which version we do I'll have them stand up.

One of the key elements of a fun first day in my experience is to actually try the "procedures" I want students to understand rather than explaining them. As we do things, I can naturally point out the ways we do things that work and don't work to communicate my expectations. The name games will give us a chance to practice using our voices and getting up out of our seats/ moving appropriately with the new social distancing guidelines in the classroom (whatever those may be). 

To practice instrument procedures, I'll do the same thing I normally do and have students echo a few quick patterns after me, using any instruments they may have in individual kits or trying out some "found sound" ideas by tapping desks with pencils, etc. Doing some echo patterns gives me a chance to review rhythms and also practice one of the fundamental procedures in my class: "If you play before I say, you'll make the instrument go away"! If they play out of turn they put their instrument down for one turn, then I have them join back in right away to practice waiting for the right time to play.

I'm not expecting much more than that for the first class period, but if we have more time I'll turn on some music and play some freeze dance! This will be another great way to practice movement in a confined space. At the end of class, we'll need to take some time to practice how we'll finish class and transition back to a different teacher, put away supplies, and sanitize if needed. We'll see what those specific procedures need to be!

2. Live Online

Depending on how things go in the next month, it's possible we will end up having to start the school year virtually- I know many schools are already preparing for this reality! If we do, my hope is that I will be having live class sessions on Zoom or some other similar platform. 

If we're on a live video call, we'll need to practice how to make music together while dealing with technology and sound delay! The first thing we'll practice is mute/ un-mute to make sure students know how to do it and understand why we'll have to mute for group singing. I'll introduce the song, "I Know a Song" and then tell everyone to mute their microphones and start singing along with me. I'll have signs for "mute" and "un-mute" to hold up/ point to and they have to keep singing with me while they adjust their mics accordingly. Every time they un-mute we'll all hear the cacophony of delayed singing, which will hopefully get everyone laughing but also give me a chance to explain why we mute for group singing!

To get students saying their names and using instruments, I'll have them take turns saying their name twice, once loudly and once quietly, while playing an instrument from their kits (or "found sound") with each syllable. It will be a quick way to hear everyone's name and practice waiting their turn- students need to know that even from separate homes they're expected to listen to one another! 

The last thing I'm hoping to do is a few rounds of freeze dance. Not only will it get everyone up and moving but it will be a good opportunity to practice adjusting camera angles if we need to so they can do movement activities (which will be a big part of live virtual lessons for sure)! 

3. Online Posted Assignments

It would be a real bummer if I had to start the year with asynchronous online assignments, but depending on how our district can allocate staffing for students who opt for full distance learning in a hybrid model, it's possible that I'll need to do that for a portion of my students. Hopefully they'll have a way to join in with live classes virtually somehow, but for posted assignments I'll want to practice some basic technology as well.

My first lesson for posted assignments will primarily be a recorded video of me introducing myself and welcoming them to the new year. I'll tell them who I am and what I did this summer, and then demonstrate saying my name 5 different (musical) ways- singing, saying it while clapping the syllables, saying it loudly/ quietly, fast/slow, etc- and then invite them to do it themselves. I loved using Flipgrid for my assignments this past spring, and I know it will be a big part of my teaching for any online assignments this year, so we'll start off the year by making sure students are familiar with how to post videos there. Their assignment will be to record a short video of themselves saying their names 5 ways, including at least one "instrument" and at least one non-speaking voice. I'll include a tutorial in my recorded video that walks them through Flipgrid and how to record so they can see how to do that.

No matter what situation we go back to, this school year will be a year like no other. I need to constantly remind myself to let go and give myself (and my students) plenty of grace! There will be changes and challenges but we will continue to adapt and do the best we can. 

Have you thought about what your first day will look like this year? Or have you already started back? I'd love for you to share your ideas in the comments! I will continue to save all of my ideas related to pandemic teaching on the page below, so check there for more ideas!

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

July Favorites 2020

This July is definitely not like other July's.... I am never one to completely unplug from school in the summer but this year in particular has been full of reopening committee meetings, curriculum re-writes, and general sitting around worrying about how in the world this is all going to work. But there was still plenty of family time, outdoors time, and some good progress towards a sense of what "school" could look like in the fall (which is always a good thing). Here are some highlights from this past month, taken from my Instagram photos!

1. Virtual Conference

One of the highlights of the month was definitely presenting and participating in the Music Crew virtual conference! I presented 2 sessions, one on curriculum planning for the upcoming Year of Insanity, and one on diverse cultural perspectives in general music, and I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations that came from both of those. I also learned a ton from watching the other presenters- I got so many great ideas for distance teaching for early childhood classes, google slides hacks, and more! If you didn't get a chance to see the sessions yet you can still access all of them for free here on Facebook.

2. Curriculum Work

This may sound silly if you don't know me well, but making some concrete progress this month on my curriculum planning to prepare for the upcoming school year has been a major highlight for me because it has helped ease so much anxiety. I wrote a whole blog post about what I did here if you missed it!

3. Teacher Community

I know, this doesn't look like a happy picture. I definitely wasn't happy when I took it. But as I was working on clearing out my classroom to get it ready to be used by someone else while I go on a cart, I shared the process on Instagram and was so encouraged by the response I got from the teacher community! It was another reminder that we're all in this together, and I ended up feeling so much better about my situation and the prospect of the school year after reading the responses!

4. Articles I Read

I love finding articles from other music education blogs to read and share every week on my Facebook page- here are the ones I read and loved this month (be sure to click on each image to read the full posts)!

That's it for this month! Honestly there was a lot I didn't capture in a photo- the lazy days at home, time with extended family, hikes, and spontaneous trips to the ice cream store- that I loved in July too, that I can't forget about either. In the midst of the crazy there is plenty for which to be grateful. I hope you have those moments of joy to look back on as well.