W-L teacher connects with students through music

Photo courtesy of Robbie Kiziroglou. Use the yellow buttons to guess the song being played.

When freshman Abby Welker logged into her third period class for the first time, she was greeted by a sound she found surprising: her teacher playing ‘70s rock songs on his guitar. She ran to her mom’s room and asked, “My teacher’s playing the guitar; am I in the right class?”

Welker is in Mr. Robbie Kiziroglou’s third period class — Advanced Placement (AP) Modern World History. Mr. Kiziroglou teaches AP, intensified, and general education  Modern World History, which are freshman year courses. Every week, he sets up his Microsoft Teams background with an image of a new band from the ‘60s or ‘70s and plays their songs on his guitar. As class starts, he informs his students on the band’s name, where and when they started, and the source of their inspiration.

“I have always been obsessed with the movie ‘School of Rock’ by Jack Black, and I think this year I tried to channel my inner Jack Black,” Mr. Kiziroglou said. “When we can, I’d like to try and make [class] a little more personal, and put something about me out there. I play the guitar and I love the ‘60s and ‘70s rock bands, so I just wanted to kind of share that in between classes.”

Mr. Kiziroglou has students guess the bands he is showcasing–with few correct guesses. Welker said she was able to identify a few bands, but mostly due to her dad’s influence and not her own music taste.

“A lot of these bands are forgotten, so the chance to expose people to these bands has been fun,” Mr. Kiziroglou said.

Modern World History is a course taken by freshmen. Typically, freshmen have plenty of icebreakers and activities to get them acclimated and comfortable in high school — a process that is now difficult. 

“I don’t know as many people because it’s my first year,” Welker said. “I know three people [max] in each class.”

Mr. Kiziroglou typically ties his love of rock into his class, but this year, especially, he wanted to introduce students to his hobbies. He thought it could function as an adapted icebreaker to make the mundane and uncomfortable virtual environment more personal.

“It shows [teachers are] also another person,” freshman Elizabeth Adams, a student in AP Modern World History, said. “Sometimes you feel like they’re just giving you all this work to make you sad. When [they show off their personal life], it shows they have hobbies and personal interests too, and you could go talk to him if you play the guitar.”

Besides letting students get to know their teacher, the music break helps students in other ways.

“It’s an energy boost,” Welker said. “It feels nice; I get [to listen to] the guitar and it pushes me along for the rest of the day.”

As the tradition went on and students became used to the performances, they began to show off their own hobbies.

“I had a student just today who, at the end of class, pulled out his banjo,” Mr. Kiziroglou said. “I had another student last week who signed on and played his acoustic guitar. So maybe that’s just a way to establish some kind of connection with people.”

Mr. Kiziroglou also makes a point to connect with students in other ways than through his guitar, such as through a favorite sports team.

“We like the same teams — we both like the Eagles,” Adams said. “It shows that he notices other people and he wants to start a conversation instead of just going on with class.”

In the beginning, Mr. Kiziroglou was able to show off his favorite bands. Now, he is venturing into some bands he is more unfamiliar with. When he runs out of bands, he’s hoping to get students involved by asking them to share a hobby or interest with the class. He says based on his planning, he will be able to go for about 20 more weeks — 20 weeks of finding new Teams backgrounds and learning guitar riffs so he can connect with students. 

“That was just my way of trying to make things normal, somewhat, so that it’s a reminder that [teachers are] not just robots,” Mr. Kiziroglou said. “It takes people, students and teachers alike, just trying to keep things normal.”