068 – The Great Purge (Part 1): Games and Resources

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Episode Summary

In this episode, we talk about why we have so many tools and resources we never use and how five little questions can help us easily decide what should stay or go. Let’s start purging!


Items Mentioned

Group IlluminatED (Use code AMY50 at checkout for $50 off registration.)

The Piano Pantry Podcast: 012 Share Your Stuff, I’ll Go First

Digital Organization Coaching Series with Amy

The Piano Pantry Podcast: 016 Recital Planning Made Easy

The Piano Pantry Podcast: 017 Recital Program Formats


The month of May brings with it the freshness of Spring as summer tries to punch through slowly. In music-teacher world, this time of year, we talk about recitals, summer camps, and refreshing our policies, but how often do we talk about renewing and refreshing our workspace?

Oh, I know we all say we need to do it, but how much time and intention do we really give? 30 minutes at the end of the last week of teaching? Hit and miss throughout the summer when we have time. Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

Hi, if you’re new around here, I’m Amy Chaplin. Not only am I the sole producer of this podcast, but I also run a full-time independent piano studio in Northeast Indiana. On the side, I like to geek out on anything related to productivity, organization, or cooking, SO I’m really excited to help you renew and refresh your workspace over the next month with a 3-part purge series. Today I’ll help walk you through the process of purging all those teaching tools you never use; in part two, we’ll cover sheet music, and in part three, all those old college notebooks and professional magazines gathering dust.

Take a deep breath and prepare yourself for a refreshing release, as together, we start the great purge.

As summer creeps closer, I wanted to let you know about an opportunity for those interested in group teaching. While group piano lessons, in general, have been around for decades, it’s been really cool to see how they’ve grown and evolved and become a way for teachers to make a more livable income.

If you would like to widen your horizons on all of those possibilities, consider checking out Group IlluminatED, a flexible online conference that gives you access to all the content for two entire months so you can consume it as your summer allows. I’ll post a link in the show notes as well as a code you can use to get $50 off registration.

I’ve been in this profession full-time for 12 years and part-time for more than 20. Not long after I started teaching part-time, blogs became more prominent. Thanks to some of the earliest content creators in those days, like Wendy Stevens, Natalie Weber, Jennifer Fink, and Susan Paradis, we had access to ideas from piano teachers anywhere in the world. By the way, if you’re interested in a fun little history of content creators for piano teachers, listen in on episode 12, Share Your Stuff, I’ll Go First.

Fast forward 15-20 years, though, and the internet has literally exploded with people sharing teaching ideas – myself being one of them – and it’s fabulous (I am certainly not minimizing anything – ANYONE – is sharing). At the same time, it has created a dilemma because now we have so much that it can feel like it’s coming at you from left and right.

I’m guessing many of you have tons of worksheets, games, and freebie “cheat sheet” downloads that you received for free in exchange for your email. It’s very easy to be enticed by all the shiny things that are certainly useful and wonderful, but we can’t use them ALL.

We are between a rock and a hard place because we feel inspired and awed by so many cool products and tools, and resources, and yet, my rough estimate is that most of us don’t use 75% of the games, worksheets, and products we HAVE.

Before we start the purge, I want to discuss WHY this is happening and why we don’t use them. You might be surprised that this part – the mindset – is 2/3 of what we’re going to talk about today.

I feel like I have already almost answered the first part of the question. It’s happening because of the very nature of the internet and the fact that programs like Canva, easy-to-use websites like Squarespace and Weebly, and the ability to create shops through social media are making it easier for anyone to create and share. Again, these are all good things.

The problem becomes not about the creators but about the way we allow ourselves to consume. First of all, we’re consuming not just when visiting favorite blogs anymore or when getting emails in our inbox, but we’re consuming during what used to be connection time on social media. So, you’re scrolling for a bit of a mental break and instead of just seeing what friends and family are doing, you see the newest freebie worksheet from this person you follow or this fun new game, and you think, “Well, that looks fun.” That might be useful to have someday.

I feel like in the early days, we used to go looking when we needed something, but instead of going to things, things now come at us whether we’re looking or not. We don’t use all the games and resources in our possession because we obtained them when we didn’t really need them in the first place.

The question then becomes…can we resist? The process of purging is also the process we need to work through when allowing ourselves to obtain these tools and resources. I have five things for you to consider:

We need to, first of all, know who we are as a teacher and our needs in the moment not what they might be in the future. What do you need in the here and now? Guess what? In the future, if you really DO need a game about tempo terms, then I promise there will be plenty out there to be found. So, I ask you. Who are you as a teacher – what’s your philosophy – and what do you and your students need at this moment?

