We’re delighted to welcome our Community Manager, Hannah O’Toole, with her very first contribution to our blogs. Hannah, over to you…
Hi! I’m Hannah, Community Manager for The Curious Piano Teachers. I’m coming up to my first year in this role, and what a year…where has the time gone?!
WHAT I DO
My job, as Community Manager of The Curious Piano Teachers, is to support our members. This involves facilitating discussions in our member-exclusive Facebook group, featuring members on our Member Spotlight page, joining two Community Chats each week on Zoom, and keeping everyone up to date with all the latest Curious developments in our weekly email newsletter. I love meeting our members, online or in person, and identifying hot topics in the piano teaching world.
MY CURIOUS JOURNEY
My piano teaching journey began in 2011… Before that, I trained as a classroom music teacher, and before that, I was a lawyer! I wouldn’t trade what I do now – nothing beats the smile on a piano pupil’s face when they master something new.
So how did I find Curious? I was scrolling Facebook one day, and I saw a gorgeous photo of Newcastle in Northern Ireland, with the caption, “It started with a great cup of coffee”, posted by The Curious Piano Teachers. Clicking through to their blog post, I started to read how Sally and Sharon met, and, I thought, these are my kind of people; this is just what I need!
Returning to piano teaching after maternity leave, I had a few years under my belt, and my teaching practice was growing, but there were some things that just weren’t quite working yet. I was realising that there was so much I didn’t know (and still don’t)…an important step towards improving.
I needed that return-to-work confidence boost that many new mums feel, and found exactly what I was looking for in The Curious Piano Teachers. I’d read the posts in our Facebook group, The Curiosity Lounge, and I’d always learn something new, find a supportive answer to my questions, or find someone else going through exactly the same struggles as me. It wasn’t like some of the other online piano teaching groups – I felt I could ask what I needed to – no question was too small, and people genuinely wanted to help.
POWERSCOURT, CO. WICKLOW, 2017
When I saw that a group of members from Ireland were meeting up at Powerscourt in Co. Wicklow, Ireland, in 2017, I had to go along. These were people who actually met up in real life. They weren’t just virtual personalities, but real people. I still think this is one of the strengths of Curious – we are a genuine community, and just as much happens offline as online. We enjoyed coffee and cake (a Curious staple), and met Rena Upitis, creator of the CADENZA online practice app – I remember thinking at the time that it was an amazing idea…fast-forward to 2020 and I can’t imagine teaching without it now!
2018 was the real turning point for me. The Curious Piano Teachers held their first LIVE conferences, and I went along with friend and fellow CPT, Jo Sanderson, to the Oxford event. The talks that day have been permanent food for thought ever since. I went home from that event and actually started putting practical strategies into action and making real changes to my teaching. And people started to notice. And I mean really notice. That event made a huge difference to my teaching, my students, and my career. I was convinced of the real value of Curious.
JOINING THE TEAM
When Sally and Sharon announced they were hiring a new Community Manager last year, I knew I had to apply. There was just one snag…they wanted a MailChimp newsletter, and a three-minute video, and I was about to travel to Ireland again, to stay with family who have no internet…
Eek! I’d never edited video before! I was even having to be Curious with the job application! But that’s what life on the team is like, and it’s what I love about it. It’s fair to say that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and the thought of seeing myself on camera was utterly cringe-worthy. And I didn’t have sophisticated recording equipment – just an iPhone.
Before we left, I recorded some background music, and taught myself how to use the video editing app LumaFusion for iPad. I still prefer this to my desktop software, as it’s so powerful, and quick. Snagging myself an unlimited data plan for my phone, I practically moved into the coffee shops with the best WiFi (and cake, obviously) in Wicklow for the week.
I remember the feeling of immense relief in one particular cafe, as my Vimeo video confirmed it had uploaded successfully. Well, that was it – nothing more I could do.
A few days later, Sally and Sharon emailed to say they wanted to meet me on Zoom. Zoom? What was that? I’d heard of Skype and used it a little, but this was new. And how to find enough bandwidth and privacy for a video call? Thankfully, our good friends came to the rescue, and offered me a quiet space for the call. I showed up in my newly-purchased Curious pink jumper, hoped Sally and Sharon would notice my nod to their branding. They did, and the rest is history! This is where I was, walking my dog, when Sally phoned to say that I’d got the job:
WHAT A YEAR!
