Sunday, August 7, 2011

Finding Ways to Inspire and Affirm The Student

I posted earlier this week with a question I had over a student who is hesitant to give a straight answer to any question I ask and often reverts to a 'safe' alternative-replying with "I don't know". It was very helpful to receive commentary from other teachers who have dealt with similar issues. It seems to be a common problem, especially with pre-teen and teen students who have a desire to please coupled with the insecurities of adolescence.

This is a situation that every teacher will have to face at one point or another, but over and above this particular scenario I think it's important to make sure that as teachers we are giving the right message to our students regardless of whether they display hesitancies to interact or not.

So what can we as teachers do on a weekly basis to ensure that we are consistently affirming our students and inspiring them to success rather than tearing them down? I've compiled a brief list below.

1) Get to Know Each Student: A lack of response can mean many things. A student may suffer from an acute sense of perfectionism and be absolutely terrified of giving a wrong answer. Some students might just be extremely resistant to the idea of piano lessons and their lack of response is a form of defiance. Others are just shy and need to get to know you as a teacher before they feel comfortable opening up. By taking an interest in the person rather than the student you are showing that you care about their success and their story.

2) Cater Your Teaching Approach to Particular Needs: This naturally follows from number one- as teachers we can't change our approach without knowing the student. Keeping the same attitude across the board and refusing to adapt to the personal needs of the individual can be fatal. It displays a lack of passion for your profession and a lack of care for the student. As private teachers, we have the opportunity to work one-on-one with each student. It takes more work to teach to the individual, but the rewards greatly outweigh the cost.

3) Be Willing to Listen: This includes attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues like body language. Pay careful attention to the way a student interacts. Their verbal responses and non-verbal cues can be a big clue to the motivation behind the way they are acting and expose insecurities that need to be addressed.

4) Get off the Bench: If a student seems to be having trouble opening up to you, try starting to incorporate more fun activities into the lesson. Sometimes when students feel that they are constantly on the 'hot seat' (ie- the piano bench) they can respond by shutting down. Changing the environment and making it less threatening can help them feel less nervous about opening up.

5) Lighten Up: A sense of humor can do worlds of good toward helping a student feel more relaxed. Don't be afraid to be or say something silly to help lesson tension the student might be feeling.

6) Stay Positive: Take some time to evaluate how you teach- are you constantly pointing out mistakes that students make, telling them what they need to correct in order to make things right? Consider trying a different approach where you focus instead on the positive. Tell them what they did well, build them up and encourage them- then move on to what they could work on. Use positive language even when unearthing mistakes and engage them in helping you discover the spots that need work- that way it's not you as the teacher always coming down on them.

7) Encourage Questions: Sometimes we can get so caught up in our teaching mode that we cut off students and ignore their questions or treat them as stupid interruptions. Every question is valid. We need to take the time to hear the question and give it the respect it deserves. Without questions, the interaction between teacher and student becomes one-sided and can lead over time to the student shutting down due to lack of a sense of value as a person.

I know this list is not complete by any means, but it gives me some food for thought as I prepare to teach each week. And there's something else to mention as well. When I focus on being positive with my students it has a positive impact on the way I view my entire life. I find myself seeing the glass as half-full a lot more than the other way around. Positivity is contagious! Fostering an environment of caring and positive affirmation in one's private studio is only the starting point.


  1. Thanks :) The real test is how well I put all this into practice in the coming weeks!