By Pete and Coty Forno
We operate Mountain City Center for the Arts (MCCA), a performing arts conservatory in rural western Maryland. We have students who travel over an hour for instruction because there isn’t another organization like ours within two or more hours. Since opening, we have wanted to provide learning opportunities for more students in our area. We were already working on remote learning options but with the COVID-19 pandemic, we were forced to accelerate our plans.
At first, we were concerned about how to make it all happen. Would students and parents want to continue learning and paying for classes via this new medium? Our findings over the past three weeks have confirmed that – remote learning is a viable solution for theatre education. In a matter of days of closing our physical doors, we were able to successfully launch a full online curriculum to stay connected to our students, to continue providing a space for students to express themselves, and to continue to provide quality education. Our staff worked together to create an online series called “MCCA Connected” which is made up of three components.
• MCCA LIVE (Learning in Virtual Environments) – A class allowing teachers to utilize Zoom to host live classes or private lessons. We also use BAND as our hub for all MCCA communication. Teachers have individual chat rooms for each class where they post content, pre-recorded class videos, and various resources for student engagement. We have also offered free master classes as additional bonus content for all our students.
• MCCA BREAK (Breathing, Relaxing, Energizing for Adults & Kids) – This is our community outreach program. Free classes are posted on our social media channels to provide a creative outlet for our community.
• MCCA NOW (News on the Web) – This is our weekly blog or vlog post featuring our staff, students, community members, and more, providing uplifting and insightful tips on how to manage stress, create routines, and other positive methods for staying grounded during this unprecedented time.
Our mission as theatre educators is to reach as many students as possible and to give every student a place to feel like they belong. Thanks to amazing advances in technology, more ubiquitous high-speed internet coverage and the proliferation of computers and powerful devices — the bounds of education are extending every day.
The process has provided plenty of “first times” for our entire organizations. There have been challenges, but overall, it has been a positive experience for both our team and our students and their families. Here five insights we have found helpful as we navigate this new territory.
1. Breathe & Show Yourself Grace – It’s time to let go of preconceived ideas and perfectionism. This is a brand-new world. Things will go wrong, lessons you planned won’t work, technology can fritz. Remember you are doing your best and to let go of how you think something “should” be. It will all work out! Look at it as an individual learning and growth opportunity.
2. Get Creative – Use the technology to your advantage. Try new things. Think outside the box. Be creative with camera angles, locations, etc. Teaching online has made us better educators as we have had to expand our toolbox of what will work. Some lessons have been a hit, others not so much. Keep trying and testing every minute we are online.
3. Make the Most of Your Time Online – Balance live with pre-recorded content. Share stories. Have conversations. Think about what your students really need to be successful. Sometimes it can be a dance class, other times it can just be a session to unpack their feelings in a safe space.
4. Collaborate With Your Team – Find your tribe and lean on them. Share resources, activities that work, etc. Vent about what’s going wrong and celebrate what’s working. You need a team to help you stay connected.
5. Create Your Space – Provide yourself with a workspace that fuels your creativity and relaxation. A relaxed teacher is a happy teacher!
We are leveraging these capabilities to continue to be a home to our students when they need it now more than ever. We are working to extend the reach of our conservatory to students who would have otherwise had limited opportunities for theatre education.