Collaborating with our community of teachers

It can be easy to feel like what we do in our studio has nothing to do with the community of teachers around us.  After all, they aren’t at our lessons each week with our students.  They aren’t making decisions that affect whether our clients continue each year.

But, I would disagree with this sentiment.  I think that what we do in our studios each year can have a big impact on our community of teachers.  And, not just in an online manner (like this blog or social media conversations) but with the teachers in our geographical area as well.

What do you mean by a community?

According to Miriam-Webster Dictionary, there are several definitions of community that fit our situation.

A community is “a unified body of individuals: such as

  • The people with common interests living in a particular area …
  • A body of persons of common & professional interests scattered through a larger society [i.e. the music teacher community]
  • A group linked by a common policy” [or, dare I infer, common goal or vision].

I’ll admit that it took me a while to hook into my local community of piano teachers.  I tried to go at it alone &, while I did okay, I’ve noticed an improvement in my teaching since I’ve joined the Alberta Piano Teachers Association.  It’s opened me up to the great things that are going on in my province!

The community of online music teachers is one that I’ve been a part of for much longer.  At first, I was on the fringes, reading articles & social media posts.  Eventually, I became more involved through writing these articles, as well as making a point of attending MusicEdConnect each year.  (You can read about my experience with the conference here, here & here.)

But aren’t other teachers in my area competition?

I am hoping you’re not someone that believes the other teachers in your city or town are your competition, but I can understand how easy it can be to fall into that mindset.

I remember years ago when I was still teaching in the classroom a teacher at a different campus & I had agreed to collaborate on our common subject area.  (It was something that was encouraged at the private school I taught.)  The goal was to alternate sharing unit plans so that we individually had less planning.  The first unit I spent hours & hours planning, rewriting information for student levels, creating fun learning activities & getting assessments ready.  It was set up so that there was nothing to do but print off resources & teach.  I sent the package off to the other teacher & let her know I looked forward to hearing from her about what she was planning for the next unit.  However, when the next unit was coming up, instead of getting a package from the other teacher, I got an email from her asking when I was sending the next unit for her.  Yeah, I wasn’t impressed & declined to “collaborate” with that teacher any further.

At that point, I COULD have decided that it wasn’t worth sharing information with any of the other teachers.  I had already been burnt once & had enough on my plate without doing someone else’s job for them.  But, I learnt from the experience.  The next time I collaborated with another teacher, we first discussed broad ideas in person.  I was able to determine whether this person was someone who wanted to collaborate or just get my unit/lesson plans with no intention of sharing back.  And, you know what?  It worked out great!  We didn’t share specific unit or lesson plans, but we did talk about the activities we were thinking of incorporating throughout the year.  While we taught the same novels & outcomes, our lessons were unique to our classes.  The sharing before the year began helped make those classes better than if we had gone at it alone.

The choice

It’s tough when we have had a bad experience.  I can empathise with teachers that have been burnt by their colleagues.  Sure, there will always be someone who takes advantage of kindness or just takes advantage.  This is regardless of what industry you are in.  My experience has been that the majority of teachers have been gracious about sharing ideas, resources, & even sending clients to someone they think will be a better fit.

But, it is up to you how you let the “bad apples” affect your outlook on your colleagues.  I hope that you will learn, like I did,  from those experiences & modify your approach the next time.

Planning Sessions

Each year there is a planning session with several of the teachers in my city.  It is something I am looking forward to participating in again!

What I really love about the annual planning session is the truly collaborative nature of it.  

We all have independent studios, goals for the upcoming year, & ideas for activities. But, what we all have in common is a love of music & a drive to help our students develop that same passion.

If you were to take a peek at our studios throughout the year, you would see that everyone naturally gravitates to something different:

  • Suzuki-type activities with whole-body movement
  • Solfege singing
  • Improvisation & composition
  • Technology components
  • Music history & theory
  • Rote teaching or learning by ear
  • And, so much more!

What we focus on

Our planning sessions focus on a few things:

  • What went well this year
  • What to improve next year
  • The focus for the upcoming year
  • Asking questions for what we aren’t sure about (for me one year, this was teaching Solfege)
  • And providing resources or advice to each other as appropriate.

Everyone takes turns sharing & providing guidance throughout the process.

The best outcome

At the end of the planning session, the best outcome is that everyone has gotten the support they need & feel confident about their plans for the upcoming year.

By the end of one session, I had a list of books to read about Solfege, plus an outline of sample activities to scaffold as I taught my students.  AND, I had also been able to help other teachers with ideas on apps or music lab questions.  It had been a give & take throughout the day!

The best part?  My annual planning went MUCH faster than usual because I had a great list of resource ideas to pull from & had talked it out with other teachers (which as my husband & parents understand all too well often helps me clarify my thinking).

How do you collaborate with your local community of teachers?

We all live in different geographical regions & have different approaches to how we teach music.  But, that doesn’t mean we can’t support each.  Far from it!

In the comments below, share how you collaborate with your local community.  Do you have planning sessions, participate in local association events or perhaps something awesome that we may not have heard of yet?

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