Cortnie Freeman – Dance Teacher and How to Adjust Virtually

Cortnie Freeman – Dance Teacher & How to Adjust Virtually
About Cortnie Freeman

Cortnie has been teaching for the past 12 years with the Durham Catholic District School Board. Her passion for teaching drives from a growth mindset that no one is ever done learning.

Cortnie currently teaches at the AMP Arts School in Durham where her passion for dance and teaching continues to grow as she develops young dancers to be all that they dream to become one day.

Connect with Cortnie: Email

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Durham Catholic District School Board

Arts and Media Program Arts School


Teaching with Zoom

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome to the High Performing Rducator podcast. I’m your show host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Before we get into today’s awesome interview with another amazing educator, I have something of value that I wanna share. If you’ve ever struggled with teaching your students virtually, if you’ve ever struggled with getting them to turn their cameras on, I have have assembled all the information that I’ve learned and developed over the past six months of presenting to students virtually I’ve spoken at over 50 events since COVID hit back in March and I’ve taken my best tips, my gear list, and any special ninja tricks and assembled it all into a free five video mini course, you can go and get access to it right now at www.highperformingeducator.com. And if you do pick it up, you will also get added to a private group of educators who tune into this show. People who have been interviewed on this show and you’ll have access to opportunities to network and meet like-minded individuals during this tough time.

Sam Demma (00:59):

So if that sounds like it might be helpful, go to www.highperformingeducator.com, grab the free course and get involved in the high performing educators. Network enough for me and onto the show. Today’s special guest is Cortnie Freeman. This is someone who actually taught at the high school that I grew up at at St. Mary Catholics, Secondary School. My sister, Franchesca actually had Ms. Freeman as her dance, her dance teacher, I believe. And I can always remember her coming home from school and just sharing how much she enjoyed her class, loved the way she taught, loved her style, loved her energy, and it’s apparent more than ever in this podcast episode. She has a huge passion for teaching and she shares that today on the show. I hope you enjoy this. I hope you have a pen and paper, so you can take some notes and I will see you on the other side of this conversation with Cortnie. Thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you on today. Can you share with the audience who you are and why you got into that you do with young people today?

Cortnie Freeman (02:05):

My name is Cortnie Freeman and I’ve been teaching now for 12 years. Sometimes that seems like it’s gone by really fast in other days. It seems like holy cow. Why I got into what I do is I feel teaching almost chose me in a way I never like growing up. I was never kind of like, I’m gonna be a teacher. It was just something that as life went on and I was trying to find more purpose in what I love to do. I got nothing more satisfying than when I was teaching students. Like my first year teaching was probably one of the best years of my life. I just feel like it’s, it’s a profession where you, you have to be a life learner. You have to constantly want to know what’s happening. What’s going on. You’re meeting new students every year.

Cortnie Freeman (02:56):

So you’re engaging them different ways. And it’s just, it’s something that I cannot see myself doing anything other than doing. I just love the opportunity to make a difference in students lives. I wanna be able to make that connections with them. I wanna be a positive stepping stone in this journey of life, especially in the high school realm. I feel like those are really a crucial times in kids’ lives. And I really love the opportunity to kind of just dig in deep with them and help them find kind of who they are and where they wanna take their life.

Sam Demma (03:32):

It’s, it’s so true when you mention, you have to find different ways to connect with them and engage with them every single year. And I think this year specifically, that’s true now more than ever. And I’m curious to know for you specifically, how has teaching online slash in the classroom been for you and have you figured anything out that’s been successful or had any experiences that totally flopped and you learned from that you think might be valuable to share?

Cortnie Freeman (04:03):

I would say for me, like, it was really challenging at first. I originally, you know, wanted to do the teaching in school as opposed to the online portion. So I thought I would be seeing students a lot and then we kind of got into it and it’s, I don’t, I hardly see them at all. You know, it’s, it’s a very 50/50 mix. So majority of my day is on the computer. And for me that’s a big change because seeing my students every day is kind of why I became a teacher, right? Like I wanna see them, I wanna have those daily conversations and those daily check ins with them. And I I’ve noticed that even when I see them on Zoom, it’s tough to get those conversations with them going, you know, I have these little boxes of their cute little faces online, and I wanna have one on one conversations with them, but that’s gonna take up the whole hour we have together because I need to click on each kid have that conversation.

