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Strategies for Increasing Student Engagement and Parent involvement using simple Free Tech.

Here is a transcript of the Zoom Presentation:

Last year I actually had more involvement from my

parents and students than I'd ever had in any year before.

Why is that? Well, when things shut down I decided to

get help. I was spending a ton of money doing professional development throughout the year of covid

working with a renowned teacher trainer named Christian


Christian Howes became a really close mentor of mine and he became a huge part of solving day-to-day problems. Last year and in the beginning of COVID as well he was the one who was pitching tons of, ideas giving me feedback on the spot and he was the one who helped me ultimately to make my last year the year with the most student engagement and the most parent involvement than ever before - and none of it involved using fancy technology or any sorts of new apps or anything like that.

Here are nine strategies/tips for increasing student engagement and parent involvement.

Start with a Vision

But not just sort of vision... A vision that really is evocative- It's something that makes you feel deeply and evokes your imagination.

For me, I was prompted to ask "how do I want to

feel at my day-to-day basis?" - In every

day of my work - what do

relationships with parents and my

relationship with students look like? What

do I want to be doing? How do I want my

time to be taken up?

How do I want to be involved in the community?

My mentor made me think long and

hard about this. He wanted me to get really clear

about what my vision was in a way that

made me excited to think about

So here's the vision that I came

up with for my students:

I wanted my students to want more

I wanted them to be curious

I wanted them to be more thankful and to

be able to express that

I wanted students to be independent -

rather than just doing things I told them to do,

they would pursuing musical opportunities

outside of assignments.

I wanted them to be responsible

I wanted them to be communicative - I

wanted to hear from my students not just

in class but outside of class I wanted

to be having constant dialogue back and


I only got to see my students two

times a week. It's understandable that they

could very easily forget about not only

me but my assignments or whatever work I

wanted them to do.

I wanted to increase the amount of

communication I had with my students

I wanted them to develop self-awareness

and confidence

I wanted them to be leaders

and I wanted them to be honest with


For my parents:

I wanted them to be advocates for the

program so i wasn't doing all the work

on my own that this the parents would do

part of that work

I wanted them to be involved in their

children's music education

I wanted them to creatively contribute

to the program so they are coming up

with ideas and they are contributing ideas

to what's going on in the


Then I Had a vision for the community:

I wanted this music program to be known by the community

I wanted to be an arts advocate for the town so I'm the one who

is promoting arts education I'm the one who's saying it's important to have music in your life - not only to my students and to the parents but to the greater community.

That made me excited about my day-to-day teaching.

It prompted me to ask local businesses what

it would look like for them to be

partners beyond just getting promotion in the


How much more exciting is it to invite them in to this creative

process? To ask a local business "What would it look like for you to

partner with the school?

How can we can we be more involved and interconnected?

The final question in this "Vision" prompt was "how do I want to feel on a day to day basis?

I know want to be teaching with ease. -

We all know that feeling of of teaching

in a flow state...

I wanted to be excited about what I'm doing every day and I want to be learning along with the students.

We're going to take a couple minutes. Pick any or all of these to share. Just cast some vision for your own classroom your own day-to-day life.

What do you want from your students?

How could you envision your partnership with the community?

What could you do to enliven the relationships you have with parents?

Some Live responses from teachers:

"I want to showcase student composition and original student work"

"I want parent involvement and more students who are engaged"

"I want to build rapport with parents"

"I want to help students be more comfortable sharing"

"I want to keep students on track, to keep them motivated and engaged"

"I want students to take ownership of their learning"

"I want them to be a valuable part of their musical community"

"I want to feel respected by school colleagues"

I want parents to share their musical talents with our students "

"I want students to enjoy playing their instruments"

"I want parents to enjoy the concert experience more"

"I want community support for the needs of teachers and students"

"I want students explore their instrument without fear of failure"

"I want the students to appreciate music and enjoy the process of making music"

"I want student work to be visible to parents but not just in a concert setting"

"I want student opportunities for solo and group performances in

other styles of music besides what they currently listen to and outside of their instrument"

"I'm looking for the school community to respect and value what the

music department does"

"I want parents who are aware of what happens in

our classroom"

1. Communicate Frequently

Seems obvious, but here's the key... Not only should you communicate more frequently but you can also turn every communication into a blog post. Essentially what Christian Howes

told me to do -which sounds crazy at first... Is that you should be emailing the parents emailing the students every week or more.

