Regaining Control of Parents and Students
I have finally gotten good at teaching SM and the studio is quickly growing. My biggest problem is still left over from being a traditional studio. Coaches are not doing their jobs 50% of the times. They won’t sit down at the piano, they won’t enforce playlists, etc. I have tried to coax parents by telling them how important they are and that students with active coaches go on average 3x faster and are much happier than students without coaches, but I still have parents who put work and their phones above the kids.
Does anyone have policy they put in place to solve this problem? I want to warn parents about it now and let them know it will be required starting January 1 and if they can’t comply, there will no longer be a place in the studio for them anymore. I am so frustrated that weak parents are harming their kids and I need to stand up to them so they have an example.
Elaine F., South Carolina
Someone once mentioned that they used different colored” tickets.” Yellow was a warning, red was high alert.
When a student didn’t comply with a n expectation they got a yellow. After 1 or was it 2? Yellow they got a red. After ONE red if behavior did not improve, they were asked to leave.
They said the visual piece of paper made it really clear.
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
Before implementing any suggestions that you get (I’m sure you will get great ones), I would strongly recommend listening to the Teacher Workshop series audio called Request v. Requirement by Neil. That will help you to have a basis for applying any of the suggestions.
Here is some great advice from Bernie Ashby, who is amazing. I think this is from an old ECL thread in response to a question very similar to yours.
I still struggle with it all but have put some strategies in place to help me to get my studio where I want it to be. What to do when they don’t follow through:
1) I look directly at the parent and kindly say, “95% of the success of your child is dependent on you to follow through with what I ask. I will do my part and but you must do yours.” Then I explain Neil’s Master Chef analogy. Then I look at the student and tell them what their responsibility is. I do this in front of everybody.
2) I warn them so they know this ahead of time: the next lesson time they will sit next to their parent on the couch during the lesson. Or I ask them not to come back next week if their playlist is not checked off. They’ve always followed through without exception.
3) Not watching the DVD or listening to the CD. I give them 24 hours to call me and leave a voicemail on my machine that they’ve listened to it or watched it. This invariably cures them because it’s another thing that they have to do and they don’t want to do it again. For me, it works. Sometimes, I take lesson time and pull out the DVD and watch it right then and there. Yeah, it wastes precious time but they get it (especially parents because they are paying). You usually have to just do it once. Follow up with a conversation to the PARENTS.
These are some of the strategies that I have employed. I’ve had to build up my back bone over the years but I am a happier teacher because of it. It took a while and I’ve had to practice being tough but it is so worth it. Simply Music also transforms the teacher.
Senya B., California
My Yellow and Red Cards have worked Wonders in my Studio!
I am always looking at ways to improve, so I have added a Motivational Green Card to my Disciplinary Procedures.
I know that some teachers don’t like treats, but I find it helps finalize class time, and helps move them out, for the next class!
The green card is sitting on the seat at the beginning of class, as long as they don’t move to another color they trade the Green Card “which has $$$$ signs on it”…. for a Treat!
This is on the same page as my CODE OF CONDUCT in my studio handbook. By the way I have never had to give a Red Card, because the Parents and Students respect my procedure, I go over Policy and Procedures at my enrollment meeting at the beginning of each “school year”.
Here is how it shows in my handbook:
1. Green Card = Music Money $$$ for the Day
2. Yellow Card = Warning
3. 1st Red Card = Excused for the Day, with Parent Phone Meeting.
4. 2nd Red Card = Private Lessons Required
Disciplinary Procedure Details and Explanation:
All students will start out “GREEN” at the beginning of class; if they stay “GREEN” they will use the Green Card as Music Money $$$ to buy Treats and Prizes.
Out of respect for other students in the class, a distracting student will be redirected one time. Redirect = gently drawing a distracting student back into well behaved and active participation. Additionally the student will receive one verbal warning that they are on their way to a Yellow Card. This way the student and parent know a direct request for change has been made.
Out of respect for other students, class time will not be used to continuously correct behavior. Non-verbal use of Yellow and Red Cards tells the student and parent, behavior management is strictly enforced without details and conversation. If a student gets to “2 Red Card Status” they are subject to being placed on the waiting list for private lessons, availability is not guaranteed. Additionally they will be subject to Private Lesson Rates.
Lyndel K., Australia
I think there are two conversations coming back here; one about student control and one about coach (parent) control.
My comments about coach involvement in class may feel a little different for private (I teach only group), but the principle is the same.
While there is a clear distinction between who is actually having the lesson, the coaches are 100% interactive. Whether they are standing at the piano, doing air piano, clapping rhythms, singing, behavior management and even backup for answering questions.