Cortnie Freeman (04:56):

Right. So I’m finding where before it’s like they walk in the class, you can have a quick check in say, hi, how how’s it going? So I’m finding the biggest challenge right now is just keeping those connections with my students going and like, those kids need those connections. Right. So I’m finding that that’s been the biggest challenge so far and just keeping them motivated when they’re not with me and engaged . So I’ve had to change a lot of my lessons and just kind of not make them so on the computer. So when it is kind of those Zoom moments, when we have the whole week where it’s online to give them assignments that take them away from the computer. So we have our check-ins, I give them the assignment, but instead of having them write about, you know, somebody, I want them to go out and explore about it. So here’s an element here’s an idea and I’ll go and explore with it instead of writing about it, just to kind of get them out of the technology realm.

Sam Demma (05:58):

Awesome. How else have you changed your curriculum? You mentioned changing curriculum. I’m curious to know if there’s anything else that’s been helpful for you that you think might be helpful for another educator. Who’s struggling to kind of adjust to the new reality?

Cortnie Freeman (06:13):

Yeah, it’s funny. I’ve had to change it quite a bit, actually. I’m, I’m finding that you know, a lot of my pieces have turned into reflection pieces, so instead of you know, it’s tough because I’m not a normal, I, I hate saying that, but I’m not like a normal teacher, right. Like I teach a subject that dance. So a lot of it is physical and in order to, to make it equitable for all students, I can’t, a lot of ’em don’t have homes where they can just start dancing everywhere. Right. So I’ve had to change a lot to make sure that every student, when they’re not with me still has access to be able to engage in the lessons. So I’m finding that a lot of my pieces instead of I kind of, sorry, I’m repeating a bit from previous, but, you know, instead of them writing a paragraph about, you know, we just did healthy eating, I’ve got them to do like a little blog on it.

Cortnie Freeman (07:06):

So they’re out in their kitchen. They’ve actually had, now they’re at home. Right. So instead of them talking about it in class, they’re at home. So they’ve now been able to create a little like actually show the food. They can make it with us in the class. So just trying to get them engaged in physical, in their learning a little bit more than just sitting at their computer all the time. And just especially this year, I find a lot of my subjects have changed. Mm-Hmm as far as, okay. So there’s so much going on in the world today that I think need are hard things to talk about and that kids wanna talk about and they wanna be engaged in it. So I find now too, a lot of my assignments instead of being like, okay, write a reflection piece on this, I’m saying, okay, I want you to choose what you wanna write about mm-hmm and these are kind of the checklists of things you also need to include in. So I’m giving them the basics of what they need to write about, but the topic can be their own choice. And I’m finding that they’re feeling really empowered about being able to choose the subject matter. And then just focusing on like the checklist.

Sam Demma (08:13):

I think options is a great idea right now, especially when there’s so many different topics going on, I applaud you for that, that great. I think if I was in your class, I would, I would’ve loved that option. So keep, keep doing that for sure. And anyone listening, it might be something to consider.

Cortnie Freeman (08:35):

I just find when you give the students the chance to focus, what they’re really passionate about, mm-hmm , it can still, it can still grasp those ideas of, you know, the curriculum, right. They need to do a reflection piece, that’s the curriculum, but what they’re reflecting on can be something that they’re more passionate about and personable about, and it just adds to the level of learning and engagement crazy.

