The Rules of Engagement

So this is a little bit of a rant to start. This comes after reading several articles and talking with so many people about that big word that seems to be a hot topic of conversation especially now, engagement, how to create engaging content, how to engage your students, how to make what you do in class resonate with your learners in your audience. Engaging your students has always been a best practice when it comes to instruction, but it has become a hotter topic after we have dealt with lockdowns and teaching remotely. I cannot tell you how many educational influencers out there I have heard blame the entirety of student engagement and learning loss on remote teaching alone. In my opinion, I don’t find that the case. Well, let’s backtrack a hot second. I do think that remote learning definitely was a small contributing factor to the shrinking of student attention spans and did not allow students to develop social and emotional skills as fast as previous generations, but we can’t blame it all on being separated for so long.

What we see from a different perspective is a consistent general decline in student engagement using current practices. Which leads to a general decline in learning loss because they are not engaged. For the most part from year to year, this decline is not as noticeable because we see these students all the time. Then we are thrown out of the classroom for consecutive years before being asked to jump back in full-time. That unnoticeable decline is now noticeable because we haven’t had to deal with it for a while. All this just didn’t magically happen, it was always there because, with the new societal innovations, we see almost every day now, things change quicker than they used to. Students are just learning differently, and it’s time to help meet them where they are at.

So how do we meet them there? Where do we change our practices in order to find connection and make core moments for them? These are just some tips and tricks to help.

  • Just Ask – Having a conversation with your students about their interests and what they like to do can lead to such a special connection where they feel you care and want to hear what they have to say. Once they know that, they listen closer to be able to contribute to the conversation. “But what if it just turns into chaos when I open the discussion?” Limit the number of shares and let students know that before you start. Saying “I’m going to take 5 hands to share” gives them a level of expectation. Once the 5 hands are done they know it’s time to move on. Building in conversations like this into a normal lesson lets them know they will all get their turn at some time.
  • Interactive Resources – I don’t mean engaging, I mean interactive. What is the difference? The hands-on aspect. A movie can be engaging, but it’s not really that interactive. Resources that students can interact with and manipulate allow them to explore and build routines without a barrier. These don’t always have to be a digital resource, but with the attention spans of so many individuals now (not just kids! but Adults too!) digital resources tend to build a stronger connection with audiences. Try composing together using Garageband, try playing games like Staffwars, try to bring out egg shakers, and play to the beat.
  • Letting them Lead – Yes, students can lead activities and games. Give them a shot in a controlled environment. Not every student might want to do this so never force them, but a lot of your more vocal students might jump at the chance to lead the class or be the leader of a small group to make something really fun.
  • Play Music they Like – Especially in the older grades, playing Hot Cross Buns on the recorder just doesn’t do it for them anymore. When I was in the classroom, one of my proudest moments was building a choir program up from practically nothing to over 70 students in just a few years. Why? because I added music to the repertoire that was current and that they wanted to sing. Of course, I always had a few songs in there that were ‘for me’ to work on technique, but we always had a few songs in there that they could not wait to sing. You don’t have to go that big though, even the simple art of turning on Spotify during a quiet period can mean so much.
  • Time Together – Of course, whole class time does a lot but giving students time to be in small groups or partners to discuss, create, make, or brainstorm connects them with their peers over a common learning goal further adding to the core memories in their safe learning spaces.
  • PLAY – Time to play is essential and allows learners to explore at their own pace with minimal expectations but maximum imagination and creativity. Allow for activities and lessons that allow for some free time with just minimal guidance. This sort of guided play leaves room for positive environment building.

There are so many more ways to engage out there, thanks to amazing innovating educators. In what ways are you changing your practices in order to better reach your students?

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It’s Like Jimmies on Top of the Ice Cream; Creating a Learning Space Using the Interactive Board

I really need to move back to New England, no one knows what jimmies are down here, (If you’re in New England and still don’t know, we need to have a chat.) What I’ve come to realize over the years working in the field of education is that not one educator has the same access to technology. Some have the really expensive interactive TV while some are grateful for a computer that has the ability to answer emails. It’s all different no matter where you look. The big question I get a lot is “Do I need an Interactive board to teach?”, the best answer? “Heck no,” Teachers are known for being scrappy problem solvers. You can still teach your technology-centered students without the latest and greatest. There is always an alternative to work with…..but if you have one? Oh, friend, you’ve got a gold mine of opportunities to use it with. You’ve already got the most delicious ice cream of lessons, the interactive board is the jimmies on top that make it even more fun.

