“Every child is just one caring adult away from a being a success story.” This quote from American youth advocate Josh Shipp is one of those quotes that I keep in the front of my mind.
Why? Because it reminds me that I have the ability to turn things around for every child I teach. And while this may feel like a massive responsibility… it’s also a massive privilege. What if I am “the one person” who can make the biggest difference in the life of a student?
And while inspiring quotes are all good and nice, and ideas of students dedicating their Carnegie Hall premiere performances to their “beloved piano teacher” are fun to think about… I am still grounded enough to know that difficult students are… difficult. Let’s not sugar coat anything here; teaching piano to kids is not all roses and butterflies.
However, over many years of refusing to give up on even the most difficult of piano students, I’ve found that often it was my most difficult students that eventually became my favorite piano students.
Perhaps it is the joy of seeing invested time and effort come to fruition. Perhaps it is the pleasure of seeing difficult children mature into well-adjusted adults. Perhaps it is simply a sense of relief that we both “got through those years”. Whatever it is, I’ve found great satisfaction in embracing the challenge that is… difficult students.
Today we’re sharing a 3-Step Action Plan you can use to help yourself become that “one caring adult” for the students in your studio who require more patience and understanding.
Teaching Piano To Difficult Piano Students
Below we’ve set out a 3-step action plan for improving your working relationship with difficult piano students. By being aware of your own expectations and your students’ needs, and by having a course of action to turn to when things don’t go as planned you’ll be a more relaxed, happier piano teacher. Let’s explore our 3-step plan below…
Step 1: Be Aware Of Your Own Expectations
Sometimes a difficult piano student is only difficult because they fail to meet our expectations. But this isn’t necessary the fault of the child. We have to make sure that our expectations are realistic and based on each individual student’s abilities. Learning piano is not a “one size fits all” activity. What we expect from one child cannot be what we expect from another child. So, to eliminate frustrations for you and your students, be sure to:
- Set lesson goals that are specific to each individual student
- Set, and then teach, behavioural expectations. Be flexible for challenging students but have a clear “line in the sand”
- Set long-term goals to eliminate the stress that comes with assessing progress on a week by week basis
Step 2: Understand Your Student’s Needs
It’s important to remember that we are teaching kids first… and piano second. While there are many things that I need from my piano students, I am also aware that there are many things that my students need from me… and these needs change from student to student. We should have a “needs awareness” for all of our students; an awareness that is developed by considering the following:
- How can we create an environment in which the student feels safe to learn?
- What is a student’s most prominent need and how can it be met every week?
- How does addressing or ignoring this need affect the student’s behaviour?
Step 3: Have An Action Plan For Unpredictable Situations
Children appreciate predicability, routines and clear expectations. But when you are teaching students things can go off the rails at a moment’s notice. So, not only is it important to have a lesson plan, but it is also important to have a “game plan” to follow each and every time a lesson plan get derailed. When developing a “disaster” plan, piano teachers should consider:
- How we will re-direct difficult behaviours to positive behaviours
- How we will “save a lesson” if a challenging student is having a bad day
- How we can apply fair consequences when a student fails to meet expectations
Your Plan Is In Place… Now Stick To it!
One of the most common things we hear from piano teachers who are dealing with difficult students is “I just get so frustrated and I don’t know what to do.“
Having your 3-part plan (from above) will help prevent these feelings of frustration and provide you with a plan of action when the need arises. It helps you feel constantly in control of any situation and it helps your students feel consistently secure in their lesson times. This combination works to improve your working relationship with difficult students.
Being a patient, predictable and caring person in the life of your students is one giant step toward being that “one caring adult”.