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Laurie's Violin School: There Are No Teaching Secrets

Laurie Niles

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Published: September 15, 2014 at 7:34 PM [UTC]

The more we elevate the level of music teaching, the more we elevate the level of music education. The more we elevate the level of music education, the better appreciation our society has for music.

So how do we elevate the level of teaching? With the widespread sharing of all our teaching secrets. That's right, stealing ideas from other teachers!

In fact, this very idea is something I've stolen, from Shinichi Suzuki. (And from whom did he steal it? I'm not sure!) Not only did he invite teachers from all over the globe to watch him teach and "steal" his ideas, he also encouraged teachers to do the same: Have an open studio, where teachers, parents and other students are welcome to observe. Learning from other teachers is so critical that many teaching programs, including SAA's Suzuki pedagogy program, require aspiring teachers to observe established teachers for a certain number hours.

But of course it doesn't matter whether you are a Suzuki teacher, traditional teacher, or for that matter, a trombone teacher. The point is that when it comes to educating students, we need a lot of ideas, and sharing those ideas only helps us reach more students in more ways.

Now, when I say "steal," I don't mean to use people's copyrighted music or texts without payment or permission. I simply mean to seek, test and use new ideas on a regular basis. Push yourself beyond your comfortable habits. In turn, share your best ideas with other teaching colleagues.

Here are a few ways to renew your store of teaching ideas on a regular basis:

  • Observe excellent teachers teaching in their studio
  • Go to master classes
  • Talk with other teachers about specific ideas and concepts
  • Share your good ideas -- write a blog about a particular good idea
  • Continue to take classes and read books, even after you are a well-established teacher
  • Participate in online teaching forums
  • Watch teachers who teach subjects unrelated to music
  • Use ideas that will fit your personal teaching style; don't feel you have to imitate good teachers in any kind of way that feels foreign or uncomfortable to you.

When it comes to teaching children, there should be no "secrets" about how to do it. If you find something that works, use it. If you see someone else doing something that works, use it. And give credit where it's due; acknowledge the sources of your ideas and publicly praise your colleagues for their best ideas.

Also, remember your purpose as a teacher. You are not in a competition to be the "best" teacher in the world, or to prove yourself "better" than the teacher across town. You are not trying to find the secret best method that propels your students "ahead" of everyone else's. Those kinds of goals are isolating and can lead to ugly comparisons between teachers and between students. Those goals focus on your Big Teacherly Ego, rather than on your student's progress and learning.

You goal is to teach the student or students in front of you, to the best of your ability. Keep working on connecting your students with music and with their own abilities, and everything else will fall in place.


From Karis Crawford
Posted on September 16, 2014 at 6:10 AM
I have always believed this, too! I am especially interested in anyone who could post links to blogs or articles on specific teaching ideas? I am currently running an El Sistema strings program here in Kenya and would especially like to hear from Suzuki teachers as I am teaching using the Suzuki method and am running a masterclass to teach others how to teach better (good teachers are hard to find in East Africa).

I am primarily a violinist but due to the nature of the program I am also teaching viola, cello and double bass. I have noticed there are very few teaching resources out there for Suzuki viola, cello and double bass. This past summer I attended a Suzuki teacher training course for violin and am hoping to do the cello training next year. Does anyone have any blogs or good websites they have come across where anyone shares information on teaching Suzuki cello, double bass or viola? This would be a wonderful resource to share!

From Edward Kreitman
Posted on September 16, 2014 at 6:58 AM
What a great article Laurie. It reminded me of when Dorothy Delay was invited to the Suzuki Association Conference to teach the violin master classes. We were having lunch in the lobby restaurant of the Conrad Hilton in Chicago where the conference was held. All around us, teachers were having lunch, sharing ideas about their teaching and holding their utensils like bow holds and mimicking violin playing in the air. Ms. Delay was so moved by this. She said "in my world, everyone teaches behind closed doors in fear of our colleagues discovering our secrets. It is so refreshing to see everyone so open and free..sharing ideas about their successes in teaching. Surely, the Suzuki Method is the future of string playing in America."
From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 16, 2014 at 1:29 PM
There are many ways of building teacher communities, and in-person is the best. Teachers are welcome to share ideas and blogs here on Violinist.com, as always!
From Danielle Gomez
Posted on September 17, 2014 at 7:54 AM
So very true. I got lucky in that I started my teaching career by being invited to be part of a teaching co-op. I was fresh out of college with no job so I thought, "Sure, why not?"

I didn't realize it at the time but it was really one of the best things that could have happened to me. The other teachers had a few years of experience (I had none) which allowed me to have a sounding board for ideas. Even though we all ended up having *completely* different approaches to teaching the communal effort allowed each of us to grow way more than if we were all trying to do the job solo.

From 23.117.2.109
Posted on September 21, 2014 at 11:48 PM
This is an interesting and timely article. I am an adult (intermediate) student and have been taking a lot of free online Data Analysis classes (which is my day job) and Music classes through Coursera (a company that hosts online learning classes offered by a variety of schools and universities).

After reading this article, I thought I would share information about one of the online classes that will begin tomorrow (Sept, 22, 2014) called "Teaching the Violin and Viola: Creating a Healthy Foundation". This class is being presented by Northwestern University. While I can't guarantee the quality of the class (you can easily un-enroll), it may be worth checking it out since it's free.

You'll need to login in to Coursera to enroll in this class, which means you'll only need an email address and create a password. Who knows...if this class doesn't suit you, perhaps you will find some other topics and/or classes of interest.

See below for information regarding the strings class.

https://www.coursera.org/course/teachingstrings

Enjoy!

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