A decision in January of 2022 brought me a quiet that had been missing from my life since covid19 hit the world.
WhatsApp Replaces Real in March 2020
The Lockdown of March 2020 brought social isolation and took my piano teaching studio online. It was a time of tremendous change for all.
Devices got busy with long phone calls to family and had to be used for online learning. Parents (mostly mother’s) had to be present and ensure that online studies went smooth. And here in India, in-person and phone call communication moved to WhatsApp messaging.
SMS chat was so full of marketing spam that many people couldn’t find messages there. So I, the last in our family to own a cellphone, had to make a change and start using WhatsApp. It was the only way in March 2020, as all of us adjusted to a new normal.
I had some experience with online piano lessons from earlier years – a couple of distant students who wanted online lessons on a temporary basis, until they found piano teachers in their locality. I realized that March 2020 would bring changes that would impact education and life irrevocably. And that I needed to learn some skills to make online or hybrid piano lessons work.
Skills I Needed For Online Piano Teaching
- A knowledge of technology, with support for when I got stuck.
- Access to new ideas on teaching to introduce chord-based learning while teaching students who are highly motivated by examinations.
- Some level of comfort speaking to a camera – a weak spot that I really had to work on and practise a lot those first few months. And still work on at times.
- Communication skills to keep my students engaged and attentive online.
- Ways to change the movement part of my teaching that keeps my students excited and engaged, to suit this medium.
- A lot more daily piano practise and time to work on different methods of teaching piano technique to students over the camera.
- A steady flow of ideas on studio management because life and lifestyles still are in a state of flux right now, and a high degree of flexibility is a very present need.
- A very high level of organization and time-management skills – something that all need these days because online work, study and life demands it.
This last one was very important, because it created space and time in my schedule. So I work with mindfulness. So I have time to practise the piano, learn, study and re-work my teaching and studio management and respond quickly to the need for change. So I can be patient with myself when technology gets the better of me and panic hits. And so I can practise patience with my students.
Teaching during this time has meant supporting students and student families as they adapt to an environment they weren’t prepared for. And that no one wished for. It’s been quite a challenge and a learning experience for me, and for all teachers.
TopMusicPro – My Biggest Resource
My biggest resource for ideas on creative piano teaching has been my membership at TopMusicPro, with some resources and ideas from the supportive piano teachers on Facebook.
TopMusic has been my go to place for teaching and learning resources for many years. And my guide through much change this past year. This current time and the sudden move to online teaching pushed me way out of my level of comfort zone in March 2020, at an unexpectedly fast pace.
It’s been such a relief to have TopMusic has take away this struggle. And so wonderful to have the academy courses and webinars and the support of the community in member forums.
I’m using the member ‘Power Hours’ to put in a steady one hour a week on information and policy updates. And to work on streamlining my workflow and communication, so my students get more concise information, with minimal email, notices and reminders. This one hour a week forces me to tackle one task at a time and stop. And this has given me free time for piano practise.
The ‘Growth Journal’ at the member forums has been, and still is, a wonderful support as I work at teaching better. At learning better. And at having work-life balance.
I feel grateful.
Comprehension in Online Lessons
Online lessons were the only option from March 2020 onwards, and I’m really glad it’s working well. My students are adapting. One grade 7 student scored a distinction in an online piano examination with Trinity College London, with 92%. And this seems to have motivated other students to practise. Unlike in many other countries, examinations are a goal for many here in India, and seeing one student do well motivates others.
Overall, I find comprehension levels in online lessons extremely high as compared to in-studio lessons. This is a really nice given that this hasn’t been a choice but the only option, due to covid constraints. I think, it’s because online lessons only work for students who are highly motivated. And the student families that moved to online lessons (all except 2 young adult students with board examinations cancelled due to the lockdown) were very interested in making it work. They too, I think, realized that this change in the learning environment was not going away soon.
And wanted to keep piano learning going. For the music. The learning. And also for the outlet it provided. More on that in Building Community With Monday Meet-Up’s.
My students now have access to information on schedules, events, links and homework, and places they can get information when they forget.
I’ve started these systems and am still working on them as I notice areas that need improvement.
- Information Files are uploaded in a shared google drive folder.
- A google calendar has the studio schedule and times student families can call me on the phone – with no need to check if I’m available.
- An email to each student has links and information.
- The studio WhatsApp group continues for now, used only for important reminders, as parents prefer WhatsApp and some students still haven’t cleaned up their email inboxes and subscriptions.
- The Homework Sheets have changed – I’m experimenting with Tonara and an excel format students can print or use online, as a practise tracker. Will see what works and switch to one system for homework, practise and assignments.
I’ve gone back to the old – to phone calls and SMS. And have made a decision to take all my interactions off WhatsApp this year, and only use WhatsApp for when cellphone networks fail or for important messages from family and friends abroad. I find too much messaging stressful.
Frankly I see nothing wrong, and much to gain from having phone calls instead of a barrage of messaging. It’s given me a much needed quiet and a silence that had been missing since I went onto WhatsApp. And it feels wonderful!
I know of one school that still uses WhatsApp for routine communications and homework assignments, and I also know that this in one cause of student anxiety. I’m not aware of how schools here have adapted to online teaching in general.
Still, I write this post in hope that it brings an awareness to both parents and teachers, that there is a way to organize online education so it’s supports families as they try to have lives less attached to their phones. And teach their children to moderate phone usage.
It would mean that teachers and schools need to invest time and money into organizing for online learning. The gains in comprehension and reduced student stress are very high and well worth it in my experience.
I’d like to end this post wishing you an organized and relaxed covid19-safe life. And wishing you Routines that make this life-at-home time comfortable.
Here’s to making this time work for us, and to doing that smiling!