I trusted my mentor and really ended up having more parents involved and more students getting their assignments done than ever before.

So here's some examples of my communications with parents and students that I turned into blog posts.

Why turn it into a blog post?

Well that means that if you have new students or new parents all the important things that you want to communicate - all the ways that you want to motivate your students, and the things that you think are important for your students today are available for your students for the rest of your time teaching.

So here are some examples of what it might

look like to communicate to students on

a weekly basis:

I just copied and pasted these emails and made them into blog posts on my orchestra website.

-"How to Overcome Stress and Feel Confident"

-"Tips for staying motivated"

-"Mr. Scelzo Interviews Musicians"

"My Teaching Philosophy"

These are weekly emails essentially and I know it sounds crazy to put time into this but I'm telling you again- I did it out of trust.

What I found is that even though these emails took time it

saved me time in the long run because instead of nagging students to do the things I wanted them to do or nagging parents to do the things that I wanted them to do- I was at the forefront of their minds.

They could constantly hear from me and develop a relationship with me throughout the year.

This can be very simple It could be one little paragraph in an email. It just says "Hey I'm still here. I'm your orchestra teacher". It's just a way of saying "remember I'm here in your


It could be tips for reading could be related to music or not related to music...

Something could be maybe targeted more towards parents but would still be useful for students.

The titles of these blog posts are email subject lines. If you think about when you click an email personally, what sort of

things make you want to click? You want it to be attention grabbing, short, and to the point.

If you have something like a day where you dress up for the school and you take a picture or something you maybe share with your students in that moment - Then turn

it into a blog post!

Then when new parents are coming up into your program they see posts like these, they think "oh look, this person sounds fun and I can trust them"

Some posts have nothing to do with music. They're just a way of building relationships with students.

Name some ways right now that you could communicate with you parents or students:

(Some Responses from Teachers)

"Something they should be practicing"

"Sample of of another student's work"

"Pictures of students actively making music"

"Students need their instrument every class and meeting"

"Information about the pieces of music they are studying"

"Photo or video of the classroom activities"

"Bi-weekly or monthly newslettersupdating parents what students are


"Positive things that happened in class"

"Updates on student progress"

"Positive things that happen in class"

"Student role model singing or playing"

2. Capitalize on the the email signature feature

This allows you to keep important links at the forefront

of what you want your parents and students to be aware of.

So, let's look at my sample email


Here's an example email:

"Hey students, remember to wear black shoes to the concert tomorrow"

Then your email signature:

You can put hyperlinks in the email signature... Hyperlinks like

If you're a parent and you receive an email -maybe you didn't get or you didn't read you didn't click that first link when I said "hey, this is my vision for the program this year" - well now it's in every email.

Every email I send to new students, new parents - that vision is there. A lot of parents are going to click-

You'd be surprised by how many of them do.

As soon as you put it hyperlink in your email signature you'd be surprised by how many teachers or how many parents will comment on that immediately.

Now a lot of you mentioned reminders for practice assignments... What if it was such that every email you sent -even if it had

nothing to do with "remember your

practice assignment this week" - (It could be some motivational video like "here's a really cool video that I watched that

you should watch")What if you also have a reminder in your email signature of what assignments are coming up?

My email signature also has a feedback form so if you want to get

feedback on your program it's easily accessible. A lot of parents

have something to share with you but maybe they're not thinking to

communicate it immediately. If you have that feedback form built into your email signature, you've got some easy feedback that you

can get from parents. I have simple questions like

"How is class going so far?

"What's been most encouraging and motivating for your child?

"Would you include a shareable testimony?"

"Here's my vision... What are your thoughts?

"Anything else you'd like to share?"

Instead of just asking it once this email signature provides an opportunity that people can take any time in the year.

A lot of my students are learning to read music in sixth grade

so I also have linked in there this hyperdoc on music reading tips. A hyperdoc is a basically a document that includes a bunch of hyperlinks for useful information.

