I have learned a lot from my dog, and I realized recently that some of it ties right into teaching music!
There are the stern dog trainers, intent on reducing the dog to an obedient creature paying as little attention to other dogs and the world as is convenient for the owner. But then there are the dog whisperers, the ones who know their dog so well that they know the right time to ask the right thing of them, knowing that dogs want to please when they love their owner.
In my case, I learned that if every single interaction with my dog was positive, she was open to anything I wanted her to do.
If you apply that philosophy to teaching music, you end up with a very observant and carefully crafted system of working with students. When a student doesn’t do things you want — practice, follow your advice, or even do what you just asked them to do, for example — what do you do? Intimidate? Stress that you know what they should do and they don’t? Lay down an ultimatum?
There is certainly a place for challenging students and seeing if they can rise to the occasion. However, if they don’t do what you want, there are more interesting and constructive options than applying force (repetition, punishment, intimidation, contracts, etc.).
If you decide you are going to make every interaction a positive one, this does not at all mean praising where no praise is due. What it really means is thinking with the student to understand why they do what they do, how they think, what their priorities are, and coming up with ideas through exercises and explanations, to move them to the next step that that particular student needs. A step they can grasp, at whatever level they need it, to move them to the next step, whether it’s a big step up or a little one — progress of any kind is the goal. I always like to tell students: “You never get good at this; you just get better!” Another angle on this idea can be found at a post I did nearly ten years ago, called “Whose Side Are You On?”
One thing I’ve noticed about adults, kids, dogs, soldiers under a good commander, friends, lovers, voters… anyone, is often something we don’t think about, or that we take for granted: when you love someone, they very well may love you back!