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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Teacher Reflection Prompts After a Pandemic School Year

What a year. I'm sure we've all uttered that phrase a time or two these last few weeks! This year more than ever, it is so important and valuable for us to be intentional about our mental, emotional, and physical recovery over summer break, and I've found that having reflection questions to guide my thinking and processing has been very helpful. Here are the questions I'm reflecting on this summer to help me process a traumatic school year and recharge for the new one.

1. What were my stressors this year?

This may seem like a "duh" question but there has been SO MUCH this year that I've found it healing and affirming to actually name the things that were stressful this year in particular. Many times this year I've found myself feeling overwhelmed or anxious "for no reason" and I wonder what my problem is, only to step back and remember that yeah, we're in a pandemic! 

2. What new things brought joy in my teaching this year?

This is not a "silver lining" question but a chance to think about things that I don't want to lose sight of as class schedules, curricular expectations, and other aspects of teaching return to pre-pandemic conditions. What happened as a result of the unusual pandemic situation- maybe because of reduced curricular pressure, having smaller class sizes, teaching virtually, going into homerooms on a cart, being forced to try new lesson ideas or class procedures, being compelled to focus on social emotional health, or some other aspect- that brought joy? 

3. What aspects of my pre-pandemic philosophy and practices held true?

The pandemic was a trial by fire of everything we thought we knew! A lot of our practices had to be re-thought, but which things remained constant even through the pandemic? Did my lesson planning practices still work when my teaching modality was constantly shifting? Did I feel comfortable with the representation of varied cultural backgrounds in my lessons when I knew families were listening in? Whatever stood the test of this year's upheaval is worth recognizing!

4. What aspects of my pre-pandemic philosophy and practices am I rethinking?

Of course the flip side of the previous question is to reflect on what new practices and ideas I'm letting go. Having so much of what we do flipped on its head has forced us to rethink a lot of what we've always done "just because", and one of the most valuable things we can do is make sure we think consciously about those aspects and avoid slipping back into old habits.

5. What are my core values and purpose as a teacher?

Part of the healing process has to be a re-aligning our values and re-imagining our identities as teachers. What aspects of the things we lost this year- singing, holding hands, sharing materials, performing for live audiences, having our own space for music class, etc- did we not miss as much as we thought we would, and what did we take for granted before and now value much more consciously? In what ways has my identity as a teacher, how I view my role and purpose, changed? 

6. What holes in my practice were revealed this year that I want to focus on next year?

I'm sure all of us found weaknesses and holes in our teaching as we were forced to re-think everything we do, and in many cases make our teaching more public as we zoomed into our students' homes with families listening in the background. Taking the time to think through those and note them now will help us avoid sweeping them under the rug and returning to old habits.

7. What can I do this summer to give my body, mind, and soul the opportunity to heal?

We've been through a lot this year, and it is going to take intentionality and effort to allow ourselves to heal before the start of the next school year. Let's not leave it to chance- what are some specific ways I can give myself the chance to recover and rejuvenate?

I hope these questions help you process this difficult school year and start the process of recovery. I personally find I have a lot more clarity in my thinking when I actually write down my thoughts- I'd encourage you to consider writing yours down as well as you reflect. I'd be happy to serve as a sounding board if you want to talk through these questions with a colleague- feel free to email me!

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

End of Year Lesson Ideas for Elementary Music (2021)

It feels like we've been running a marathon for the last year and a half, but here we are staring down the end of the craziest school year ever. It can be hard to keep the energy up when we're all just so tired and overwhelmed, but ending the school year on a positive note will do so much to ease the pain and set us up for a positive start in the fall! Here are some of my favorite ideas for those last few lessons in elementary music that work in virtual, in-person, and hybrid models, require very little preparation, and are loads of fun!

1. Talent Show

One of the best ways to celebrate at the end of the school year is by letting students share their musical talents! I'm doing a school-wide music talent show on flipgrid, which is way easier to run than it might sound (read about how I do it here). But I also love having in-class talent shows the last few lessons! I give students some time in class to prepare their performance, and I include everyone by giving students the option to write or draw about a musical topic of their choice to show the class if they aren't keen on performing. The students get so excited and it's a fun, relaxing way to celebrate each other's success at the end of the year.

2. Hula Hoop Conductor

I've mentioned this in previous posts on end of year activities but I'm thrilled to say this works in synchronous/ hybrid and virtual models too! I lay out 3 (or more) hula hoops and split up the class into the same number of groups. Each group is assigned to one hoop and they only play when I stand inside their hoop. The great thing is this can be done with classroom instruments, found sound, or even body percussion or vocal sounds! If you're doing this with both virtual and in-person learners like I am, just make sure the students online can see all the hoops through your camera. You can read about other variations I've done on this game over the years to reinforce different musical concepts in this post.

3. Dance Games

Dancing is always a good idea! Yes, freeze dance can *technically* work in any school model, but because of the sound delay it's not really fair to be calling people out for being the last to stop moving, so after a few rounds it gets old quickly, especially for older students (at least in my experience). Instead, my favorite dance game for the end of the year is to call out each student's name and have them make up a move for everyone else to copy. 

