Occasionally, I have a student who does not practice or move ahead in lessons, and I start to wonder what I can do to get the ball rolling to help the student make progress.
I have a flute studio of about 55 students, and I generally have about 5 students like this at any given time. Lack of progress and practicing seems to happen across all ages, from ages 5 to adult. I find it necessary to constantly examine my own motives for wanting them to work hard and move ahead, but I realize I must remain open to exploring why a student may not be progressing. I must examine the motives of the student and myself.
There are several ways I go about this.
The first is an exercise I do at home, when I have time to reflect on the situation. I try to thoughtfully write out all the goals that I have for my student, for myself, and for my flute studio. Then I write down what I think my student’s goals are. This does not mean that this is EXACTLY what the student’s goals are, and I recognize the fact that I may be making assumptions. But, this is helpful because it helps me to think outside of the box and begin to uncover certain reasons why the student is not progressing. I try to explore in myself why I might have certain goals for this student, and discover if there are any conflicting goals the student may have. This is simply a brainstorming exercise that can help me look at possible multifaceted reasons that the student is not practicing or progressing. In this situation, I imagine what the student may be thinking and feeling vs. my own thoughts and feelings. It helps to identify my own goals that may be in conflict with the possible goals and needs of this particular student.
The second way to examine goals is to simply go into a lesson with a sheet of paper and explain to the student that I would like to hear what their goals are. I write down what his or her goals are in one section, and write down what some of my goals are for that student. I write down and share with your student some of the reason for some of the goals that I want for the student, and I also want them to try to explain to me reasons for some of their goals. If the goals between student and teacher do not match up, it is simply my job to make sure the student knows that I am there to partner with them to come up with a set of goals that is reasonable for the student. It may be that the student only says one or two things for the goals. (‘I want to have fun” or “I just like my lessons and playing flute”). If that is the case, I have to examine if that is enough reason for me to continue teaching her, especially if I have goals that are more focused on only having students who work hard or have a high level of playing. For me, having fun playing and enjoying lessons (while not really practicing) can certainly be a good thing for some students who are already juggling a full schedule or having emotional issues. Helping them grow into good adults and creating joy in their life is absolutely a positive benefit.
Sometimes, student’s goals are in conflict with needs and wishes of their parents. In this case, it is important that communication about goal setting includes the parents. The exercise above can be modified to include the parent’s goals and feelings. If a student is progressing slowly and the parent is wishing them to improve more quickly, the teacher does need to be in communication with the parent. A thoughtful approach with a sheet of paper that can list concrete goals and the feelings and emotions of all parties is helpful.
Many students are more willing to work on their practicing skills, fundamental skills and music once they are involved in the goal setting process. I try to also teach them that their goals can simply turn into “wishes” if they do not come up with any steps to achieve those goals. If their goals turn into wishes, then they simply will not progress.
As a side note, working on goal setting with a student is a great exercise for them, and doing this with your students can set an example of how to go about making changes in any situation in life. Perhaps this student will eventually mature into a mindset that includes setting goals toward improvement in music.
Upon examining my own goals, I have discovered that in essence, I strive to be a teacher that is there for every student who walks across my threshold. I may not be aware of all the things that they are dealing with in life, but I am open to the possibility that for some reason I am there to help them with whatever they are dealing with, and this may not coincide with my personal goals for them. Most of the time, it is musical, but other times, I hope that i am helping them grow as human beings and lifting up their human spirits in some way that I may never know.