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April 22, 2021

Spotlight On: Online School Workshops with Maria

Schools may have re-opened in recent months, but the demand for online school workshops remains strong. Offering the same creative excitement but without the need for a physically-present facilitator, enjoying a live ‘digital visit’ from One Day Creative has tickled the fancy of many primary schools this term.

Having spent years working with pupils in-person, we’ve discovered firsthand how the transition to online school workshops comes with its own unique set of challenges. Today, we speak to one of our wonderful facilitators, Maria Gray, about how she approaches these live sessions. Plus, what advice can she offer to teachers who may still be connecting with pupils via the internet?

Maria online school workshop setup

Hi Maria! First things first, what’s your professional background?

Maria: Hello! I’m a professional actor, dancer, yoga instructor and workshop facilitator. I first started facilitating workshops when I was 18 years old and did my own actor training at East 15 Acting School in London. I’ve also worked as an actor and workshop facilitator out in sunny Italy (which was great as I got to learn Italian at the same time as putting together plays!)

How did you feel prior to delivering your first online school workshops? 

I felt a little nervous. However… I’d been running online yoga classes and doing online auditions for a while so I’d had lots of practice prior to my first workshop.

I had to make a few adaptions to the workshop content to make sure the students could do each exercise (either on their own if it was a home schooling day, or in groups if they were at school) without me physically being able to help. It’s really important to make sure all your instructions are simple and clear. Preparation is key!

Do you have a particular process you go through before each session?

I always keep the following things in mind:

  • Preparation: adapt or change the workshop content to allow for online facilitating. You are on a big screen so use that to your advantage!
  • Technology: I double check all the equipment and technology prior to the session. I often do a little practice the day before to prepare the right music and songs, adjust the camera and change the batteries in my mic pack.
  • Space: set the room up for your needs and clear a space. I grab a cushion to sit on so I can be seen when sitting down. Top tip: have water to hand as you can’t go wandering off – once you’re live you’re live! I also always have the running order and relevant information in front of me to refer to.

I think I am getting quicker in the set up as I’ve got into much more of a rhythm…in the beginning I was slower.

Which workshops have you delivered remotely and which has been your favourite?

So far I’ve done Arctic and Antarctic, Ancient Maya, Dance Carnival Brazil and Dance Africa. I enjoyed doing Arctic and Antarctic especially because the students were all at home, so there were 35 different faces all acting and having fun! It was the final week of the third lockdown so the students were all pretty fed up of online learning… but you could see all their eyes light up and become full of energy when I asked them to pretend to be polar bears or Ernest Shackleton climbing a mountain!

I also love doing the dance workshops. Especially Dance Carnival Brazil as it’s fun and energising and everyone always looks like they are having a great time!

How have children responded to the online workshops? Have there been any surprises?

They all seem to enjoy them, they are very responsive. I guess that’s because I am on a big screen and my voice is booming out from the school hall speakers!

The thing that really makes me laugh is when the students come up really close to the camera or they think I can’t see them. They always seem surprised if I say things like “Yes, I can see you waving!” or “Great hunter pose at the front”. I have to remind them that it’s not TV and I can actually see them!

What do you think are the main challenges of delivering online school workshops vs in-person?

My main worry about online school workshops is technology going wrong or a dodgy internet connection. I’ve not had any problems so far but this is always a possibility

Also, not being able to see any issues with individuals or groups. In person it’s easier to gauge if someone is struggling or not quite understanding, but online you can’t walk amongst the students and encourage those who need an extra bit of support. Instead, I have to do this more generally to the whole group. 

Online school workshop - how to run them successfully

Finally, what top tips would you give to teachers or facilitators who have been delivering lessons remotely? 

Two of the best tips apply to in-person teaching as well as online.

  • Get them on their feet! Try to move away from looking at the screen and instead work on something using their bodies and imaginations… let them play! If you’re teaching a more sedentary topic, find tasks within that topic where they have to get up – even if it’s just for a quick stretch.
  • Breathing exercises. They’re a fantastic way to warm up and cool down, so I always start and end with mindfulness breathing and stretching.

When it comes to online workshops, try to keep the following in mind:

  • Keep all instructions simple and clear.
  • Have good audio. If you can invest in a microphone then do and this will help in your delivery and also you don’t have to work as hard vocally.
  • Remember you are on a big screen and there will always be someone watching you… so be aware of picking your nose! 😉

Huge thanks to Maria for participating in this Q&A session. If you would like to find out more about booking a live online workshop for your school, please get in touch. We also have an online teaching platform called Uno which is packed with interactive videos for primary aged pupils. Check it out here!

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