Let’s Root for Each Other and Watch Each Other Grow

Building a community takes effort. A LOT of effort. Moving overseas is enough evidence of this community building. I knew no one. So, I had to start somewhere. I began with work friends – because how else were you going to meet new people besides your coworkers? Sure I could have gone to a bar (although bars were hard to come by in Doha several years ago), but that’s not my scene. Soon after, I joined a community orchestra. I met musicians near and far, we performed concerts throughout the year and even went out for the occasional meal just to “hang out”. Finally, I joined a group of music teachers in Qatar. The realisation of this community building sunk in a bit when I attended my PD a weeks ago. Short story: I arrived early to register, have coffee and say hello to my fellow colleagues. Rachel, the organiser of the workshop, handed me the agenda for the day and asked if I wanted to make a name tag. Sure. Then she says, “Well, everyone knows you here so it’s not like you need it.” Hmm…

The fact that I no longer needed a name tag was a bit surreal. But looking back, it took YEARS of effort. It meant I went to every music workshop available. I played with various ensembles through the years. I braved Doha traffic to meet and greet and be social with “my people”. I had to be an active participant. I couldn’t be a lurker. See? I’ve grown a bunch since Course 1 (insert winky face).

Now you’re asking me to create an online community? Whoa. That’s a tall order. The State of Qatar is only roughly 2.7 million people. You’re talking about online. Like, THE WORLD. Nevertheless, I accept your challenge. I already had a few groups that I follow via Facebook: I am a member of a Band Directors group, General Music Teachers, IB PYP Music Teachers, American Orff-Schulwerk Association (AOSA) and Music Teachers of Qatar. I would read people’s post and respond in my head. It’s a silly notion now that I think about it. Maybe that person was taking a poll and needed the numbers. My response could have helped them in one way or another. And so, I need to take the first step. . .

The one thing that really convinced me to take the plunge were the group norms. Huh? It seems ridiculous, but hear me out. For example, in my General Music Teachers group, rule three states,

"This is meant to be supportive group. Please keep it respectful."

In my AOSA group, the admin states,

"The purpose of this page is to encourage collegiality, collaboration, and creative thinking among AOSA members and music professionals. All posts and comments should be marked by respect, be on topic, and presume the good will of other posters."

In my Band Directors group, rule one states,

"Be respectful, civil, and professional in all postings and comments. Debate is an important part of coming to new understandings for our profession and is therefore welcomed, but please be sure your opinions are grounded in your actual teaching experiences rather than untested hypotheticals. Also remember that we are not here to point fingers at one another, but rather to put forth the best of our own teaching experiences from which we can learn. No politics."

These rules/norms gave me a level of comfort in knowing that no one was going to laugh at my questions or scoff at an idea that I wanted to share. It was a safe space. We all wanted to support each other, and we all wanted watch each other grow in our beloved profession.

And because of this, I found a sort of “mentor”. Stephanie is a member in my General Music Teachers group. Despite our distance (she’s in New York), she finds the time to share her wisdom. Interestingly, she calls it “nerding out.” I can ask her a question about a pitch sequence and she comes back with a Kodaly resource. We go back and forth about our approach to teaching recorders and her experience with a ukulele club. Now I, too, want to start a ukulele club next year!

My other groups have also been a successful space for networking and learning. My experience has been nothing but positive. People are genuine and they truly want to help. The idea of posting in these spaces isn’t so daunting after all.

And so I’ve learned so much about taking the plunge and making the effort to build my community. It really IS worth all the effort. At the end, we just want to root for each other and watch each other grow.

Before Coetail…

After Coetail 🙂

Cheers!

Under Construction

Photo by Mabel Amber from Pexels

Much like how the whole country is under construction (Qatar is preparing for the 2022 World Cup), so is my course five project. It seemed like ages ago when I had plans for utilising Google Classroom to pilot a flipped classroom in a music setting. Well, step aside, GC. Here’s comes SeeSaw!