If a parent sees that they can be called on at any second, they won’t risk getting their phones out or opening that magazine. No one likes to be caught off guard. But more than this, once you create the ‘involvement norm’, with your eyes, with your body language, with your expectancy and enthusiasm, you will create an interest and pleasure in the lesson (not just a sense of not wanting to be caught!).
So basically, in class at least, my parents are actively enjoying the lesson alongside the students.
So there is a flow on effect that I hope I am creating; parents who are deeply engaged in the lesson are more likely to be involved during the week. I know this to be true because my parents are giving me info like how Johnny struggled with this HT sentence, and how proud he is now that he’s got it. It’s not just surface stuff. They have literally joined the children on their journey. I don’t have 6 in my class, I have 12… each with their vital role.
It’s one step closer to transforming a ‘drop-off’ culture : )
Am I still working with some parents? yeah… we are all a work in progress.
Greta M., Australia
I really like Lyndel’s approach to getting constant participation with the coaches. I play it by ear because sometimes my coaches come in rather exhausted and it’s their moment to sit back and relax and, I feel relaxed parents can do better coaching when they get back home. However, my coaches become involved at the time of writing up the notes and talking about the practice set for the week ahead and about keeping the playlist up to date/alive. The coaches always leave my studio realizing that it’s up to them to see that their child stays on track at home. The student leaves the studio understanding that I rely on their parent/coach to keep them on track. I also teach them in class, when we’re working on a piece, when the coach joins in, that at home it’s going to be the same. The coach/parent has been involved in the unfolding in the piece so they have a pretty good knowledge of what I expect in their application of the techniques. It’s an ongoing process. Music learning like all learning is a living process, so I don’t have fixed rules about how I implement my requirements. It’s ongoing, unfolding just like the program.
Shelly E., Utah
In response to Laurie’s suggestions below, I need some personal advice..
How do you do 1,2,3 with out sounding like you would if you were talking to a child. In other words, how do you come across with out sounding like you are talking down to them, or “punishing” them by having them sit on the couch.
I’m thinking you can’t actually communicate how to do this via an email.
I actually had a student who would show up to his lesson not having played for 2 weeks solid (no real excuse either). I told him and his mom that, “this can’t happen again”….”if it does, I could not continue teaching him”. A few weeks later, he showed up without having touched the piano for a week, so to convey the message that I was serious about what I said, I then told them that next time he didn’t mark his playlist or not practice I would send him straight home (got that idea from another teacher). So a little time later, this student showed up without having practiced the whole week (excuse:”busy with the garden”), I actually sent him home with out a lesson. The Mom was furious and told me in an email that she could not have her child being “punished” for their weaknesses and short comings. (“their” meaning the parents….she understood what her responsibility as the life coach meant). The child was very distraught by the whole thing. They quit shortly thereafter of course. I get people who leave “mad”. I’m SLOWLY getting better at handling people better, but in some instances now I have some “high maintenance” students and know that I request of them rather than require of them. Not where I want to be!
Also, about point 3 in the post below. What if they don’t actually call you? Then what do you do?
I’d love to see what Laurie describes in real action….real videos with real facial expressions, tone of voice, and mannerisms to see how others do this and exactly how they have these conversations with parents and students. I’ve felt in the past that I’m talking down to parents or even “criticizing” the child (so I’m told…actually what I have been accused of but was completely oblivious that was how I came across). …I had a very tough up- bringing with not a nice and **very** critical atmosphere and so I feel as a result of that my personality is not always “people friendly”. I know I need to say things with “love”, but I’m terrible at this and it’s totally not natural at all. Working on it…. I do great in an email, just terrible face to face (I get way uncomfortable about having to address certain issues). If someone actually approaches me about an issue I freeze up (almost can’t speak).
I have confidence that I’m a great teacher, great musician, etc…but terrible with people (with adults in the room). It seems that being highly successful at teaching SM (with so much parental involvement), the one’s who are the most successful are those who have the best “people” skills (teaching skills, musician skills are not as important).
I need some coaching here but don’t know how to get it. I’m either too soft with students/parents and therefore sound like I’m “nagging”….operating on more of “request-based” studio…. Or come across as harsh and not understanding. Help, Can anyone help? any psychologists out there? Little embarrassed now.
Helen L., Canada
A great sports analogy comes to mind. There is a saying that works here, which is often used in “team” settings (ie. playing in a band, playing on a football team, etc.)
“If you don’t practice, you don’t play.” This emphasizes that practice time must be a priority and is fully expected!.
Piano is no different. If a football player doesn’t show up for the required practices, how can the coach put him in the game? He doesn’t know the plays.
So if the athlete doesn’t play the games due to frequent absences, what is the point of the parents paying for involvement on the team?
