Distance Learning Lesson No. 1

My school district is currently in distance learning. We have experienced it once before, but there is still much to learn. And I have a feeling the most important lessons will have little to do with academics. Oh, those will be woven in and out, but they will not be the lasting thread. No, the final fabric will be found in the simple attempts to cover the distance.

Distance…I do not like that word. It implies being away from family, friends, and now students. This is hard to explain to children, especially when we cannot see the ending.

I have been busy creating music activities to share. Students can access the lessons online. For the first one, I added a twenty-second voice recording-a short greeting with some basic instructions. Not a big deal…I thought.

These lessons also had a response page for students to share their favorite part of the story from this lesson. One precious kindergarten girl recorded her response. Her message was confusing at first.

“My favorite part was when she said I love you guys!” Hmmm, that was not part of this story. And then it hit me-she was talking about my twenty-second voice recording. At the end of the message, I said, “I miss and love you guys! Bye!”

Such a simple thing, I thought. Until this little voice spoke it back to me.

So, my first distance learning lesson? One phrase spoken from the heart covers more distance than any music lesson I could ever create.

Rock-a-Bye-Baby

My parents rocked me when I was a baby. They sang lullabies, read stories. Made sure I was cared for. I grew up around babies-younger cousins and my brother. I rocked, fed, sang, and played with them. The example had been set for me. When I had my own children, I knew what to do, or at least, where to begin.

Not everyone has that experience. And some that do become so bombarded with the struggles of this life, they forget what is vital. When this happens, the next generation suffers.

Little brains and bodies don’t develop as they should. Gaps are created in connecting, learning, functioning. I see the results of these holes in growth every day. Improvement is possible, but it takes time and focused intention.

And then there are those days…brief moments of light shine through.  A smile, a hug, a lightbulb turning on.  The reason may not always be clear, but the result is cherished.  I wrote the following poem after one of those days. 

Holding on to the hope for more like it in the future. ❤

TOOTHY GRIN

The first time
I saw you
My only thought-
Do you ever smile?
Not even a hint
In your distant
Young eyes
And then one day
A toothy grin
Shone through
Your tough shell
Brief and unsure
But sweetly present
Reminding me
That you are
A child in need of
Reasons to smile
Hoping another
Reason will find
You again soon
Turning that
Toothy grin into
A beaming smile-
Lasting and confident

Missing Pieces

At the beginning of quarantine, we worked a couple of jigsaw puzzles at our house. A way to pass the time while keeping the brain working. It is always interesting to me to watch how tiny pieces fit together to create one big picture.

The pieces all have different colors and shapes. Each one with its own place. Only fitting together with those directly surrounding. The togetherness grows exponentially. However, if there is just one missing piece, the picture is incomplete. So frustrating.

Each of us is born into a picture. With a family that will love us and helps us grow. Sadly, that is not always the case. And the missing pieces often leave big holes.

Children especially have a difficult time finding their place when these pieces are missing. They do not understand. Whether withdrawing or acting out, they are seeking control. This is sometimes hard to remember as a teacher.

Yesterday, I reacted to certain behaviors with little thought to what was behind them. They were frustrated. I was frustrated. I kept thinking, “If only these friends would listen and follow directions like everyone else!”

This morning, I woke up thinking about those friends. I wanted to find a way to improve the situation. Find a way to encourage appropriate behavior and participation. After all, music class is supposed to be fun!

But how? One word came to mind-connections. I know that is the key. Sometimes I just need a reminder.

Today, I worked on those connections. In the process, I discovered some of the missing pieces. The death of a parent, negative influences from older siblings, family instability. These little ones are dealing with big emotions and don’t know why or how to express them.

Our time together was brief. Leaving me with more questions than answers. However, there was also a glimmer of hope. Little faces, often angry, smiling just a bit. Showing a desire to do the right thing. Even if only able for a limited amount of time.

There is no way for me to fill in those missing pieces. They are irreplaceable. All I can do is recognize and acknowledge. But maybe the edges can be blurred, and a new picture of belonging will emerge. Causing the frustrations of the missing pieces to fade.

A Hug I Could Not Refuse

Social distancing guidelines do not allow for hugs in most situations. And compared to my typical teacher hug routine, I would guess I’m about 90% successful at school. Although honestly, it feels more like missed opportunities than successes.

One day last week, there was an opportunity I’m glad I did not miss.

Music class is supposed to be fun and engaging. At least, that is my plan. And when I cannot seem to get a student interested, engaged, connecting-it is frustrating. Last week I had one of those kiddos.

In our first class together, there was constant disruption. This student showed no desire to participate. No matter what I tried, he was determined to get out of the room.

The next time I came to this class, something was different. I have no idea what had happened before my arrival, but my friend was sitting there ready for music.

Now, several reminders and redirections were needed, but there was also participation! And he made it through the entire lesson. Even though it was a small step, I counted it a success.

Later in the day, I walked past the same class heading out to recess. I caught the eye of my friend. “You did a great job in music today. I am really proud of you,” I said. He stepped out of line and sheepishly reached one arm out to give me a hug. His reach was hesitant, his eyes looking down.