Now I’m sure you’re saying “I do have one! But how do I set up my classroom expectations to make sure we can use it successfully?”

I’m glad you asked! Here are some tips and tricks for using an interactive board in the classroom;

  • Your rug seating should have clear pathways for walking. Interactive means students are heading up to the board to actually touch it. If you are in a space with tables and chairs, set them up where there is plenty of space to move around. If you are sitting at a rug or have an open floorplan, I put painters tape down at the beginning of the year where I needed the open aisles so students knew the expectation. After a month or two, you can start to pull it up when they get used to it.
  • If you have the option, mount the board at waist height for your students. This is important especially if you are teaching littles. Interacting with the board means they actually have to reach it. If for example, you teach preschool and your board is mounted at your height, they won’t be able to reach much unless you have a step stool or wand available.
  • Make sure to orient your board at least once a week. This is an important thing to do for most boards because it keeps the accuracy of the touchpoints good. This is usually a simple task that you could hand to a student once a week to do and will keep aggravation at a minimum.
  • Turn off your display when you’re not using it. Depending on the students in your classroom, you might have some “screen kids” who are driven by the power of the screen. Know how to quickly turn on and off your screen during times you are not using it so it can keep focus!
  • Cleaaaaaannnnnn it! Yup, if you’ve got fingers touching it, get some disinfecting cleaning wipes and get that sucker cleaned up on a regular schedule. You could even make this the responsibility of a student to do at the beginning or end of every class. After the last few years we’ve had, we don’t need to be spreading any more germs around than we have to.
  • Build in specific times when you use the board. That way you’ve set in the expectation we aren’t using it all the time, but when we do use it, it has a purpose. Have it going and put a message on there when students enter the room, use it to play an interactive game about what students are learning to help drive a point home. Do research together guiding students on how to look for answers, take a virtual field trip, or video chat with an expert. Show students the board has a purpose.

Want more tips and tricks for using projection systems in the classroom? Check out my book! It’s on Amazon!

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Where’s the Money Tree?

We all wish we had one, not only for work but also for play. One thing teachers struggle with a lot is knowing where funding for classroom resources is and how to best maximize those funding pots. I hear all the time, “Man, this is cool, but I just don’t have the money.” Your budget for your personal classroom might not have those funds, not might your school budget, but the money doesn’t stop there. You can find so many other ways to acquire additional funds to do what you want to do with the resources you have. When looking for any additional funding outside of your regular budget, just make sure to follow this advice;

Have a purpose and defined outcomes

What I mean is, most outside regular budget resources will want to know what you want to do with the funds and how you will measure success with them. Make sure you have those parameters defined before going to search for funding. Finding a cool project or new initiatives like a permanent center or new piece of technology to create a new learning experience for your students would make it more fun for you as the teacher, but also stand out in a pile of applicants.

So once you’ve got your plan, where do you go? There are a lot of options out there, but here is a place to start based on research from 2023;

  1. is a great site to get quick funding from donors to immediately spend in their marketplace with approved vendors. This site does not ask for project proposals but is limited on where you can spend funds. So pay close attention to their approved vendors before jumping in.
  2. does ask for a specific purpose for the funds you are requesting and donors can find you on the site by your specific projects to donate. This site is more geared towards smaller funding asks but you have a bigger list of vendors to request your materials from.
  3. Arts.Gov/Grants National Endowment for the Arts grants has several opportunities for arts educators to gain funds to get resources and unique opportunities for their students. The deadline for 2023 is July 6th.
  4. NeaFoundation.Org offers student success grants at different periods throughout the year that require a project in order to be considered for selection. The next period for application starts March 1st.
  5. Look for grants on your state’s DOE website. Sometimes this is one of the easiest ways to get some funding because they only choose projects from your state. They are a little more in-depth because it is a local thing, but the outcomes and create some amazing results.

Where else do you look for grants and additional funding?

