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Monday, November 8, 2010

The Importance of Being Earnest

Forgive my little pun on the Oscar Wilde play of the same name. Today I want to talk about the importance of working to develop self-discipline. So, what is self-discipline anyway? There are all sorts of definitions out there, but the meaning of the word basically boils down to character and regulation: what sort of character do you show when no one is looking, and to what regulation do you put yourself in the pursuit of anything?

Clear as mud, right? OK, how about this? Self-discipline is the ability to regulate one's behavior in a way that is socially acceptable. Umm, yes, it is that, but it's even more than that. Discipline comes from the word disciple, which means to teach by instruction. Tack on the word "self" to the beginning of the word, and there you have it: teaching the self by instructing the self.

OK, you're probably wondering what I'm actually rambling on about. You have to admit, though, that this is a tricky concept to actually define in a way that makes sense. Do you have self-discipline? Do your students or children? Your spouse or colleagues?

In the area of teaching, we would all like our students to be so good at self-discipline that they would take it upon themselves to practice without being reminded or policed. How can we get them to do that? Is that an impossible dream?

I think that we can get students and children to that point, but it doesn't come easily or quickly. First, I think we work with our students to develop a skill or skill set. After repeating the skill or skill set numerous times, we begin to create an ability. After creating an ability, the student starts to exhibit pleasure in showing that ability, and we encourage that pleasure with applause and opportunities to show off. After the student begins to feel pleasure in the activity, the next step is that the student starts to take some ownership in the activity. And at that stage, we are well on the path of saying that we have helped the student to understand the importance of being earnest and self-disciplined.

As a teacher, my next steps would be to show the student ideas about:

  • how to handle the blah days when the student doesn't want to practice
  • how to handle days when success is outweighed by disappointment
  • how to break down overwhelming tasks into smaller more manageable steps
  • how to set goals and measure progress
  • how to celebrate the achievements
How do you handle this issue with a student? How do you handle the issue with the student's parents? Sometimes my biggest problems are the parents who can't wait for their child to become solely self-sufficient in the area of practicing. I find that very sad. Here is an opportunity for the parents to be directly involved in the child's learning a skill and ability, and then the parents are in a hurry to pass by this chance to really get to understand the child.

As a teacher, I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to share the gift and ability of music making with my students. I wish that more parents could also experience that joyful blessing.

1 comment:

  1. I like how you said, "the parents are in a hurry to pass by this chance to really get to understand the child.". Well put!