4. Play-Along's 

Yes, rhythm play-along's have been completely overdone this year because they are one of the few things that work really well in a range of school settings, but there are some fun twists I've found work well to save for the end of the year and the students and I still find exciting! The Ready Go Music YouTube channel has several "duet versions" (see them all here) that work well, especially for 3rd grade and up (it's a little too much for the younger ones to track). And this Bouncing Ball Beat has students counting the beat numbers rather than reading rhythms, and it sounds super cool! Putting all the parts together is fun for older students, but I was able to use this with students as young as 1st grade by having the whole class read one line at a time all together, and it was a great way to get them counting the beats.

I know it can be hard to find the motivation to keep going some days, but I hope you and your students are able to find joy in the small moments as you finish out this school year! If you are looking for more ideas to keep things fresh at the end of the school year, you'll find lots more ideas, many of which will also work in any school model, in these previous posts below:

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

My Digital and Paper Hybrid Planning System

I often see the debate among teachers over digital vs paper planning, but the truth is there are benefits to both! In fact although I consider myself a paper planner at heart, I use both for my lesson planning and I think I get the best of both worlds without duplicating my work. Here's how I use each one, and why I think it works best this way.

1. Paper

If I had a dollar for every time someone sees me pull out my paper planner and launches into an advertisement for their favorite calendar app.... I truly do think there's something about physically writing things down that helps me process and remember things so much better, and I find I can set things up better visually to see everything I want to see at once instead of scrolling and clicking around to find what I need. My paper planners also serve as a creative outlet for me- I like to decorate my pages like a scrapbook- but even if you're not into that sort of thing I think there is merit to paper planning for day-to-day. 

I use paper planning for:

  • weekly and monthly calendars, with everything (meals, lesson plans, appointments, birthdays, etc) consolidated in one place
  • running to-do lists
  • brain dumping (especially for things like concerts or new curricular units)
I keep paper copies of other things in my paper planner, just to have it available, but those are the things I truly rely on my written plans for and I think are better suited for paper planning. Sure, these can all be done digitally as well, but my brain just doesn't process it the same way on a screen.

2. Digital

As much as I love paper planning though, there are definitely areas of planning for which digital planning is much better suited! For anything I want to keep and reference long-term, or things that don't require a lot of thinking through on my part, digital planning is definitely better because I can save it without needing a mountain of papers to sort through!

I use digital planning for:

  • curriculum outlines by grade
  • lesson plan ideas by month for each grade
  • grades and attendance
  • student contact information
  • concert and performance plans/ repertoire 
Could I keep paper copies of all of these? Yes, and in the past that was what I did. But for things that I want to store and reference for years to come, having a running document saved digitally is far more helpful than a piece of paper, and I can add in links, copy and paste, and otherwise organize everything to keep it more streamlined. I do keep notes to myself on performance task assessments I grade in class on paper, but I transfer those to our district's online grading platform when I am figuring out report card grades and keep all other grades there, so I don't have to go looking for things when it's report card time.

I think the key here is to think about the purpose of your planning, then figure out how to best accomplish that, realizing that not every part of planning will be best served by the same system! As with most things in life, there is no dichotomy here- we don't have to pick a team, we can take the best from everything to do what works best!

Are you a paper planner, digital planner, or a hybrid planner? I know everyone has their own system, and I'd love to hear yours! If you want to read more about how I plan my curriculum and monthly lessons digitally, and write out my weekly lessons in my paper planner, here's a good post that explains my system. If you want to see the paper planner I use to consolidate everything on a monthly and weekly basis to keep me on track, here's a walk through of my entire planner. And if you're a die-hard digital planner, did you know you can use the same planner templates digitally? This post has a tutorial on how to do that. 

If you're new to the world of Organized Chaos planning, or just need more planner content in your life, you can find all of my planner-related posts right here.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

April Highlights 2021

April is probably my favorite month of the year. I love the change in weather, all the blooms that come out, and the mood in the classroom- people aren't super antsy for summer yet but more cheerful since we aren't cooped up inside all day any more. This April brought some extra fun and excitement for me! Here are some of the highlights from the past month.

1. Back in the Classroom

After teaching on a cart all school year, I got my room back!! The joy and relief I felt when I finished my last lesson on a cart was indescribable. It was a bit of a scramble putting my classroom together, since I was only given 2 hours to move in and set up, but I am so very happy to have my own space again and the students have been thrilled as well (several classes cheered when they came in for the first time)! If you want to see how my room is set up to teach synchronously with social distancing, you can see the full tour in this post.

2. Blooming Trees

One nice surprise when I moved back into my classroom was realizing I had made it back just in time to enjoy the blooming tree outside my classroom window (pictured on the left)! It is a beautiful tree and always one of the first to bloom at the beginning of spring, so I'm so glad I was able to enjoy it this year- last year the building was closed when it bloomed and I had to drive over to school several times just to visit it from the outside! The other important highlight from every April, though, is the sakura. Growing up in Japan, going to see the cherry blossoms was an annual tradition that marked the spring season for me, so I'm grateful my current city has a square with lined with sakura, complete with an annual cherry blossom festival, so we can keep that tradition going! 

3. Music Education Posts

Every week I share my favorite music education content on my Facebook page- here are the ones I found this month! Click each image to read the posts- they are all excellent reads.