Second, consider how much educational value that game, resource, freebie download, or worksheet has. Considering the time that it takes to complete said game or worksheet, or activity in the lesson – it is worth the time away from direct playing and music-making. It very well may be. Please know that I am not trying to say that doing these things is not educational or of value. We simply have to weigh the precious time that it takes.

This is something Ashley Danyew, and I chatted about a bit in Teacher Talk episode 65 a few weeks ago. Our conversation was inspired by an episode of her podcast Field Notes on Music Teaching and Learning, where she talked about how sometimes we think creative teaching is about having tons of fun games and activities when in reality, we can bring joy and creativity to the teaching and learning process in a more direct way at the instrument. You can still be a creative teacher without having gazillions of games and activities at your disposal. It might be really fun, but is it really helping reinforce the concept, or does it feel more like “filler time” – something I can do just for fun? Remember, time with our students is limited and precious.

Third, consider how long said activity takes. I know one thing I realized early on was that a lot of games I own are better for a group class setting than for in-lesson time anyway because they just take too long and sometimes because they’re just more fun that way. That’s part of the reason I have always tried to keep my group classes that occur every 6 weeks or so in lieu of the weekly lesson are designed around student level rather than multi-level experiences (which are good as well). I like reserving a lot of game time for those classes.

Fourth, consider is ownership time versus use. How long have you owned the game compared to how often you have used it. If you’ve had it in your drawer for five years and only pulled it out once or twice…. maybe it’s time to let go.

My fifth and final point I want you to work through mentally is how much the student and yourself actually enjoy it. Does anyone ever ask to play it again? Do you have to explain the worksheet to every student you give it to – is it not very self-explanatory? Be picky about only keeping hold of games and manipulatives that really really enhance your teaching, the educational experience, while also bringing joy to the process.

OK so, before we talk actual logistics of purging, here’s a quick recap. Ask yourself

-Who you are as a teacher and what your needs are at the moment

-How much educational value does the activity have

-How long the activity takes to even complete

-How often you actually use it

-Is it both educationally valuable, fun, and desirable

Now that we’ve talked about mindset, let’s start the actual physical purge.

There are three major steps. The first is to go through all the physical items you have and ask yourself all of these questions. If you’ve ever heard of Marie Kondo it’s kind of like her process of asking yourself if the item brings you joy. The second step is to them remove that same item from your digital files. I would do this as you go one at a time. Since I know a lot of your digital files are a bit out of control, understandably, use your search bar as much as possible to find the file.

The third step I think is probably the hardest and that is to go through all of your files where you store all your free downloads and all of these games and worksheets that you might not have physically printed out start DELETING. I would bet that you are going to come across soooo many things that you didn’t even remember you had, and this is the point that I want to warn you and plead with you to stay strong don’t be afraid to hit DELETE. Again, have you ever really used it and do you even really need it at this moment?

I want to encourage you to rid yourself of at least 25% of what you currently hold. As you’re cleaning out these resources. Again, let’s take some of Marie Kondo’s advice and as you hit delete, say a silent thank you to the person who created it and give yourself a mental high-five for allowing yourself to release it with no regret.

As you begin removing these things from your teaching life I hope you will feel a bit of release and a lightened load. If we don’t know what we have, we can’t use it. Know what you have. Keep only the best of the best things that really support your teaching and students learning and let go of the rest.

Before I let you go I wanted to let you know that the doors will be opening soon for the online small-group digital coaching series I do where I walk you through a process of getting your digital workspace in order. We especially hit hard things like email, documents, and media storage. Since this is live coaching, I only accept a set number of people per round. To be part of the first to be notified when registration opens, visit the link in the show notes to sign up. If you’re already on the list, I’ll be in touch with dates for the Spring session soon!

Today’s tiny tip is to organize some kind of assistant for yourself for recitals – for both the rehearsal (if you hold one) as well as on recital day. This has taken me 12 years to figure out myself, so today I want to save you the stress. I always just felt like it was no big deal to do it by myself because I’m highly organized, but – and maybe this is coming more with age, – the stress level is still high.

Last year put me over the top when I forgot the 8 pounds of strawberries at home, and at the same time, couldn’t get the PowerPoint at the church we were doing it at to work. I vowed no more. Have someone there to be at your beck and call – even if you only end up needing to use them for one thing. My recital isn’t for a couple of weeks, but I’m already excited to see how much better I will feel having an assistant with me.

Cheers to all of you, my hard-working teacher friends during this high-stress recital season. The anxiety may be high but seeing the fruits of the past year (and years), and bringing all of our students together in one place is worth it. This too shall pass…that is, until next Spring.

By the way, if you’re looking for some recital tips, jump back and listen in to episode 16 on recital planning and episode 17 on recital program formats. Catch-ya later!