Friday, March 27, 2020

tools in the tool belt

Occidental Leather Tool Belts - 5191 Pro Carpenter's 5 Bag ...

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had plenty of opportunity to think about this transition to remote learning that so many of us are endeavoring right now. I am completing my second week of the process today and have a few ideas to share.

It occurs to me that this process is quite similar to the process of doing odd jobs around the house. When it's time to get a job done, we head to our garage, grab our tool belt, and go to work on the project. The belt is is full of screwdrivers, wrenches, and probably a hammer. It doesn't have every tool we own, but it has the ones we use most commonly. We strap it on and go to work with a plan to get the jobs done in the most accurate and efficient way possible. This is much like the transition to daily remote learning. 

Every teacher has a tool belt full of tools. We have our skills as pedagogues, our technological tools that are housed within our laptop or phone, our basic routines, a prior relationship with our students, and a community of colleagues who are willing to help us learn how to do all of the jobs. We already have a very good feel for the job itself. Anyone who has been teaching for a little while nose how their students learn and what their general needs are for each class. In many ways, our course syllabus and course expectations define the job at hand.  Our problem is really choosing the right tool for the job.

Sometimes, we have exactly the right tools for the job. Perhaps a screw needs tightening. We grab our screwdriver, tighten the screw, and admire our work. For me, this was how things worked for my Music History class. I was already set up in Canvas. I had plenty of digital tools and resources prepared for my class. Moving to remote learning was pretty simple. We opened up Zoom and continued the class pretty much in the same fashion that we had been working prior to moving to remote learning.

Sometimes we encounter a job and we realize the tool we need is still out in the garage. We run out and grab the needed tool, perhaps a power drill or a circular saw, and get the job finished properly. We had the tool in our possession, we just didn't have it front and center. For me, this is how the transition went with my Guitar and Piano class. I already had all of the tools I needed to complete the job properly. But, my class was not yet set up in a Canvas course. I had to think about how I wanted to use my remote learning tools for teaching this specific class. It took a few minutes to set up, but the class is now running seamlessly with tools that I actually had in my possession.

Sometimes we encounter a job where we simply don't have the correct tools. In this scenario we either have to modify the job, or run to Lowes or Home Depot get some new tools and learn how to use them. There are a couple of good examples for this scenario. First, for my performance ensemble, Orchestra, I knew that I didn't have the proper tools to run a regular rehearsal. I was faced with a decision. Should I modify the job and change my syllabus, or should I go find a tool that would allow me to do the job as originally intended? I decided to change the job. I modified my syllabus and figured out a way to use the tools that I had at hand to provide my students a meaningful experience that is similar to a regular face-to-face experience. 

On the other hand, my wife who is a preschool music teacher, went the other route. She had never used Zoom before or any kind of video conferencing software. She decided to go get the new tool. She accessed Zoom and began experimenting with video conferencing for preschoolers and their parents. She had to access and learn how to use her new tool.  She sat in on several tutorials and leaned on me a bit to help get her up and running. After two weeks, she is feeling pretty good about the process. She is getting better at using Zoom and has really connected meaningfully with her students and their families. Everyone seems to really appreciate her efforts.

I have another colleague who took a look at his orchestra curriculum and decided to actually create a brand new project. He decided, rather than an ensemble experience, to provide more of a private lesson experience based on the tools he had at hand and the restrictions that his school place on video conferencing. After speaking with him earlier this week, I know that he is excited about his plan and feels that the students will really benefit from their time together individually.

As teachers, we are always adding tools to the tool belt. This is what professional development is all about. We are constantly seeking new ways to provide meaningful experiences and authentic instruction for our students. I believe that many of us view this unusual experience of the past few weeks and near future in that very way. It is our opportunity to add technology teaching tools to our tool belts. It is professional development in technology resources forced upon us, like it or not. That said, the process of learning to use these new tools should not be foreign to anyone in the teaching profession.  We do it all the time.

Sometimes, we see the need to invent a new tool to do a job properly. I recently had a wonderful conversation with my friend Jeremy Cohen. He and others are in the process of actually developing a new tool for remote teaching. It involves high definition audio and video in a web-based platform that is particularly useful for individual music instruction. I would encourage you to check it out at Like many other web resources right now, it is completely free during the COVID-19 crisis.  It provides capabilities that are unique and timely.  The technology is really wonderful!

In the end, we all have a job to do. Our job is to keep instruction going during this incredibly disruptive time in American society. We really need to decide what that should look like for each and every one of our individual classes. If you've read any of my other posts, you know that I believe our number one job is to care for kids. We must let them know that we care about them, we are concerned for their health and safety, and we are committed to keeping music in their lives during this of isolation.  Once that is accomplished, we get can get to the job at hand of teaching content. We all have a unique tool belt. We also all have a unique set of jobs to do. My hope is that in this time of crisis, we can all pull together and help each other approach our set of jobs with a well-stocked tool belt and an understanding of how to complete the job in the best way given our unique circumstances.

I hope this resonates with you. I certainly always welcome your feedback. I would love to hear how you are approaching your jobs and the tools that you find most useful for completing the tasks.

I hope you all have a great weekend. I encourage everyone to walk away from work for a couple of days. It will all be there on Monday morning. Get some exercise, breathe some fresh air, care for your family. We will attack our jobs with vigor and a full tool belt again on Monday!



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