My Teaching Philosophy
and How to Write Your Own

At its most fundamental level, a teaching philosophy is a framework that says where you stand and why. It helps organize your thinking, clarify your goals, and guide your decisions. Having a teaching philosophy also imparts consistency to what you do.

Sharing your teaching philosophy is the quickest way to communicate to others your point of view and the short- and long-term goals of your teaching (parents, students, and colleagues who might refer students to you).

In your teaching philosophy also lies the key to an advertising program which will be effective at attracting your favorite kinds of students. Your teaching philosophy also can generate text for your advertisements and studio brochure.

As you formulate your teaching philosophy, you must arrive at answers to three crucial questions:

If you selected mostly the first of each of the above possibilities, your preference is for the product. Your approach will be very specific. Your curriculum will zero in quickly on skills which are unique to pianists, and the student's on-going study will emphasize masteries that apply directly to piano literature.

Teachers who are product-oriented also emphasize learning repertoire. To them, traversing the literature is very important as evidence of progress. Such teachers tend to favor competitions and evaluations as concrete measures of success. In the early stages of learning, unfortunately this type of teacher may succumb to the temptation to take shortcuts such as pre-notation pieces, writing in letter names of the notes, or fingering the score extensively, so that the student can play a recognizable tune as soon as possible, as a way to please parents and as a way to indicate to colleagues that they are good teachers.

If you selected mostly second choices, you value the process more than the outcome. Your approach will be more generalized. Your curriculum will take a slower and more indirect route to applied piano technique, and you will introduce supporting topics, such as singing and composition, with greater frequency.

Teachers who are process-oriented concentrate on helping the student discover personal rewards in music study, find enjoyment in music-making, feel confident of his ability to learn, and feel that the effort put into music study is a worthwhile endeavor. Such teachers particularly encourage creativity and independence in their students. Process-oriented teachers run the danger, however, of being disorganized and somewhat superficial in preparing their students, especially for college-level music study. They can get so caught up in the "feel good" that content or rigor suffers.

After wrestling with those three questions, consider some more.

Be honest, especially about the last two.

How you answer these questions will guide the structure of your curriculum, selection of repertoire, teaching pace, teaching techniques and strategies, how you deal with students and parents, and the non-lesson activities you design for your students.

A teaching philosophy is a long time in the making. You do a lot of reading and thinking. You hear other teacher talk. You observe other teachers' behavior. Some ideas coalesce. You have flashes of insight. You discard some elements and modify others.

Take a stab at writing your teaching philosophy. Use any format you like.

Now that you've drafted your teaching philosophy, here's mine. (If you've read much at all in this area of my home page, nothing below will come as a great revelation to you, as this philosophy permeates the files available here.)

My teaching philosophy is part of my written studio policies. I think your philosophy should be part of your written studio policies, too.

The foundations of my teaching philosophy are:
1. My primary goal is to teach students how to learn.
2. Teaching must be matched to the student's learning style, not learning matched to the teacher's teaching style. Therefore, teaching style, curriculum, and approach must be flexible, varied, and individual.
3. Empowerment is the key to motivation. Motivation is not something the teacher does to a student; it is something the student does to himself. The teacher's part is to introduce possibilities.

These maxims guide my interaction with students:
1. I'll never be angry if you ask a question.
2. I'll never be angry if you make a mistake.
3. I'll be upset only if you don't try. If you won't try, I can't teach you.
4. If you don't understand, it's my fault, not yours. It's my job to teach you in a way you understand.
5. Attempting is often more important than succeeding.

These other ideas are also paramount in my teaching:
1. Music is a joy.
2. Music lessons should be fun. They are a privilege, not a punishment or a requirement. If we're not having fun, something is wrong.
3. Piano study isn't always going to be easy, but it always should be satisfying.
4. I emphasize initiative and self-direction.
5. I encourage exploration and creativity.
6. I show the student respect and affection.

As regards advertising copy, presumably you'd prefer to teach people whose attitudes about music and the benefits of music study match yours. By using specific words and phrases in your advertising, you send subtle signals that will be picked up by like-minded readers searching for a piano teacher.

If you are a product-oriented teacher, your ads might mention "variety of repertoire" or "opportunities for performance and competition" or "well-developed technical curriculum."

If you are a process-oriented teacher, your ads might have phrases such as "life-time joy" or "learn how to learn" or "encourage students to be creative."

Buyers want to know what you can do for them and respond well to specifics. To make your advertising and brochures more effective, translate philosophical generalities into specific benefits the student would reap from studying with you. Here are a few examples of explicit benefits:

For pre-schoolers and kindergarteners, there are additional pre-academic (readiness) skills and attitudes fostered by piano study:

Formulating and expressing your teaching philosophy is not an easy task, nor is it a quick one. As you teach and think, your philosophy will be refined, evolving as your clarify what you feel is vital to pass on to your students.

copyright 1997, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me for reprint permission.

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