This was a week that reminded me how important is to work WITH parents, not against them. When things are just not going well with a student, one of the best things we can do is open up the lines of communication with a parent.
Differences in overall goals, approach & philosophy are something that we want to find out before we take on a client. If the differences are too much, recommending they find a teacher that better aligns with their approach will be the best for all involved.
What if things have been going well, but then start to go downhill?
The Song Without End
One of my students love, love, loves a song. I found a version that was well within her playing & sight-reading levels so she would have an easy win. Or, so I thought.
Against all logic she has not been able to master even a small portion of the song. After months. And every single method I used to help her learn this song she oh-so-wanted went by the wayside. I could tell she really wanted to learn the piece. I knew she was practicing effectively during lesson. But, something was holding her back.
I had 2 options:
- Get mad at the student for being “lazy” or “unfocused” & not “trying hard enough”.
- Take a break from the song so we could do other songs that reviewed the concepts from the song she really loved.
While option 1 took the blame off of me as the teacher, these are the types of adjectives or phrases we should never use when talking about a student. In talking with my student’s mother I found out she really had been trying during the week. Not necessarily with the strategies I had given, but she was practicing the assigned section.
Option 2 was the better fit by far. The student will have repeated success in other pieces while reviewing concepts. I stay away from harmful labels. And, we have a common goal. Master the individual concepts within the song before returning back to the much loved piece. And, talking to her mother beforehand ensured she was a great support in helping her daughter understand this wasn’t “goodbye” to the song. It’s just “see you later”.
Now, my student is eager to find out which new song options she will choose from & gets to add even more songs to her song tracking sheet! Instead of feeling defeated, she is ready for the next piece knowing that she will have great success this year.
Nothing Left to Give
One of my little guys (a student) entered Grade 1 this year. His mom & I knew there would be a transition period. We didn’t realize it would be quite this long.
My student is amazing & I love his smile. But, all day school is a challenge because he needs sensory breaks. Even with those breaks & supports at school, he has felt completely overloaded. My little guy with the amazing smile had not smiled in piano lessons since June.
Again, I had 2 options:
- Walk away from this student.
- Work with his mother in creating a place during piano lessons that he wasn’t over stimulated or stressed.
Option 1 just wasn’t an option for me. I chose many years ago to become a special needs teacher. While my studio has “normal” & “special needs” students (2 labels that don’t necessarily mean a lot), over the years I’ve known too many students in both groups that needed to know that regardless of their challenges there was someone who would be in their corner cheering them on.
Thankfully, this little guy’s mom knew she can email or talk to me anytime. She let me know the new supports put in place & her hope that I could be patient a bit longer.
Once again, I chose option 2. I knew going into our very first lessons that we were going to have our “bad” days & “good” days (or in this case month). I also knew that having a parent invested in their child’s success, whether that is at piano or life, was invaluable. So, I emailed back & suggested some changes we could do within the lesson to take off the pressure even more & approach piano in a very round-about way. If we got to the piano, great! If we didn’t, that would be okay as well. She loved it!
For this week’s lesson I made a dino rhythm for his lesson since dinosaurs are one of his favourite things. It was the same rhythm he had the previous week. But, THIS rhythm had small & big T-Rex’s to show the rhythm.
This week, my little guy with the amazing smile came back! He was SO excited to show the dinos to his mom. Plus, we went WAY beyond anything he has done so far in the last month of lessons.
He “taught” me the pattern for each line, insisted on marking the overall pattern with small post-it notes (that his sister is using as part of her 5 Ways practice strategies) & even played the rhythm on the piano. Afterwards, he was ready to sort types of notes & play them all over the piano with the fingers shown on the card. His 30-minute lesson flew by before either of us knew it. He was eager to teach his dad when he got home from work.
Just wait until he sees the fishy rhythms next week.
Working WITH Parents
Parents DO want to support their children. They just don’t always know the best way to go about it.
That’s where we, as teachers, come in.
I know there are days when we are just tired of “adulting” & want to lay blame, preferably elsewhere. There are those lessons that just seem to fall apart & there seems to be no rhyme or reason behind it.
Communicate your concerns with student’s parents in a caring manner that makes it clear you are ALL on the same side. Perhaps there is something going on that you were unaware of. Perhaps there is help in place for other things that you could augment & support in lessons. Perhaps a simple tweak in lessons can turn things around.
Share below some of the ways you work WITH the parents in your studio. How do you support them & their families so they get the best experience possible?