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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Clash of the Personality Titans, part II -- how to relate to students and parents

In the last blog discussion about personality styles, I talked about how the styles related to calendars, scheduling, and planning. This week I'd like to talk about how I relate to students' and parents' personality styles when teaching as it relates to Sanguines and Cholerics.

The Sanguine student needs spontaneity and fun. They do not like repetition for repetition's sake. I can get the Sanguine student to do a lot of repetitions, but I have to disguise the repetitions as part of a game or contest. As a teacher, I may get tired of having to come up with new things, but I have discovered that I can then turn the burden of creating a fun game over to my Sanguine student. They are happy to invent new ways to make "work" and repetition more interesting. My Sanguine students have created elaborate treasure hunts around their homes with various skill set repetitions stationed in interesting places. I have provided many styles of dice, colored spinners, and plastic poker chips or other colored plastic counters to my Sanguine students, and they have created and constructed many creative uses for these tools in practice. I also make liberal use of stickers and colorful checkmarks on the student's handbook or music book.

The Sanguine parent can be a little tricky to work with, because they tend to seem a little flighty and disorganized. I have to make sure that they understand the value of each assignment I give and that they will follow through. If I don't stress the importance of an assignment and follow up on whether the parent actually completed my assigned homework with the student, then the Sanguine tends to skip that part of the practice. I frequently remind my Sanguine parents of the importance of each action they perform; these parents serve as the child's most important role model, and completing assigned homework (or work assignment in later life) is an extremely valuable lesson for the child to take in while they are still in the stage of wanting to please their parents. I frequently remind myself to keep reiterating the importance of everything I do in lessons and group classes for the benefit of my Sanguine parents.

The Choleric student is easy to work with in some ways and difficult in other ways. The Choleric can be stimulated to learn simply by issuing a challenge of some sort: How many times can you play this? Let's see who can play this perfectly the most times (or the first time)? Who can use a slower bow? And I am unabashed about saying, "I win!" in order to demonstrate what the correct "winning" skill is. Of course, as a teacher I have the advantage of usually playing everything correctly or perfectly, so I usually win. But within one or two more repetitions, the Choleric is also winning alongside me. So the dare or challenge is definitely a winner with the Choleric personality style.

Here's the difficult part about Choleric students. They have an "unteachable" streak. They are extremely strong-willed and determined to go their own way. It doesn't matter what a parent, teacher, or other authority figure might say. If a Choleric wants to perform a task in a particular way, however misguided, then that is what they will insist on doing. There are several times that I have sat down with a young (5 or 6 years old) Choleric student and had a serious discussion, often with my arm around them, or with them sitting very closely next to me:

Me: "You know I like you a lot, right?"
Choleric: "Uh huh."
Me: "I just wanted to be sure you remembered that. I think that you are the kind of person who finds it hard to follow someone else's instructions, but I know you can get better at this and get really good at following instructions. So I want to help you get better. Here's what I'm going to do to help you." Then I look deeply into their eyes. "Every time you tell me what we are going to do next, I'm going to say 'no.'"

That's it. It's that simple. At that point, the Choleric student usually growls at me. I'm not kidding. They actually scrunch up their face and make a growling sound. It cracks me up, because as a Choleric I completely understand the feelings my Choleric student is experiencing. All I have to do next is just follow through on my promise.

The Choleric student also have a tendency to behave as if they are the only one in the room. When they arrive at the studio, they might walk through the teaching area to visit the restroom, choosing to walk right through the middle of the lesson rather than walking around the edge of the room. Or they might enter the studio and announce loudly, "I'm here! Hi, Miss Bird!" and completely ignore the fact that there is a lesson going on. Teaching the Choleric the appropriate behavior in various situations is an ongoing lesson in itself.

The Choleric parent can be difficult to work with too. They don't behave as if the rules that apply to everyone else also applies to them. A Choleric parent has a mind of their own, and if they do not think something is worth doing, then they won't do it. In a way, the Choleric's behavior is such that the world doesn't seem to exist until the Choleric enters the room. The Choleric parent is focused on moving forward, so I often encounter bouts of the parent's impatience with the speed of the child's progress. The Choleric tends to think about the bottom line, so they focus on how many songs the child has learned (the product) rather than the quality of skills the child has learned (the process). I spend a lot of time encouraging the Choleric parent to "tone it down" and slow it down. I am generous about the number of achievements to celebrate, since a Choleric tends to not be satisfied but is always looking ahead to the next milestone. I frequently remind the Choleric parent to focus back on the starting point, so that they remember to acknowledge the amount of effort and the ultimate amount of progress the student has made.

As you can see, the study of personality styles is quite involved when put into practice. My discussion here was about the Sanguine and Choleric students andf parents. In my next personality discussion, I will look closely at the Melancholy and Phlegmatic personality styles of students and parents.

Be sure to leave me a comment about your own personal observations as they relate to personality styles. I welcome any questions you might have about the teaching process or any problems you might encounter in the teaching area.

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