Needless to say, social distancing guidelines flew right out the window.

This was a big step, and a hug I could not refuse. ❤

Notes on a Page

Revisiting a page
Filled with notes
First learned
Many years ago
A glance brings
Faded memories
Of piano keys
Under my fingers
Muscle memory begins
To clear away
Cobwebs collected
In silence
Words and symbols
Carefully written
On the page
Bring a smile
Valuable reminders
Purposefully placed by
The trusted hand
Of a teacher-
Oh, if only
Squinting eyes
Revealed someone
Sitting nearby-
A guide
Patiently leading
Beyond space
And time
Beyond notes
And rhythms
Shedding light
On the mysterious
Sound of
Rich harmonies
Surrounding
Hidden melodies
Listening intently as
Eyes and hands
Once again read
Notes on a page

~In memory of Dr. William Trantham~

Singing Along

I introduced a new song to my classes this week, “You-Nique.” It is part of a music curriculum entitled “Quaver.” Music teachers in our district are participating in a pilot of this material for the remainder of the school year.

My impression so far? It is a game-changer. The material is innovative, relevant, and engaging. It grabs the attention of students and does not let go.

The song I mentioned is only a tiny part of the material I utilized this week. But what a powerful piece. On the chorus, the main character sings:

“I’m brave, I’m strong, I’m loved, I’m smart, and I’m unique.”

Each time I pressed play, the room fell silent. All eyes watched the video and listened to the music. There were smiles and lots of head bobs. Many students were soon singing along.

Each time the song ended, without fail, someone would blurt out, “Can we hear it again?!” “Of course! But let’s talk about it first.”

Not only was the song catchy, but it also allowed for a great discussion. I asked students what they thought the word “unique” meant. Their answers ranged from beautiful and special to different.

I asked students if they ever had days where they did not feel strong or brave or loved. Some nodded their heads; others raised their hands. So honest.

I wanted them to know they were not alone. I told them there were times in my life when I didn’t feel strong or smart or loved. My intent was to acknowledge their feelings while also encouraging them.

Wouldn’t you know they ended up encouraging me? One sweet little boy spoke up, “Well, Mrs. Morris, we all love you!” “Oh sweetie, I love you guys, too.”

The song ends with the line, “And there’s no one else in the whole wide world, exactly like me.” I think we have a new favorite song. I have a feeling it will be requested often. And I look forward to singing right along with them.

By the Numbers

I have always been fascinated by the connections between music and math. And I love using math concepts to teach music. No, they are not exactly the same. But they do work together beautifully.

Today in music class, students were introduced to that connection. And they used it to become composers.

The premise was simple. Students would write four sets of four numbers (using only 1-5) on a notecard. The groups of numbers would then be translated into a melody, using the notes C, D, E, F, and G.

Before students chose their number groups, we talked about patterns. First, we studied the patterns on the keyboard. We discussed how numbers in a pattern can step up and down, skip, or repeat. Just like a melody.

2, 3, 2, 3…

With this in mind, each student received a notecard. They divided it into fourths, creating four boxes. Each box was then filled with four numbers of their choosing.

There were students, notecards, and pencils everywhere! It was loud! Controlled chaos, I like to say. But it was awesome!

Once students completed their pattern cards, I planned to play their melodies on the piano.

The response from my fifth-grade class was precious. And “precious” is not a word I often use to describe fifth graders. 😉

As I began to play the compositions, students huddled around the piano. Each one crowded in, trying to hand me their card next. Each one sheepishly smiled as they heard their creation. I wish I could have snapped a picture.

Maybe the actual composing was more logic than creativity. But the outcome was music, nonetheless. Even if it was music created by the numbers.

Thirty Seconds of Silence

We live in a busy, sometimes chaotic world. It is hard to be quiet. This is true not only for my students but for me as well. Recently, I experienced the power of purposeful silence during my first-grade class.

To introduce our lesson, I asked students to look at a picture on the Smartboard. A beautiful winter scene complete with a horse-drawn sleigh. I wanted them to tell me what they saw. If all went as planned, this activity would transition us right to “Jingle Bells.”

First-grade is at the end of the day. The kids were wiggly and chatty. Getting them to focus is not always easy. But I had an idea. I asked them to look at the picture for thirty seconds without saying anything. At first, students looked puzzled. But when I began silently counting, only mouthing the numbers, the room became quiet and still.

All eyes were fixed on the winter scene. And when I finished counting, hands started going up. Students took turns sharing answers and ideas. Some had surprising insights I had not even considered.

This was not something I had planned. After school, I thought about why this worked. I think part of it had to do with purpose. This wasn’t me simply asking students to listen or be quiet. I asked them for a defined amount of silence with a specific goal.

Granted, it was only thirty seconds. But that thirty seconds brought a successful time of sharing. And the sharing easily flowed into our singing and rhythm activities.

