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Creating a Joyful Learning Space

As class resumed last week after a long break, students were excited to share their pets on screen and artwork as their background. They sent kind messages in the chat, and waved and smiled at their classmates as everyone entered the meeting. Those connections brought joy to our learning space.

Connecting with others during this pandemic has been very important for all of us as quarantine can feel so isolating. This school year has helped me realize the importance of human connection and joy we bring to each other no matter what teaching situation we find ourselves in.

The Institute for Social and Emotional Learning posted a resource for schools called “A new REALM: IFSEL’s Tips for Distance Learning” that can help us navigate through this school year of distance learning. The resource is chalk full of ideas to address the social and emotional needs so many students are facing. Below is a visual representation of the main points of the blog post.

Poster created by Cailin Melka (@SELCoach_Melka).


Rituals or segments are a great way to connect with your students and allow them a chance to offer their voice to the group. Some teachers share jokes, some like to offer a check in of some kind where kids can interact on the screen or in the chat, and others always begin music moving and dancing. Whatever the ritual is, it’s a great time to check in with students to see how they are doing. If I see an unexpected response from a student, that gives me important feedback. I try to reach out during class or through the learning management system (LMS) later in the day to check in. Those messages show your students you care and might help you gain some more information you can use to engage the student at a later date.

A popular ritual I have started this fall after setting up a safe, friendly climate, is a music share at the beginning of every music class. Students sign up ahead of time and share what they would like to play or sing for the group. I follow up in the LMS to hash out the details of what the student plans to do and assign a day to play for the class. We have had so many cool shares! A student played a Korean drum, while others sang a Disney song, played a drum set, danced to a piece of music, played exercise #8 on the violin, and played the song we were learning in class on the piano. After each share, we lift our classmate up with cheers and encouraging words. Students feel heard and others value their classmate was celebrated and heard. It's a win-win for all.


It’s important to design a lesson with movement and/or a variety of activities. We all need a break from sitting and listening. When we alter activities so students have a chance to interact with the content, move, and interact with each other, we provide natural breaks coming back to content refreshed and ready for the next task.

My students love the body percussion videos you can find on YouTube. We love them so much that we created our own in a Seesaw Activity. Students offered a song idea and then made body percussion patterns for an A section and a B section. Before each class, I find the music and copy/paste into a template the body percussion patterns. We are slowly working through everyone’s ideas as the year progresses and students love when their ideas are used.


It is never a wasted effort to help students see the good in a situation. In fact, we tend to feel better when we focus on the positive and practice gratitude. A great way to encourage students to appreciate all that is around them is by modeling gratitude and to praise those students as being grateful. There is so much power in helping them see themselves as appreciative humans so that one day they seek and practice gratitude as a habit.

The Institute for Social and Emotional Learning post offers a great idea that would work nicely in music class. Leave a little time at the end of the lesson to ask students to reflect on the lesson. Ask, "What is something you are grateful for from today’s lesson? Is there someone you learned from today? What?" This activity gives you valuable feedback on what your students took away from the lesson, gives students time to process their learning and make it visible, and lifts up their classmates by sharing how others contributed to their learning.


We all need time to laugh and enjoy each other. Give students time at the beginning of class or the end of class to talk and share. Kids like to play, laugh, and tell their teachers about their pets or new haircut. This time is valuable because they feel connected and want to come to class because they know their voice is heard and they will have a good time.

Tech tools such as Chrome Music Lab, Pear Deck, Google Slides, and Youtube are just a few tools we can use to play games and lighten the mood. Students love to explore and create in Chrome Music Lab. After they have time to discover, they are ready to have a discussion on what they noticed. It’s a great opportunity to then label and identify musical concepts. Pear Deck is an add-on for Google Slides and allows students to interact with the content by drawing, giving short answers, drag and drop, etc. Often these activities can be created into a game to engage the learners in play. Google slides can also be used to create visuals for a singing guessing game or interactive game in present mode. Of course, YouTube has many fun videos with body percussion but also poison rhythm games and percussion play along games for students to enjoy and perform skills.


Meditation is a great tool to use when life gets stressful. Also, in a virtual learning environment, we have to remind ourselves to take breaks from the computer screen. Our bodies need to move, stretch and take deep breaths.

We can encourage students to take a few deep breaths or to stand and stretch intentionally during our lessons, especially for those that have longer block schedules. Pairing the breathing with a prepared exercise or a piece of music would be a great way for students to take time for themselves and know when to come back to continue the lesson. With thoughtful planning, you can pack the learning and use the same music for a mindfulness activity as well as a preview of an upcoming piece of music you plan to use later in a lesson.

By creating intentional breaks in our routine, the learning space becomes joyful and full of human connection. This connection helps us ready ourselves for learning. Without the social emotional piece, many of us are in no space to work with others or obtain new information. As humans, we thrive in a community where we lift each other up and celebrate each other. Partly because we need gratitude in our life but also because it builds community, individual voices, and helps students see themselves as valued members.

What have you tried? Please share!


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