Many of us are familiar with how difficult it is to get string

instruments in tune -especially, you know, over zoom... So if I want my parents and my students to know how to tune I'm going

to put that hyperlink in my email signature. It's there every time. They don't have to search for it. I don't get as many emails thatsay

"what should I do? I can't do my homework

assignment because my instrument is out of tune"? Well every

This is a lesson I teach every year but instead of just doing it once a year, I made a video out of it so that every email I send to students can can read that.

You could also use "curated content". It doesn't have to be your own content here. It could be someone else talking about how to tune using the pegs. I didn't want to make a separate video using the pegs so I just "curated" - meaning I chose content online that I thought was useful and I put that link there. In this process, you vet what is good and what is bad from the internet and you put up the material that you think are trustworthy. You put that in your email signature.

We also have pull out lessons and students often forget about that so I have the schedule built in to my email signature.

I also have a quote that I think is important that I

want my students and parents to be aware


"Remember the point of playing and singing is to enjoy making music in front of and sometimes with other people we work very hard in order to learn how to make this happen every time this is the purpose of studying and practicing to improve not only our skills but our ability to enjoy musicianships"

What else would you put in your email signature?

Some responses from Teachers:

"Solfege practice exercises"

"Link to your website"

"Live local music opportunities"

(I would recommend if you were to do that, you have a living document -for example a link to a google doc where if you want to promote a show or if you think something is good for students to see in the area then you can put it in the google doc and the hyperlink will automatically update so every time they click live music opportunities or live local music opportunities you don't have to update that every time you just put a link to the google doc which is live you put the information in the show every email you send has that new information)

"Youtube playlist with examples of of what you want your ensemble to

sound like"

"A video tour the music room"

"Local music stores"

3. Use More Hyperlinks

We're going to use hyperlinks to link important documents or interesting video in every post so here's some sample

emails that I sent to my students and parents that have these links in them:

So this is sort of a beginning of the year email...

"You can always check in for yourself on my homework page here's a

hyperlink to my homework page.

We work on note reading all year (Here's a hyperlink to related material)

"Practice Assignments

-Assigned each week and require video/audio submission. Don't hear your child practicing? Check in with them or look for yourself on my homework page

-Build good practice habits! Arrange a time for your child to work on their musicianship each day. Whether this involves listening to music, watching live music, moving to music, or overseeing/encouraging practice on their instrument.

Note Reading

-Want to help improve your child's musical literacy? Check out this game changing resource for all your family's note reading needs

Rockestra (Rock Orchestra Extra Curricular group) Auditions are continuing this week.

-Read more or listen to the group/ sign up for an audition here

Required Materials

-Did you know that all violinists/violists need a shoulder rest? (Does not come with the instrument!)

-Check in with your child or read about required materials here (with links for purchase)

Stay Inspired

-Listening to and watching live music is one of the best ways to generate natural motivation.

-David Garret changed my life - And introduced me to classical music! Check out his unbelievable rendition of the famous Vivaldi Concerto

***Tip, to hyperlink video, use Google Photos or YouTube

4.Turn every frequently asked question

into a video

Every time you get a question from a parent or a student who you think or that question you think will come up more than once- instead of answering it over and over again, turn it into a video.

Videos are more personal. Videos will not only make the person

who asks the question feel like they are getting a really special response but you also can provide more content in a video.

So what does it look like to answer with video?

Say you get the question "My child has trouble reading

music. What can I do to help them?"

Well, instead of saying "here are some things that you I think you could do... and then you get the same question next week. Instead of wasting all this time repeating, make a video anytime a parent or student asks for something that you think is going to be asked again.

So you answer "What can I do to help them" with "here's my video on

how to double your music reading skills". This is literally a lesson

that I teach in my classroom but because I teach the lesson every year,- because I think it's really important- I turn it into a video so that parents can watch it every time.

"I don't know the names of the notes on

my instrument" Well, instead of giving the same individual tips every time, you create a video. "Here's a video on how to learn the

notes of the names of the notes" You don't even have to do this separately- sometimes you can make these videos while teaching. Just face the camera on you during class.

