The pandemic: an ever-growing entity in our world that we continue to learn about. In many ways, it's unpredictable and something we read about day in and day out on social media posts, blogs or articles. (Funny enough, welcome to this little blog, I hope you will stick around to hear my story!)

Before COVID-19, the world and its people were in a flow -- a pace that felt to be normal in everyone’s own special way. I know you’ve heard this spiel before, but no matter how one has been living through this pandemic, we know it has disrupted an exceptional amount of who we are, our safety nets, and the things we call home. It has robbed us of joy, loved ones, jobs, relationships -- whatever it is in your life it has affected, it has brought on fear in regards to one's future and this unprecedented time we are facing.

photo of blonde woman standing in front of a door with a sign that reads "I love CHS because my students inspire my teaching and we all work together to be the BEST we can be"The biggest fear for me was would I have a purpose and what would it be? As a K-5 elementary music teacher to almost 600 students, an active performer, and an artist, how could I still be myself?

When COVID-19 hit, I was at a place in my teaching career that made me feel inspired by my students and the hard work I was putting in to get them to a solid musical place for the school year. It was a hard pill to swallow, knowing I most likely wouldn’t be able to continue this work with them. I was beyond proud that I had gotten them there, and that I started finding my pace as a teacher (a flow everyone starts to feel once immersed in a path they love). Yet, I started over-thinking everything and spiraled right into an emotional roller coaster ride that the rest of the world had somewhat fallen on (by the way, roller coasters scare me, so I wanted off!).

What if I fail? I knew I couldn’t let myself plummet into that mindset. As someone who likes structure, this feared to be a dangerous game. I knew I had to act fast while finding ways to be patient and kind to myself. Instead of giving attention to failure, I thought, “What if I fall? Oh darling, what if you fly?” -- one of my favorite quotes by Erin Hanson.

For me, I couldn’t help but realize that although the world was indeed standing still and hurting, it was proving to be a time where I could choose to create -- a time I may never get back to change and rework my craft. I clearly had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I wasn’t alone. I was on a slow path to evolving my doubts and fear into a trial and error state and reminding myself that I couldn’t tackle everything overnight.

Virtual music classroom with blackboard that reads "Welcome to our virtual CHS music room! Miss you all! Ms. Kurilew"I gave myself permission to figure out this new normal. I started creating my own opportunities during the lockdown in which I could alter my profession in a way I had never done before.

I am very blessed to work in a district with amazing colleagues and administrators that support the arts. The whole virtual learning thing has been difficult, but, as we know, it has been difficult for all of us, even if you are not an educator. Our music team met every day, compiling lessons that we felt could not only benefit our students, but help them grow in an organic way. We knew it wouldn’t be the same as being in the classroom, but it would be ideal for an at-home learning style.

For fun, I created a picture version of the front part of my classroom as a virtual cartoon slide so my students could feel a tiny sense of “home” when looking at the picture of their music room. When I Zoomed with 1st grade one afternoon, a little girl had set it as her virtual background, which filled a part of my heart that I forgot was missing. 

I recorded read-alouds and music activity videos and, since our concerts for the year were cancelled, our team Zoomed the students on their respected concert dates and we made it an outlet for them to talk about their feelings and their memories from our ensembles.

Photo of a blonde woman looking at the inner pages of a "Pete the Cat" bookThe most inspiring aspect was using Flipgrid, a platform where the students can record responses to certain topics. The amount of interest and participation I got was astounding! I had students that never would sing or participate in my music classroom recording themselves singing and dancing to their own hand-washing jingle, showing a side of themselves I never knew existed!

I got to know my students so much better and I am forever grateful. It made me realize that in many ways, technology can be a blessing and help students blossom in a faster time than they might have in the actual classroom.

Drama Club also went virtual and was one of the best learning endeavors for me, which I didn’t even know was possible. To watch our amazing director transfer it all online in a short amount of time and see the 5th-grade students' faces light up once they knew they still could “perform" -- their show was truly remarkable.

Let me tell you: I fell, I flew, I failed, I conquered. I am proud to introduce myself as an artist, a teacher, and a dreamer. Someone who is still learning, who was raised to ask questions, to love deeply and to learn to appreciate all fields of one’s work and art form. Personally, I was able to take the things I immersed myself in during quarantine, like taking my regular piano and voice lessons, participating in opera master classes, recording for a virtual choir, researching and reading, spending time with loved ones and hearing their stories, etc., and tied them into my teachings. I aimed to inspire and immerse my students in musical culture while uniting them virtually in the best way I could.

Photo of a blonde woman in a black top singing in front of a red backgroundI am still hitting every bump known to man on this unknown obstacle course called COVID-19, but it is a bit smoother knowing I am not alone -- WE are not alone. I did, indeed, find a purpose within my own creative way and I realized it’s okay to not be okay, and to ask questions and reach out for help.

I hope you all will find a little bit of mystery and exploration in the arts during this unforeseeable time, as dreamers and teachers of the world.

As others have said, "Be teachable, be correctable, be patient, be consistent, and be vigilant;" "Every next level of your life will demand a different you."