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Things I’d Wish I’d Known My First Year

This one gets a little personal, as I travel and get to hang out with more and more teachers at events during this convention season. I realize what they’re going through now is what I went through many years ago. With such hard working conditions, it’s hard to keep your head afloat in a new place, with a new job, juggling 50 things at the same time. Burnout is tough. As I talk to others who are currently in the field and from what I remember from when I had my first classroom. There are things I wish I had known that could have made my first year of teaching so much smoother.

  1. As soon as you can get into your room in the summer, get in there and start setting up. I didn’t do this my first year and very much regretted it. Get as much time as you can in your new space to look over what the previous teacher left for you and figure out how you want to use it. Take inventory and figure out what you need to make it a great year.
  2. Ask questions about resources and budget when you get offered a position. Figure out what technology you have, if you have a curriculum, and what it takes to get the resources you know will make you successful. It doesn’t hurt to ask about getting a little bit of a bigger budget for the first year to make sure your room is stocked with what you need.
  3. All your resources don’t necessarily need to come from your specific budget. Especially when it comes to instructional materials. Curriculum should be coming out of a separate budget whether it be a school fund or a district fund. If those funds have run dry, ask colleagues and administrators about possible grants and what that process looks like in your district to write and hopefully receive one.
  4. Spend the first couple of weeks teaching your students what expectations and procedures look like in the room, and get to know your students in the process. During the first few weeks of school students are settling in, it can be overwhelming for them so don’t try to jump right into your lessons too hard. If you set them up for success in the first few weeks, the rest of the year is just making sure you follow through with enforcing those expectations and having fun teaching your students.
  5. Don’t expect every lesson to go the way you planned, there were many times I threw a lesson completely out the window because I knew it just wasn’t happening and we would turn to a few review games or something alike. Things happen, and staying on a strict schedule is never going to happen.
  6. Grade-level shows do not need to be over the top. Pull some amazing songs together, get those students on stage, and get them moving and singing. Elaborate costumes, props, sets, and scripts can come later. Keep it simple for your first time! My students did have fun with the shows my first year or two, but when we just focused on performing music together, it made such a bigger impact on the audience.
  7. A good admin will be flexible coming to do formal observations. It is ok, to be honest with them and ask for a different time, especially when your 5th graders just did an amazing show the night before and you hadn’t planned anything too strict for the next day. Pop-in observations were a whole different animal (which I ended up loving, I would ask them to come in during my toughest classes and learned a lot about class management during those times.)
  8. Don’t spend all your weekend lesson planning and creating resources. It will create a cycle that will go on for years and lead to burnout quicker. Be ok with not getting everything done, and look for resources from colleagues. We are in a time where you don’t need to recreate the wheel.
  9. When one student asks to use the bathroom, they will all ask to bathroom. This herd mentality happens with sharing stories, asking questions, going somewhere outside of class, etc. Set limits and learn when it is actually an emergency, and when it is not. Sometimes with sharing and questions, I would set a limit of just a few hands before we moved to the next thing but would let students who didn’t get a chance know when the next opportunity would be.
  10. Ask for help, it’s your first year and there is no expectation that you are gonna be perfect. I wished I had asked more of my colleagues in the school for help. There was so much experience and knowledge in those buildings I wish I could have unlocked more, I could have learned so much more.

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Education Trend Forecast for 2023

Every year I play a game predicting new educational and Edtech trends for the new year. I take a look at what happened the year before and check what I got right and what I missed (if I get a certain amount right that year, I usually set a prize (I’m a sucker for a pack of M&Ms!)) I sometimes spend hours researching these trends through trusted source articles and social media posting trends. For me, it is a fun game and helps me better understand where education is and is going this year.

So here are just four of the predictions for the new year!

