Chat – Managing Parents Beyond the Foundation Session
Welcome to today’s chat session. I am Samali de Tissera from Perth, Western Australia and I will be hosting the session today. I have been teaching SM for five years now. Mostly I teach in shared lessons of two students.
The topic for today is Managing parents beyond the Foundation Session. In this session I intend to cover the importance of ongoing Set-up Conversations, the Foundation Session, Long -term Relationships, handling difficult conversations, involving parents and striving to maintain parents as an ally in the learning process. If possible I intend to cover all these points in this session. To conclude I would like you to please hold all your questions until the end of this chat session upon which I will invite you to ask your questions.
As you are all very well aware managing the parental relationship can have its challenges. Given that it is such an important aspect of our teaching role I wanted to share some thoughts about this issue. Over the five years I have taught Simply Music my attitude and actions have changed an enormous amount with regard to the way I handle and coach parents.
Every parent is unique and has their own way of relating to SM and each of their children (I have found that parents of multiple children can relate in quite different ways depending on the particular child). What I have learnt is that parents can be coached in a way that influences their interaction with SM and their child’s learning process. There is no perfect formula for how to do this. Even the best parents I have worked with still needed to be coached.
A critical factor in doing this successfully is through meaningful and relevant Set-up Conversations. Set-up Conversations provide me with an opportunity to give clear directions about what it is that I expect and why before the event occurs. This is a tool that I use throughout the entirety of my relationship with a parent. For example it often happens that on my first ever conversation with a parent (usually on the phone) I make a point of having a Set-up Conversation about my expectations regarding regular parental attendance. I stress the importance of this on an ongoing basis and why it is necessary for a successful result for their child. This is a great set-up for when they eventually attend the Foundation Session, when I have the opportunity to talk in more detail about parental attendance (referring to the music culture we have inherited etc.) reiterating the point I made on the phone about the importance of attending lessons.
From the outset I recommend being clear in your own mind about how you perceive the parental role, what you expect of them in the lessons and how you want them to provide support at home. It is essential to understand your role as the Method Coach, as you will inevitably coach to the standard you have set in your own mind.
As to the actual Foundation Session itself, Neil has provided in detail his thoughts and suggestions as to how to conduct this session and exactly what content to cover. I believe the power of this session lies not only in the content of what you say but also the authenticity with how you deliver what you are saying. I have found the Foundation Session to be a powerful tool and critical Set-up Conversation in paving the way for a potential long-term relationship with students and parents. I urge you to find ways of making this conversation your own.
Nevertheless the Foundation Session really is the beginning of the journey. Somehow even the most powerful delivery of this session will not provide an insurance against the need for ongoing parental coaching, conversations, feedback, phone calls and of course the ever -popular “difficult conversation”. After all, navigating the parent/Method-Coach relationship is no different to any other long-term relationship in our lives. Uncertainty lies in the fact that parents can behave in a myriad of ways in all manner of situations. The reality is that you cannot control the way a parent behaves but what you can control is your behavior and how you choose to respond to the parent. This is the critical variable. This is a place of power. Whatever a parent does or says around you, remember that you have a choice in your response.
Herein lies the foundation for having those difficult conversations. Ironically a conversation is usually difficult when we are still in a reactive place when we have the conversation. When we react to parents from a powerless place, denying our real feelings and intuitions about what we believe to be true in a given situation it is difficult to have clear, honest communication. When do we need to have these challenging conversations? Whenever I can see that parental behavior prevents a student’s capacity for success, or when my ability to teach is being sabotaged or when parents are not accountable for what they have promised, then it is high time to have a conversation.
How do you have these conversations?
- Sometimes I am very direct (e.g. when a parent lets a child skip ahead on the video), other times I coach by example (e.g. honestly praising and appreciating a student after being berated by his father during a lesson).
- Some issues require a phone call (responding to a parent that believes her son is being held back by his buddy).
Some issues/conversations/pictures will stay with you long after the lesson time has been and gone. If I have a persistent voice in my head or the movie keeps replaying about a parent or a student that elicits a loud “oh-oh” in my being, firstly I always sleep on the issue (sometimes even a few nights) and if I haven’t got a solution after some time it is clear that I need to make ‘that phone call’.
I strive to have these challenging conversations with parents (and students) when my head is clear, my heart is loving and the core of my being is strong. These three criteria often enable me to feel anchored enough to speak my truth. Mindfulness of the fact that all situations and everything in nature is temporary, and maintaining an attitude of non-attachment to keeping the student involved, helps me to keep a healthy distance from the situation and find the inherent space around it. If I have not satisfied these conditions then I know that I am simply not ready yet to have this conversation.
