Training the Trainer
Mark M., New York
We, as teachers, as method coaches, open the gate and point the way down the path. We tell students that they have to walk that path without us, and we tell parents/coaches that they are the ones who will help children learn to walk that path themselves.
If they don’t follow what we provide, they won’t get the results. A requirement-based teacher might let students go, a request-based one might not, but for the clients, when it comes to the most fundamental question of whether or not they get the results of the program, the situation is the same.
Some students/parents may, for whatever reason, through whatever means, come to follow the program and get the results. Others don’t, and we know it isn’t because of musical ability. We know it’s because of other things, things like discipline, patience, willingness, etc. This can be on the part of the student but, also, just the same, on the part of the coach. For example, a parent who is impatient with their child’s mistakes is not likely to do well at cultivating patience in the child’s own practice habits.
In these situations, there are clearly things that could be done to make a difference. It’s an axiom in education that training the trainer is a far bigger leverage point in spreading learning than directly training people. It’s exactly why Neil founded Simply Music and has hundreds of teachers working with thousands of students that he couldn’t ever have hoped to work with himself. A coach can be coached into being a better coach.
Our role, though, is method coach. We focus mainly on the music pedagogy. We also bring in valuable conversations about learning process and long-term relationship, yes, but, fundamentally, we do not — and cannot — see it as our responsibility to provide the life coach with everything they need in order to be effective life coaches. We can only point to everything they need. We open the gate and point the way for them with their coaching, just as we do with music for the student.
For the student, this is supposed to be enough, because built into our system is the fact of them having a life coach to give them what we ourselves can’t give them as they travel down that path. Excluded from our system, though, is the fact that coaches may themselves need coaches, may need more than our brief conversations and our pointing them in the right direction. Without life coaches of their own, many parents/coaches may never be capable of being effective life coaches for their kids, in piano or otherwise. They need trainers to train them so that they can then become effective at training their kids.
Many parents may not be willing to take this on. Even those that may be willing aren’t going to get what they need from us, unless we ourselves happen to run a life coaching business on the side and they’re willing to hire us for that in addition to paying us for piano lessons. Otherwise, they’ll have to get what they need elsewhere.
So we are Simply Music teachers, and we may often see something requiring intervention. But we will often not be in a position to make the needed difference. Often, the most we can offer is pointing through an open gate. And yet for many that very act of pointing, of bringing up a lack in a parent’s coaching (and, let’s face it, parenting) ability, can generate defensiveness. For many, only a far bigger context of coaching (and, let’s face it, in some cases, perhaps even therapy) can provide the safety and the mechanisms needed to get parents/coaches down the path beyond that open gate.
Our choices, then, in most such cases, seem to be between two things that are simple and true but not really helpful in producing results. We can either say something like “Your kids won’t develop the patience needed for controlling the events if you are regularly impatient with them about it, and I’m not in a position to help you develop your patience, so you’ll have to find some way on your own” — or we can fire them on the grounds that we don’t want to work with people who can’t follow the program and get its results.
For the record, I’m definitely not arguing against running a requirement-based studio here. But I also can’t help but notice that threatening taking something away in order to achieve compliance is pretty generally regarded as a subpar method when it comes to educating and motivating people. It might serve our studio well in terms of always having a highly successful student body, but it certainly doesn’t contribute to people who are in real need of meaningful contribution.
In the end, then, I don’t like either of these choices, the brief pointing or the firing. Thoughts on alternatives?
Elaine F., South Carolina
Without taking the time for a longer conversation, I think there is a slight alternative to what Mark so nicely outlined: “I don’t like either of these choices, the brief pointing or the firing.”
I’ve had many parents who lack the skills to be a great or even a good coach. For whatever reason (and there are thousands of books on this) they consistently fail to set limits and boundaries. I find myself having mini- discussions on a regular basis about the kids’ need for this. So it’s more of a series of brief “pointings”.
I’ve been surprised by how well we move along bit by bit and the situation improves.
Sandy L., Nebraska
I loved this post. I so often feel the seeming futility of pointing, pointing, pointing at the open gate. I sometimes fear losing students because of my requirements. I don’t think there is an easy answer except for each Simply Music teacher to keep walking down the path of the SM journey and keep learning what this wonderful program has to teach us about music and about life.
Sometimes students will leave rather than meet the requirements–I just had one do that this week. But, I really don’t think that student and family did not gain something from me. They surely learned what it takes to strive for success in a pursuit, and they left with complete good will on both sides, knowing that they are musical, knowing that they are welcome back in my studio any day, but also knowing that they just cannot (or will not?) commit to what is necessary for piano lessons right now. That’s okay.
Sometimes people choose to put other pursuits above what I am offering. They are going to learn the life lessons they need somehow, whether in baseball practice or dance lessons, or piano.
I can make a contribution to every student who wants to be in my studio, but what kind of contribution is it if I dread to see them walk through my door because every week is a battle of trying to get them to meet my requirements? It’s better for both of us if they pursue what they want to and come back to me when what they want matches what I have to offer.
You mentioned the threat of taking something away. I would say, Mark, never threaten. Remember Neil talking about the key in the door. As a piano coach, I hold no threats. All students are welcome any time, as long as they are ready to receive my coaching. I will never withhold anything or take anything away. I am holding out the Simply Music gift with open hands; not doing as I coach is equivalent to saying “no, thanks” to the gift. That’s okay; it is there for the taking for anyone ready and willing to receive it. Failure to follow my instructions simply equates to failure to receive the gift. It is a choice, and it is not my choice; it’s theirs.
So, Mark, you ask for alternatives to brief pointing or firing. I offer you these two:
1. Exchange brief pointing for prolonged pointing. Point and point and point for everyone willing to head for the open gate. Just keep pointing…when they stumble, look back at you in confusion, protest that the journey is too hard…keep pointing and escorting them towards that open gate.
2. When someone refuses to be coached, continue to be clear about what it takes to succeed with you and with Simply Music, just as you did through all the long months of pointing. Let them know that you love sharing Simply Music with them and anyone else who wants to learn, but that without each person on the team doing his part, it just won’t work out in your studio for now (method coach’s role, life coach’s role and student’s role). If they decide to commit themselves to your requirements, fantastic–your relationship continues and you go back to alternative #1. If they decide that right now they are unable or unwilling to meet your requirements, that’s okay. You part friends; you will always remember the fun you had learning together; they are welcome back any time. No firing necessary.
Place the entire decision in their hands–meet the requirements or don’t. The consequence of not meeting them is that “I simply cannot help you learn piano at this time. I would love to whenever you are ready. I have so enjoyed your friendship and your musicality in my life…”
I guess you can think of that corny old saying “If you love something set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours.” If it doesn’t come back to you, it really is for the best in your happiness in the long run. You wouldn’t have enjoyed the struggle of keeping it anyway.
Gordon Harvey, Australia
Perhaps at the very least we can do the same for reluctant life coaches as we do for reluctant composers – continue to put it to them in a detached way as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.
I agree, too, that we don’t have to ‘fire’ a student, and that, if we are requirement-based, it’s really the student’s choice. I would say that it’s easy to tip over a semantic ledge when we use terms like ‘firing’ and ‘threatening’. In other words, from what I know of Mark I don’t think he would think of ‘threatening’ a student or ‘firing’ them, and I doubt you thought that, Sandy, but it reminds me of the issue of how we address these kinds of conversations. I think there’s an opportunity for us as teachers to train ourselves in having conversations in a way that always leave students and parents in a place from which they can grow. That’s one of Neil’s gifts. I wonder how good we all think we are at ‘positively-directed conversations’.