EPISODE 14: THE STORY ABOUT

Teaching Online

with John Mlynczak

More Ways to Listen:

Podcast Transcript

Download the transcript

I think our ultimate goal is creating the next generation of amazing, artistic, passionate, creative human beings that are gonna lead the world with the skills they learned through the arts.

Jamie
Educators’ innovative responses to the coronavirus pandemic continue to prove that necessity is the mother of invention. I’m Jamie Hipp, and this is Teaching Trailblazers, a show about teachers, artists and leaders in arts integration and STEAM. On this episode, we sit down with John Mlynczak, managing director of NoteFlight, a Hal Leondard Company, President of the Technology Institute of Music Education and Advocacy, Chair of the Massachusetts Music Educators Association. Welcome to the show, John.

John
Glad to be here.

Jamie
We are so glad to have you on the show. Your vast music, education and education technology knowledge is unrivaled. Tell us a little bit about what you do.

John
Well, thank you for that. It’s a pleasure to be here. Yes, so you know, my background is being a music teacher, of course, and I fell into music technology immediately as a teacher because kids are incredibly creative and incredibly fun, and they do amazing things if we just give them a structure and organization and room to be the little wonderful creative beings that they are, and through my career, in teaching students and doing technology and then later on through now running a software company that gets to build the technology that students use. It’s been a wonderful path, and I through that I’ve always decided to constantly teach. And so most of my teaching is grad school or undergrad now, online programs all around music, education, technology, online learning. I’ve taught online, I’ve taught online about teaching online. And, of course, now these days there’s a lot of people that need to figure that out. So I’m happy to share everything I know which is really just based on everything that I’ve done wrong in the past 10 years, that I could prevent other people from now doing because been there, done that. And I know why it doesn’t work.

Jamie
About online education, can we teach the way we’ve always taught in the past or just there need to be a mindset shift?

John
That is a great question, and, you know, if it was easy as yes or no. Um, so as far as the way we teach and you know it is different, it’s very different, right? So you think about like at the highest level of what we teach and what our ultimate goal is, as arts teachers, you know, I think of our ultimate goal is creating the next generation of amazing, artistic, passionate, creative human beings that are gonna lead the world with the skills they learned through the arts. And they’re the ones that will eventually cure COVID. And they’re the ones that will eventually get to Mars. And they’re the ones we’re gonna take care of us when we’re in the old folks home. So we gotta be good to these kids. But we create the next generation of future beings, and we do that through our wonderful vehicle, which is music or art or theater or dance. And that’s that’s why we’re valuable. So at that level, we can do that online. We can do that in person. We can do that over a phone call if we just stick to doing that and keep doing that. So now, the how? Of course it changes, right? Of course, like, you know, online is different. Our ultimate goal in our ultimate purpose hasn’t changed, and our ultimate skill set of being mentors, every art teacher, every music teacher. We know that kids play and sing for us because we dance and get in front of motivate and we’re “come on, you can do it. That’s so great, try it one more time.” The greatest band director lot “one more time you can do it, this time it’s gonna be just a little better! Okay then musical theater here. We’re gonna go just one more rep! You know, just a couple more notes, whatever it is, you know.” But we’re motivators. That doesn’t change online, but we have to we have to know that. And we have to go at this world understanding that we still are somebody who’s changing a kid’s life through our vehicle, the music. And we’re doing that by being a mentor and to inspire them to be the best version theirself through the arts. So I say that so passionately because that’s the one thing I see that people forget because we’re so worried about how to, you know, share a Google doc and make a copy to turn in for a grade like that’s a detail, that’s where do I put the practice assignment paper when I walk in class. That’s where did the instrument go in the locker? It’s a detail. So ultimately, our jobs and our roles and our impact doesn’t change. Now how we reach students and what we use to do that, absolutely it changes. And we do have to adapt because you have to use the tool that best gets you there. If the ultimate goal is to change these lives, that we could do that through many ways. And yes, last month it was probably playing instruments in class. Well, guess what? We can’t do that anymore. But you know what? There’s a lot of music the kids can watch on YouTube and reflect and react to, and there’s other ways they could learn that are still valuable. So I’m gonna tell my story. I have a story I always do. Uh, you know, you think about, you know, if the whole we kinda woke up and the world just changed everything on us, you know, if we woke up tomorrow and the whole world said, you have to teach with a hammer you know?  What would we do? We’d probably teach kids “well, here’s how you hold a hammer. Here’s how you keep your other hand out of the way…” We’d get some boards, would get some nails, and we’d start teaching how to hammer. If the whole world woke up tomorrow and said, “You gotta teach with the screwdriver. We’d say ‘Okay, we’re gonna hold it like this and there’s a Phillips head. There’s a flathead. We’re going to get some screws and we’re gonna practice and there’s machine screws and wood screws. And here’s the different purpose. And we’re going to start teaching around that right? We’re in Adapt to the tool we’re given.'” We woke up in March and the world said, “You have to teach with a computer” and what we eventually did is say “OK, we do exactly what I was going to do in February in the exact same way we get on Zoom and I’ll record, all the kids multi track, and I’m gonna get ’em all to do this? We’re gonna keep the same lessons we’re to make it all work no matter what? I don’t care.” And I’m just like, no, we say, “Well, what makes sense with the computer? How do you hold a computer? What types of software that” you know… So we just have to approach this like we’ve been given a new tool. And what’s the best use of that tool in the circumstance were in. And can we still change lives? And the answer is yes.

