Discussing ongoing study with your students and their families

Over the years, some of my adult students have shared concerns about talking to students and parents in their studio about their own piano lessons with me.  They feel uncertain how the students’ parents will react, and worry whether their authority and reputation might be affected in the eyes of the parent(s).

One of my students made the great suggestion to frame a professional continuing their studies as seeking “coaching” rather than having lessons. As a retired surgeon, he knows about ongoing learning. In medicine, you graduate after 7 years of university study, but then continue to learn and be mentored for many years (while working full time) to finally become a consultant in your specialty area. To transfer the analogy to Olympic level sport, everyone understands that the best athletes in the world are surrounded by a team of experts. The coach is visible when you watch the event, and often famous in their own right. Yet in music, the coach or teacher can be hidden at high level performance. I have often come across the misunderstanding that once you are a “professional” musician, you no longer need lessons. Many of my colleagues and students’ parents are shocked to hear that I have regular lessons, and there’s still much more to learn. It’s so important to me that I mention my ongoing lessons in my biography.

It’s great for professional development to attend workshops and seminars, but there’s nothing like one-on-one individual lessons to address your specific questions and issues, and to tailor the information to your own situation. Continuing to learn and grow as a teacher and pianist is something to share as a huge positive with your studio and families, not something to be embarrassed by.  If you went to see a health professional, would you rather be treated by someone who has not updated their skills in twenty years, or someone who was current with the latest understanding in research developments? In fact, in health and many other fields, practitioners must demonstrate a considerable number of professional development hours per year to maintain their accreditation.

Some teachers have also been worried about asking parents to bring their child for a mentoring session with me, and feel a sense of shame in admitting they don’t have all the answers. If this is the case, you could begin the background conversation around lifelong learning, and continuing to improve in order to give your very best. You can mention that you have lessons, that your teacher has lessons, and her teacher takes lessons too!   It is through commitment to ongoing learning that the Taubman work continues to grow. New insights continue to emerge, which engage and challenge those involved, and  the pedagogy continues to become increasingly streamlined and effective.

Another idea is to dissolve the expectation in your studio that you need to solve everything on the spot. Rather than putting undue pressure on oneself to solve a sticky situation immediately, there is no shame in saying “let me get back to you on this”.  Perhaps you’ll see a better solution later that evening when you can work quietly without the pressure of a lesson, and you can follow up with a photo of the passage and email explanation.

Other times, if I feel I have found an okay solution to a passage, but there is probably something better that I can’t see in that moment, I’m open in telling my student that I will take to the question to my next lesson with Edna Golandsky or John Bloomfield.  We both look forward to seeing what the solution will be, and I contrast the two possibilities and explain why it is a better option.  I also make sure to credit my teachers for a great fingering or solution, and we all share in the benefits of seeking advice from a teacher with decades more experience than me.

Finally, we need to dispel the idea that the parent is doing the teacher a “favour” by bringing their child for a lesson with a more experienced mentor. Again, through talking to parents about the success of the Golandsky Institute mentoring system, the parents’ mindset can shift to feeling part of a global network of Taubman practitioners. They can take pride in seeing their child benefit and be inspired by having problems solved, or prompted to take their playing to the next level.  Seeking coaching, or mentoring, is a powerful way to not only refine your craft, but to stay inspired and motivated, which is so important in these strange and uncertain times. 

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