I’ve become fascinated by a little-used word in my vocabulary: "accord." When most people think of "accord" they think of being in agreement, or an official political agreement, or doing something out of one’s own will. A lesser-used definition is "balanced interrelationship, harmony." Based on those definitions, a life that is "in accord" is a life lived at peace with oneself and with the people around you. It is a life lived in harmony. But how do we get there? What is needed to live in accord? And what does this have to do with music?
Emotional regulation is key to living in harmony with yourself and with others. "Emotional regulation," as defined by Marc Brackett of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, is most simply defined as "being able to handle our emotions in helpful ways." Ok, cool, I agree. Knowing how to handle my emotions in helpful ways is a good thing for my life overall. But what does this have to do with music?
My own training as a music teacher did not deal with "emotional regulation." When I first started teaching, I had no idea what I was doing. Thankfully, my last high school teacher invited me to be her studio assistant. She let me be a "practice partner" at summer camp, studio class assistant and group class teacher. She eventually sent me students when her studio was full. Since then I've studied different teachers and their methods, read lots of books, and taught classes, camps, private lessons, etc. I even earned two collegiate degrees. I received a lot of great training on how to teach, on what to teach, communication, studio policies and more.
But in all that time, I never encountered any training on how to help students navigate their own emotions, or even my emotions as the teacher!
Several years ago, I started looking into gaining better emotional and mental health, for personal reasons. As I learned about "emotional regulation," I began wondering if this was a key ingredient, and if it was the thing that was missing from my teaching. I had a few students struggling to engage in practice and in lessons, due to life events and the emotional trials of growing up. I couldn't figure out how to "reach" these students. Was learning to model "emotional regulation" something I needed to add to my teaching, so that these students could get more out of our time together? Was my overall lack of training in emotions and mental health hurting me and my students?
The COVID-19 pandemic made it even more clear. During that time, my lessons were moved from in-person to all-virtual. Like many, my own mental health nose-dived, and all my students crashed into the wall of virtual learning. We were all "emotionally dys-regulated" - the mood swings were dramatic. For me, this was concrete proof that emotional regulation skills needed to become part of my teaching. Otherwise, my students and I were not going to make it to the end of the school year.
Here are some of the things I did, to help with "emotional regulation," among my students and myself during the pandemic:
The difficulties of the last year prompted me to start seriously researching emotional intelligence. There is plenty of information out there about emotional intelligence and emotional regulation skills, but I am still looking for how private music teachers can incorporate these skills into our teaching. I don’t claim to be an expert in this topic, but I’m going to be writing about it until someone comes along with the books, trainings, seminars, or presentations that I wish I could read right now.
If you or someone you know are more experienced in this field please leave a comment. I'd love to talk!
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