If our goal is to have parents as an ally in the learning process, then we must look at how we are going to achieve this. One step in ensuring the parent becomes an ally is to get them involved. You’re well aware that the Foundation Session and the Relationship Conversation provide a perfect backdrop for a culture of parental involvement to develop. However, I have found that actually achieving this in reality is an ongoing process that requires attention on a lesson by lesson basis. It is always a challenge to get parents off the sofa (where they might as well be hatching eggs!) and into the lesson. Obviously it is impossible to achieve this every step of the way in every lesson. But I do find it is important to have the parent in the background of my mind during the lesson, so that when an opportunity arises to reach out an involve them I will.
This might just be by way of a compliment about the child addressed to the parent. I’ve also found using Practice Pads in all my lessons has become an invaluable tool in aid of achieving parental involvement. It has made an untold difference to the degree to which I am able to include parents. I might even ask the parent to be the one that demonstrates the RH on the piano. Creating an atmosphere of openness, safety and a loving embrace of every mistake made, is a great opportunity to demonstrate a healthy learning atmosphere at home.
Give parents information:
- Information about how they could assist their child during the week with a piece.
- Tell them about how their kids are doing.
- Refer to the Relationship Conversation (that you have had in the Foundation Session) and point out where they are on the graph (I have a copy on my white board permanently).
- Congratulate and affirm them when they have done the right thing to help. Human beings love compliments (especially the parents of my students!).
- Give feedback on how they could have done better with something. As a general rule, “commend, recommend, commend” works pretty well.
All parents want to hear from their children’s teachers about how their kids are faring (even when they attend every lesson). If you find yourself repeating information over and over again to a parent, then do it without judgment. Keep saying what you mean and mean what you say. Human beings respond well to congruency. It builds trust at a deep level.
Ultimately the degree to which parents are involved will depend a lot upon their own capacity to involve themselves. Some parents are very resistant and others are very enthusiastic and open. But in either case it is within our scope to facilitate and further the involvement with all the tools I’ve discussed. In this way we can manage parents to become a true ally and active participant in the learning process throughout their child’s Simply Music experience.
If you have a question you would like to ask please feel free to do so.
Vanessa (AUS) I have a long-term parent who has taken to reading a book during lessons. (this stops her falling asleep!) She’s great at giving feedback on what’s going on at home, and I’d say we have a good relationship between the 3 of us (student is 14 now). Is this something you think I should address?
Samali (AUS) If you feel as though she is doing well at supporting her child, and her child is thriving, then it sounds ok. I also have parents that like reading in lessons, but I only tolerate it to an extent.
Vanessa (AUS) So what do you do?
Samali (AUS) I actively try to involve them. Is it a private lesson?
Vanessa (AUS) Yes
Samali (AUS) I might ask the parent to joint her child at the keyboard and then process a new pattern on the Practice Pad with them together. Then I might ask the mum to actually play, rather than the student. I might ask the mother for feedback….How did the process feel for her?….trying time and time again to involve her. Of course this depends on the parent and the student in question.
sreingold You mentioned at the beginning that you stress the importance of regular parental attendance. Do you make any other points to parents regarding this (beside the ones about helping support student at home and the communication it makes to the child about the importance of lessons?)
Samali (AUS) I make it clear that I expect the parent to be an ally in the learning process. I describe what it is that I would expect of them in the lesson, I invite them to even learn along side their kids at home, making it clear that I will not have time to hear them on a regular basis. Another way I like to use parents in the lesson is to unfold new material that the child may not be ready for just yet, but I know will be ready for later in the week. So I might ask the parent to come up to the piano and coach the parent on how I want the child coached during the week.
sreingold Thanks Samali.
Shamara How would you suggest to initially prepare and then manage separate parents, in the case where a child spends time each week in two different homes?
Samali (AUS) In my experience this is a challenge, Shamara. I would insist that both parents attend an Intro and Foundation Session, and sometimes one parent opts to be the one that attends the lessons. Other times I have alternating parents. If communication between the parents is not good, then I need to play an active role in assisting them to create the best support for their child.
I insist that payment to me is made by one parent, even if they are splitting the cost of lessons. This is not negotiable at all in my studio. I have had a very bad experience in the past regarding separate payments.
Jy (USA) Samali, how about when the kids are too far “ahead” of the parents’ ability to help them with their pieces at home, but are good at making sure the kids practice, etc.?
Samali (AUS) In this situation it sounds like the home front is taken care of; nevertheless I would still aim to include them in the lesson as much as possible. I do this even with visiting grannies that come to lessons when processing on the Practice Pad…slowly …STP.
paty Aus Thanks Samali for sharing this great tip
Samali (AUS) It is often very easy to get someone with little or no experience to process on the board with the actual student. This is the case even with songs from advanced levels. I just love to see the sharing that can be facilitated in this way.
