This past week I had 13 students from Taylor University observe my studio over the course of three days. These students were taking a beginning piano pedagogy course as undergraduate students as the university offers a minor in Piano Pedagogy. How lucky are they?!
One of my students loves to create at the piano. The pedagogy students were amazed at our improv activity using Forrest Kinney’s Pattern Play – a series which they were not yet familiar. After revealing one of their fellow students in the room as a talented jazz improviser, my student got the privilege to hear him do a quick lick on the keys. Thank you to that university student for inspiring my budding musician!
Over the course of their time with me and after reading follow-up emails from several of the students, a couple of things occurred to me.
- While I always try to give my best to my students, having someone right there observing me certainly made me button-up even more! Although it wasn’t obvious to them, I was more energized, focused, and was working to show them what’s possible in a lesson. Let’s always try to teach as if someone were watching.
- A lot of the comments and feedback they gave me had nothing to do with pedagogical materials or tactics but with how I related to my students and the environment I created for them. This second point is what this post will focus on.
Here’s what a couple of the girls wrote:
I wanted to thank you so very much for letting me, and four others, observe some of your lessons today. You are such an inspiring woman of God to see in action. I truly appreciate how you incorporate your faith into your work. You are so patient and encouraging with each student and I find your studio to be such a place of peace and comfort. It was an honor to spend some time in your studio and I wish you all the best with the upcoming concert!
I just wanted to thank you for allowing us to come. I really appreciated the opportunity to see a real studio setup and observe an experienced teacher. The layout of your studio is so organized and welcoming. I loved the red accent wall with the piano texture. The way you adapted your teaching technique to the individual students was inspiring. Visiting your studio and watching you teach those four girls really encouraged me in my pursuit of piano pedagogy. Thanks again for having us!
I was certainly flattered by their praise but wasn’t planning on writing a blog post on this or sharing their emails because the last thing I want is for it to come across as bragging.
However, it occurred to me a couple of days later that what these students said in their emails was similar to what a parent said to me and I shared in the post “The Compliment Any Teacher Would Like to Receive.”
What’s the commonality? They all spoke of things like peace, patience, comfort, organization, studio layout, and a sense of welcome – all environmental factors.
I started taking a look around my studio and realized there were six things that could easily be incorporated into any studio whether it’s in an office building or a home. I want to share some of these factors with you today.
Each of these items is like adding icing on a cake. A cake is much more appealing and enticing when topped by sleek fondant and beautiful, colorful designs. Many of us will find a beautiful piece of cake appealing and eat it even if the cake itself isn’t overly tasty.
On the other hand, a beautiful exterior won’t make a bad cake taste better, just like incorporating these elements won’t make you a better teacher – obviously. 🙂 I am convinced that it’s often the little things that can make a difference.
1. Furniture, lighting, and Decor
Have at least one piece of furniture if space allows. Comfortable furniture is even better! Use other furniture items you might see in a home – like bookshelves.
Even if your room is well lit, a lamp adds warmth to a room instantly. The same goes for greenery.
Fun, colorful pillows add to the sense of coziness – add a splash of color somewhere.
2. A place for belongings
Have a place for students to put their belongings as they enter. A simple coat rack can do the trick. If you ask your students to remove their shoes before they enter your home, perhaps it’s a chair to sit down and take off their shoes. We all know the “Book-Bag Shuffle.” Ask your students to place their bag in the same location each time the come in. Everything has its place.
3. Display Photos
In our homes, we display photos of our loved ones. In our schools, we display photos of teams. I display photos of my students on the bulletin board right where they walk in. It also shows their commitment to the piano by listing, next to their name, “Student of Studio 88 since 2011” etc.
4. Keep it Fresh and Clean
Be sure your studio space is cleaned well on a regular basis. I wipe down my keys with vinegar and water solution several times a week if not daily. Lysol sometimes makes it onto the door handles and into the air. Oils are frequently diffused to help keep the air fresh. I even try to clean the carpets every year or two.
5. A little something-something
My students will forget pieces they played, lessons had, and heck, they may even forget my name someday, but they will forever remember that “my piano teacher always had M&M’s.” Some of the teenagers even have to get a turn before they leave. (My husband’s family used to have country gift stores and sell Yankee candles in stores in Indiana malls years ago. This Jelly Belly dispenser was a product of those stores.)
Maybe you have a sucker bowl, once a month grab-bag, or “guess-the-number-of jelly beans in the jar” contest. Even a studio mascot or stuffed animal that travels from home to home to practice with students would be fun!
Every good host always has beverages available to their guests. Even my hairdresser offers me a cup of coffee or bottled water each visit. I encourage students to use the water cooler as much as they want. The younger students especially think it’s cool. Some of them get a small glass of water every time they come just because they can! It’s the simple things! It’s also nice to have for that student who can’t stop coughing or has a tickle in their throat.
Maybe you have a mini-fridge with mini water bottles or a K-cup in the waiting area for parents.
6. Talking points
I have several items that I would call “talking points” in my studio. That is, they make visitor’s heads tilt just a bit and open up a conversation.
This is a puzzle I put together years ago and framed. Anyone know the piece?
A cool contemporary portrait of a grand piano. We found this while touring a Parade of Homes and were able to buy it from a local furniture store. It elicits a LOT of comments.
Of course, I can’t forget my “piano wall.” Yes, that’s right – we painted the far wall of the studio, with a subtle keyboard design. The best photo I could find is from our set-up in 2009. Can you see it?
How did we do it? We used the same color paint but did the wall in flat and the keys in satin. This was my husband’s idea. I especially love when people who have been in the studio for a long time finally have that “aha!” moment. Unfortunately, it’s a little harder to see now that I have the big piano photo in the middle of the wall.
My electronic moving butterflies (also a product of old family gift-stores) elicit a lot of comments and smiles as well.
The Final Slice
Think about one thing you could do to your studio today to make it feel more cozy and inviting. Maybe you need to re-arrange a couple shelves to open up the room more, maybe you run to Target and buy a throw blanket for the back of the couch, hang a new picture on the wall, or finally file the two-foot stack of books or paperwork that’s been sitting next to the piano for a year.
I would especially love to hear about some of your fun “talking point” items. Is there something in your studio the students totally get a kick out of? Please share!