Jamie
I’m so glad you brought up online learning as a new approach or strategy to what we’ve already been doing in the classroom. I do wonder, however, about the experiential nature of really all art forms. And I have to ask you, do you think synchronous or asynchronous learning, or maybe a balance of the two is the way to go during this pandemic?

John
You’re so right about the experiential major, what we do in the arts and that’s the biggest challenge for us right now is how do we keep that experiential learning happening because we’re so used to a physical synchronous environment. Experiential learning is everyone on stage or everyone in the class singing, playing, performing together.  Online is best suited asynchronous, you know, like we just can’t all be… I mean, you could try to put 40 people on a Zoom, and everyone talked at the same time. It’s just not ideal, right? The key is like, you know, the asynchronous part can be a huge benefit. I mean, kids can learn at their own pace. That’s amazing benefits. Suddenly, you know, you can pre record your video lecture. Kids can respond and learn, they could watch it again if they missed it. Kids can take the time they need to submit an assignment. They can pair up, you know, like we could have kids work together like one-on-one and one at a time works asynchronous. But, um, you know, I’m a huge proponent of asynchronous learning.  Like this is we have to rethink the structural organization, but we can also have kids experience, I think, the biggest challenge with experiential learning at home, what I’ve seen is that we don’t have a lot of experience teaching kids to do that as individuals. They’re always in an ensemble. They’re always in a class. We teach a class and we’re very uncomfortable when the class goes away. We don’t know how to create asynchronous experiences for kids when they’re at home, and I would also say that, you know, traditionally, we’ve never had a pedagogy that encourages – and this is where the opportunity comes in – that encourages students to, at home, alone, create art and make music just for the beauty and purity of making art and music for fun. It’s always been “we as a class have to put on a product and we go to a performance and we have to do this together”, and that’s great. But we’ve never actually had lessons. It’s like, “Hey, go home and seeing this or grab your horn and play this or act out this play, find something that makes your heart happy and do it just because it makes your heart happy.” And the assessment is, Did you do it for your mama? And did she smile? We’ve never done those assignments before. We don’t know what to do with it. But what a beautiful opportunity for kids to find themselves as individuals and create as individuals. And they’re doing it online, and they’re doing it with online tools. That means that everything created can be shared with the world, right? We’re no longer stuck in the confines of our classrooms sitting around thinking, “my principal never comes in and they don’t care about arts. They won’t put the A in STEAM and stuff so they don’t really come to us. And…” you know what, though they’re not, you know what that principal is doing? They’re trying to figure out how to keep their Title 1 budget because the lines, you know, because the population is shifting next year, there’s where we know there’s all this other things going on, so stop whining. But guess what? Our kids are at home. They’re creating, they’re making recordings for us. They’re making videos for us, and now we have this huge body of art that we can share to the parents and say, “This is what your kid did. This is why music matters,” and we see it like, I have a friend I talked to the day that like, “Oh my gosh, I love seeing all the videos on YouTube of what the people are created at home.” Yes, they now can see what they’re doing. The playing field is now leveled, right? So it’s really hard to see math homework on home. We can’t make a video of the math problem you did, but there’s a lot of things we can do, so this is an opportunity not for kids to play something for a grade but to play something to share with the world to show the world why we have arts. And the world is listening. They’re desperate for arts. They’re desperate to watch a video of performing because we’re all at home and we’re going stir crazy.

 

Jamie
Amen. So what would you say to teachers who are currently thinking: I’ve never spent this much time planning lessons, and this new normal of navigating an online environment is way too time-consuming. John, will these issues get better or are we doing it wrong?