The world is a very different place in September 2020, thanks to COVID-19. I’m grateful for all I am learning as Community Manager – this time last year, I barely knew my Zoom from my Loom (!), but I now feel very at home working virtually. I was pandemic-ready because of what I’ve learned from being part of the Curious team. Here are a few of my defining moments from 2019-20:
CURIOUS SALISBURY MEET-UP: AUGUST 2019
Several members arranged on Facebook to catch up at Boston Tea Party in Salisbury, and I was down the road at the time, so I joined them for (you guessed it) coffee and cake! This is still one of my favourite parts of the job, and I love the spirit of this Community; we are not just online, but we have very real, in-person connections with each other. This is down to our members, but also to the vision of our founders, Sally and Sharon. Their mission is to break down the isolation that piano teachers often face, and provide a safe place to share.
FIRST LIVE WEBINAR – OCTOBER 2019
Going on camera for my first live webinar was exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time – it’s a weird feeling, going live, when you can’t see the faces of the audience. It feels a lot less weird now that we are spending so much time on Zoom! I love that we can reach out to people all over the world, in real time, inspiring them, and helping solve the piano teaching problems we all face.
ABRSM CONFERENCE: NOVEMBER 2019
Travelling to London for the ABRSM conference has been the only time that I’ve been able to meet with Sally and Sharon in person this year (thank you, COVID-19). More coffee and cake was consumed at the Hummingbird Bakery, Curiosity Boxes planned for this year. I loved manning the stand, hanging out with the lovely Nina Hodgson, and meeting so many members in person. Inspirational talks from Paul Harris and YolanDa Brown of CBeebies’ YolanDa’s Band Jam were highlights of the day for me… YolanDa, I still wish I’d been brave enough to say hello to you then, as we could have spoken about your struggle to find a piano teacher who would encourage your daughter to improvise… Also, little did I know then that I’d be on a Zoom call playing the 60-Second Challenge with Paul a few months later…
THE 90 DAY CHALLENGE: NOVEMBER 2019 – FEBRUARY 2020
November 2019 also saw the launch of our first-ever Curious 90 Day Challenge. I was excited to take part and to be a cheerleader, encouraging my small group. Designed to help our members reach their piano teaching potential, and crush their goals in four key areas, Pianism, Teaching, Musicianship and Professionalism, this was just over 3 months of dreaming, goal-setting, collaborating on Slack, and putting our teaching under the microscope to see how we could improve outcomes for us and our students. The highlight was undoubtedly our Graduation webinar, featuring the inspirational keynote speaker, William Westney, author of The Perfect Wrong Note. I definitely felt a deeper sense of community with our members that took part after this.
MEMBER SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEWS
Every few months, we feature a video interview with one of our members on our website. As Curious Community Manager, I’ve enjoyed meeting Jodie Compeau, also from the CADENZA team, and Marta Maroto, who runs the MMQ Piano Studio in North West London. Our members are what Curious is all about, and I’m proud to be a part of this inspirational group of piano teachers.
MARCH 2020 – LOCKDOWN AND COVID-19!
If you’d told us on New Year’s Eve 2019 that three months later, most of the world would be locked down because of a global pandemic, very few of us would have believed you… Overnight, instrumental teaching across the globe changed forever. Uniquely, we all needed answers to the same questions at the same time. We often say at Curious that we learn as much as we teach, and this has certainly been true this year. I am grateful that I was used to working virtually, and thinking in the Curious way, as it meant that I was ready to go when lockdown hit at the end of March. In many ways, I have got to know more of our members better through the bi-weekly Zoom chats with breakout rooms that we started to support our members through lockdown.
MAY 2020 – 5TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS!
Three member-exclusive birthday party webinars in one day, a fabulous line-up of experts (Lucinda Mackworth-Young, Andrew Higgins, Pamela Wedgwood, Samantha Coates, Christopher & Katherine Fisher, Paul Harris, Graham Fitch, William Westney, Diane Hidy, and Rena Upitis), and lots of 60 Second Challenge fun! We could collaborate online with leading experts in piano pedagogy, all at the same time. Everyone was at home, and it was fantastic to be on the live calls with these inspiring musicians, all at the same time – one of the few benefits of lockdown!
WHAT HAVE I LEARNED?
Aside from Zoom, Slack, webinars, and all the behind-the-scenes stuff, where do I start? I love this Community. I love the openness to new ideas, and the genuine care our members have for each other. Whether it’s the respect with which people answer each other’s posts in the Facebook group, or the humour in our Community Chats, Curious Piano Teachers are amazing people. Sally and Sharon are inspirational, and have cultivated a very special place for piano teachers to find community. It’s the perfect place to figure things out together, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes we need a place to figure things out together. I have learned so much about what it takes to be a Community Manager, and I am proud to be a Curious Piano Teacher.
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