My colleague and tech guru Shaza practically rolled her eyes at me when I told her about my course five project. She was confused as to why I would even consider Google Classroom when SeeSaw is the new rage. SeeSaw? For realz? I thought that was just for portfolios! Boy, was I wrong. I described my ideal scenario using whatever magical device or app that’s out there, and she immediately suggested SeeSaw. What’s more? The grade 4 students that I’m piloting this project with already had experience using the app, so it’s one less step – one less thing I’d have to teach them. Well, I can’t argue with that. Here’s my progress thus far:

Step 1: Geeking out (Creating videos to upload on SeeSaw)

We recently had a fall break, and I wanted to use that time to create my videos and get general work stuff done without the students. The place would be quiet, the instruments were available, and I can knock everything out in a day. Man, I had a blast! I came up with a set up where I used two music stands, a felt sheet/fabric to help with “stand noise” and my iPad to create the videos. I could have used a video camera, but I didn’t think that far ahead. Nevertheless it worked well. The set up allowed for the video to capture the entire instrument AND my hands so that the students would see the proper technique. Bonus? You didn’t have to see my face! Ha! I then put the videos together first on Keynote then iMovie.

Two music stands were set up to “hover” above the xylophone with the iPad sitting on top.

 

iPad view of the xylophone. Look, Ma! All hands!

I know, I know. It seems like too many steps, but hear me out. I was recently playing with an online based app to create videos and presentations called Powtoon. I loved it! There are animated characters, sleek designs, and I found the finished product really engaging. I thought that my students would really enjoy it. Here’s the kicker: I’m too cheap to buy a subscription. There HAD be away to get the look and feel of Powtoon, but for free; hence Keynote to iMovie (Thanks, Apple!) Maybe if REALLY wanted to up my game, I’ll consider it.

Step 2: Upload introductory video and survey on SeeSaw

Believe me, I’m still a HUGE Google fan (despite setting aside GC). I used Google Forms to create a survey because I wanted to get an idea of who had their own devices, who had access to wifi at home, and to get a general idea that if the students had access to an instrument at home, would they practice and bring back their knowledge the following week.

The first assignment: complete the survey
One result from our survey

So. Just as I planned in my first post, the students would arrive to class, organise their iPads and other materials and get started with the lesson that was waiting for them in SeeSaw. Their first task was to complete the survey. The second task was to watch a tutorial video and learn a melody. The third task was for us to come together as a class and play what we’ve learned. We didn’t quite make it to task three due to the first day hiccups, but I did get a few minutes to get feedback from the students about their first experience in a “flipped classroom”. Their exit ticket was to give me feedback – tell me your impression of a flipped classroom and what we can do to improve. I was really happy with the results. Happy that I received feedback, but not so happy because the solution was out of my control. A lot of my students wrote that they wished the wifi was stronger because the video kept stopping. That’s more of an IT issue which I hope will be remedied. Some mentioned that they couldn’t hear the video because there were people next to them. Aha. That’s a space and logistics issue. That’s something for me to sort out next week. Some said that they were able to learn at their own pace and didn’t have to wait on anyone… I hear you, Ibrahim. You’re ALWAYS the first to finish a task which tells me you need to be challenged. So many new ideas to plan! What a great first day I had!

Step 3: Create a sub plan?!

This was NOT part of my process when thinking about my project; however, a music PD was being offered and I couldn’t pass it up. At my school, we need to find our own subs for a preplanned absence. So, several emails later, my classes were covered and I can officially attend the upcoming PD. I created an easy sub plan for my grade 5 classes (per request of the teachers covering), but had the opportunity to preserve my lessons for grade 4 because everything was on SeeSaw. I emailed the teacher covering my grade 4 lessons to give them a heads up of what to expect. Needless to say, the feedback was positive. All they had to do was monitor the students and iPads. The students were actively engaged in the lesson. The “high” kids completed the tasks for the day and even had time to provide support for the other students. It’s a win-win! I don’t know why I haven’t thought of doing video lessons in case of an absence before. It’s something I would definitely consider in the future.

Giving the students instructions via SeeSaw
Step 4: Pending

So. This is where I am at the moment with my project. Despite the tiny hiccups along the way, the process has been nothing but positive. I’ve gained a new approach to differentiation in my class in a fun and engaging way. I  know that creating those videos will take time in the beginning, but the results (so far) are something I can’t deny. It’s helping my students grow beyond (like my Ibrahim) and it gives me time to focus on my students that need more support. No child left behind, right?

Until next time!