Shared Lesson Distractions
Francine V., Australia
I had a horrible time last night with a shared lesson. I have two kids together in a shared lesson – ,my room is not big enough to have more than that. The two mums sat on the couch and chatted most of the way through, the bigger sister sat with us eagerly wanting a turn (she’s not enrolled as a student, but is very eager to get to the piano and join in).
My room is not big enough to have everyone sit around with chairs – I operate from my lounge room with a big couch that my family normally uses.
The mum’s could come up and watch the piano, but there’s not enough room for everyone to move around the piano.
At the end of the lesson, the bigger sister who had been very eagerly waiting for a turn at the piano with us (sibling, not student) sat down at the piano to play what I had just taught and then continue to play another song while the parents smiled and watched, while I stood waiting for them to leave (I have to leave straight away to go pick up my son).
During the lesson the boy was having a blast messing and clowning around – while mum chatted on the couch. I kept saying his name and calling him back to the piano to watch. Of course this then encourages the other student to get distracted and want to play around too.
As they left the (very lovely) mum apologised for the boy’s behaviour.
Does anyone have any ideas of how I can bring control back into the room? I can see myself dreading these lessons and not enjoying them, but I don’t want that. I felt like the lesson and the whole room was just out-of-control.
Kerry V., Australia
What a marvelous realization you have come to. Yes, if you continue doing this this class will be the dread (and thought of) all week.
When one starts a class they are accustomed to what is delivered, becomes expected. First, there’s the couch! Biggest mistake I found out when I first started. Parents would guide themselves straight to it and sometimes actually fell asleep, it was there first time to stop all day. And that also meant no focus on the child’s lesson. So, since then I have never every had a ‘comfortable’ seat for parents.
If your room is too small then at the first session your conversations with them will have to include the attitude and involvement of the class. As well as mentioning to the older student that although you appreciate her eagerness your first priority are the students. Explaining in both situations that you are aware you do not have the room to move freely however if we follow these simple rules much more can be accomplished in a lesson.
(I actually say to the sibling, if they are too old to go to the ‘play corner’ ….. “Lily, it is great to have you here. My focus is on Henry but if you feel you have an answer for something and the other students cannot answer them but you feel you can, by all means i’ll ask you but please do not be offended because I am going to ‘ignore’ you. Now you know that isn’t about you but we are here for Henry right?” The child looks at me surprised and then says, ‘yes that’s ok’. I’m not sure if it my honesty that surprises them or the question either way, it works. It is quite funny as the sibling usually does have the answers before the students but we make eye contact, I wink and they wait. Then if the question hasn’t been answered I’ll ask the sibling for their response. Siblings do NOT come to the piano unless invited to they know there place with me and the class.)
Remember you are annoyed with them because you are annoyed with yourself for not speaking up when you have the right to. You are the coach so teach them that. They are in your home, respect it.
If you do not know how to approach the parents, or feel intimated to do so, say upfront in all your classes something on the lines
“Hi guys, great to have you here again. Before we start the actual lesson I am bringing this to everyone’s attention so that there are no misunderstandings. This may not apply to this group but I am telling everyone.
I really appreciate there is not a lot of room to move and the only place for the parents to sit is on the extremely comfortable couch, and yes, you will be tempted to go into conversation with each other or in fact drift off in the delights of your own peaceful thoughts. However, I want to remind everyone that the position of the coach is to learn as well. I will do my utmost to make it work for us all so i am asking if you could help me out as well. If you have any ideas on how to move around the keyboard so we can all see I’d love your input.” You could also include that you have time constraints so when you say goodbye to them that is time for them to leave too.
Just an example but giving them the space that it is all about your studio, you appreciate them and where they may be at, and how could they help with their in put. Or you decide how it would work.
I have always used a goodbye chant and this helps me as to ‘close’ from that group, allows me mental space to be with the next class AND is our finish whereby people leave. If they wish to talk more, invite them to talk outside. Suggested they have practice get togethers weekends etc. 🙂
Enjoy the journey Francine, there are certainly some gems there.
I would begin the next lesson with something like I have outlined below but in your words:
I don’t know how you guys felt about the lesson last week but I was not a happy camper! My mission during your lesson time is to impart special tools for both the students and their coaches to understand well enough to process them successfully during the week -this is what will maximize the likelihood that you as students will have music as a companion for the rest of your lives and the gift you as coaches will have facilitated. So how about we all have that as our mission during our special time together each week starting from today. Mums, your attention being imperative, what can we do here so that you feel part of the whole deal? Do we need to rearrange your seating or would you like to stand near to the piano especially when I am delivering knew material, what do you suggest?
It would be really important to speak to the parents following this (in private) and help them realize that any distractions during the lesson makes it much harder and therefore less effective for their children. Their inattention gives their child permission to do the same – giving a strong message that this is not very important. Remind them too of the ‘3 legged stool’ analogy from the introductory session! Aside from that, it is very powerful for a child’s belief in their own worth to have their parent’s full attention when they are engaged in learning a new skill, they so want them to be part of their world and this is the perfect opportunity for you to give them that wonderful gift.
This situation has arisen for most of us at times and you quite rightly are wanting to nip it in the bud – hope this helps.
Elisa J., New Jersey
Is it possible to replace the couch with folding chairs to maximize your space? As far as the older sibling is concerned maybe you can talk to the mom at the end of the lesson and say something like, “it’s so wonderful to see your daughter’s interest in playing as well! The main focus of my lessons are for my students only but if you’d like to put your daughter in this group my fee is ___. Is this something you’d like to do?” (wait a few seconds for a reply). If she says no, “I completely understand. I wish I had the time to listen to her play but I have another appointment and must leave as soon as possible after this lesson. Thank you for your cooperation and understanding.” If she says yes, then you may have to start earlier or move the class all together….and really consider changing furniture.
Joan H., Canada
I just did this in our small living room during the summer, where I teach shared classes of 2-3. I removed a couch, and now have folding chairs and a stool for myself, beside the piano bench. I also added to inexpensive IKEA Poang chairs in place of the couch, as we use the livingroom for our family and friends as well, and still needed something comfy besides folding chairs.