Music is in the air, classrooms and hallways at Millen Woods Public School in Waterloo thanks to the dedication of music teacher Niki Kazemzadeh. Her work caught the attention of Heather Berry, a safe and healthy schools consultant with the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB), who nominated her to be one of our WRDSB 2020 Champions.
“I just found it phenomenal,” said Berry, as she described seeing Kazemzadeh going above and beyond at a time when maintaining the baseline of teaching and learning is difficult enough. Berry’s role takes her throughout the WRDSB, as she works to support staff and schools in their adaptive practices for COVID-19 safety. She explained that, in her travels, Kazemzadeh’s work truly stood out and made an impression on her.
“To find time to do something like this when the day to day is hard enough – that’s a champion,” she wrote in her nomination.
Kazemzadeh’s relentless determination to find a way to make teaching music and participating in the CBC’s 2020 Canadian Music Class Challenge a reality, while abiding by COVID-19 guidelines, was “super inspiring” for Berry.
When asked what it felt like to be nominated, Kazemzadeh was grateful to be nominated by someone she had only worked with briefly. She was quick to remark how much she enjoyed working with Berry.
“She was super kind,” said Kazemzadeh of Berry. “She was so encouraging and validating of my work.”
“It’s been a really tough year, I think for everybody,” said Kazemzadeh, as she explained that the nomination was a spot of joy and recognition during a difficult time.
Abiding by COVID-19 regulations is something Kazemzadeh takes seriously. As a music teacher, Kazemzadeh works with classes throughout the school, having contact with every student and staff member at least once a week. As a result, she takes every precaution to mitigate the risks.
When taking on the project for the CBC 2020 Canadian Music Class Challenge, she reached out to Berry to ensure she was considering every health and safety angle possible. With the plan they created, each student was assigned their own instrument, stored in their own classroom for the duration of the project.
Boomwhackers, xylophones, bucket drums and egg shakers were just a few of the instruments available for students to choose. The buckets, initially purchased to act as added storage and improvised seating for students, were temporarily repurposed by Kazemzadeh as musical instruments.
“I’d been given a school set of bucket drums, as far as I was concerned,” she said. “That was very exciting.”
COVID-19 health and safety guidelines restrict the ability to have students sing, chant or hum at school, but Kazemzadeh didn’t let that stop her from adding vocal components to the classes CBC submissions. Students recorded themselves singing individually while at home, and she stitched them together with the classroom recordings to create the final pieces.
With the videos now complete, Kazemzadeh has a moment to reflect on the work that led her to this point. “I was pretty close to giving up at certain points”, she shared, and there were moments of self-doubt as she questioned whether or not she’d be able to bring it all together. She’s grateful for her colleagues at both Millen Woods and throughout the WRDSB who helped her to make this a reality.
“I have an incredible group of colleagues that I work with,” said Kazemzadeh. “They are nothing short of amazing.”
Kazemzadeh shared her guidance for other educators or staff who may be experiencing the same self-doubt and anxiety, with the simple advice to focus on finding the joy in being with students.
“Be joyful, have fun, don’t put too much pressure on yourself or the students and just enjoy your time together.”
It was a year unlike any other in public education. All that we have achieved together as the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) would not have been possible without the individual contributions of our staff to support our students, staff and community.
Our WRDSB 2020 Champions campaign received hundreds of nominations from across the WRDSB. We highlighted a selection of these with stories like this one, which were posted on our corporate and school websites, and shared across our social media channels.