057 – How to Avoid Isolation as an Independent Music Teacher

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Episode Summary

Four ways studio teachers can develop and nurture friendships with other teachers. Through each avenue, I’ll also share the stories of how I met three of my piano teacher friends. (This is a replay of episode #013 How to Make Music Teacher Friends”.)


Items Mentioned

2023 Music Teacher’s National Conference

NCKP: The Piano Conference

Joy Morin – Color in My Piano

Christina Whitlock – Beyond Measure Podcast

Janna Williamson

8 Tips for Making the Most of a Virtual Conference (Natalie Weber)


As independent music teachers, it can be easy to go about our teaching life, engaging with our students day after day and not even realize how isolated we really are. Being alone is just part of what we do. All is usually well and fine in our world until one day, it suddenly isn’t and you realize how burnt out you feel.

We have colleagues, but in an independent studio, it can be easy for days, weeks, months, and perhaps in some cases, even years to pass not interacting on any kind of a regular basis with others. I can’t tell you how many times in my past 20 years of teaching, I haven’t realized I needed a little boost until I found myself with teacher friends and suddenly, the weight of what I was feeling was more real. We need each other.

This topic is something I’m quite passionate about which is why I’m circling back to it today. Today is a replay of an episode originally titled “How to Make Music Teacher Friends”. It’s one of my favorites because the topic is a bit off the cuff from our usual consumption of teaching and business-related topics.

Plus, since it was published in the very early days of this podcast, so there’s a good chance many of you may not have caught it. Even if you did, it’s a topic I think we can all use reminders of, especially as we enter a season where opportunities are being presented to spend time with our colleagues, including the Music Teachers National Conference in Reno, NCKP: The Piano Conference in July, and more.

This episode looks at four ways teachers can develop and nurture friendships with other teachers. Through each avenue, I’ll also share the stories of how I met the three piano teacher friends.

I’m Amy Chaplin, an independent piano teacher from Northeast Indiana, and this is the Piano Pantry Podcast.

If you’re new around here, this podcast is a place where we talk about all things teacher-life-related, from organizing our studios to getting dinner on the table and all that comes between.

You’ll find episodes to be short, actionable, and applicable to your everyday life as a teacher.

Stay tuned next week for the very first guest host episode of 2023! I won’t tell you who it is – that’s a surprise – but I will put a bug in your ear that the topic is about Motivating students with ASD. Who wouldn’t like to know more about that?!

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I’m excited to talk to you about making friends – it might seem like a simple topic, and it’s certainly one that we don’t exactly search out as music teachers but yet is so important to the overall health and well-being of ourselves and our profession.

Let’s just jump right into it.

The first way that we can develop and nurture friendships with other teachers is to make an effort to know and connect with other teachers in your community on a semi-regular basis even if you’re not a formal association.

When I started working on my masters degree in 2011, I didn’t even have to consider whether or not I would join a professional association. Coming out of a prior public school experience, I was used to being a member of NAFME (National Association for Music Education) which was known back then as the Music Educators National Conference – MENC. It was simply a no-brainer that that’s what you did. This is one of the reasons I continually scratch my head when I hear of teachers that hem and haw over joining a national association. I mean, your doctor and dentist are probably part of a professional association, so why not you? Anyway, that’s a whole other soapbox I could get on.

Even though I was a collegiate student and part of Ball State’s MTNA Collegiate Chapter, I also wanted to be part of a local association. At the time, the closest one to me and the one I knew I would be part of once I opened my full-time studio, was at least a 60 minute drive. Once again, I thought nothing of it. It’s just what you did.

That was one of the first places I got to meet and grow relationships with some of my current teacher friends and colleagues to this day.

Once I opened my full-time studio, since I was involved in a local association, I didn’t really connect with other piano teachers in my own town right away. I knew of their names and some of us would pass on information to each other when we were or weren’t taking students but it was always via email.

Fast forward 10 years and I sat back and realized, enough is enough. It is absolutely ridiculous that I know of at least 6 people teaching private lessons in our town and some of them I wouldn’t know if I walked by. So, this past winter, I put out a call to all of them and EVERYONE was delighted to get together. It was very informal and we just shared a little about ourselves, our background, and were able to put faces with names, but I ask myself why? Why in the world did this not happen sooner? I’m not sure I have the answer but I’m just glad it’s something we finally did.

So, once again, make an effort to know and connect with other teachers in your community on a semi-regular basis even if you’re not a formal association.

The second way we can develop and nurture friendships with other teachers is get involved & be a regular.

Make an effort to get involved in something whether that’s with your local association, a local festival, or volunteering for a state board. I would even count attending conferences regularly as a way of getting involved. Whether it’s a district, state, or national conference, I implore you to attend, attend, attend. Going to one conference every five years makes it hard to develop relationships with people you only may see once or twice a year in person. But year after year? THIS is how I’ve made a lot of teacher friends I may have never otherwise met. Let me share a few stories.

Christina Whitlock and I both went through the same pedagogy program but not at the same time. Though I’m a couple of years older than her, she went through her masters program at Ball State University just prior to my arrival. She, of course, was a star pedagogy student that I heard a lot about and even watched a few teaching videos of. I do remember being surprised watching someone teach standing up as much as she did – my teachers had never done that! It wasn’t until a couple of years later when I was active on the Indiana state Music Teachers Association board that we slowly got to know each other – sometimes even driving to board meetings or rooming together at conferences. Our friendship has grown a little more each year as we followed similar paths through MTNA leadership including the Presidency and into the world of becoming online influencers if you will. It’s because we’re involved though. We both attend things regularly.

