Have you ever been to an inspiring conference, or participated in an amazing teacher training course, or simply had your mind blown by a TED talk and consequently resolved to change everything about your life?
In the thralls of motivation you decide to completely revolutionize your meal plan, your work out goals, the way you think about vulnerability/love/education/technology, and the way you operate as a professional. Perhaps you completely revamped the way you schedule your lessons, the way you expect students to review, or the manner in which you ask parents to take notes. Coming away from an inspirational learning experience, you want to change everything all at one.
But how much of that change lasts? How much of that change persists, and how much of it drifts back to your state before the moment of divine inspiration?
Much literature has been written about what to change in your teaching, but not not much has been written about how to make those changes. I’ve published many habits and routines that are seemingly minor on their own, but have had a huge net impact on the ease of learning in my violin studio. The “what to change” included…
Using a practice chart
Preparing your mind and body through meditation
Using growth language
Using time spent walking to practice teaching
I invited you to join me in making these changes in your teaching, but now I want to clarify “how” to do so.
How To Change Your Teaching
Sid Garza-Hillman, a nutritionist and philosopher on naturalism, regards the mass of all of our unique behaviors, habits and routines as a towering stone wall. The wall could be made of healthful habits such as the urge to exercise and spend time with loved ones, or the wall could be built up by unhealthy habits such as addiction and negative self talk.
The height and strength of this wall is not determined by the type of habits one builds, but by the amount of time and energy spent forming those habits.
For example, running every morning for 10 years would feel just as routine as binging on Netflix every night before bed after doing so for a decade. And because habits are formed from the beginning of our existence, many of us are the product of behaviors, habits, and routines that have been reinforced since our childhood. For some the struggle to eat fresh, wholesome food is constant because their childhood was filled with fast food and mindless eating. For others the discipline to read a long, paperback book was never formed because their family watched movies and played board games together instead of reading. And, often far more strong than the outward manifestations of our behavior, our internal dialogues and mental framework has been reinforced, strengthened, bolstered and fortified in particular ways since birth.
Garza-Hillman emphasizes the fortitude of this wall of behavior to his clients so that those on the journey to improve don’t approach their work with the illusion that it will be easy. An entire wall of behavior will not be overturned in a single night – no matter how inspired one is to change. Trying to overturn the entire wall often leads to a sense of overwhelm and helplessness, and results in no lasting change (if not outright damage) to your previously established good behaviors.
Rather than trying to change the entire wall, he suggests attempting to make the smallest of cracks in your well established wall. Then, only once that crack seems like a natural part of the wall, one can add a wedge to that crack and widen it bit by bit. Success in changing behavior is thereby measured by small, slow, and sustainable actions. He calls these “small steps.”
Focusing on one crack at a time — taking small steps in only one habit area — leads to much more noticeable, permanent change in the long run.
Though Garza-Hillman uses the “small steps” approach to coach his clients to nutritional health and physical well being, I think we can use it to improve our ability to teach violin.
We begin teaching with a giant wall of experience related to being a performer and generally being in contact/communication with humans our entire life. But in order to be effective teachers we need to change certain behaviors and add new ones. Most importantly, we need to be mindful of exactly what our wall is made of, know how we are trying to change it, and make sure the change we are doing is sustainable.
Just as knowing about vibrato is not the same as playing with masterful, artistic vibrato, knowing about the elements of good teaching is not the same as integrating and practicing it into ability via “small steps.”
Below I will detail the small step approach, and next week will give an example of how I’m currently taking small steps to improve the wind-down routine at the end of my lessons.
The Small Step Approach – Using a “Steps List”
- Find two index cards
- On one index card, write all of the changes you want to make to your teaching
- Take a look at the list, and choose ONE change that you would like to work on immediately. You could choose this one because it looks like the easiest to do, or because it most directly effects the success of all the others, or simply because you are most excited about changing it
- Decide what the smallest unit of change (the step) is that you could do daly without any extra effort in your day. For example, if the change is meditation – take one breath at a particular time; Journaling – write one sentence in a journal right before you go to sleep; Learn more about your students’ personal lives – ask the first student of the day “How are you dong?”
- Write the ONE step down on the remaining blank index card. This is your “steps list.”
- Once that has happened reliably for a week or so, you can decide how to increase that step (breathing for 30 sec, writing a paragraph in the journal, ask every student “How are you doing?”). Note your decision of your step list
- Keep taking small steps toward your new goal (writing each step down on your list) until you feel the habit is so easy that you could keep doing it (without willpower) while starting a new habit
- You can then decide on the the smallest unit of change (the step) related to a new habit that you could do daly without any extra effort. Note that new step on your same step list.
Eventually you will have a long list of steps that feel extremely easy for you to do. It is both a reminder to make the small improvements you committed to and a record of your achievement
Please give this intentional method of change a try, and let me know what you think!