John
Uh, I’m going to say the latter. Here’s the thing. Stop trying to teach. We don’t need to teach kids. We need to create assignments that give them the freedom to explore and express themselves. Right. So one of the things we do in class this might be a learning lesson for all of us. Right? But we’re in class we can yada yada yada and talk and talk and talk up on the board, you know, like you have a captive audience and we teach. To teach is a verb, right? We’re teachers. But what, what we have the opportunity. We probably should be doing in class more of and what we now have the opportunity was we can facilitate learning. We need to facilitate. We need to create a just create environment where learning can happen. But we now… we need to transition. And I’ve been saying this long before COVID. We need to transition from being teachers of knowledge. You are student. I am teacher. It is master-apprentice relationship, just like in the medieval times. You know that now we need to go and say: we facilitate. We guide the social process of learning. We are learning guides. So yes, if we’re trying to think, take everything we would teach in an hour and make an online video and resources and mark it all up and creat it, it’s gonna take four times longer. Absolutely. We’re not video production people, we’re not… But if we step back and say, Do I have to do all that? What if I creat an open discussion around a topic? And what if I facilitate a student to spark creativity, to compose something, to play something and then have them share that with someone else and have them give feedback, if we just start facilitating learning opportunities, therefore exists, then our role is less time making teaching materials and more time reacting and being in these rich discussions and giving kids feedback on the stuff that they’re creating. We need to become the student and let them become the teacher.

Jamie
In this model of students doing the teaching, what are some online resources you would recommend for teachers and students exploring this online world.

John
So, you know, from a music perspective, that’s my subject matter expertise. My SME. You know, there’s I mean, there’s companies that are like opening up their doors of their products right now, which is wonderful. So things like NoteFlight, Music First, Smart Music, Breezin’ through Theory… like these sort of like very traditional, like established products that are uh, that are giving free, extended trials, use them! Try them. Just give access to your kids, sign up for all of them and let your kids decide what what what speaks to them? Um, on one note, I always say “This is a disclaimer” like, it’s very important that while we sign up for free products like there’s a lot of people that are just like throwing around all sorts of things, taking advantage of opportunity, I would say. If the product wasn’t being used effectively for online learning in February, we shouldn’t be trying to use it now. So if if an app just kind of… because a lot of people have spun up new apps or had you know so and also pay attention to student privacy like look for a copper for pro compliance, make sure your kids aren’t giving their emails to any marketer in the world. Just be careful. But as far as music apps, time tested, proven things you’ve heard of, that are opening their doors are great. Now for like, resources, we already have… every school that can do online learning has some online learning management system. The vast majority is Google Classroom and G Suite. But a lot of, you know, have Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard, Schoology    , Power School et cetera, et cetera. All of these tools, and they’re all great. But having said that, it’s how to how to start using them like I know… Kids need, we need that constant interaction. So what we can’t do is: here’s the assignment. I’ve put up all the teaching materials. You gotta watch it and then go into a dark place for a week and turn it in by Friday. We just can’t make something over the weekend and then have, like, just have the kids turn it on Friday. It’s more important that the kids have touch points every day. “Email me your eight-measure melody you made. Send me a picture of the thing you’re working on. Play a little exercise. share it with a friend.” That constant engagement, ’cause no one wants to be isolated at home. Music’s not made to be made alone at home, and music is certainly not made for a teacher to grade. It’s made to make the world a better place, so our assignments need to just facilitate five steps. Play this melody, share with two friends, tell your friend the top two things you love the most. play for your mama, did you make her smile? Think two ways you could make it better for next week. Five steps, five lessons for a week and look, that for the first week of online teaching, that’s a lot for a lot of people, and that’s an easy win. Start there you know, just figure out how to hold the hammer. You know, we’re the world’s giving every teacher a hammer and you’re trying to build a birdhouse already, and they’re like “hold on, easy there, killer… like… Just hold the thing. And don’t hit your thumb on the first week.”

Jamie
Thank you for sharing those exceptional resources and for being on the show, How can we stay in touch with you?

John
You can follow me on Facebook. I’m very active, and I really only post like positive things for students and teachers. Um, and there’s a great Facebook group for music teachers right now called Music Teachers… Online learning, creating…  Music Teachers Creating Online Learning. It’s very active. You can kind of post in there. You can Google me and johnmlynczak.com and then you can always reach out to me that way as well.

Jamie
Teaching Trailblazers is a production of the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM, and I’ve been your host Jamie Hipp. This podcast is produced, edited and mixed by Jaime Patterson.