During a piano teacher’s week, there are lessons that feel easy to teach and there are lessons that feel more difficult. Some students are used to a one-on-one lesson setting, understand expectations for that environment, and thrive on individual attention. Lessons with these students feel positive and productive (this is what you signed up for, right?!) However, there are other students who find a piano lesson setting to be extremely stimulating and their behavior reflects their… excitement (not how you envisioned your piano teacher life).
Struggling with overstimulated kids can affect your energy levels and can even change the way you approach lessons that typically feel easy. But did you know that the poor behavior demonstrated by some students may have actually been created by something you did or didn’t do as the teacher? 😯
How can this be?
If you have students who are wearing you thin, in today’s post we’re going to help you find out if their behaviours are being triggered by management mistakes that you might accidentally be making during piano lessons.
5 Management Mistakes Piano Teachers Accidentally Make
1. Changing from Silly to Serious Without A Warning
If you teach using manipulatives, piano games, movement activities, or rhythm instruments, there are times in your lessons when you and your students are having action-based fun together. You likely laugh together, play together, and joke around together. These are all vitally important parts of building a lasting relationship with your students. But, for some children, this excitement and interaction can rapidly flip the switch from “manageable” to “wild”. One minute you have a student who is happily participating, and the next you have a student who is misusing your materials, refusing to refocus and choosing not to listen.
A teacher’s first reaction is often to limit or eliminate game-based activities with these students as this seems like the only solution to their behavior. However, these students are often students who need these types of interactions the most.
The solution? Instead of eliminating these activities, “bookend” them with clear expectations and clear cues. For example, if you will be changing focus to play a piano game say, “We’re going to move away from the piano now to play a game. I will be the one to set it up and I’ll let you know when you can touch the game markers and dice. We will play for 5 minutes and then when we are finished we’ll be back at the piano. We’ll be able to play the game for longer if you are listening.”
When you have finished the game, use a clear cue to signal you are changing energies. For example, “Okay! That was a lot of fun. Now we are going to head back to the piano for a quieter activity. Thank you for listening so well.”
2. Trying To Fit Too Much Into One Lesson
Often, we are so enthusiastic about teaching piano, that we want our students to experience all of our awesomeness as much as possible. For most students, this is the reason they love their piano lessons; there is always something novel or exciting to look forward to. However, some children struggle with change and unpredictability.
If you have piano students whose behaviors are interfering with your productivity, consider scaling back the amount of material you cover in a lesson; change how much repertoire you assign, pare down your lesson activities and allow your students the time to settle into a task so they can experience repeated success.
Most importantly, if your students are focused and engaged in a task, resist the urge to switch to a new piece or a new lesson activity simply because you feel as though you should. Instead, make good use of this focused time and hone in on related teaching moments.
3. “Upping the Ante” when it comes to progress
It’s our job as teachers to provide challenges for our students so they can achieve success in their musical endeavors. This means that, as our students reach one goal, we then set a new one. Sometimes teachers present a new challenge before the previous goal has been fully reached. We assign more difficult repertoire, more measures in a piece, more scales, and more practice tasks.
Some students thrive in this environment and are happy to continue working in a forward motion. Others, however, begin to feel as though they’re continually playing catch-up and their behavior can be affected by these feelings. If you experience this issue, experiment with adjusting the number of challenges you give to your students. Are your students thrilled with their completion of a piece? Instead of immediately checking it off and moving on to a new one, consider staying with that piece for a while to allow your students the time they need to feel those “I did it” feelings.
4. Smiling When Attempting To Correct Behavior
Young children use visual and aural cues to understand their world. If you smile as you attempt to set clear expectations or to correct behavior in a lesson you are confusing your students and possibly even encouraging the behavior to continue. Smiling indicates that you are pleased with something; if you are not, use a neutral facial expression. This can be challenging for teachers. We all want our students to like us and to feel safe and supported in their lessons. Our enthusiasm and kindness and smiles are important! But it’s also important to have clear boundaries and to express those boundaries in a way that is not open for interpretation.
This is not to say we should be stern or “mean”. In fact, by being clearer in our expectations, we will smile more, as the need to correct behavior repeatedly will lessen.
5. Forgetting To Call Attention To Positive Behavior
Children who have difficulties managing their own impulses and behavior hear don’t and stop a lot. What they don’t hear often are positive affirmations. When you’re faced with students who are continually pushing boundaries and “testing you” it can be easy to focus only on what needs to change. This leads us into a cycle of negativity where you are constantly reacting.
However, making a mental shift to verbally acknowledging positive choices can have a big impact on the behavior of our students. Using phrases such as, “I like how you are listening,” or “Your hands were very still while I was talking, thank you,” are encouraging ways of establishing boundaries and expectations without negativity and can encourage your students to seek out your approval by adjusting their behaviors accordingly.
Frustration-Free Method Books
One of the best ways to banish behavior issues is to eliminate your students’ frustrations when learning early piano skills. When students feel frustrated they also feel inadequate and discouraged. These feelings lead to “acting out” behaviors.
After teaching young students for decades, we set out to create a new method book series that would avoid the early note-reading and rhythm struggles we observed in our students over and over again. The result is the WunderKeys Primer Piano Series. Find it here on Amazon.