This article was originally given as a short presentation at the Suzuki Association of the America’s Leadership retreat last week. It was parent of a series of short talks about working productively with parents. If you would like to share it please do!
How do we work productively with the parents in our studios? How do we help new parents understand what being a Suzuki parent involves? How do we help them be successful working with their child as they learn and grow?
I was trying to come up with the most useful thing I could share with other teachers on the topic of working with parents. So, I started to think about all of the things I do in my studio like conferences, parent education, and parent talks.
There are lots of things we can do as teachers to help parents be successful. However, I would like to ask teachers to think bigger picture than that.
As a young violin teacher I heard a concept that blew my mind at the time. When you look at the beginner student in front of you – don’t think about what they need in order to learn to play twinkle. Think about what they need in order to play a Mozart Concerto and teach them with that in mind.
I believe we need to do the same thing with new Suzuki Parents.
- What do the parents we work with need to know about the process of helping their child thrive in the Suzuki method?
- What can we explain better from the start that will keep parents from struggling later?
- What bad habits can families get into that might not matter for a beginning student but will cause big problems down the road?
- How do we take parents – who probably don’t know what they are getting into when they get started with us and help them make the Suzuki method work in their everyday lives?
- How do we help get them come on board and be willing work with us to help their child succeed?
When I think about the families that I work with the most productively I think about families that:
- are committed long term
- create a nurturing environment to practice and learn in at home
- work together with me on common goals
- that learn to celebrate the little milestones and enjoy the process of seeing their child learn and improve.
I really used to think that parents either WERE people who did those things or they WEREN’T.
I think it’s a lot like people used to think students had music ability or didn’t before Suzuki came along. I was always thrilled when one of these magical parents showed up at my door.
Then something happened that made me totally re-evaluate that point of view. I started teaching Suzuki Early Childhood Education (SECE) classes.
Suddenly I had parents of one and two year old students talking about
how proud they were of their child’s ability to focus
how repetition and practicing something over and over at home gave their child the freedom to have fun in class and be more expressive
and parents who clearly saw that we were working as a team to help their child’s ability grow.
Suddenly I became really dissatisfied with how I had trained my instrumental studio parents, few of who would say the same things when talking about their child’s lessons.
So I set out to fix it. The thing my studio parents needed, that my SECE parents were getting all of the time, was to help them ask and answer the question “How do we become people who help our children succeed?”
Here is what I did: I changed my language and started using the word we a lot.
I spoke long term about what the parent should expect months and years ahead.
I explained the habits that successful Suzuki families develop and made sure new parents were willing to do them from the start.
I addressed stress points that often come up and how we will work together to solve them, rather than pushing some of the potential difficult parts under the rug.
I addressed how to prioritize practice in a very in depth way
Most importantly I changed my focus from all the things that parents need to be DOING to how they could BE A PARENT that sets their child up to thrive and grow.
I invited them to ask: Who are we going to be as a family so this works for our child?
It was all the same things I had been trying to get across before but finally put in a way that parents could hear it and most them were willing to do it.
Here are the results: I have seen real changes in my studio. About thirty parents came to my studio’s parent talk this fall.
Parents have said things to me like “Suzuki lessons are making me a better parent”.
In the hallway after lessons I am hearing things more along the lines of “Wow-you really focused and concentrated well today.” And less of things like “What’s the matter – you could play it fine at home!”
Of course, I see the biggest impact on families that have started out with the approach from the first time we met.
I see parents treating music as a long term commitment and working with me on this process to help their child be successful.
How do we become people who help our children succeed?
I think that is a question that most Suzuki parents want to know the answer to. If we can successfully communicate what it takes to do that and how those same skills will help their child in other areas of their life beyond music, I believe that is the big picture that allows us to work together productively.
How do you best help new parents see the big picture? If you’re a parent, what did your teacher do to help you with this idea? What do you wish they had told you?
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