Director’s Corner: Social Emotional Learning Strategies

I have been teaching music to students online 100% remote since August and have made Social Emotional Learning (SEL) a priority in my rehearsals. What is SEL exactly? This is what the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has to say about SEL:

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Ok, great! But, what does this have to do with a cappella and rehearsing? Well, if the students or adults in your group aren’t able to manage their emotions, set and achieve goals, and maintain positive relationships, then your group’s emotional health and well being will suffer and making music will be incredibly difficult. If people don’t have their basic survival needs met, then the creative process can be halted. Over the past 10 months, we have all been faced with a global pandemic, and have had our lives affected more than we could have ever imagined. Getting students to continue creating and exploring their art during this period of time has been possible because of the efforts I’ve made to address SEL during rehearsals.

So, what does this look like? It looks like very frequent check-ins, games, journaling, movement, goal setting, show and tell, and flexibility on deadlines, due dates, and assignments. Whether you are teaching a high school, middle school, or college a cappella class online, in a semi-pro or professional group rehearsing online or distanced in person, or you are just an individual trying to continue making music during this time, then these tips are for you. I challenge you to incorporate at least one of these strategies during every rehearsal/meeting. Once you establish that folks are in a safe and welcoming space where they can share their feelings and be vulnerable, then music making can happen.

Tine Fris-Ronsfeld & Kristoffer Thorning demonstrate a great icebreaker
Screen Shot 2021-01-29 at 5.50.24 PM
Beginning Arranging with Katherine Bodor
  • Poll check in on zoom: During your zoom rehearsal, pull up a poll to get a temperature check of the group, ask a fun question, or even ask about their practice session. Check out Zoom's help article for more information on creating polls.
  • One-word check-ins: Start your rehearsal by saying one word to describe your mood, then call on someone else and have them share. Repeat until all have had the opportunity to share.
  • Two-word check-in idea: Say how you’re feeling and what you ate for breakfast, ex: I’m excited waffles!
  • 20/20/20: Remind members to look away from screens, for 20 seconds, at something 20 feet apart, every 20 minutes, to counter screen fatigue.
  • Thank a member: At the start or end of rehearsal, provide space for members to thank another group member for something; maybe someone helped another out with a tricky part or simply just chatted with them after rehearsal.
  • Share your story: Have each member share a short 1-2 minute story from their life over the last week. Another member will share something that they relate to from the previous sharer’s story and then continue on.
  • Number check-in: Either by holding up fingers or writing in the chat, ask group members how they’re feeling on a scale of 1-5, 5 is I’m feeling fantastic and 1 is I’m feeling lousy. Doing this anonymously in the chat will allow you to get a sense of where all group members are emotionally in the rehearsal.
  • Games! Ice-breaker questions, kahoot quizzes, scavenger hunts, show and tell, 20 questions, put a finger down, etc.
    Playing games to end a class, week, term, during finals and midterms, can provide opportunities for group connection and fun! The more your group gets to know each other, the better you will sound.