The arts have proven to survive some of history’s most challenging and darkest moments, and the COVID-19 crisis is not an exception. In just a few short weeks it has brought its own unique set of challenges that have penetrated all aspects of society, especially within the education system, and even more so within the realm of arts education. As art teachers face their new reality of not being able to personally interact with their students, it seems as though the role of art itself has somewhat shifted to not just being an exploration and educational tool, but one of hope as well. Orlando Repertory Theatre (Orlando REP) has interviewed several arts teachers who have recently transitioned into online learning and have shared some insight into how they are navigating this new approach during these uncertain times.     

With so many students using social media and other digital platforms to promote their own personal individuality, arts teachers are tapping into that familiar area to motivate and promote more community building. Julie Woods-Robinson, a theatre teacher at Timber Lakes High School is honing in on those already acquired skills her students have, while also integrating wellness in all her online classes. She shares that “I tasked my students with sharing out the ways in which they were warming up their body, voice, and mind. I gave them a ‘Mindfulness BINGO’ card and set it up with options for de-stressing ways to warm-up, like yoga videos, breath exercises, and even getting 8-10 hours of sleep in a night. I then asked them to use our class ‘Flip Grid’ page and create 15 second videos of them accomplishing these tasks. It has been so great! They can see everyone in the class and like each other’s videos. They are putting time and energy into creating their own daily warm-up routines, and they are being so creative with quickly edited videos, tags, and narration.” 

Wellness and self-care have been very important factors lately for many arts teachers to consider when planning their digital lessons, especially with so many students expressing feelings of sadness, anxiety, and isolation.  Lauren Smith, a theatre teacher at Lake Nona Middle School, shares that “My goal for teaching digitally is to help my students heal through art. I’m sure that many students are facing challenges such as caring for younger siblings, feeling isolated, hunger, etc.  I want to lift their spirits through fun and engaging theatre lessons that are centered on wellness and self-expression.” 

Ensuring that online lessons are also engaging, fun, and motivating ensure that students will feel safe developing and sharing their work with others. Jeffrey Peacock, a theatre teacher at Timber Springs Middle School, shares that “I look at the way the performing arts impact our everyday life and consistently think of ways I can assist my students in growing as artists. One of the ways I’m addressing this is by giving my students the opportunity to express themselves in a variety of ways. One of my classes is creating a puppet out of recycled materials and rather than bringing the puppets to class and presenting them, students are submitting videos of them manipulating their puppets through our online module.” 

Arts teachers are also seeking support and working closely together with other peer teachers to ensure that students continue to feel connected. Providing students with consistent rituals in the midst of these times where structure has been severely disrupted is crucial in maintaining a sense of community. Emily Rodgers, a music teacher at Timber Lakes Elementary, shares that “My team (art, music, and physical education) will be holding a snacks with specials session each day as a way to maintain and continue building relationships with our students.” 

Although the future seems unclear, and the possibility of more changes seems daunting, one thing is for sure, the arts will always live on. It is during difficult times such as these, that we are able to witness just how powerful and necessary art, in all its forms, truly is. Orlando REP applauds the arts teachers that are focusing on bringing hope and comfort to their students. Emily Rodgers encapsulates it best when she shares that “My advice to other teachers is to not lose sight of why we do what we do. The performing arts have a special way of making everything better.”