Guest post by Barbara Kennedy
When I made the switch to piano teaching, following a career in administration, one of the biggest surprises was that I missed the face-to-face interaction with colleagues. I had not anticipated just how isolating piano teaching could be. I now see around 35 students (and families) a week and I thought that would be satisfactory. However, although I don’t lack for human connections, it’s not the same as being able to chat with people doing the same job, sharing our joys, frustrations, and advice.
I’ve been fortunate to find a wonderful group of teachers and musicians on Twitter who have given me a huge amount of support, not just in teaching but also in other areas such as health, gardening, and gin selection. We’ve celebrated birthdays, successes, and achievements, and propped each other up through illness, setbacks, and crises of confidence.
Social media seems to have become a really useful tool for sharing ideas and support. For me, the options for meeting with other teachers are limited and often result in high expenditure plus loss of income. That’s why I set up Piano Teachers’ Hour on Twitter in 2017. This is a weekly discussion group for piano (and other instrumental) teachers. It provides us with a space to chat about various professional issues, whilst connecting with individuals who work in a similar area. My hope is that it will give support to piano teachers of any length of service who may need advice or are simply interested in a particular area.
The sessions are semi-structured, with topics released prior to each half term. I try to include a mix of issues in each period, and our attendees often provide ideas of what areas to talk about. In April-May 2018, for example, we discussed teaching composing skills, GDPR, the music of Debussy, safeguarding basics, and ran two focus groups for the Music Commission. Previously subjects have ranged from repertoire for various stages or seasons, invoicing, teaching dyslexic students, exam prep, and ‘me time’.
One obstacle to arranging these virtual meet-ups is finding a suitable time. As the organiser, I’ve plumped for a time that I can make. Mid-day on Wednesday is a nice treat for me. It’s usually my quietest teaching day, so I have time to prepare in the morning. Its also a nice signifier for the middle of the week; not long til the weekend. However, this time doesn’t suit everyone each week and therefore I also summarise the discussions afterwards in a blog post. This is open to anyone, and people can comment on the blog to carry on the discussion. You can visit this blog, and find details of our past and upcoming discussions here: www.pianoteachershour.wordpress.com
If you haven’t attended Piano Teachers’ Hour yet then we would really encourage you to do so. Members of the network tell me that the discussions have been very valuable to their work and enjoyable. I’ve certainly found the sessions useful and they have given me the confidence and techniques to try out new things in lessons (e.g. composing). Whilst social media isn’t an exact substitution for a physical work place, staff room, or conference, it does replicate some of the elements of connection and interaction that keep me, personally, going until the next event.
Piano Teachers’ Hour runs weekly on Wednesdays at 12:30pm (UK term-time – Oxfordshire based). You can join in by using the hashtag #pianoteachershour and following the Twitter account @pianoteachershr.
Barbara Kennedy is a musician offering piano lessons and music theory tuition in Didcot, South Oxfordshire. In addition to Piano Teachers’ Hour, Barbara also runs and develops music education projects: piano TRACKS which provides a range of tools to help piano teachers support and assess their students.