Before you envision a picture-perfect music class, things did get a little crazy during our next transition. I am definitely not Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. But that’s ok. I did stay calm in the chaos and class continued. Maybe because of that thirty seconds of silence?

I’m afraid I can’t take full credit for this idea. I think the inspiration came from Mr. Rogers. I’m currently reading “The Good Neighbor-The Life and Work of Fred Rogers.” I also saw “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” last weekend.

I have always appreciated the quiet, kind demeanor of Mr. Rogers. When I need to feel calm, I sometimes watch his old T.V. episodes. Revisiting his work through this current book and movie seems to have the same effect.

I am particularly struck by his use of time. His actions are never hurried. One scene in the movie displayed this so clearly. Fred asked a friend to be silent for one minute, but with a specific purpose. The time was set aside to consider all the people who had loved them into being. Profound.

Granted, our studying of a picture in a first-grade music class may not qualify as profound. But it was certainly beneficial. And it opened my eyes to the power of defined silence with a specific purpose. Even if it’s only thirty seconds worth.

Community

One day this week, our elementary school glee club took a little field trip. We traveled by bus, only about a mile, to a local supermercado. It may have been a short ride, but it left a lasting impression.

One of our school’s community partners sent a request several weeks ago. Did we have a small group of students who could sing at an awards ceremony? A businessman in the community was to receive special recognition from the Mexican Consulate. That is all the information we received. 

We gladly agreed to participate. The performance would be short and sweet, only two songs. The location was close to school, so it would not disrupt our whole day.

The students were very excited! There were lots of giggles and squeals as we boarded the bus, wearing our new glee club t-shirts. Upon arrival, our community school’s coordinator went in ahead of us to get details. 

While we waited, some of the students noticed a car from a local tv news station in the parking lot. Now there were nervous squeals. “Are we going to be on the news?” 

We soon learned the significance of this celebration. As we entered the supermercado, we were met by people dressed in formal attire. Tables with black tablecloths indicated a fancy reception. Long tables were filled with appetizers and desserts. Servers were dressed in chef’s attire, ready to serve.

Family members and distinguished guests had come to honor one particular businessman for his steadfast work to better his community. And our small group of students got to be part of the celebration. 

Students’ nerves soon settled, and they took their place in front of the crowd. Their performance was energetic and exciting! Through contagious smiles, they sang “La Bamba” and “Oye.”   

Once the music stopped, the air quickly filled with applause, bravos, and the snapping of photographs. Students were then invited to partake of the wonderful food. As a teacher, I was both pleasantly surprised and a little nervous.  😉

There was no reason to worry. Students followed instructions, politely chose their food, and listened to the presentation while they ate. I was even able to sneak a little taste. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a specific group of students.

This whole experience left me thinking about the word community. I suppose I belong to many different communities. Whether through family, home, work, church, each is important. And my responsibility in each varies.

This week, I was privileged to celebrate the community where I work. Our students had the opportunity to show pride in the community where they live. And all it took was a short bus ride, two songs, and lots of smiles.

I hope students walked away with a lasting memory. One which will encourage them to be leaders in their communities, both now and in the future. I know I did.  ❤

Small Victories

Today was the last day of school before Fall Break. Honestly, I was pretty much in survival mode. My focus was on getting to the end of the day. And I almost missed a small victory.

One particular third-grade class has been a challenge. I’ve had a difficult time connecting with some of the personalities in this group. And I’ve allowed this difficulty to turn into frustration on several occasions.

The classroom teacher for this group is awesome! She is patient, kind, and supportive. She has witnessed my frustration on several occasions. And yet, also recognized my desire to connect with the students. Today’s success began with her.

Last week she mentioned a student’s interest in rapping. There had been some impromptu rapping going on in their class. This knowledge opened the door, giving me a way to connect with one friend in particular.

I asked this student to share in class. His initial response was one of hesitation. He did not share that day but said he would keep working. At least the mood was lighter. I was able to relax and have fun, creating a silly rap myself.

      My name’s Mrs. Morris, and I like to play
       The piano every single day
       I love you guys, but you drive me crazy
       Especially on the days when you act lazy

Yes, I know a career in rap is not for me. However, my students and I had a much-needed laugh. 🙂

Fast forward to today. Students were talking about rapping when they walked through my door. Two students got up to share their rhymes in front of the class. They acted silly and embarrassed, but they did it! The one student I was hoping to reach? Still no rap.

When class was over, I encouraged him to keep working and bring what he had written to class next time. I also reminded him that it didn’t need to be finished or perfect. I tried to honestly express my interest in what he had created.

And that’s when the victory occurred. No, I did not hear the rap. I did, however, hear about his other interests. Suddenly, he was telling me about things he had done as a kid. He was proud of these things and eager to share.

Our conversation was brief. But our conversation was positive. It was the first time this student talked to me as a person. And possibly the first time I truly listened.

During the few minutes between classes, I quietly celebrated.

I have more work to do. I’m sure there will still be moments of frustration. But in between those moments, I will remind myself to look for similar successes. Small victories that are truly worth celebrating!