The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Music Teachers: Habit Four: Think Win-Win

December 14th, 2011 by

It’s the end of the year, and I’ve been thinking about report cards.

Years ago, as a fairly new teacher, I decided that my students would benefit from more parent-teacher communication. I was sure each parent wondered if his or her child was making the kind of progress of which he was capable. Was Rebecca practicing technique effectively? Was Thomas doing his theory consistently? How much time should Annie really be spending reviewing repertoire vs. learning new music?

I decided that report cards were the answer! I made a Piano Lesson Report Card with all the various topics I wanted to cover and a place for a personal note, had them copied, and decided I’d introduce my brilliant idea at our next recital.

In the days before the recital, I thoughtfully prepared each report card, adding words of praise and encouragement to the necessary “Rob could spend more time counting out loud” comments. At intermission at the recital, I explained my thinking and handed out the report cards along with the awards each student had received.

As the recital continued, I noticed that one student looked close to tears and her mother looked close to rage. My student performed, then she and her mother left, well before the end of the recital. That night I received an angry phone call from the mother, berating me for my insensitive report card and letting me know how terrible it was that I had shamed her daughter by giving her a C in theory, and in public, no less. She let me know she had expected more of me. She had expected me to be a light in her daughter’s world, and instead, I had made music become another way to be judged and found wanting.

I was horrified. My intentions had been noble, even if not well thought through. The public nature of the judgment was too much for a girl who had been going through a hard time anyway, and I hadn’t even considered that my report card (with its very generous C…she never ever did her theory assignments) could create so much turmoil. I sent a letter of apology to both the mother and the daughter, but the damage had been done and I never taught that student another lesson.

That was not an example of win-win.

This year, almost 20 years later, I still wonder how best to accomplish my goal: to have each of the members of the Student-Teacher-Parent triangle feel that their needs are being met, their expectations and goals recognized, and that each of us are members of a team. Emails and phone calls are helpful, of course. My written lesson assignment sheets are necessary to make my weekly expectations evident. But I want to move it to another level. I’m looking for ways to make lessons a win-win-win for each of the sides of the triangle.

So share with me:

How do you help improve communication and goal-setting with parents and students? Parent-teacher conferences? Lesson notes through MTH? Even (gasp) report cards? And how do you share your less-than-stellar reports with parents or students in a respectful, encouraging way? Tell all!

Posted in Studio Management, Teaching Tips

About the Author

Kerri Green
Kerri Youngberg Green grew up in Southern California. She received her Bachelors and Masters degrees in Piano Performance and Pedagogy from Brigham Young University. Her students have won competitions, performed with orchestras, gone on to music degrees, and grown to love music making. Kerri is active as a performer, teacher, and collaborative pianist in the Salt Lake City, Utah area and stays bu... [Read more]

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