“Do as I say, not as I do.”

“Do as I say, not as I do.” The old adage rang in my ears as I was talking to a colleague and friend of mine. She had been lamenting over the fact that her students (a lot of them transfers, others lazy), could not play their scales well. She’s very passionate about foundation and technique, and her student’s lack of dedication in learning their scales was driving her crazy. But instead of sitting around and complaining, she was telling me about the well-crafted solution she had come up with.  She had come up with a studio-wide scales challenge. And it was so impressive, detailed, and well-done!

Each student had ten levels they were to complete as quickly and thoroughly as they could. She had come up with a plan for each individual student, written each plan on index cards, and given each student envelopes with their goals. She also had a board she kept in her studio, and the students got their assigned ribbon color placed on each level as they passed it. Visually appealing, and it welcomed healthy competition. Each student was learning at their own level, but racing to learn their goals faster than everyone else!

Now I tell you all of this not to brag on how good of a teacher she is (although she is amazing!), but to tell you that what came next in our conversation struck me hard. Because she didn’t just stop with making scale challenges for her students. She also went to her college professor, and had him write up ten levels for her to learn.

My friend had totally banished the idea of “do as I say, not as I do” in her studio. She was taking the initiative to instill in her students that she is also learning. And last time I checked, they were passing her in their scale levels (hers are pretty difficult)! She beamed as she described the confidence it gave them! Everyone in that studio is making progress, and she is creating a culture of shared learning. The kids now beg to play their scales “just one more time”. And they also have a sense that their teacher is right there in the trenches with them!

“Do as I say, not as I do” becomes destructive when applied to almost any area of life. When we instruct others to live in a way that we don’t ourselves model (whether as a teacher, parent, mentor, friend), hypocrisy begins to mark our lives and we become untrustworthy. Why would we want to breed hypocrisy instead of authenticity in our own studios?

As soon as we banish the old and easy way of thinking (whether or not we’ve said it out loud isn’t so much the point), the culture of our studio completely changes. Our students will have more respect for us and from us. Our piano parents will show more grace when we’re humble enough to admit fault. And shared learning occurs in a healthy environment where everyone knows they are growing, and encourages each other to grow steadily and well!

So what are some practical ways you can banish outdated and useless thinking and turn shared learning into your studio culture? Here’s just a few that have been floating around in my mind since that simple, yet profound, conversation:

~ Creating studio-wide challenges that the teacher also participates in.

~ Making an effort to take lessons yourself. There will always be people who are better musicians than you are – and that is okay! Learn from them!

~ Preparing a piece to perform at your studio recital.

~ Making practice a priority in your own life – using the strategies you encourage your students to use!

~ Try new teaching techniques (for example: online teaching amidst COVID-19!). Not everything has to work well for your studio. But you won’t know what works and what doesn’t if you don’t give new things a try!

~ Be transparent. Your students and parents need to know that you’re human too. No use in pretending you’re perfect!

Shared learning is worth it. Everyone involved reaps the benefits, and you might be surprised with how much you don’t know! Don’t let that discourage you … jump right in alongside your students, and you won’t look back 🙂

Then you’ll be saying “Do as I say… because I’m doing it too”!

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