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My hope in having several different parents share their stories was to give a sense of the broad range of parenting styles that we all bring to this process.
In the earlier days of The Music Within Us program, I would give more frequent “inspirational” presentations on my philosophies about learning. I have grown as a teacher in realizing that my role is to serve as a positive role model, through my interaction with each child and with the group. In each lesson, I take my own approach to building a relationship with each child, and hope that parents can observe and take some of these approaches into their homes. Realistically, I know that the parent-child dynamic is something very powerful that changes only when you willingly decide to do so.
There is no list of “tricks” or formulas to apply to each child. Teaching is not about “fixing” problems any more than medicine is about curing disease. Teaching is a mindset and a commitment to finding out what it takes to draw out the potential that lies within each student.
Some things to notice about my teaching style (which is modeled after Mrs. Haag’s approach with us):
1. The tone is serious.
Mrs. Haag believes that children are actually very serious, and long to be taken seriously. She does not use “gimmicks” to get them to listen to her, but rather believes that by demonstrating respect for them, showing them that they are very important to her (see my post on “Dr. Chu’s Shoes” for why we dress professionally even to teach toddlers), and treating them with respect, they respond accordingly. I see this in the children’s responses to playing concerts in “serious” venues. When their audience is attentive and the setting is formal, the children perform better. This is also the rationale for our wearing performing attire. What we wear puts us in a certain mindset that enables us to “step up” our level of awareness and pride in what we are doing.
2. Games are used to develop discipline, and to break tension.
It may be counter-intuitive to think of a game as disciplined, but in fact a game has rules, and a desired outcome that must be pursued. In other words, the games are purposeful. Mrs. Haag was a pioneer in the use of these games to teach violin to children. I appreciate their purpose more with each day that I teach, and I remain committed to them.
3. Maintaining credibility is the cornerstone of (any relationship, but especially) the teacher-student relationship.
Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers. The reason I am very mindful of using external rewards and motivations with my students is that I know I am in a long-term relationship with them, and I want to maintain my own credibility with them. I know and believe in my heart that if they master each of the skills I am introducing to them (starting with discipline), it will eventually free them to do amazing things for themselves in music and in life. In other words, I honestly believe in the value of the hard work I am asking them to do. Therefore I feel no guilt about asking them to work on something, but rather I view it as a lifelong gift and an act of love. Small tangible rewards are fun, but the real, lasting reward is joy from the inside out. This idea works both ways. I do not use threats to motivate my students unless I am fully prepared to follow through on those threats. For example, if I attempt to “threaten” them by saying they will not be able to play a concert unless they do X,Y, or Z, I need to be certain that I will be comfortable following through on that consequence. Deciding what the appropriately challenging goal is each week for each child’s ability, developmental stage, and personality is a judgment call, and if you believe that you are studying with the right teacher, it is something that needs to be trusted.
4. We teach children because their behaviors can be shaped.
Personality traits are innate, but behaviors and reactions to different situations can be changed. In fact, behaviors are constantly being shaped, consciously or unconsciously by the responses received from the environment. The reason it is such a joy to start teaching violin to children in this age group (and the reason the program is focused on starting the very young) is that their brains during these years are at the peak of their plasticity, meaning they are wired to learn how to change. The adults in their lives have control over the responses they give to children’s behaviors. We have the opportunity to instill in their minds the most beautiful things, or the most destructive. How is your child changing your behavior? How are you changing your child’s behavior? How do you feel about seeing positive changes in your child’s behavior? Are you willing to do what it takes to see these positive changes?