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Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: The Power of the Overlay (aka The Perfect Day)

I remember a discussion in teacher training with Ronda Cole about how to determine what areas to work on when teaching a student. I believe the question was, “How do you decide where to start when a student comes to you at institute?” I want to share Ronda’s answer with you, as I recall it.

When Ronda works with a student, she pictures the student before her with an overlay of the student playing the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. Ronda then explained that she would keep that overlay in her mind as she worked with the student. Her goal was to bring the student in line with the Tchaikovsky concerto overlay. Similar to training a bonsai tree, Ronda would nip a little here, pinch something there, nudge an idea forward, and place some strictures to guide growth in a particular direction.

I think of the overlay as a transparency, like the ones our elementary school teachers used on the overhead projectors. Our teachers' transparencies were -- well -- transparent, with printed or handwritten notes on them, and the teacher would write additional notes during class. I think of an overlay in the context of this article as an enhanced transparency that has a picture of the student playing the Tchaikovsky concerto but also allows us to view the student as he or she is actually playing the concerto, sort of like a movie embedded in the transparency. [Isn’t it marvelous how technology has changed our vocabulary and view of things? Who would have used the words “embedded” or “enhanced transparency” ten years ago?)

This overlay idea is quite powerful and a very useful tool for parents and teachers for many reasons. First, the overlay is the picture of a long-term goal; it provides an overall vision that can guide teaching and learning. Many folks forget that a long-term vision is the most important part of any endeavor. If we do not know where we want to go, then we might head off in the wrong direction. Second, the overlay idea can be an important measurement tool. We can measure our progress from one point to another by referring to our overlay to see how for we have come or to show us where we have drifted off course.

The Tchaikovsky violin concerto is an ending to a very long spectrum of performance overlay possibilities. There are other overlays that a teacher or parent could use as a reference point. For example, when I begin a student, I use the Twinkle Variations overlay in my mind, and I nudge, prod, and discipline my student in the direction of learning how to play the Twinkle Variations like my overlay. Similarly, I have overlays in my mind for each song, for each book graduation, and for recitals.

Beyond the music education scenario, we can use the overlay idea to create our perfect day, our perfect year, or our perfect life. A crucial part of successful goal setting is to consider long-term goals, and an overlay can be this opportunity. Whenever I encounter a frustrating day or finish a crazy week of “too much to do and not enough time to really savor what I did,” I remind myself about the power of the overlay. I ask myself, How would my perfect day have looked? What would the perfect week have looked like for me? Then I create the overlay picture in my head and consider where I needed to tweak, nudge, and apply discipline to recreate my life and my world to more closely resemble the perfect overlay.

I am a big proponent of reflection time. I am not referring to meditation when I use the word reflection. I use the word reflection to mean active thinking. For me, active thinking involves either talking aloud (to myself or someone else) or writing my thoughts down. I generally rely on the writing technique so that I have a record of my ideas and issues. I find that many problems resolve themselves once I have committed them to the written word and placed them on the page. I am blessed with some time every day in which to think about how things are going in my life. If I am fortunate, I will have a little time to reflect while I drink my morning coffee; I use my morning pages to digest my current issues if I have “coffee time.” I also have another daily reflection time: when I make my rounds to feed the farm animals (4 chickens, 4 donkeys, 1 horse, 10 alpacas, 3 cats, 8 dogs, and currently 3 puppies). Walking outside in natural surroundings will sometimes generate unusual directions and insights in my thinking. My current trick is to find a way to record my outdoor thoughts so that I can recall them later (where does one carry the iPhone for voice memos and pictures when walking around the ranch?). In the meantime, I have gotten into the habit of summarizing my thoughts into a short jingle or acronym of no more than 5 letters.

This is a busy time of year for me, as it is for most teachers and parents. School is winding down, and there are spring recital programs to prepare and present. Our schedule starts to rev up to a much higher idle speed than we have been accustomed to. We lose our vision and forget to check in with our goal compass. Now is the time to turn to the power of the overlay to help us recreate the perfect day where we work to create a life that provides satisfaction and allows us to fulfill our purpose.

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