When I first fastened my boots onto the snowboard, the prospect of whizzing down the slopes like the other snowboarders I had observed for years propelled me forward. From my experience years ago, though, I learned that the gap between where I want to be and where I actually am can quickly seem insurmountable (i.e. lofty visions of expert maneuvering don’t survive long when every turn ends in a faceplant…:-)) . I’ve experienced the same phenomenon with numerous students – their view of where they want to be musically is so far beyond their current level that they soon lose hope of achieving success. But what they really need is someone to give them a realistic vision of success.
Our instructor didn’t point to the proficient boarders at the top of the mountain and tell us to imagine ourselves traversing the mogul-covered double-black diamond trails. Instead he pointed to the gently sloping greens and said that by the end of the day we’d feel comfortable making our way down them. Now that was something I could believe and work toward! Oh sure, I still watched every snowboarder intently, but my focus now was on learning from their examples so that I could reach my immediate goal – making it down the lower mountain slopes intact.
So, how do we do this for our students? First, we have to have a clear vision in our own minds of our students’ potential. Start by picturing your students ten years from now. What will they be like? What will they be capable of doing on their instrument? How will they be using their musical skills? Now picture them a year from now. What image comes to mind? Will they have acquired better musical skills and participated in enriching musical experiences? How will they be different then from their lesson last week?
Once we – the teacher – have a vision, the purpose and direction of each lesson will take on new meaning. When we point to the experts as a model (via YouTube, recordings, or live recitals) it’s not to set our students up with the expectation of being like them, but so that they can apply what they observe to their more immediate goals and difficulties. This vision also encourages us to be more intent on teaching concepts than on simply making corrections in a given piece of repertoire. Confused expressions will give rise to more creative approaches as we develop methods for helping students overcome obstacles. Students are contagiously infused with a greater sense of purpose in their musical studies, but it also gives us a foundation from which to project, “by this time next month I think you will have mastered the dotted quarter note-eighth note rhythm” or “you’ll be playing every Major pentascale flawlessly by the end of the year” or “you’ll be ready to start learning some of Beethoven’s early compositions if you continue on this track,” etc.
I have seen this element of our Year-End Evaluations (click here for the free downloadable forms) build excitement and renewed interest in students many times, but as I consider this I’m reminded of the importance of approaching every lesson with that same forward-thinking mindset. And I’m excited about the prospect of doing a better job painting this vision of success for each of my students in the weeks ahead.