Sam Demma (08:59):

No, that’s true. And the impact it has on the student, I know they’ll enjoy class more and get a better outcome because of it and also have a better experience with you because of it. And I think that’s one of the reasons why Mr. Loud foot from St. Mary had a huge impact on my life. And I stay in contact with him to this day. And you mentioned earlier that one of the main reasons you got into teaching was to change young people’s lives. And I’m sure over the years, you’ve had dozens of people, you know, write you letters you know, Ms. Freeman, thank you so much for everything you did. You changed my life. Maybe some of them even got into dance and now our dance teachers because of your class that, that’s a very rewarding moment. And I want you to think, you know, about an educator who’s listening, who’s burnt out right now, who might want to hear a story about how education has changed a young person’s life. And this could be a story that you’ve personally, you know, of, of someone you’ve personally taught. Who’s written you a lead and you can change their name if it’s a very serious story. Just for the sake of privacy, but share a story about, you know, a kid who is deeply touched by your teaching style or your class in the hope that it’ll inspire other educators to remember, you know, this is really important stuff that we’re doing.

Cortnie Freeman (10:15):

Yeah, that’s, there’s, there’s quite a few, honestly, where I’ve had moments of students that are just like, I would not have gotten. And it’s, it’s so weird saying it out loud because honestly, I feel like when I’m teaching, I’m just being human. I’m just making them feel human. Yeah. You know, I’ve never, I always say when I’m teaching with my dancers that we’re working together, it’s never like, I’m, you know, I never look down on them. I just make them feel like we’re on the same level and we’re in this together. And, you know I feel like the biggest impact I’ve had on most of my students that have written letters to me, or thank me kind of years later is just thank you for seeing me. It’s it’s those years and high school, I find kids get very lost and they get very confused sometimes.

Cortnie Freeman (11:01):

And they’re just, you know, one day they have best friends and then the next day they don’t. And, you know, it’s, it’s a lot of an emotional toll and I was kind of that consistent in their life. Like they knew every day they’d walk in my class. I would have a smile on my face. I would say to them, I would give them good structure in the class and just giving them that steady, especially cause I’ve had them, I have them for the full four years. So I guess the, the one that kind of sticks out to me the most is I had a a foster student in my class. Mm-Hmm I’ve had quite a few of them over the years and you know, it’s hard for those kids to feel like they belong because they’ve been in few homes here and there and they kind of get passed around a bit.

Cortnie Freeman (11:51):

And just this one student I could just tell needed to have that kind of what I’ve said in the past is that consistent adult in their life that believes in them mm. And encourages them, you know, like, even if it’s just checking in on how they’re doing in their other classes, when they come in or saying, Hey, you seem off today, like it’s okay to ask those questions and make them see that I see you. I see when you’re off. I see when you’re doing well. I see when, you know, like, I, I, you know, kind of the idea of like, I’ve got your back and I think that’s important as an educator to remember, we’re not just, we aren’t, we are not just there to teach them the curriculum. And if you are, then you’re just, you’re not doing your job properly.

Cortnie Freeman (12:33):

Really. We are there for the student and curriculum comes with that, but if they’re not whole, and they, they don’t feel comfortable in your class, they don’t feel engaged in your class. Like then they’re not going to get the curriculum. So I always spend like the first week or two weeks of my class, I’m teaching them yes. The curriculum, but that’s my time to really get to know who they are. Mm-Hmm and get to know what they’re into and maybe what their background is, what their struggles are, what really kind of gets, ’em excited about learning. And the more like it’s all about the student, it is. And that’s the biggest thing. I fine when students kind of, you know, say their thanks use to me is thank you for seeing me mm-hmm . And I never wanna forget that moment. And I never wanna forget that each student in my class is honestly so important to me. Like each, each one, the one that, you know, mouthy, the one that’s quiet, the one that’s, you know, like they all are just , it’s just, you have such a small window of their lives that you spend with them. And I wanna make the biggest impact I can. And that, that small little window. And I don’t know, that’s kind of what I find is the most consistent when students kind of reach out to me and, and years later.

Sam Demma (13:50):

I love that. And you alluded to the importance of asking questions, getting to know the students. How else do you see? Like, how else do you make a student feel seen? Like, those are two great examples. Maybe you have anything else that you do during those first two weeks that you think is really impactful?