  1. Professional Development – A few years ago, technology was thrown at teachers right and left. Now they are playing catchup, helping educators better understand what they have at their fingertips. We also learned so much about how we can connect with one another during this time and found virtual and digital self-led PD to be, in some cases, a great alternative as opposed to in-person. Companies are starting to turn towards full-scope professional learning products to provide educators with the learning they need and want. To add to the current teacher crisis, we need more learning resources for teachers than ever before.
  2. Global and Civic Engagement – A lot is happening right now. A trend here to stay is cultural awareness. Bring the events and people of the world into your classroom so students can be more aware of the planet they live on and what’s happening on it. Making students more mindful can help bring out their passion for making this world better.
  3. Flexible Learning – After the events of the pandemic, students and adults found they work and learn better in different situations. The push for flexibility everywhere has become quite large. From flexible seating to learning choices and even modes of learning. Gone are the days of the rigid one-classroom school. Now we learn from anywhere.
  4. Data-Driven Assessment – Individualized student progress is essential in today’s personalized learning and technology era. It has made it much easier to track each student’s progress and create instant reports.


Debunking Myths: Letting them Lead

We stand at a unique time in education, depending on your viewpoint. We are at a turning point of heading up or heading down. After a point in the pandemic, the educational views of many took a turn going from traditional pedagogy to pointing toward more modern pedagogy, and now as things in life are starting to head back to a new normal, we are going back to those traditional ways, but it doesn’t have to be like that. We can start to dethrone those long-time myths all teachers hear, why go back to the ways you knew, let’s try something new.

So let’s debunk one of those myths right now: to teach, you need to be in the spotlight, center stage. How many times have we seen a teacher in a TV show, movie, ad posting, or social media meme standing in the front of the classroom teaching? How many times have we found ourselves falling into the same routine, sometimes without even thinking of it. I know I’ve been out of the classroom for quite some time, but having the blessing of being able to see other teachers in their natural habitat. The best teaching times, don’t always come when the teacher is standing in the front of the room or the one commanding attention. I know my favorite times teaching students come from when my classroom was noisiest and the students were the most engaged. How were they engaged? They were given a piece of their learning to be in charge of. When held responsible for the outcome, it increases their attention and focus and motivates students to engage in higher-level critical thinking. (

So how do we give students that bit of freedom without it turning into complete chaos? Well I can tell you, you can’t just say “go.” It takes building up the skills within the students before allowing to set them free to do their work. You want to be, for lack of a better term “the guide on the side.” The skills we start with are those surrounding leadership, through time management, working collaboratively, problem solving, and more. You set students up to be able to work more independently and motivate themselves to continue to learn about what interests them.

So here are a few suggestions for activities to get you started.

  • Oops Masterpiece – One of my favorite activities I just discovered. This stems around the art of learning how to fail with grace and not being afraid to stand up and try again. Get your favorite music creation app, or some lined paper and a pencil. Give your students an initial 5 minutes to create a short piece, this could be a pattern of loops to create an accompainment, a melodic pattern, or a rhythmic pattern. Set the amount of measures you want the students to initially create, and have them only use notes and rests they have learned so far. The trick is, once they put down a note or rest, they can’t erase it or delete it. That’s right, you heard me. Students can’t fix their work the first go around. This encourages students to just get started and go. Once the first 5 minutes is up, have students switch with a partner and do it again, this time the partner gets to add another part to the first, but they can’t listen or read the first and also can’t erase or delete any notes and rests they put down. That’s right, we’re creating chaos here! You can have students switch pieces as much as you would like until they are done. After, have them get their original work back. Then the original composers can listen or play the whole piece to hear how it all sounds together. Doesn’t sound too good on the first go around? Oh well. That’s the beauty of it. You have a good laugh, then they get into small groups or partners to talk about how they would edit their work. Put 10 minutes on the clock, and let them edit and play or sing one more time to hear how the edits sound. We are getting over the fear of messing up before even starting. That is huge for a leader and a big hurddle for most to get over!
  • Projects – Projects work on a lot of skills, time management, goal setting, collaboration, listening, the list goes on. Some of my favorite projects stem from a simple guidance such as “Make me a rhythm” to ones that are immersive and collaborative across the whole school. I find starting small, using 10 minutes of class and giving directions and expectations before letting students start is a great stepping stone and does not take up a lot of your classtime with everyone. Projects do not have to be big, they just have to be organized with a great end result.
  • One Word Goal – Another new favorite activity, if you are reading this right now I want you do something for me. Think of a goal that you want to accomplish between now and the end of the year. Now think of one word to describe that goal, just one word. Now write down that word and put it away where you can find it at the end of the year. Go back and read that word later whenever you need to to help remind yourself of that goal. Imagine doing that with students at the beginning of the year, or maybe when they need some direction or guidance. How much impact can one word have on their life to remind themselves of where they want to go?

