The start of every school year brings with it a unique opportunity for reflection and introspection. While our studies fortunately continue throughout the summer, I still find the tradition of the new school year a poignant time to carefully examine the trials and successes from the previous year - both my own, and those of my students. I make it a habit to ask myself these very specific questions:
What has been successful in my teaching this year
What has been successful in my students’ learning?
How can I help my students and their families apply successes from the past year to the coming year?
As I considered these questions this August, there were so many individual successes that I quickly thought of. There was the student who finally mastered a technique she had been struggling with for months. There was another who overcame a long-term battle with nerves, resulting in an amazing, breakthrough recital. And there was the student whose eyes lit up with the brightness of a thousand stars when she realized she could play the opening line of Go Tell Aunt Rhody the very first time that she tried, because all of the baby-steps up to that point had prepared her so well.
As wonderful as each of these specific experiences were, I was still looking for that greater, overarching lesson: the lesson I could apply for all of my students. I sat with these seemingly unrelated successes, the list growing in my mind. When the connection did finally hit me, it was obvious. While I had been considering specific and individual successes, the common thread between all of them was the very success itself. The lesson was the value of that sense of pride, the feelings of accomplishment, and the remarkable empowerment that each student experienced with every one of their achievements.
While this straightforward (yet easy-to-overlook) connection continues to resonate with me, I am reminded that our job, as teachers and as parents, becomes much clearer if we allow ourselves to be perpetually guided by this simple principle.
In the Suzuki Method, we talk so often about the holistic nature of what we do - that while yes, we are offering high-level training on our respective instruments, the countless peripheral benefits are the ultimate drivers of our teaching. We teach music so that our students learn the power of hard work; so that they develop sensitivity, and the skills of teamwork; so that they feel the pride that comes from focused dedication to a task ending in success; so that they can take their lessons of empowerment gleaned from the study of their instrument and apply these lessons to all of their other life endeavors.
In Suzuki, we often talk about this from the macro, big-picture perspective. We also put an emphasis on an environment of support and encouragement, as opposed to hyper-competitiveness and comparison among students. It is a central part of our philosophy that every child is unique, and will learn at their own pace with their own challenges and celebrations along the way. For some parents, this emphasis on long-term vision and on letting children blossom at their own natural pace can make the measure of their own child’s progress opaque. This being said, I strongly believe that a consideration of your Suzuki experience from a micro perspective can offer a wonderfully refreshing perspective and path toward long term success.
So what does it mean to consider the holistic benefits of Suzuki education in the micro? It means stopping to consider all of these goals on a weekly, or daily basis. But Ryan, haven’t you just been discussing the difficulty of measuring this progress on a weekly basis? Indeed, I have - so let’s distill this idea down a bit further. At the most basic level, I know that we will all find boundless success if we boil it down to one simple, weekly, recurring question:
“How can I prepare my child to feel empowered in their next lesson?”
If we live our musical lives by this this very simple mantra, how can this change our day-to-day attitude toward the entire Suzuki experience? When we consider the incredible force of empowerment, perhaps on those instances that you’re incredibly exhausted after a grueling day at work, you will find the extra strength to take a deep breath, and have a wonderful practice session with your child. Or maybe it means that on a day when your child is being particularly resistant to practice, you will rack your brain for an extra creative idea to make the practice session happen. It might simply mean that you find yourself re-energized in lessons, armed with the knowledge of the importance of your work with your child at home for the coming week.
When a student hasn’t completed a task as assigned, the disappointment I feel is much more multifaceted than what I ever imagined my teachers might have felt when I was a child. It isn’t as simple as annoyance for having to repeat a lesson, but it extends to a sadness that the student missed an opportunity to celebrate a success. As I have reflected on this idea, I realize my true joy of teaching comes not just from my students’ quantitative successes, but from their personal feelings and experiences of success.
The most exciting aspect of operating by the simple, week-to-week aim of having one successful lesson after another is the potential for exponentially multiplying momentum. We are all familiar with the adage that success breeds success - so long as the success is rooted in diligent and focused work. With every joy of accomplishment comes the desire for more, and every time your child’s hard work ends with the payout of success, the next mountain to conquer becomes more familiar and more attainable. So let us spend this year looking for lessons in empowerment every single week, and every single day: these breadcrumbs of empowerment hold the simplest secret to greatness!
A Simple Guide to Being An Empowering Suzuki Parent
1. Be 100% present (in body and mind) during your child’s lesson. This means cellphones away, notebook and pen out. Showing your child that you take their lessons seriously is the first and best way to teach them to take it seriously.
2. Ensure that you are confident of the specific practicing points and assignments for the week at home, before you leave the lesson. As the at-home practice partner, you are in many ways more influential in your child’s musical growth than the teacher. While your teacher is the expert, you are the taskmaster who carries out the learning for the majority of the week. If you are less than 100% confident of what you need to work on for the coming week, let your teacher know so they can make sure you understand!
3. Make practicing an absolute priority. Without regular practice, growth is completely stunted - we all know this. Yet still, we too often find ourselves rationalizing the reasons why we’re not practicing more. Remembering on a day-to-day basis that you are preparing your child to feel empowered at their next lesson is the ultimate motivator to make the practice happen.
4. Practice with Purpose. To maximize its effectiveness, practice must happen with clear goals. Make sure that you are always considering all of the same things that your teacher considers during your weekly lesson, from form, to tension, to musical details, etc.
5. Celebrate Successes! If we are to be empowered by successes, then we must stop to acknowledge and appreciate them. Let’s savor each and every success, and celebrate the hard work and perseverance that lead us there!