On Thursday, March 12th Dance Elite of Lynnwood, Washington held their last in-person classes until further notice. Like many businesses, COVID-19 presented challenges the studio hadn’t ever anticipated. Unknown aside, Dance Elite persevered to continue operating without their studio.
Less than a week later Studio Owner, Amy Bodnar, and her staff of 13 were up and running with online operations; successfully teaching over 300 students in their homes.
Here Amy shares with us the steps she took to transition her staff, systems, and students online so that others can too.
“My goal from the start was to provide value to our students and keep staff fully employed. So far, I am proud of how we’re doing. Though a lot has changed quickly, we’re still teaching at nearly the same capacity and with all of our same staff.”
What system are you using to teach your students online? What should other studio owners know about it?
We are using the paid version of Zoom to conduct our online classes. Though we have one Zoom account, we have five email addresses registered with Zoom. This structure allows us to hold multiple live classes at the same time through Zoom.
We only had two email addresses that we use for the studio so we made three additional emails that we are only using to operate the additional Zoom rooms. I would say that is something that other studio owners may need to do depending on how many classes they need to run that overlap in time.
Can you provide detail on what you did to get everything setup and running?
We held our last in-person class on a Thursday and took the remaining five days to sort everything out. Our first action was to communicate to students and parents that we would not hold classes the next few days and were working on an online solution. Here is what those days looked like for us.
Friday-Sunday: Zoom & Google Drive Setup
That weekend I began setting up an online folder structure through Google Drive and purchased Zoom. The Google Drive serves as a central location where my teachers, students and their parents could access Zoom room links, pre-recorded material, recital review materials, including video and music.
Within Google Drive, I set up folders for each day we hold classes, the teachers holding classes on those days, and their individual classes. . Within each class folder, there are folders for assignments from our teachers that students can access, folders to view videos of previous class recordings, pre-recorded material and an assignment submission folder. I would tell others that setting permissions to folders in Google Drive is critical. We only allow students to have edit access to the assignment submission folder so they can upload their at-home assignments, and we don’t run the risk of students accidentally deleting other materials.
Another important tech trick that we’ve found incredibly helpful is to record the live classes and have the recordings sync to the appropriate folder within Google Drive. We did this by having our teachers set up a sync for the recording to download to their computer after a class and then that folder is synced to the appropriate folder in Google Drive. We use Backup And Sync by Google for this behind the scenes syncing mechanism. This way, it is automated for our teachers, and students have access to the recorded class after attending live or if they miss a class and need to make it up.
Monday-Tuesday: Teacher Tech Training
After setting everything up on my end, I needed to train my staff and we needed to sort out routines. We met over the next two days to accomplish those tasks. Each of my teachers have their own laptop and I took them through a Zoom training after they all downloaded the software. We also went through our Google Drive file structure and setup folders and syncing on their laptops. We reviewed what tech they had (PC or Mac), and how they can set it up to a larger TV for viewing (e.g. HDMI cord, SVGA etc)
We then began to trial out our routines with some of our students, inviting them to mock classes. We wanted to understand the quality of the Zoom classes and if there would be any issues we hadn't thought of. We found that video quality can be impacted depending on the wifi connection the student has, as well as our own wifi. Our solution there has been to request parents to turn off wifi on all other devices in their location when the student is attending our online class to avoid disruption. Or, we recommend that they use an ethernet connection versus wifi when taking a class. This has provided the smoothest streaming options.
Wednesday: Live Online Classes
On Wednesday, March 18th we went online with our classes and we’ve been feeling really good about it. My goal from the very beginning was to operate as close to normal as possible and keep all of my staff employed. So far, we’ve done great. We still have a lot to sort out depending on how long we’re online, but we are really happy with how we are doing with it currently.
Can you tell us little about Dance Elite? Who you teach and how often?
We teach students from ages of 2 years old through adults. Typically we hold about 100 classes a week covering a variety of styles - some examples we offer are ballet, jazz, hip-hop, tap, musical theatre and tumbling for our younger students. We also hold some yoga and barre classes, as well as tap, ballet and hip hop for adults.
Are you still teaching all these same courses now that you are online?
Yes, we wanted to provide the same classes, amount of classes and same schedule to our students online. So far we are offering 90 or so out of 100 of our classes within the scheduled times as we had in our studio. In addition to our normal classes, we’ve even added some new, fun, creative ones. Recently we held a special spring break schedule with some added classes and a PJ party.
We’re seeing a great turn out with attendance and have held great student retention, approximately 94%.
Have you had to modify any classes in any way now that you are online?
We have changed the duration of our actual teaching time slighting in order to accommodate adjustments that come with this new type of teaching. In our in-studio classes, our instructors would be able to provide 1:1 modifications to students while teaching the class simultaneously. We can’t really afford to do that online because we don’t want to stop the class and disrupt all students in it by trying to give attention to just one. Therefore, we’ve changed our 45 minute classes to 30 and our 60 minute classes to 45 minutes of actual group led movement. We still provide individual critiques and guidance as much as we can. Then within each class, we leave the last 5-10 minutes for teacher check-ins where students can receive 1:1 help and have some social time with each other, including games like scavenger hunts, or show and tell., This allows our families and students to interact, and still feel like part of a group/family.
How are you planning to handle recitals that you have planned?
We have told all parents that we are going to hold recitals whether we get to have them together or separate and at home. Depending on how the situation progresses, that may look like an event in a park, or small individual class performances in-studio, where we have enough space to social distance. It will also include an at-home music video, where kids dress up at home and do their performance. They share the video with us, and then we edit all of their individual videos together for a compilation music video. We want them to have that memory and a chance to celebrate their hard work, and are going to do what we can to make it happen.
Has anything else changed in your studio operations?
We are still running studio operations such as email, tuition collection, and class schedules within the Studio Director. That has not changed. After checking with insurance, we updated our disclaimer that is provided to students and parents when they login to Zoom for classes. I would recommend that other studios do the same.
Lastly, we did purchase HD cameras for our teachers to use at home. We wanted to provide the best possible quality of video to our students and that has helped tremendously.
Is your studio thinking ahead about how you’ll transition back to in-studio once it is safe to do so?
We are. We know that though businesses might be permitted to re-opening in the coming month or so, that there still will be challenges. Social distancing measures will likely still be encouraged and we want to keep everyone safe. It is a possibility that we continue to operate online after the existing mandate is lifted for our area. Another possibility is we have in-studio classes with smaller groups more frequently. We just have to see as there is still too much uncertainty now, but we are thinking ahead .
Any final thoughts for other studios wanting to move online?
Organization has really helped us. Figuring out how to use online tools in a way that works best for your studio can be time-consuming. However, we are really happy we put in all the technology planning upfront. Also know that teaching online is much harder for teachers than teaching in-person. There is the technical and operational side of it that is new and different, but there is also a different way of teaching. There isn’t a moment for them to take a breather in a class when it is live. We’re so grateful for the effort of our team and to have each of them throughout this time.
Use Virtual Classrooms within The Studio Director
The Studio Director is here to help you succeed with virtual classes. Now with the Studio Director, you can easily schedule and share virtual classes directly within the software using the video streaming platform of your choice.
To begin, simply set up set up your class locations to include an online class link. Students can then access this link and launch to your virtual classroom directly from within Studio Director. The Studio Director is compatible with all video streaming services (Zoom, Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc). For more assistance implementing this feature to your studio, contact support today.
To read another remarkable story of how Berest Dance transitioned to online, read our previous post. Additional COVID-19 assistance including a Zoom discount for existing Studio Director customers can be found on our dedicated resources page.