Recently, a Simply Music teacher asked the worldwide teacher body about how to handle a group of young students who were getting bored. Their parents are unable to attend lessons, and the kids don’t practice much. It’s obvious that skipping practice is likely to lead to slow progress and, consequently, to boredom. What can seem less obvious is how the lack of a coach’s participation contributes to the lack of practice and enthusiasm in the first place.
While I’ve talked here before about the importance of the coach and even created a coach’s formula for success, I was particularly struck by the response given to the teacher by Robin Keehn, who is herself not only a Simply Music teacher with the Aspire Academy of Expressive Arts but also a Trainer and Program Manager for the Simply Music organization itself. Robin was kind enough to allow me to share her words here. As in any discussion of coaching, I believe her thoughts are valuable not only for adult coaches of young students but also self-coached adults.
In our studio, we require parents to attend the lessons, and parents are involved in the lessons with their children. I will not teach anyone who cannot come with a coach. What I have learned is that the coach is there for several reasons.
First, the coach is the one who ultimately decides how things go and if lessons will continue. They make this determination, in part, because of [the teacher’s] regular coaching and discussion of the relationship conversation. When they are in the room and involved in the lesson, they see directly the value of what you are teaching. They hear you talk about peaks, valleys and plateaus and long term commitment. Over time they come to expect that their student will experience a valley or plateau and it is COMPLETELY NORMAL. They understand that when their student hits a tough spot there is nothing WRONG with their student, the method or the teacher. It is just an expected period of time in a long term commitment.
The coach is also there because when they see the value of what their student is learning, they will have a reason to protect the student’s practice time and help their student with whatever they need to fulfill [the teacher’s] requirements for the week.
Children cannot understand long term commitment on their own. They cannot maintain enthusiasm nor are they powerful enough on their own to sustain their will to take piano. They are just children. And [the teacher] cannot do this alone. [The teacher] cannot motivate students by handing them prizes. This goes way beyond that. [A teacher giving out prizes would be] only prolonging the fact that they are not going to practice and eventually will quit.
I hope I don’t come across as harsh but I’ve been there and done that. The first year I taught I required parents attend as a coach but I let them sit in the back, grade papers, read books, visit with friends…. and I lost students. The kids were really on their own and eventually they decided that they didn’t want to play. I didn’t have enough conversations about peaks, valleys and plateaus and how completely normal those are and that there is nothing wrong with being there. Because the parents weren’t really paying attention (because I wasn’t requiring them to), they didn’t coach their children, didn’t see the value, and gave in when the kids wanted to quit because they didn’t want to practice. They assumed that there was something wrong with the method, the teacher or their child — piano just wasn’t their “thing.”
Now, in our studio, we will not take students without a coach. The coach is an integral part of the student’s experience in the lesson and at home. There are no prizes awarded… but there certainly is praise and they feel good about themselves because they learn how to keep their word (by agreeing to do what we require and actually doing it).
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