Robin Keehn, Washington
You all know the emphasis put on the Relationship Conversation in your initial training and in many conversations about teaching and working with coaches and students. I’d like to say a little more about it and the benefits of a weekly conversation about it.
In our studio, we introduce the Relationship Conversation at the end of each Free Introductory Session (aka Student Introductory Session). When we get toward the conclusion of the FIS/SIS, I talk about our studio requirements. I tell people that we require that a coach attend with each student. I say, “In our studio, we require that each student attend lessons with a coach. That coach should be a parent, grandparent or person who interacts and has responsibility for the student on a daily basis. The coach plays a critical role in the lesson and especially at home. We are not having you come to help with classroom management but so that you know exactly what is happening in each class and so that you can help your student navigate through a long-term relationship. Learning to play the piano requires a long-term relationship. Like all long-term relationships, there will be peaks, valley and plateaus and they will last for short, medium or long times. What you will see is that with this method, students can stay on a peak and be very excited for a long time but I guarantee that they will experience both valleys and plateaus. When you are in the lesson and see the value of what is being taught and you will be able to observe each student going through the natural peaks, valleys and plateaus. When your student gets to a valley or plateau, you will understand this is a normal experience and you won’t jump to the conclusion that there is something wrong with your students (he or she isn’t musical or piano just isn’t his/her thing), something wrong with the method or something wrong with your teacher.”
“You will be the coach at home that helps your child learn to navigate his or her way through long-term relationships. Children learn this by watching you and with your guidance.”
So…when we explain this, sometimes people will come up to us afterwards and say, “Oh we are SO excited about learning this way and we want to enroll but I just cannot be here for the lessons.” I always say, “That’s no problem at all. When something changes in your life and you can commit to being the coach every week, I’d love to have you enroll.” Sometimes people are really shocked. They cannot believe that I am telling them I cannot enroll them, but I am 100% committed to each student coming with a coach. We have tried it the other way and it has never been successful. It is always a short-term relationship. It often ends badly. Since I am completely convinced that this is the way we operate, there is no emotion in telling them I cannot enroll them. I’m always kind and pleasant and firm. I just am clear that having a coach in essential in obtaining the ultimate goal of having music as a lifelong companion. That is what this is all about!
On a weekly basis, this is how I like to have the Relationship Conversation. The students walk into the room. They sit down with their playlists on their laps where I can see them and gather them up. I greet them and ask each person how they are and how their week was. After I ask Evan how his week was and he answers me I say, “Evan, how are you feeling about piano this week?” Evan gives me a visual picture of where he is. He holds up his hand and gives me “Thumbs Up,” “Thumbs Down” or “Anywhere in-between.” Everyone, coaches and students are watching as each student reports in. No matter what they indicate, I affirm their experience. I may say, “Wow, you’ve been there quite a while. You know you won’t stay there, at some point it will change.” Or, “That’s a change from two weeks ago. Do you remember you were at 4:00 and now you’re at 1:00?” Or, “Yes, you’ve been a valley for a while. That’s completely normal and I guarantee that you won’t stay there forever.”
I always confirm that their experience is normal and expected. The beauty of this visual indication is that coaches are watching every student move up and down constantly. When their student gets to any particular place, they know it is normal and expected. Students understand the same things about themselves. It is normal. When you do this at every lesson, it is a powerful tool in retaining students and helping parents and students navigate through long-term relationships of any kind.
One more word about coaches….I do require a coach for all students with the exceptions of adults (who almost always become each other’s coaches). I do require coaches for teenagers. Those students who have grown up with me in lessons and are now in High School still come with coaches. It is really quite remarkable and I can see how their parents are critical in protecting their practice time and their resolve. I have had teenagers start with me as teens and that is a bit trickier. I have never had a teenager who started as a teen stay in lessons more than six months without a coach. They have so many demands on their time that I think piano becomes the first thing to go because it isn’t required.