Learning While Teaching
It was summer workshop party time. The concerts had been played. The classes had been taught. Wine was flowing. Students and teachers sipped, mingled, and laughed.
I was holed up in a corner with a colleague talking about how to teach note releases.
Which was basically, to my mind, a giant party all on its own.
Teaching recorder is a wonderful vocation. But it can be isolating. There aren’t very many people in my neck of the woods who do what I do, and when I’m hired as a traveling clinician, I am most often hired to teach alone.
Summer workshops are the exception- there’s usually a full slate of fellow faculty- but summer workshops are intensive for both students and teachers, and there is seldom any slack time for teachers to exchange ideas, watch one another’s teaching, or just generally compare notes.
Hence closing down a party talking tonguing.
As I progress through my career, I am keenly aware of how much there is to learn from my colleagues (and my students, but that’s another blog post). I’m also aware that, unlike other, more established fields, freelance early music teaching lacks organized avenues for continuing education, peer-to-peer learning, and general renewal of skills.
The model I’m most envious of, the Professional Learning Community (PLC), comes from the field of Education. PLCs are communities of professionals committed to “continuous inquiry and improvement."
I love the pairing of these words- inquiry and improvement. Committing to inquiry and improvement means you’re no longer viewing your teaching as a static dispensation of knowledge, but rather as a dynamic learning process. And if you are actively learning, chances are your students are, too.
And so even through I lack access to organized PLCs, I strive to bring elements of inquiry and improvement into my practice whenever possible. Here are some of the avenues I use.
I may be exhausted. I may desperately need to prepare my own courses. But I try never to turn down an opportunity to watch a colleague teach. Many summer workshops have big group playing sessions or masterclasses led by a rotation of faculty. I invariably learn something, and often many things, by watching or participating in these sessions.
If a colleague has written something about teaching or learning, you’d better believe I’m reading it. Why wouldn’t I? Free knowledge!
Yes, Facebook. I’m a member of a music teachers’ Facebook group. It’s not as active as I would like, but when I’ve reached out for support (tips on teaching teens, how to write a studio policy), I’ve gotten valuable feedback.
Formally and informally, I watch for opportunities to talk turkey about teaching. I’m also interested in hearing about students’ learning experiences, both positive and negative. I’m consistently amazed at how much I learn just by keeping an open ear.
If you’re a teacher, what do you do to facilitate inquiry and improvement? How do you keep learning?