I want to remind you that you don't have to create all this content yourself. You can use other people's content. That's called "curating" and when you curate other people's content it seems like you're not doing the work but what you are doing VETTING.

As a trained musician and professional teacher you know what's good content what's bad content so your opinion is very helpful

for your students.

If they were to search the same thing they might come across

video that's not so good.

So other sample videos that you could do:

A parent says they are looking to purchase an instrument- what would you recommend? Well, instead of answering it individually every time, make a video saying "congratulations on deciding to purchase an instrument, that's a really big step! Here's some things you want to think about... etc. "Don't buy that $60 too good to be true violin off of ebay... That sort of stuff.

Make it into a video reuse the video.

You can make it unlisted on youtube. That's one way to do it. You could have google photos has an ability to share it as a link. Any way that you can link that video...

Again very think simple- no extra lighting or or fancy microphone. Just hold the phone in front of your face and say the same thing that you're going to say in an email.

Name some frequently asked question that you get from your students or parents that you could potentially turn into a video:

Teacher responses:

"Where they can get their instrument repaired"

"When is the concert and maybe what you need to bring to the concert"

"Wow do I get to quaver?"

"Private teacher recommendations"

"Musical warm-ups for chorus"

"How to oil valves"

5. Poll students and parents frequently ask for honest


This is a difficult thing to do because we are self-conscious of our work and also students aren't the greatest at giving feedback,

especially if they're younger. But even even if you're able to sift through some of that there's always some great ideas that you're not going to get. Here are some sample questions for feedback"

"Take a look at my website I'd like it to be an important place that's useful for you. What do you think about it?

"I'm considering adding these things: How to buy strings, guide to electric instruments, sheet music, play long videos... What should be included?

Is there anything not useful on the website that can be removed?

Any suggestions for organizing material?

Here are some other questions:

"What lessons or material or part of my orchestra class has been most

interesting and engaging for you?

(This can be an assignment, by the way... You can assign your students to either answer this in class or at home to fill out this form and you can do it multiple times a year.)

"Which lessons material part of orchestra class this year has been most engaging?

That's something I want to constantly be hearing from my students.

-To be constantly making adjustments...

"What skills do you want to learn?

"Do you find practice assignments motivating and helpful or stressful and not helpful?"

"I noticed that not my a lot of students are not attending lessons.

What are some other ways that we can encourage lesson attendance?"

Instead of just being angry about it, which I did for a couple

years... I decided to get specific about it.

You can ask your students to fill out the google form at the beginning of class, at the end of class, or as a

homework assignment.

Also, ask informal questions. I showed you my blog before. These are all emails I sent out: the emails all have questions in them.

"What do you think? Let me know in an email response"

"I'd love to hear from you."

You're going to get more responses than if you didn't deliberately ask a question.

"What is your vision? y

You can have this just as an informal thing or you can assign if you send a message that you think is important you can assign that they have to answer it. That's their homework assignment- to

answer this email or fill out this form.

Or in class they have to read the email. Maybe there's a sub and there's an important email that you sent out you want them to read you can assign them to respond to that email or respond to that google classroom post.

All of these emails have some sort of call to action in them.

"Where are opportunities for you to share music with the world?"

"Here's me playing at the vaccination clinic like yo-yo ma. I was

inspired by that. I'd love to hear your thoughts"

This way your emails constantly are asking for engagement constantly asking for engagement and you have to just trust that it's valuable even if you don't get a ton responses every time.

If you think about a youtuber - someoneeho makes their money on youtube... Everyone of their one of their videos says "let me know in the comments what you thought" or "like this video if you

thought it was useful"

You're asking people to be engaged. You have to

be deliberate about that.

6. Know and share your own story

This is going to make the most impact in terms of engagement. You want to own and share your own story in multiple forms.

For me, my story is that I was forced to practice by my parents for

years. I was being pulled by my teeth to every lesson and for the first few years and then I saw an incredible video that changed my life... In a moment I went from never practicing my instrument to naturally wanting to play for hours a day.

You have to think about what makes a good story. It's when someone goes from ordinary to extraordinary. You are the protagonist in the story.

What do you overcome? That's what you want to relate to as a teacher to be more engaging to your students.

