Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Learning to See Things Differently

Sometimes, all it takes between what we as teachers perceive as a great lesson and a bad lesson is a matter of perspective. I'm writing this post because this is something that I personally struggle with a great deal. Before lessons, I am usually guilty of setting goals for the upcoming time period. There are things I want to accomplish, projects to be finished, new projects to be started...

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with setting goals! But there is something wrong with beating yourself up if you don't actually accomplish all those goals in each lesson.

I have a student who has been a real struggle for me this year so far. His level of energy and lack of constant focus in lessons have been a source of stress for me each week. As I set my goals for his upcoming lessons each week, I found myself approaching the lesson each successive week with more and more of a sense of despair. I knew that no matter what, the goals wouldn't even be remotely accomplished because half of my time would be spent trying to re-gain focus. And the entire day of lessons would end on a sour note as I reflected on that one lesson and what a failure it had been.

Not good!I knew that I needed to change my approach, so this week I decided to try something radical (for me at least!) :) . I approached his lesson with no expectations, no goals, no thoughts of "we have to accomplish x, y, and z...". Rather, I just let things happen. I worked with what I had. We spent the lesson engaged in more activity- jumping back and forth between the piano and keyboard, changing up the usual format of the lesson, throwing in some new stuff...and the lesson ended up being much more successful. Was the child more focused? Not really. What had changed was my approach to the lesson. I decided that success wasn't really based on accomplishing goals, but more on finding creative ways to engage and help this student experience success. The result was that I ended my day of teaching with a much more positive attitude, rather than starting my week off feeling like a failure.

As teachers, having goals and expectations are definitely important. But there are also times when those same goals and expectations can get in the way of a truly successful teaching experience. Sometimes all it takes is a small change of perspective to make all the difference! Have you ever dealt with this in your teaching experience? I'd love to hear your stories of success and tidbits of advice on how you overcame a difficult situation like this and made it a positive one!

14 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh, your story rings true. It is all about perspective. I had a chance to meet Forrest Kinney, (read about it here)
    http://busybpiano.blogspot.com/2012/09/serendipity.html
    and he said after 30 years of teaching he sometimes feels he works for the Dept. of Corrections. That is one reason he always improvises for at least 5 minutes in each lesson. That becomes the time when music really happens.

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  2. I have been teaching one of my favourite girls for about four or five years, and music hadn't "made sense" for her very much. She understood timing, intervals (slowly), note names, etc. - when not playing piano. But, put a piece in front of her, and it was so sloppy! I was tearing my hair out this summer. Each summer she has continued with lessons, and we've gone back to almost knowing nothing each year. This year, I thought, I'm going to put her in Music Tree Time to Begin (she'd been working with Celebrate Piano - almost done with 2A). She also attended music camp which I ran for a week. LONG story short - she's still in the Music Tree - Level One now, and doing WELL! She learned to clap and "ta" with eighth notes at music camp, and we're working on sight reading the music BEFORE she plays. What a difference! I have hope!!! We'll finish this MT book, and then, I think she'll be ready to begin the review of CP2A!!!
    Stick with the games and activities - some children just need the hands-on learning!!! And, don't be afraid to review-review-review!

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  3. Thanks so much for all your encouraging words and stories. It's always good to get a reminder that I'm not in this alone- that there are hundreds of other teachers out there- and that we can encourage and inspire each other!

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  4. Wow! I just ended a doozy of a lesson with a young student who feels each week he has the upper hand. He's so argumentative and really struggles to stay focus. I literally had to walk out of the room today and let his babysitter take over. Clicking on this site was from a pinterest post but something I needed to read. Thank you for inspiring and picking me up :)

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    1. Thank YOU for leaving a comment. It's always an encouragement to me when others are encouraged by what I write. I've never had anything quite so difficult to handle as what you described (and for that I am VERY thankful!) but I have definitely had students who have authority issues and have actually told me that I am wrong or refused to do what I ask them to do. It can be so discouraging. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

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  5. Oh boy, have been there! There is something to be said for jumping back and forth between the piano and the keyboard- sometimes this is just what the student needs. Thanks for sharing this!

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    1. AMEN Suzanne! I just need to remember this more often!

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  6. I had a student like this for the past 2 years. In the beginning, it was very frustrating and I even wondered if I was the right teacher for him. I was literally re-focusing him every few seconds, and was exhausted by the end of the lesson.
    Somewhere along the line, I realized how talented he really was, and began to focus on his strengths. Do you know what happened? He became my favourite student!! And I started looking forward to his lessons. It really is a matter of perspective.

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    1. Thanks Leah! GREAT advice, and a great reminder as well! And isn't it amazing how God can work in what we perceive as an impossible and frustrating situation by turning it around into something rewarding?!

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  7. I concur. Began teaching piano in 11th grade. Spent 20 yrs. as a church musician and have played professionally in the "paid" sense here and there for 30 yrs.
    The "Great Lesson" I've been working on myself,for the past 12 mos, is to throw out that 'goal-centered' baggage I carried around all these weeks, months.. years..... Fnally, I'm free!!!
    The description of your lesson is exactly what I experience in 3/4 of weekly lessons, now.
    My students are ages 6-12, with a few between ages 13 and 15. It's different time than 20-30 yrs ago. Parents seem to expect me not to expect weekly progress. If the student learns 2 low-effort peices a year, the parent is pleased as punch!
    The child must be motivated and enjoy, or no learning takes place. Going over material outside of lessons happens a little-but real "practice",
    (regardless of how fervently we teach 'how' to practice) happens once-in-a-blue-moon or not at all.
    Just want to say that I too, have decided not to feel like I've failed any longer.
    My only goal for a lesson is that the child leaves feeling inspired (whether they follow through, or not)-
    and that they have learned something about music during that lesson. All we can do is try to help the child enjoy the lesson in some way. (Back when we studied, we were embarassed to return to our teacher unprepared. And our parents were huliliated).
    Music is a part of the student's education, chosen by the parent/child. It's the parent's responsibility to oversee progress. We're only a 30 min. weekly coach.
    From one reborn teacher, to another:
    Cheers!!!

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    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts and for sharing your story- it's so inspiring to hear from other teachers who have been there and learned how to re-think their teaching to today's student (which, as you pointed out is VERY different from the way I viewed lessons as a child!).

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  8. Thanks for great information you write it very clean. I am very lucky to get this tips from you


    Best Piano Movers

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  9. I was at a Steinway piano gallery in Washington DC. I was awesome, you should check it out if you get the chance.

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  10. Sometimes a change of place is all it takes. For myself, sometimes just playing on a different instrument or a different place can change everything and bring on a new perspective. I think the mind gets into ruts simply because of environment. Thanks for the post!

    http://pianosheetmusiconline.com/

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