Improvisation is another way of including those with no experience. I have a student that can play Home in L6. He brought his poppa form Sydney, and I got the poppa to improvise on black notes while the student played Home. This was a very simple thing to facilitate and probably one of the highlights of his trip to Perth with his grandson.
paty Aus I would like to know more about using Practice Pads in the lesson.
Samali (AUS) Paty I have offered some thoughts about using Practice Pads before. Please check out the Teacher Intranet, FAQs and Transcript Library.
sreingold Do you insist that parents of older children, say 15 and above, attend the lesson?
Samali (AUS) Well it really depends. Some kids at this age can be self-managing. Many of the parents in my studio actually love coming to lessons; they always know they are welcome. Just yesterday I had a mum of teenage girls who were totally self-managing, and mum she said that she wouldn’t miss the lesson for the world. She is so proud of her girls and enjoys the interaction we have together. On the other hand, I try to have contact with the parent at least by phone when I need to.
sreingold But in the case of parents whose kids are self-managing but don’t want to be at the lessons, do you accept that?
Samali (AUS) Yes I do.
sreingold Ok, thanks.
Samali (AUS) I try to maintain a feeling of connection with the parent. The Method Coach always needs the Life Coach in some way.
Another tool about supporting parents, and the use of Practice Pads….they are so great for the parents with little playing experience because while they are next to their child processing with them, no one hears their processing errors, and the child is often the one then that supports the parent to ‘get it’. It is lovely watching this process happen between a child and a parent. There is always so much for parents to learn from their kids, and in this way we can use the lesson to ‘teach’ this, in a healthy, non-threatening way.
Ramona Henspeter I’m curious as to how close the parents sit to the students and piano during the shared/group lessons that you teach? Are they separated in a row set back a ways, or are they right in the mix of students and teacher? Do the parents come up around the piano with the students?
Samali (AUS) Ramona I usually teach in small shared lessons. The parents are on a couch close to the piano. The students sit at the piano, then I get them moving to and fro between the parents and the piano. The parents are welcome to come up to the piano at any time, although I notice that I often need to invite them to come up, and sometimes I ask them to come up and join us around the piano.
The music culture of non-involved parents is thick, so you really need to be proactive. Some parents want to participate, but they simply do not know what to do. in this case you must simply coach them in this arena.
Ramona Henspeter I can see that you keep the parents “on their toes”, because they may be asked to join in at any moment. I like that concept.
Samali (AUS) I like them to be present, to be awake and active. At least as active and present as the student and I need to be! But unfortunately often it does not ‘just happen’. I might do well with a parent in one lesson and then in another, bomb out!
Some lessons are much easier to involve a parent in; others are not. On the whole I like to keep the fact that the parent is there in the room there for me to use as a resource if I can facilitate it. Sometimes it is just easier to teach the kid, but I have found every time that when I have included parent, there is a sense of gratitude…a feeling that they have been acknowledged by me.
Ramona Henspeter That team approach is to everyone’s benefit.
Samali (AUS) It is a wonderful feeling to know that I have attempted to nourish all in the room. Great point Ramona…we all win!
Ramona Henspeter Yes. Thanks for your answer.
Samali (AUS) Another thought I have just had….Last week I got some poster size sheets made up of the reading rhythm and I use them on my white board, just flipping the pages over as I need them…another great way of ensuring parents are exposed to and can have a shared experience of this part of the reading process with their kids.
sreingold Did you just use the pages from the reading rhythm book?
Samali (AUS) Yes from the book.
sreingold Great idea
Samali (AUS) The parents loved it, and the kids were thrilled. it looks very professional, and it is great to get away from the piano.
sreingold Can you envision trying this with the intervals too so parents can do it in their hands or on keypads?
Samali (AUS) Certainly…it is my next step. Unfolding note names is great too in this way, as the students can see exactly what to copy down from my (laminated sheet) on the board. I only laminated the naming notes and a sheet of manuscript. The rest are just plain paper.
sreingold When do you start naming notes?
Samali (AUS) Before ties. Any more questions?
sreingold Oh, rhythm, not notes!
sreingold Do you starting naming notes (a b c. . ) when you teach intervals?
Samali (AUS) No, not specifically, but I might just say, “so if this if high C, and you are moving up a third…like this on the page…then what would it be called? Only in a subtle way, not drawing attention to it in any way as such.
sreingold I wonder if there is a more formal way of teaching note names later or if that just sort of happens by itself. Do you know?
Samali (AUS) In my experience it really does ‘just happen’.
sreingold Oh good, I haven’t gotten that far yet.
Samali (AUS) We are actually teaching note names from the first lesson itself.
sreingold I’d love to sit in on a month of lessons with you! Thanks so much for your wisdom!
Samali (AUS) Thanks for a great chat, coaches!
Ramona Henspeter You gave us lots of food for thought. I appreciate how prepared you were for this chat.
Shamara Many thanks Samali. This has been a session with lots for me to take back to my studio.