Since our schools closed their doors almost five weeks ago, I have been flooded with so many emotions. For a while, I could not really determine what these emotions were. I just knew each day felt different. After reflecting, I began to realize that what I was feeling was a sense of loss. A sense of grief. I missed my students. I missed making music together.

I missed connecting. 

They say that grief comes in stages and I believe this to be true, but I hadn’t truly acknowledged it until last week. When we embarked on this journey, I think I was in a state of shock. I believed this would most likely be a short-term closure and I was motivated by the challenge of virtual learning that lied ahead. I felt empowered and energized to face this head on. I watched music teachers unite for the betterment of their students. I was, and still am, encouraged by the outpouring of sharing, resources, and advice of other teachers.

But, this past week something changed. I didn’t feel the same. I sat down to review my calendar and began to cross out the Spring events. The concerts. The conferences. The favorite end of year project demonstrations. The last day of school. With each one that seemed to so easily disappear from my page, I truly felt sad. 

It hit me like a ton of bricks when I faced the realization that these cherished events would not occur. Not only will they not occur, but things beyond my control are changing week to week. Activities I have “tested” haven’t worked as planned. And by now I feel a bit aimless, trying to get by each week. Doing my best, but not sure if it’s good enough. Pondering what the future will hold and what the effects of my teaching will be next year.

We, especially as music educators, have taken on the role of sailors: charged to set out on an uncharted journey. So how do we acknowledge the change, navigate the waters, and use it to propel us toward what lies ahead?

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you. It should change you.” – Anthony Bourdain

How do we deal with our journey thus far?

I am a runner. For me it’s not all about the miles or the pace. It’s about the time to process my feelings and brainstorm.  There is nothing I love more than hitting the pavement with some good tunes and ample time for reflection. I try to make time for this each day. If I don’t, I can tell.  Take time to check-in with yourself daily. Write. Walk. Run. Meditate…whatever you do for you. And don’t forget to check-in with your colleagues and your students. They are our “crew” and we are all in this together. 

There is certainly a sense of loss in knowing end of year concerts, musicals, projects won’t occur in the way that we planned them. But know it’s okay to “feel all the feels”. Embrace each emotion, even if it changes daily. I do not think there is one right or perfect way to navigate this journey we’ve been tasked to take. Just remember that the journey will change us. It will change our students. And that change can be growth. We simply need to be open to and embrace it as best we can. 

“Ships don’t sink because of the water around them. Ships sink because of the water that gets in them. Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you and weigh you down.” -Unknown

How do we keep moving forward?

I have seen many versions of this quote lately, and these words ring true. It can be so easy to get overwhelmed during these days.

To let the water rush in and overtake our ship.

It’s a whole new world of teaching from creating curriculum to providing student feedback to communication. We are learning as we go, with new hurdles each day. We have to let go of what we can’t control. Give ourselves grace.

We do what’s best for our crew. 

One thing I have personally implemented and found helpful is a Weekly Check-in for my students. They use a simple Google Form to share what they enjoyed the most from the previous week, how they are doing, and what they still are hoping to do or learn. I also take time to ask them specific questions about what they are learning. The form is short and simple, but it’s benefits are two-fold. It provides them an opportunity to share their voice, while allowing me to focus on their needs. 

“A ship is safe in the harbor. But that’s not what ships are for.” – William Shedd

How do we handle the unexpected?

When we made the transition to distance learning, I decided to do Choir Olympics with my students. Each day they would have a small musical event to complete based on a theme (Musical Monday, Technique Tuesday, Workout Wednesday…..You get the idea). After two weeks, and what seemed to be positive feedback from my singers, I realized that this wasn’t working as I planned. The daily activities didn’t line up with the suggested schedule from my school and it was creating some confusion. At first I thought I’d stick it out–answer the questions and steer the course. But then, once I took a step back and reflected, I decided, why can’t I change course? What am I afraid of? 

The response was overwhelmingly positive. It wasn’t “in my plan” but it was a small and worthwhile change.  

For me, this is one of the most challenging parts of this journey. We are taught to have a Plan A, a Plan B, and even a Plan C. Run all the scenarios. Now our plans, our course, can require change at the drop of a hat. But, we are teachers. We are innovators and risk-takers, just like sailors.

Will there be rough seas? Yes.

Will we have to reassess and re-adjust? Yes.

But, we navigate these changes as they come and handle them with grace and agility…perhaps even discovering something amazing along the way. 

“Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover” – Mark Twain

Where do we go from here?

As I was planning for this week, I felt inspired to try something new with my singers. I mapped it out, recorded my tutorials, and posted the resources. But I have also been very upfront with them, telling them I am not 100% sure it will work as planned. I think it’s important that we’re honest with them and they know we are learning new things right now too. 

As we move forward, remember to take risks. Try new things. Utilize the opportunity to embrace your creativity and share it with your students. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to do so. Start small. Share the journey with your kids. Let them know you are learning alongside them.  Tell them it might not go exactly as planned. 

I’m no expert at navigating these uncharted waters. But, I do know that I need all of the encouragement I can get to be brave and set out on this journey with grace for myself and care for my students. 

Today, I share them because perhaps you need to hear them, too.