Let’s debunk some more myths, what other taboo things have you heard about teaching and education?

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Burnout is Real

Whether we want to talk about it or not, job burnout is a real thing everyone experiences at least once in their lives. I know I have run into this hole of darkness more than once myself. We get lost in the world where busy is good and working too hard is praised. Then when we ask for help, in a lot of cases an empathetic smile and a “you got this” are the rewards we get for summoning the courage to share our feelings. It hurts, it gets lonely, and although in the past the solution has been to power through until vacation, try a new hobby, or to treat yourself. Now especially after enduring the pandemic, many are deciding to leave the profession entirely hoping for greener pastures on the other side.

According to an article published in February of 2022 by the National Education Association, 55% of their surveyed members were considering leaving the profession by the end of the year. (Read the article here.) That is a staggering number in itself, but to see how much it jumped by from the start of the pandemic is terrifying. Although there is a huge difference between considering leaving the profession and actually leaving the profession, those that do consider it but are left behind, will continue to have a sour taste left in their mouth about their current career. From a study done by the University of Southern California in 2018, negativity in the workplace can quickly decrease general productivity up to 30% and create a toxic workplace environment that leads to high turnover and absenteeism (article here.)

With low morale, shrinking resources, budget cuts, rising class sizes, some of the highest academic demands we have seen in decades, and to top it all off, surviving a pandemic. There is no wonder why we are predicting a mass exodus of teachers. Spending hundreds of hours of your own time for your students to succeed while spending your own paycheck on supplies and resources to do so with little reward can get tiring after a while. Teachers are NOT OK.

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Teacher burnout is not a new thing, but due to the pandemic, a mental health crisis began and now teachers are taking action about their burnout in higher numbers than we have seen in a long time. We have set the stigma that makes teachers feel guilty for calling out sick, for completely unplugging at the end of the day, or actually enjoying their vacations. Then when they feel like creating a new career path for themselves because they are done, some feel like they need to whisper their excitement because it is not a good thing they are leaving their classroom and students for their own health.

This is not ok.

I know what you’re thinking, how can we stop burnout? How can we keep teachers in their jobs? Short answer? If a teacher is burnt out, let them do what is best for them. You can suggest positive mental health activities, try to take work off their plate. In the end though, that teacher needs time to put their own wheels back on track even if that means leaving. There is no stopping that. The better question to pose is, how can we work towards a brighter future for teachers? You start with the basics that go beyond the meaningless trinkets and shallow promises.

  • Lessen the academic rigor demanded by strict curricula and state/national mandates. Teachers need time to actually teach. There is not enough time in the day to reach every student in order to personalize their instruction to their individual needs. Teachers spend overtime making sure they reach every student going from thing to thing with little break in between. Giving them time to personalize learning without stringent schedules would help increase time for teachers to plan and put those plans into action.
  • Listen to their needs, show them their voice matters. We’ve all had that one time where you were in desperate need of a school supplies that has run out and get told that they would not be ordering any more this year because the budget is spent, then suddenly a new unnecessary “surprise” pops out of no where that they make a big deal of but half the staff know that it is just going to sit there collecting dust. Even beyond purchasing, listen to the collective, they are the ones who know what is needed. Even if it is just taking a quick poll during staff meetings.
  • Promote a good work-life balance. We need this in every career field, but it is as equally as important in education. I have seen teachers get praised for working from dawn until dusk with the only reward of “getting a lot done.” That’s not healthy. Setting boundaries for when you need to leave work by, taking a mental health day, feeling no regret for taking a sick day because you are actually sick, being OK with not answering that email until Monday. It’s ok to set boundaries so you don’t get burnt out!
  • SAFETY, I say this not only because of recent current events, but a long standing crisis that our teachers face on almost a daily basis. On top of the over 119 school shootings that have happened since 2018 (Thanks EdWeek, read more about this severe issue here.) Teachers are constantly faced with daily behavior issues from students who are asked to leave class for a dangerous issue and come waltzing back only 5-10 minutes later. Issues that cause them to throw chairs, start fights with other teachers or students, or exhibit concerning mental behavior do not fix themselves with a 5-10 minute break. Even if it is a short outburst, there is still a mental caution sign thrown up if they return causing un-needed stress and anxiety for the educator and fellow students as they finish out the lesson.
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Take burnout seriously. When a teacher says they are tired, believe them. When a teacher says they need support, support them. When a teacher needs balance, help even the scales. Take the crisis and make a change to better the future.