For me, in the beginning of the year I share who I am and with pictures and video and I say "this video changed my life" I share my story every year where I never practice my instrument, then my

grandparents showed me an amazing video of a violinist playing a popular rock song. I saw that he was walking through the audience and capturing the attention of the crowd. My life was changed. Immediately I went from never practicing my instrument to wanting to play music every day. That could be the same for you!

That's my story right and I want to share that story as often as possible with as many formats as possible. I sent

it as an email... It's a blog it's a video.

What's your story? Share that as a comment.

7. Use a content library

What is a content library? Well, we make anything that we teach available all the time in one central place. Instead of just having the two pieces the three pieces that we're working on, now you have all the possible things here... You could have sheet music, you could have video of you teaching- or video of other people teaching.

You could have pdfs... this is called a content library so think and get creative about how to use it. Any content that you've taught you can put on here.

That makes it more available for your students

A lot of these have sheet music and videos- play alongs

,karaoke tracks, original recordings...things like that.

I try to cover as much content as I can with my

students. I you have different genres of music here,

resources, podcasts, inspirational things.

This is just you curating and putting all of your information into one place.

Instead of restarting your google classroom every year,

have one google classroom that is all your resources as a teacher Even if you do have a separate classroom for, say "here's my period six orchestra or choir or band class"... have another google classroom that's just all of your content. This way you can

build over years instead of restarting over and over again.

You can have all the resources that you think are important. This is stuff that you can reference if a student says "hey I'm interested in composing or arranging..." Well you can reference this very easily. You could just link these or tell them "hey

look at this resource I have called "learn theory on

the go"

8. Use Testimonials

That's a way to get parents and

students more engaged. Here's some parent

testimonials this is the prompt which is

in my feedback form.

The Prompt

With your permission, would you include a sharable testimony that could be sent to upcoming prospective 6th grade orchestra parents? (No pressure - feel free to skip)

“The music program at MMS is amazing. The children learn to play their instruments so well. Every time I hear my daughter I’m in awe at how much she has learned while at the middle school. Mr. Scelzo keeps it fun and engaging for his students”

“Orchestra is one of my daughter's favorite classes at MMS! Mr. Scelzo's passion for music is evident and is it so much fun to see these kids grow as musicians”

In the same way that a marketer is going to use testimony to get people to buy their product, you want your students and parents to buy in on your program. Get real testimony that you could share with your students and the parents. Get it from students in video and

get in writing. I have some video of my students. I said "hey would you talk about orchestra for for 30 seconds?" I'm going to take a video of you after class. Get some varied testimony

9. Share Content that is unrelated to music

You can build trust and relationships with your students by sharing content that shows who you are outside of music. So this is me talking about my car falling


You are showing them honesty about your frustration and

you know, just a little life lesson as well. I'm actually sort of deliberate about sending non-musical things. I'm teaching them things outside of music. But remember- if you have a good email signature you are essentially sending the message:

"Hey, here is this inspirational story... But also as a reminder here are your practice assignments"

Well now your students trust you. They they feel like they got value. The parents feel like they got value and then they're more likely to read your vision or fill out your feedback form.

10. Use Asynchronous Feedback

We've all heard about the flipped classroom. This this is the idea that instead of teaching just content in a classroom you're going to teach something that is reusable or you're going to tell students how to use a resource... So you've got whatever you teach in class that you're going to make into a video and then you're going to assign that and in class. You're going to talk about how do you use video to learn...

One of the things that's really useful for me is getting parents involved in assignments. The most popular assignment

of year is when I teach the students how to play we will rock you on their instrument which is four notes and then they have to teach it to a sibling or parent in their house.

So that's a challenge I do every year which is a video. I don't have to teach it every time - they can rewatch the video at home if they forget how to play the song they can learn how to do it together...

You can also assign for parents and children to listen together or comment on a video.

The assignment can be "listen to this video or listen to this performance and comment"

Any way, it looks like we are out of time. I'd be happy to follow up with any of this in the future. Email me at

Some resources I'd be happy to share:

I run a bluegrass country and roots group for kids in the

western connecticut area ridgefield.

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