With consciousness and memory divided each week between 3 orchestra rehearsals, 16 hours of college coursework, a lesson with my own private teacher, band practice with the Light Horse Harry crew, and attempting to remember the odd set of batteries or tube of toothpaste when I make it to the grocery store, I sometimes worry that I won’t be be mentally prepared to engage with one of my private students. I want to make sure that when a students approaches me for a lesson, I at least remember all of the work we have done together, acknowledge progress that has been made, and have a few assignments ready to continue development. Even more importantly, I want each and every student to know I prioritize our unique time together while I provide them with my undevided attention.
The method I have developed to accomplish this is two-fold. First, I make sure to keep written records of each lesson for each student, and return to those notes on the following lesson day to remind myself of previous lesson objectives and to plan for a productive time together. Second, I make sure that our time together is sacred — clearing my mind before we start and only focusing on individual learning styles, sequences, and success while we work.
Efficiency guru David Allen says the mind is for having thoughts, not remembering them. I find that I cannot rely on my own psyche to retrieve past information in a lesson when I need it most, without a proper system of collection, organization, and personal refreshing (the memory jog).
I like to begin this process as I ride the 18MLK bus back from the studio where I teach to campus. As I pass each stop, I use the time to mentally reflect on all of the previous lessons of the day. I have a note in Evernote for every student in my private studio, and use that space to jot down the structure, pace, big discoveries, and ideas for each of their weekly lessons. I even make sure to capture when their upcoming orchestra concerts are going to be, and when they mentioned and interest in a particular movie or game to take advantage of in a future lesson activity. The idea here is to release every relevant bit of information to the note taking software while it is fresh on my mind (when I am most accountable).
As ideas come to me throughout the week I note them on each student’s note, but the notes remain relatively untouched until the morning of our lessons. I take at least 2 or 3 minutes, sometimes even 10, rereading through the developments of each student’s previous lessons. I then plan a general arc of the upcoming lesson. This includes any questions I need to ask the student or parent before the lesson begins, any specific assignments I promised to check up on, the maximum or minimum amount of time I want to spend on lesson objectives, and any general goals I want to accomplish in our time together.
I do a final review of my lesson plan as the student is unpacking their instrument, and before I launch my tuner app to innitiate the tuning process.
Preparation is one thing, but undevided attention is another. My longest continuous link of lessons right now is four students, for a total of two hours. There are some days where I move from sight-singing class, to a Book 2 lesson, to a String Project meeting, to a pre-twinkle lesson, immediately followed by a Book 1 lesson. The quick turnarounds necessitate a sort of ritual to be implemented at the beginning and end of each to establish the boundaries of our time together. I choose to use the traditional practice of bowing to indicate the beginning and end, as well as physically demonstrate the mutual respect I have for my students.
Additionally, I have adopted a tool Ed Kreitman writes about in his book Teaching from the Balance Point in order to clear the minds of both student and teacher. After tuning and before beginning review or checking up on technical excercises, I play the “Watching Game” with all of my pre-twinkle and book 1 students. Together we stand in rest position, bodies quiet, look into each other’s eyes and count to 10, I then give a sniff and we take our bow. The consolidation of energy and focus students bring to the room through this exercise is sometimes awe inspiring. It also serves as a checkpoint to measure the readiness of a student to begin the lesson, and gives them a task to accomplish before the violin is even settled on their shoulder.
By establishing these routines, quick capturing of relevant lesson information and focused bow to begin and end lessons, I allow my brain to relax between in within the lessons of each of my students. With my mind refreshed and cleared, we are ready to work and make progress together.