Notably, parents are responsible to have their athlete at the field on time and well prepared with FULL equipment. If the requirements are not met, there is discipline (ie. they sit out at the next game, they run and do laps, they wash the jerseys, etc…. that disciplinary action is given to those who intend to continue and do better. The discipline is about teaching responsibility, respect, to have quality and knowledgeable players who are in-shape, well-prepared and dependable for their team.
A coach can’t make a football player out of anyone who doesn’t show to practices. Band members can’t play with someone who has no idea how to play the set-list. Piano students can’t play or progress (or blame the lesson coach) if their student doesn’t attend their home piano playtime.
Thus, eventually perhaps it is better to cut them from the team, (which is common) … and from my experiences with sports, there are no refunds. You sign up with good intention and if you don’t meet the requirements, you’re either gone, or allowed to sit on the sidelines watching everyone else achieve.
There is so much which could be said here, but you get the picture. It’s not about you Shelley, it’s about them. Just be honest, smile and state the requirements, feeling very self-convinced of your position and policies. You’re “not” the bad person, you’re the one who wants them to win. You could give them the option to 1. pay for Private lessons so they can go at their own speed or 2. seek another teacher. I wouldn’t discipline them, I would just have them fix it or choose from your options available to them.
For people skills, remember that people are drawn to “positive” people, and people want to know you care about them. So keep a smile and speak with positivity. Soon you will begin to feel more balanced.
Sue C., Australia
Here I just a little idea I use.
First, smile, it will relax your face and you will not be so intense. Then look into your student’s eyes. When the child looks at you, he/she will see a smiling face and your eyes. Whatever you say will be received more kindly. You can even give a pat on the shoulder or handshake of agreement when finished. Also smile at the coaches.
We don’t know how tense and serious we look to others when we are not relaxed. Smiling helps.
Kristi P., Utah
I received this Email from one of my coaches as I am trying to recommitment my studio getting ready for fall…. I need some advice I’m a new teacher and I’m only in foundation level one with this family. They are siblings who are both struggling to learn the songs in a polished way. They are in a group with another set of sisters who are also slower in the process. Here is the email
“She continuously gets frustrated at mistakes, and I keep telling her the only way to improve is to practice and make mistakes and practice more until you can do it smoothly – but she throws fits when she makes mistakes and we end up getting nowhere but both of us frustrated and angry. And honestly I’m not in a position to spend 40 minutes every night with them on the piano, so I am extremely frustrated and mad at myself for that. I am not the coach you want me to be, and I’m not sure that I can be…
Maybe if everyone in our group agreed – we could take a break from piano lessons during Sept and Oct – while soccer season is going, and give us time to step back and evaluate our commitment and our new school year time requirements. Zoey is in the Gate program this year, so I’m concerned that will take more time and more homework in the evenings.
As you know, I love music and the piano. And want them to love music and be able to play the piano. I truly believe in the Simply Music method. It is really just the time requirements and pace that we struggle with…”
Do you think that I should try to work with her and go it even a slower pace and see if that makes a difference. I would be breaking the song down into one phrase the week. I don’t know if they would find success with that and enjoy it more or would they get bored and not practice and not enjoy it still.
I feel like part of the success of this program is that the rate of learning keeps them motivated and challenged-
To succeed. But I have struggled with this family since February and maybe it is too much of a commitment for them to do it in the way that I know they be successful.
This group is on honey dew and we have been in lessons since February
They struggle with improv and comp as well.
The psychology of making mistakes is a hard one to deal with. I have found this technique works well with parents as well as kids, but it takes a LOT of practice to get good at. This way may seem quite strange, but I have found it VERY effective when dealing with perfectionists.
Me: Did anyone notice what her body did when she made a mistake?
S: She tensed up and tried to play another note right away to fix it.
Me: Why does the body tense up?
S: It’s afraid?
Me: Of what? Is the piano going to bite her? Are her fingers going to explode? What will happen if she hits a B instead of a C? Does the piano care what note you hit?
Me: Do I get upset if you hit a B instead of a C. Do I yell?
Me: So her body tensed up. If you saw a scary animal like a hungry tiger, why would your body tense up?
S: So you can run away.
Me: Good, your body senses danger. Is there anything dangerous about the B?
S: No, it can’t hurt you
Me: Not only can it not hurt you, but it turns out there are no such things as wrong notes, just choices (play variations of Billy at the Footy with chromatic alterations, use major 7th chords to show jazz voicings, show songs that have tension and release).
Me: Your hands are kinda funny. If you get mad at them, they will get mad back and won’t want to play with you. Do any of you have brothers or sisters who don’t do what you ask them to?
Me: Does getting mad help?
