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Teaching Online: Lessons Learnt from Community Teachers

COVID-19 has forced teachers to quickly master remote learning. Here are the stories of five educators and their tips for online teaching.

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Early this year, the world experienced something none of us were anticipating: A pandemic that essentially shut down society in pretty much every aspect. 

This also meant that fitness studios, gyms, dance studios, music conservatories, and art schools had to shut their doors. 

And in that moment, all of the community instructors that taught different courses and classes had to reinvent themselves overnight, literally and figuratively. They took their content and found ways to deliver it online. And astonishingly, in all of this chaos, all of these instructors dug in and figured out how to maintain some sense of normality. 

Online Teaching Struggles and Best Practices

Fascinated by this shift to online teaching, I spoke to five instructors in the fields of dance, theatre, music, and fitness to find out how they managed this conversion, and what lessons they've learned from the entire experience. We also spent a lot of time talking about the technology that they ended up using.

Take note that these are people who have been training their entire lives to teach in a physical class. In a flash, they had to learn how to deliver all of this knowledge via the online space. And I think that overall, they did just an amazing job. 

If you are interested in using online teaching methods for community instruction, this blog is perfect for you. Hopefully, you can get some nuggets of knowledge from them that you can apply in your own lessons. 

Nicole Spinola (Dance)


“It was interesting,” shared Nicole, who lives in a small condo that currently serves as her makeshift studio for online lessons. “I spent hours and hours and hours sitting on my computer reading, you know, as much material as I could on Zoom and other platforms.”

Nicole uses an interesting setup for her classes: A tap board on the floor with a tripod holding her cellphone (which has a decent camera) and focused on her feet. She uses her Airpods for audio, and her computer supplies the music.

She also took preemptive measures so as not to annoy the people living around her. “When I knew this was gonna happen, I wrote them all a really nice note. And I laid out my schedule actually, like, to the hour I teach on, you know, Tuesdays from five to seven is tap dancing. And so I apologize in advance, and [tell them that]  if anything gets too much, send me a text, and you know, we'll figure that out.” She even bought each of them earplugs and a bottle of wine!

On top of this, Nicole also had to consider the limitations on her students’ side of things. Some had to work with limited spaces that didn’t allow for much kicking or movement, for instance, so those needed to be taken into consideration.

One creative way Nicole handles larger classes, specifically for musical theater? Zoom Breakout Rooms. “I often will break the students up into smaller groups and give them either an activity or I'll say, you know, let's, let's go over scene two. And so in your groups, here's five questions. And I want you to discuss those five questions about the scene, and then we come back together, and we discuss and so I will float through all the rooms to answer questions or to chat with smaller groups. And then, we bring them back together.”

Nicole acknowledges that Zoom fatigue is real. “So I am finding that at the end of those days, I just, I have a glass of wine and I go to bed because I'm so tired.”

“I'm finding like I'm having to put on a lot more of a show while I'm teaching.”

Keri Minty (Dance and Theatre)


Dance and theatre instructor Keri Minty finds asynchronous teaching a lot easier. Using Marco Polo, a smartphone messaging app that works like Snapchat (but with conversations that last longer), she is able to film and post exercises, give feedback via text or video, and other important actions in real time.

“So I do a lot of, like, film yourself, watch yourself, fix it, film yourself again, and then send it to me,” shared Keri.

She added that while this new system required some getting used to, her students told her that it was actually helpful. Remote learning removed the sense of peer pressure and the anxiety that comes with having to keep up. Additionally, students could rewatch their performances as many times as necessary, taking note of how they can improve. 

Stephen Robb (Music)


Stephen Robb of Delta Community Music School noted that back in the day, they’d do Skype lessons. “And I was very nervous about the technology because in those days of doing Skype, it was a little precarious as to what the connection would be, especially like four or five years ago.”

One observation from Stephen is that as kids record and rerecord their own performances, this allows them to pay more attention to the areas in which they need improvement.

“The online [platform] is just another tool in the toolbox,” said Stephen. “I don't think it's a compromise.” He shared that one challenge is in the way some people suggested paying less for lessons, not considering that this was actually more work for the teachers. He’s definitely not complaining, though: “The thing is, at the end of the day, because of all that extra, I feel that it's we're providing a better service.”

Stephen acknowledged that the pandemic is a tough, unsettling time for children and teachers alike. “I think music has been a nice thing and a great thing for them. Because through all this chaos, or not knowing that there's been this sort of consistent thing, that you know, I still have my lessons, I still have my music, I still have my art.”

“And I think that those kinds of things are, I don't know. My belief is that those sort of things are what keep us going as a species.”

Nikki J. Torres (Fitness)


“The first few days were were chaos, because you're not just trying to figure out ‘Well, what do I do with my business?’” said Nikki J. Torres of Folk Fitness. “It's like, ‘and how do I homeschool my children?’ and you know, all of the other factors as well.”

Interestingly enough, Nikki had been thinking of adding a virtual component to her business as early as March 2019. She was planning to offer online, live online classes to people stuck at home (like moms with small children or people who work from home). Unfortunately, it didn't really take off because she couldn't figure out how to find that market well. “Now, that market is everyone in the world.”

Challenges notwithstanding, Nikki finds this new way of doing things to be exciting. According to her, she has almost doubled her group and has even added a second class since she started using the Zoom platform for classes.

Mel Bridger (Fitness)


Cardio Central’s Mel Bridger manages to keep things organized during this pandemic. During her live streams, she uses a space at her place where she trains PT clients as her makeshift studio. 

“So I set up the webcam on a little mini tripod and popped my laptop on the side. And I had a tiny little Bluetooth speaker that I put underneath the webcam because I've got the Logitech C 920, which is a great webcam. And I literally ran my classes like that for a few weeks,“ she explained.

Mel enjoys how her students have been approaching this new normal positively. “While I'm getting my shoes on, they all talk to each other about their day and how they've been getting on. And then at the end of the class, we talk to each other again, on Zoom. And then what they all do is they take screenshots and selfies. They're so good at this. I don't even know when they're taking them. And then they will pop that onto social media and tag their friends and tag me. And they'll just be like, ‘These classes are amazing,’ and my students have been pulling people in to come join our classes.”

“We're a community; we're a family.”

Online Teaching: Final Thoughts

There’s no doubt that these people play a very important role in their communities, adding a sense of normalcy to the lives of their students while encouraging them to further hone their craft and stay healthy.

The fact that they had to reinvent themselves in a snap, that they had to learn skills that wasn't part of the program, so to speak… I find that really impressive.

I admire how they've stepped up to the challenge, and how they've helped us weather this storm. Because if they can embrace online methods to carry on like normal, then we can, too. 

You can watch my full interviews with Nicole, Kerry, Stephen, Nikki, and Mel here.

Oh, and if you’re interested in learning new skills as well to help you keep up with the rapid changes in technology and society, join our Webinar Wednesdays by signing up here.

Have fun storming the castle!

Community Teachers: Shift to Teaching Online

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