Another elegant solution, one that brings together many of the principles of the Suzuki method together is the concept of a “Million Dollar Lesson.”
I was introduced to the idea of the Million Dollar Lesson in my teacher training with Ed Kreitman. When asked how he handles disrespectful behavior in the lesson, he told us about the Million Dollar Lesson and described how it functions in his studio.
Kreitman knows that the value of violin lessons is not in each discreet meeting of teacher/student/parent, but in the long, uninterrupted string of lessons over many years together. One of those discrete lessons must sometimes be used, in the wholistic arc of education, to inform the way a child or parent behaves in the rest of the lessons. On this lesson day the goal is not to pack as much violin instruction into 30 minutes as possible, but to make a short but lasting impact on the student.
If a child crosses your boundaries, and it is obvious the lesson is not a productive one, lean over to the parent and say, “Oh, I think this is our Million Dollar Lesson day.” Stand up, tell the child their behavior was unacceptable, and take a bow to end the lesson.
What will happen at this point (in my experience), is that sh*t will hit the fan.
There will be rolling around on the ground, caterwauling, clinging, begging, and many, many tears. The child will try to make every possible bargain in order to restore the lesson routine. They’ll make promises, they’ll plant themselves on the floor and say they aren’t moving, they might even pick up their violin and try to start playing for you again.
Stand your ground, and ignore their attempts.
The lesson is over because it needs to be the most concentrated dose of reality as possible.
Remember that students crave structure (to know they are safe) and freedom (to know they can express themselves). Many children will unconsciously probe out in order to reach the boundaries of their safe structure, not to try to break through but to know it is there. The worst thing you can do is to back away when students probe, because, to their horror, they’ll realize that they aren’t in a safe structure at all.
What we communicate with the Million Dollar Lesson is that there is a hard and strong boundary over which students cannot cross. If they cross that boundary, the lesson is immediately shut down. You, not they, are in control of the lesson.
If you want to use the Million Dollar Lesson in your studio, it is imperative that you mention it on day one of parent education.
This is the oft overlooked, problematic part of lesson boundaries. Teachers feel locked in to filling the entire 30 minutes with violin instruction, even when they know the best lesson would be to end the lesson, because they were paid for 30 minutes.
But if we step back and consider that our purpose in teaching is to develop admirable hearts first, and excellent musicianship second, than it is vitally important to use a lesson in the course of development to teach children the safe boundaries of your working relationship.
After framing the Million Dollar Lesson in this way, I have never had a parent refuse, object, or eventually ask for a refund. Once on the same page, it can become one of the most powerful lessons in all of the years a child spends with the violin. We call it the Million Dollar Lesson, but really it is priceless.