Me: When you get mad at your brother or sister, they get even madder back. Your hands are the same way. So as long as you are mad at your hands, they will think there is a problem and won’t want to play with you. As soon as you realize that we are just playing a game (see PAS if you aren’t using it already), then all the problems will go away and your hands will work with you to create fun and interesting music, even with the notes you didn’t expect them to.
Of course we work on getting to 1 or 0 mistakes on other days, but it is so interesting how much better the fingers play once fear goes away.
Sandy L., Nebraska
You asked “any thoughts?”–a dangerous question, since I have such trouble holding back when asked that. Here are my thoughts: I also have students who struggle and I myself have struggled to understand why. When I stop the lesson and ask some questions, I get a better perspective on the student’s struggle. Painful, true confessions from me now–here goes:
For example, I ask them to show or tell me what a practice session looks like. Sometimes this will give me the insight that the playlist and notes are not actually with them at the piano…so they are playing what they feel like and remember, and then trying to check off later what they did–which they then can’t remember. Sometimes they are actually checking this off in the car on the way to lessons…. Playlists almost invariably fall apart with this method, and I realize I should have been keeping better tabs on this and coaching them better on how to use the playlist and practice time.
Another question to ask: Show or tell me how you use the DVD and practice pad, CD…at home. This type of question has the potential to reveal dreadful holes in the student’s use of the SHM…and again, my coaching of that. The student you described here, frustrated at making mistakes, practice resistance, sounds to me like someone probably doing an end run around the SHMs. I could be wrong, but asking the question and sitting back to listen will reveal whether this is the case, or whether there is some other problem.
But students who are behaving this way for practice are likely not using the pause button while watching the DVD. They are likely not carefully replicating what they learned on the DVD on their practice pads before taking that carefully to the keyboard–controlling the events–and playing it enough times to have it down firmly before going back to the DVD, unpausing, and learning the next little bit–same process repeated. A good quote for students who want to take shortcuts around the SHM comes from basketball Hall of Famer, John Wooden: “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” It just takes more time in the long run to do things your own way than to do them the SM way.
Students who skip all the multi-sensory layering built into the SM program will struggle and be frustrated. This is extremely frustrating for their teacher as well–speaking from experience and from a head very sore from banging it against the wall. So, this confession reveals my stumbling efforts to stop being request-based and become requirement-based. How humiliating! But, now you know. So, I guess my advice is to ask some questions, listen well, and then see if you can coach the behavior needed to succeed. I am saying this more to myself than you, but hopefully you benefit as well.
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
Great insights from Sandy! And you realize that almost every single teacher can relate to your experiences! The way it has worked for me is – realize what DOESN’T work with students, then every time I start a brand new class, I’m a little bit more prepared to start out on the right foot. I have become a LOT stronger in the way that I deliver the Foundation Session, and it has made a huge difference.
I have done the same thing as Sandy regarding how SHMs are used. Many students/coaches simply don’t know HOW to practice, or how to use the materials. I will not hesitate to demonstrate in class with the DVD, emphasizing the importance of pausing it until that section can be played without struggle. Then progress to the next DVD section. Make sure the coach is right there, understanding that this is how they can support the student at home.
I also use the CDs in class regularly and assign students to play along with it at home. If you don’t, the CD tends to go unused.
One last comment; don’t be afraid to look right at the parent/coach and say “Will you make sure that this happens this week?”. This whole (continual) process of figuring out the most effective way to communicate with people has helped me immensely.
Darla H., Kansas
Oh yes, I can definitely relate to Sandy’s experiences! (Thanks for sharing, Sandy!) And I just want to piggy-back on Laurie’s comment about starting over with every brand new class. This is the way I have gotten better at working with parents. I find it very hard to change things with those who have been with me for awhile, but with a new class I use everything I’ve learned and work hard at not re-doing past mistakes.
I’ve just begun a level 1 class 4 weeks ago. One of the things I did this time was to type out a checklist of what I expected students to do during the week for the first 2 weeks. I have purposely assigned less than we maybe could have processed in a week so that we could focus on the habits that I want them to create. I did not want to include extra words in their “Notes”, as I wanted to keep them sparse, as is intended. So the checklists I typed out gave them all the extra instructions in print (so they couldn’t say they forgot). The boys who are in this group are: 1 in 1st grade (he went through PAS and then lost the rest of his group), 1 in 2nd grade and 2 3rd graders. This group meets on Wednesday, which is why they are asked to do some things on Wed or Thurs–right after their lesson.
Today will be their 4th lesson and so far I feel very good about how this strategy has improved the beginning lessons. The other change I made this time was to have parents sitting beside their children–and I’ve been amazed at how big a difference that one little change has made too. (Thanks to those of you who have suggested this in your posts!)