Transitioning Back Using Virtual Tools

For some, going back to school is an exciting time, one full of hope for a little bit of normal that had not been seen since the beginning of the pandemic. For others, it is an anxious time knowing about the battles that are ahead and the uncertainty about how long the little piece of normal we have will last before chaos will strike once again..or did chaos ever actually leave? Let’s face it, the world has turned upside down since 2020 and now we are sitting in the dark ages again looking at small glimpses of a new period of renaissance with hope that out of all the darkness, there will be a brighter future.

Education itself has gone through huge changes to deal with the current events going on in the world. Everything shut down and teachers and staff were forced to find creative ways to reach students. Districts who had never had a huge amount of technology resources were forced to start curating a library of subscriptions and hastily pulling together a 1:1 device loaner program. Teachers who were use to teaching in person were forced to learn online methods of instruction and recreate years of analog resources into a digital format while trying to figure out how to connect with their students who were not physically with them.

Now schools are heading back in some way shape or form, what happens to all the hard work everyone put in? Will we continue to need it going forward? With everything going on. The honest answer should be yes. Education has changed and the models we have learned and the resources we have created should help push forward standard traditional practices that have needed evolution in order to meet the current digital native audience of students. It is always good to have a plan too just incase you need a substitute, still have hybrid students, or if digital becomes a necessity again.

So how can you move forward with what you have created?

Content and Course Delivery Platforms – Spaces like Google Classroom and SeeSaw are great ways to continue to deliver content to your students. You can still use these platforms to deliver assignments you have already created, or create new assignments to send to students so they can work on projects and smaller activities from their individual devices. You can also use platforms like this as a way to differentiate learning for your students who might be a little ahead or a little behind so they can continue to get high quality instruction from you anywhere. Take what you already have created, do some editing, and continue to use it as a new resource.

Interactive Presentations – If you’re in person, you have a projection system…what are you waiting for? Just because you used them during distance teaching doesn’t mean you have to get rid of them and go back. Integrate them as fun visuals during your instruction to help those visual learners. Have students take turns interacting with the resources, or assign them the presentation and have them on their individual devices as you have yours on the board so you can all do it together. They will have just as much fun together as they would doing it apart.

Videos – SOOOO many teachers started to create videos and post them online for students. Even my Mom did it! From full lessons, short and fun activities, how-tos, and more. Videos were a great way for any educator ok with being in front of the camera to connect with students and provide instruction. What’s stopping you from continuing to share them? Try a flipped classroom model with your students assigning them the videos to watch for homework and then come in to discuss and practice with you, provide some extra content to students who might need some extra attention, or just continue to share your creative videos with students by projecting them on the board for all to see as a way to break up your instruction into smaller chunks. There are so many possibilities.

External sites – You’ve already built up a library of all kinds of tools and resources. Continue to integrate the ones that really stuck with your students. Find ones that they are engaged with and are learning and demonstrating learned skills and knowledge with. Find that balance to reach all the students in your classroom.

If you are in need of some more virtual resources to assist with virtual or distance teaching, here are some articles with great suggestions!

Common Sense Learning Best Tools for Virtual and Distance Teaching

We are Teachers 350+ Online Learning Resources for Teachers and Parents

Digital Promise Online Resources

Edutopia Online Learning

How are you using your resources as you head back into school?

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Preparing for a Video Chat

It is always crucial when you book a video chat with another class to prepare for it. I would compare it to that of getting ready for a performance. The students are preparing to perform in front of an audience. I normally would try to sneak in a few video chats while students were already preparing for a performance so they got a little extra practice in before the big day. Of course, a digital performance is a little bit different than performing in person, but they are still able to work on those basic skills and practice their music for others.

