Like I mentioned in my Introduction to this series last week, I think the instructor we had in Snowboard School was one of the best on the slopes. The interesting thing to me was that he knew it and wasn’t shy about “tooting his own horn.” Many people are afraid of coming off as arrogant, so they wouldn’t think of extolling their own virtues to prospective or current students. And then there are those who use their own personal accomplishments to compensate for continued growth and excellence in their field. Neither of these are a helpful attitude for building a successful studio.
Here’s something that hit me a while back: not only can you be really, really good in your field and still not know the answer to the things your students and/or their parents ask you, having an attitude of still learning and developing expertise in your field is one of the marks of someone who is really, really good. Being a pro involves acknowledging the extent of your own expertise and also taking advantage of opportunities to continue learning and advancing.
Here are three specific tips for how to Be a Pro:
1. Know Your Subject – nothing can take the place of real knowledge. True confidence is not something that can be fabricated; it is the result of intentional study and investment in your field. If you are teaching general music or an instrument, take time to learn as much as possible about music theory and history. Study various educational philosophies and teaching methods. Be able to share stories about different composers. And when you are whole-heartedly investing your time and energy to educate yourself, you will be confident enough to admit when you don’t know information or have an answer for something. For musicians, knowing their subject usually also involves being skilled on an instrument. The better you play, the better your students will play. Play often and learn new repertoire (even if it’s the repertoire your advanced students are working on!) so that you can address potential problem areas, share practice tips, and…commiserate with your students about the woes of tackling and overcoming difficulties.
2. Gain Experience – be open to lots of different avenues for teaching, performing, and being involved in the music community. Our snowboard instructor began his teaching on the east coast, then migrated west and taught at multiple ski resorts. Each place brought him into contact with new people and helped him gain valuable insights into what was effective teaching-wise on a broad scale. On the east coast, the beginner class was only an hour and a half; in the mountains of Colorado the beginner class is an all-day affair. If he was able to turn out successful snowboarders in an hour and a half, you better believe he had some sure-fire tips for quickly improving your skill level on the board! In the same way, a teacher who incorporates group classes, private lessons, duo sessions, distance learning, special workshops, mentoring relationships, and more will probably become more of a pro than the one who restricts himself to only one mode of teaching. Every avenue provides the impetus to communicate more clearly, interact on new levels, and fine-tune teaching skills to meet the needs of many types of students.
3. Market Yourself as a Professional – don’t undersell yourself. Whether it’s via a personal website, in conversations with new acquaintances or friends, or in gatherings with other professionals, the way you carry yourself will dictate how others treat you. If you love what you do and believe that the work you are doing is meaningful, communicate that with both body language and the words you use. It’s not mere semantics to answer an inquiry as to what you do as “I run a music studio” instead of “I’m a piano teacher.” If you are serious about the importance of your teaching, be convincing! You should want every person you meet to leave their conversation with you with a greater appreciation for the impact of music on culture, its important role in the lives of people, and an interest in becoming more involved on a personal level (i.e. they should want to do whatever it takes to become a part of your studio!). Idealistic? Probably, but that’s my preferred perspective on life.
In essence, being a pro puts you in a position to inspire others to take up what you’re teaching for themselves. Does it work? Well, it may not be a no-fail guarantee, but I do know that our snowboard pro converted me to snowboarding for life!
Read the rest of the Teaching Tips from Snowboard School series: Introduction