We recently adopted a new puppy. Marley is a shaggy, loveable Goldendoodle. Marley also has a serious need for some manners. So, off to Puppy Kindergarten I went with full expectations for being royally embarrassed. Repeatedly.
I hadn’t been to any sort of school for quite a few years; it’s usually me doing the instructing now a days. Being back in a semi-classroom environment made me realize two things about myself:
1) I have serious issues with needing to be perfect.
2) I really enjoy being praised.
As embarrassing as it is to admit those two things I learned a great deal about teaching methods from the very officious instructor; mostly because she was so very different from myself.
Wait a Minute! Where’s the “Good!?”
When I take on a project I TAKE IT ON… hardcore. Marley and I practiced like fiends at home with our little clicker and bag of treats. Come the next class I fully expected to not only pass at least 2 of the 4 levels required to ‘graduate’ but also to be used as a class example of exactly how to train your dog; in fact I wouldn’t have been surprised if they offered me a position as guest instructor.
Not so much.
The instructor is undyingly kind, patient and respectful. She watched our progress, offered a smile and a few tips and then stepped back. I waited for the gushing of praise that she must have forgotten to bestow upon us. (Surely she had never seen such a clever dog, I mean really, had she somehow missed his “down from a distance”?!)
Nope, she had seen it. In fact she watched everything carefully and still offered a few tweaks here and there. We kept working. And then it happened. “Good! Really good.” and she moved on.
I swear I grinned like a little kid. Yes! And then I realized what she was doing. And then, of course, I was forced to examine my own teaching methods.
The Simple Change and The Magic that Followed
When I looked at myself as a piano teacher I realized that I spend a good deal of my time praising my piano students for every little thing they do… and I sometimes even praise them when they almost do it! Now that I was conscious of this fact I really noticed just how much I used words like “Good!” and “Almost!”. And while my piano students love me (and I still believe in creating a supportive and caring learning environment) I realized that my gushing words were actually stifling motivation. My praise had lost its value.
Over the next few weeks I backed off considerably. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t all of a sudden turn mean! But what I did do was reserve my words of affirmation for when it really counted. I noticed my students would subtly be looking for my “good” or my “great” as they worked in the lessons, and when it wasn’t there immediately, they tried just that little bit harder. Little niggly things that I’ve been talking to them about for weeks suddenly were fixed. Their attention was more focused. They were more goal-oriented. Magic happened.
I’m On To You
Now that I know the instructor’s game, I come to puppy class just itching for that “good”. My daughter and I actually did fist-pumps last week when she calmly announced that Marley was now Level 3 in “Polite Walking”. We knew we really deserved it, and it felt so good for that to be acknowledged. Her praise is hard to come by, and so Lexi and I find ourselves working harder and paying more attention to really get it right. I know for a fact that Marley would still be helping himself to food off of the table if we weren’t so motivated.
My piano students aren’t quite on to me. They have noticed a difference, but it’s a difference they can’t quite put their finger on. I still gush, but I gush in a carefully thought-out fashion. Who knew piano teaching lessons could be learned in Puppy Kindergarten! 🙂
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