So let’s go through this step by step;

Follow through and prepare

If you schedule a video session with another class, you no have to hold yourself accountable to make sure your students are prepared for it. Put it in your calendar, figure out which classes you can do with it, and put a plan into your lessons for them to make sure they are prepared. If you are not sharing songs for your performance, what will you have students practice?

It’s different on screen than on stage.

There are small differences to being on screen rather than on stage. Audio is a big one. The mic is a big one that does pick up a lot of small audio so a trick is to make sure students know that even a whisper can be picked up so they will need to be as quiet as possible while the other class is speaking or performing. Coming in and out of the room is another big distractor that could lead to issues with the video so making sure bathroom time or drinks are taken care of is another big must. Another big difference is that they have a camera on them the whole time. Every little move will be seen so they need to understand every move will be caught “on candid camera.” There are many little differences so making sure you spell them out from the beginning and then practice them all is going to help a lot.

Script it out

Make sure you spell out to students what is going to happen so they have the schedule and there are no surprises. Most of my students that I did this with were super nervous to do this so this helped calm some stage jitters. I wrote the schedule of what was going to happen on the call on the board so they could follow the order, and put the start time of the call up top, and when we would end the call at the bottom. This schedule was usually planned between myself and the other teacher so we both knew how the list of events would go.

Test the connection

This is probably the biggest must do before any video chat, make sure that everything works correctly. Schedule a quick 15 minutes or less with the other teacher to just check the setup and make sure camera, audio, and the network are all in agreement and everything looks good. I would suggest doing this a day or two before so you are not testing too far out but also have enough time to alert your IT team and they can jump in like the superhero they are and get it fixed for you.

Take time to get ready for this, it does not have to be a ton of work, but pulling a few things together and preparing the students for an experience like this could set up for an epic opportunity!

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Getting Started with Video Chatting

I did this so much in the classroom that I thought long and hard about making a multi-part series talking about how to do it from start to finish so others could partake in the fun when school gets started back up! Getting started with a project like this does take a little planning so get started now if you want to try it this coming year! With this coming school year brings new and exciting changes and opportunities to education. Two big trends that are coming are project based learning and real world application, this activity covers both!

My old video chat set up

When I speak about video chatting, I’m talking about how teachers would connect with each other to connect their classrooms together for students to chat from some like them from halfway across the world. I used to use a website from Skype from Education (which no longer is available as far as I know because it became easier to connect over social media. If you know if the mystery Skype for Education site is still up somewhere please let me know!) Through this site though, I was able to connect with other educators from all over the world to schedule video chat sessions between my students and theirs to explore different learning opportunities together. Being a music educator at the time so there were a few opportunities to explore, the tree that made the most sense were,

  • Song Share – Each group of students learns a few folk songs from their part of the world to sing to their new friends.
  • Question and Answer- Each group creates several questions for their new friends in preparation for the big day before taking turns sharing questions and getting answers.
  • Performance Practice- There were times especially during busy seasons that I was unable to find other music educators available to chat with, but willing educators from all over who were very willing to listen to my classes practice for their grade level shows.

All really good and meaningful opportunities that students remembered for years after. There was one time, I had my entire 4th grade class from one school join me in my room early morning with their teachers to listen to some new friends in England sing some folk songs from their part of the world while my 4th graders sung some patriotic tunes they had been learning and then had time to ask a few questions. Several months later they were still talking about the experience!

So how do you get started,

  • Reach out over social media to connect with other teachers looking for video chat opportunities. The best places to schedule something would be either over Twitter using hashtags like #musedchat, #edchat, #mysteryskype, or through Facebook using one of the Facebook groups like Music Teachers or Mystery Skype/Skype in the Classroom group.
  • Meet up with the teacher either over video chat or email to plan together. Figure out what you want to do, when you want to do it, and how you want to do it.
  • Make sure to prep your students before. Being in front of camera is like a performance, lay down the expectations and rules including noise levels and how to sit or stand while on camera.

Plan ahead and get a few scheduled before the school year starts! These are fun little informances and ways to connect with other teachers and schools from around the world that really create awesome and memorable experiences for your students!

Skype Session with MO