Cortnie Freeman (14:09):

Yeah. Making them feel seen. I just, you have to be present, you know, know, as a teacher, I never like the idea of they come in my class, I give them work to do, and then I go sit down at a desk. Yeah. You know, like I just, I, I just don’t like that. I, you have to be, it’s such a physical, no matter what subject you’re teaching it’s it has to be like a physical presence as well. You’re walking around, you’re saying high, you are, you know, at the, you know, as the kids walk into your classroom, you’re standing at the door door. You’re saying those highs to them. You’re making sure that, you know, they’re also making connections in the class, you know, it’s not always like, okay, pick your groups. You know, like first two weeks I pick their groups for them.

Cortnie Freeman (14:54):

It seems like such a small, like little thing. But then the more they get a community in that class as well, the better they’re gonna feel. Right. And I have a lot of kids that take like dance is a huge exposure. Like you’re standing in the middle of a room. , you know, there’s no guests, there’s no nothing. And if you’re a kid that’s a little self conscious or, you know, you need to feel like it’s a safe community, especially in, in a realm of a class where it’s all about creating, right. You need to feel vulnerable. You need to allow to, you know, vulnerability is so huge in creating. And I think that’s why the classroom, my C from setting is like my number one, you know? And also like the more you get to know them too, like I’ve taught jazz the jazz lesson, like a hundred times, right?

Cortnie Freeman (15:40):

Like I’ve taught for 12 years now. But do you think I’ve taught it the same twice? No. Because levels are different. Kids are different. Their music is different, you know? So it’s also just staying in tune with, with the kids are into. And so then when they come in, like, I’ll remember things, they said, oh, that was their favorite song. So then next week I’ll like, have it playing as they enter the classroom. And I’m like, I’m so cool. and they’ll me for like dabbing or whatever. Right. Yeah. But it’s just you know, being that positive, happy, even if you’re having happy day as a teacher, like it’s not, that’s not your time. My time is my students. And I need to make sure that if they’re having a bad day, it’s my job to kind of just remind them it’s, it’s good. We’re gonna have fun today. This is gonna be your time to forget about all of that other stuff in life. And we’re just gonna have fun in these, you know, the 70 minutes we see of them for the day.

Sam Demma (16:31):

That’s awesome. And in a virtual scenario, that could be something as simple as commenting on what you see behind somebody as like an object that’s sitting on their shelf. You know, maybe you can’t come up to their desk and talk to ’em on the shoulder, but you can show you’re paying attention and, you know, virtually walking around the classroom by commenting on what you see. I, I did a speaking engagement for a school in Saskatchewan one yesterday. And while I was speaking, a girl went like this and during my speech, I just pulled the peace sign out and she automatically saw it and started laughing because she noticed that I was paying attention. And I think that’s how we can also do it virtually for anyone wondering, you know, how do you transition that into virtual class or virtual school? I, another cool idea might be the, you know, the idea of playing their favorite song. Maybe you can’t play it in class, but maybe you can share the music through your computer as they’re all doing the Zoom room or Uber eats them a coffee or their favorite drink or favorite McDonald’s Sandwich.

Cortnie Freeman (17:29):

So funny you say that, cause my dancers were on Zoom meal other day. And then all of a sudden I just saw like this little, like, and I was like, wait a sec. You know, she just pulls a Starbucks over and I’m like, okay, what’s your go to drink? And it like just opened this whole conversation of like Starbucks and drinking or coffee and was good for you. And we’re like, well, actually this is a good segway into the healthy unit. Right. And it’s, it’s paying attention to those little moments of yeah. Connection, right? Like any relationship, right. It’s being aware and communicating.

Sam Demma (18:01):

Yeah. Just being interested, showing interest.

Cortnie Freeman (18:04):

Being interested. Exactly. Showing interest. I, I want to get to know you. I, I want you in my class, especially if they’re absent. Right. Like I find if a student’s away for a day in my class. Oh. They will know that. I notice that they were not there in a good way though. Like not like, where were you? Well, sometimes I do that. But just being like, Hey, where were you yesterday? The class is not the same when you’re not here. Right. And like, sometimes I get your looks on their face, but just letting them know that, Hey, we missed you. And this class is made up of 24 students. And when you’re not in here, it throws the shift off. Right. We need you all here. We like, you know, and it kind of reminds them that when they’re not there they’re, they’re missed. Right.