The story of how I became friends with Joy fits here as well.

In Episode #12 of this podcast, Share Your Stuff, I’ll Go First, I reflect on the history of piano teaching blogs including my own. In that episode I mention the first time I met Joy – we were both working on our masters degrees through different universities but attended a readers dinner at the 2010 MTNA National Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico hosted by Natalie Weber of the Music Matters Blog. Funnily enough, I just found out that Jennifer Foxx was also at that same meal but didn’t start her blog until the next year. Anyway, it wouldn’t be until five years later that Joy and I would re-connect and it was thanks to attending a conference.

In 2015, I put out a request on social media looking for a roommate for the 2015 national conference on keyboard pedagogy in Chicago. Joy answered my plea, offering to let me room with her and another friend. The rest is history! See? Attend, attend, attend! LOL

Get involved & be a regular.

The third way we can develop and nurture friendships with other teachers is to be active on social media. I know that’s not in-person relationships, but they can become that!

In the past two years, I’ve been a lot more engaged over on Instagram. As I mentioned in the last episode, it’s just a fun place to see what other teachers are doing without getting overwhelmed by what Facebook groups can sometimes bring. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good about Facebook groups – Instagram is just a little more low-key. Anyway…

One day Christina and I were catching up on Facetime and she told me her podcast had paved a new friendship between her and another teacher on Instagram named Janna Williamson. She said Janna was a Rockstar and she super-respected her and they really had a lot in common. Besides being the new queen of intermediate teaching videos, Janna offered consultation sessions. It had been awhile since I felt I had done much professional development so I decided to do one with Janna just for the heck of it. Well, if I’m being honest, I really just wanted to see what all the hype was from Christina. LOL.

She was right, I totally loved Janna and she is now a new friend eating at my table with my old friends.

The fourth and final way we can develop and nurture friendships with other teachers is be intentional about cultivating them.

This virtual conference gathering is just one example. I have to give kuddos to Natalie Weber for this idea though. She shared in a blog post right after Covid hit sharing ideas on making the most of a virtual conference including renting an Airbnb to watch the conference together. Genius! I’ll pop a link to her blog post in the show notes.

If you can’t see your teacher friends on a regular basis, then find ways to connect beyond even just social media. Maybe you schedule a Facetime check-in once a quarter and just catch up on each other’s lives. Maybe it’s texting each other directly when something silly happens in your studio or to ask each other for advice. Maybe you actually schedule a little mini-getaway together! I recently saw a group of four teachers share photos on Instagram who are, I think, from Texas, that get together once a year for what they call a Piano Teacher Retreat. They went shopping, eat together and just generally caught up. Just because we’re teacher friends doesn’t mean everything we do together has to be about teaching.

My husband and I were lucky to get to spend this past New Years Eve with Joy and her husband and little daughter. It was a great time of games and food and I’ll tell you what, her husband cooks circles even around me! LOL.

Do what you can to intentionally cultivate the friendship even beyond the profession.

As we wrap up I wanted to circle back around to that question that someone once posed to me online? How in the world do so many of us online bloggers know each other and have friendships?

I think I may have found the answer.

I don’t know if you’ve listened to the trailer of this podcast, but in it I state that I consider myself the piano teacher version of a cross between Ina Garten, Marie Kondo, and The Lazy Genius. The latter of these ladies nailed the answer on the head in episode #250 of her podcast which I’ll link to in the show notes.

I’m going to quote her here: The Lazy Genius said:

Developing relationships – working on the internet is a weird job. It has become more normalized for sure but it still has some very strange and unique challenges and characteristics that are as annoying as it sounds – hard to understand – unless you’re actually experiencing them. I think that’s why you see a lot of podcasters, authors, and influencers becoming friends…it’s about meeting someone who gets it – who gets you. I hesitate to even talk about it because it can very quickly sound exclusive which I absolutely hate but the best way I can kind of describe it is it’s like going to a party and meeting someone who loves Throne of Glass as much as you or who has a kid with the same temperament as yours or who is the only woman in her office just like you, and you have something that immediately connects you. The same is true with work on the Internet. It’s a relief to connect with someone who understands what you’re going through.

End Quote.

Yes, amen and amen, Kendra Adachi!!

Today’s tiny is to designate a small area in your studio and set up a work table. It doesn’t have to be a big table; it could be something as small as a small TV dinner. Over the years, I have gone off and on with keeping a work table area setup, and every time I put one back up, I wonder why I ever took it down.

While this is a space you might not use for every lesson, it’s nice to have a flat surface to use when needed, whether it’s for playing a quick card game more easily than can be done at the piano or a place for a sibling to work on theory pages while another sibling has a lesson. I’ve been using it a lot recently as an artwork table.

I have a class of 3 siblings, ages 4, 7, and 9. We spend about 35-40 minutes together in class using Marilyn Lowe’s Music Moves books. Currently, we’re in Keyboard Games book B. After our time together, the older sibling moves into a short individual lesson at the piano, doing more with pieces with notation. At the same time, I have the two younger students complete an art activity related to the new piece they learned that day, whether it’s drawing a picture, completing a dot-to-dot, or whatever it may be.

So, squeeze in a little room wherever you can for a small tabletop work surface. I hope you found this tip useful! See you next week!