Sam Demma (18:40):

Yeah. That’s so important. I’ve never, I don’t think I ever had a teacher who, who, after missing a class said, we missed you here. It wasn’t the same. so that’s, that’s cool. I love that actually. Yeah, that’s a great, that’s a great point. If you could travel back in time to your first year teaching, you know, you just got into it. You’re probably confused a little bit unaware of what was going on excited, but also overwhelmed by all the new realities and systems and procedures and all this stuff. What advice would you have and think about, you know, the educator who’s just starting, just teaching like their, their first year is this year and they’re thinking, you know, what the heck did I sign up for? This is crazy. What advice would you have for yourself and, or those people just starting to teach in their first year as well?

Cortnie Freeman (19:28):

Yeah. Oh my gosh. I remember my first year I was so nervous and I was just like, oh my God. And everyone’s like, you look like a high school kid. I’m like, okay. I know , you know what I would recommend for any teacher kind of starting out. The first thing to do is just kind of write yourself a little note just of why you got into teaching. Like I, on, I, I have to reflect teaching is hard. There are moments where it’s just like, I don’t know if I can do this anymore with all the others, aside from the student stuff, it’s just, it’s a lot. And it’s, I always go back to those first years of how excited I was to get like your first paycheck, like, oh my God. Right. And just like trying, getting to know your students and you’re excited and you say your classroom went perfectly and I can see as kind of the years go on, you just stop paying attention to those little details.

Cortnie Freeman (20:18):

And it’s those little details that make you get excited. Right. So I, I always kind of, whenever new teachers kind of, you know, frantically like, oh my gosh, this and that. And I’m like, it’s all about the kids. As long as your students are having a good time in class, just take a breath. But I, I always say like, write yourself a note right now of how excited you are. We can always tell a new teacher, cuz they’re like so excited and they’re like, you’re like, okay, write yourself a letter and remind yourself of these points of how you feel right now, how excited you are to, you know, make those lesson plans to make those rubrics that now seem like tedious, ridiculous thing, but remind yourself of how exciting that is and how good it feels to have your own space in your own room.

Cortnie Freeman (21:01):

And you’re in charge of these four, you know, these 24 humans for the, you know, the semester and stuff like that. But, and it’s also surrounding yourself with the right people. Mm-Hmm, that kind of share the similar interests in you that have the same passion as you do. I’m lucky, like in the arts, almost every teacher is pretty passionate about what they teach almost probably or too passionate sometimes. Like we take it to another level of serious fashion. But it, it is, it’s just finding those teachers where you can constantly feed off of and, and, and bounce ideas off of like, you know, Mr. Lab. And I like, we are always messaging each other about ideas we have or things that aren’t going so well. And how can I sad or what did you do for this unit? Cause it’s not really working for me and those moments, you need to find it yourself. Cause we’re not given it a lot of time. You know, we, we teach at the same time we leave at the same times. So you have to work at it. You have to find those people and you have to have those people to bounce ideas back because it always makes your learning styles and your engagements so much more stronger when you have another teacher kind of looking at what you’re doing and bouncing off ideas from. So those would be kind of my two cents to the new teacher.

Sam Demma (22:22):

That’s awesome. And if there is a teacher listening who wants to get in touch with you, maybe reach out by on some ideas around, ask some questions, you know, share some good energy, how could they reach out and do so?

Cortnie Freeman (22:35):

Yeah, I would love that I, as a life learner, like I love giving my stuff and I also like hearing new ideas. So my, probably my email is cortnie.freeman@dcdsb.ca.

Sam Demma (22:52):

All right. Perfect. Sounds good, Cortnie. Thanks so much for coming on the podcast. It was a pleasure chat.

Cortnie Freeman (22:57):

With you. Thank you so much for having me. Yeah, it was great. You’re doing amazing things. So stick with it. It’s I don’t know. I’ve heard so many teachers just say such great things about you and seeing you at all saying like just blown us away. Thank you. And for giving us also this forum to talk about teaching because it’s, it’s great.

Sam Demma (23:17):

And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Cortnie Freeman

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.