Search This Blog

Monday, July 22, 2013

Monday Morning Check In: Burst Your Bubble

Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013

I recently finished a summer strings music camp in San Antonio. As I taught my classes, I was amused to note how many times students appeared to be in their own personal bubbles during orchestra and sectional rehearsals. These personal bubbles prevented students from playing together, in tune, and on time. Students appeared not to notice conductor cues, nor to hear their fellow classmates. It was a curious phenomenon, and it happened often during the two-week camp.

On the last concert day, at the time scheduled for the ultimate grand finale rehearsal, many students arrived to the rehearsal quite late (15-30 minutes late). Since the students themselves could not drive, I can only blame the parents for this tardiness. As I stood observing the latecomers as they dribbled in, I was amused to realize that the parents themselves appeared to be in a personal bubble. To their credit, some parents appeared stunned when they walked into the large auditorium and discovered that there were over a hundred students seated and rehearsing at that moment. I was happy to see that these parents were greeted with the knowledge that they were late! I remarked to one of the orchestra directors next to me that I was happy these particular tardy parents had to suffer through the panicky "I'm late!" experience, and the director responded, "well, it would be great if these parents actually noticed that they were late."

I looked closer at these latecomers, and I noticed that some of them seemed cavalier about their tardiness. I also saw that the response of the student did not always match that of the parent. While the tardy parent might have been relaxed and nonchalant about being late, the student was anything but that. The student entered, confused about where to go (coming on time meant that the student would understand where to unpack the instrument and store personal belongings), and uncertain where to sit within the larger group dynamic (tardiness meant that the student would be seated wherever there was room, not where the student was accustomed to sit with his or her orchestra peers).

My director friend was correct: tardy parents did not seem to recognize the impact that their lateness had on their children. The tardiness created an atmosphere of disruption within the learning environment, as the late students scurried around trying to find a place to store belongings, get music and instrument ready, and then actually play. The lateness created a disruption for the orchestra directors, who had to wait while the late students had a chance to organize themselves for the rehearsal and to minimize the disruption to the rehearsal flow for the other students.

For me, the saddest thing that I witnessed was the effect that the parents' tardiness had on their children. The students were edgy and panicked, as they tried to figure out what they were supposed to do. Some of the children actually shut down emotionally; they would find a place to sit, and then they would behave as if they were overwhelmed by all the energy around them. Teachers would have to help them to determine the next steps: unpack your instrument, store your case and belongings over here, go over to this side of the stage and join your group, etc.

I watched one student over the course of the two-week camp. She came 10 minutes late to the first class. I was annoyed and wanted to point it out to the student because she was older; I held off from doing so, and opted to notify the camp director instead. The second day the student came 15 minutes late. I made a joke of it at the morning faculty meeting. Over the remaining days of the camp, the student arrived at the first class progressively later, until finally the student reached the point of missing the class entirely. Somewhere in the midst of this, I recognized that the student was way too young to drive herself, and that she was entirely dependent on someone bringing her to camp. She was coming late to class or missing class entirely because her supervising adult was bringing her to the camp late.

This is the problem with the bubble approach to life.

What do I mean by a bubble? I mean that persons seem to be in their own little world, completely oblivious of what might be happening around them in their lives at the same time. It is as if these persons were shielded and completely separated by a Plexiglas barrier between the person and the world around them.

We tend to create bubbles in our lives. We create behavior habits. Habits are good things, but sometimes habits create negative situations because we are inattentive to what we are doing. We become complacent with our routine, our responsibilities, and our time constraints. We forget that what we do will have an impact on someone else.

If we have someone who depends on us, then we cannot afford to allow a bubble to grow up around us. We must remain engaged with our life and with what is happening around us. Especially where a child is concerned, I think it is crucial that we stay open and aware of how our actions impact on the child's environment and emotional stability. We cannot afford to lose touch with this important aspect of the child's emotional needs. It saddened me to see so many parents completely out of touch with their child's emotional experience.

I understand that parents may be busy with schedules, other children's needs, and unexpected things that demand immediate attention. However, I often worry that parents become inured to the unexpectedness of things, that parents become accustomed to these things and so build up complacency in general. That is the bubble in the making.

How do we eliminate the bubble or stop it from forming? Here are my suggestions:

Empathy. Let us focus on what it feels like to be the other person. If we are in charge of someone else, let us focus on how the other person feels. If I am responsible for driving my charge to lessons or a rehearsal, I should remember to respect how the other person feels. Many times, I have parents who come to lessons or rehearsals late, on a regular basis, and these same parents have children who detest this practice. Why does the parent not understand how important the attendance timeliness is to the student? That poor student who came to class late every day, and then finally arrived so late as to miss the class entirely, was at the mercy of her driver. How embarrassing it was for that student to arrive daily at a late time and have the other students completely focus on her as she entered the room! And these students were at that age when such things mattered (middle school age). Then the students would be aware of her lateness again, because she would create slight disturbances as she unpacked her instrument and set up her music stand and music. I began to feel really sorry for her situation as the camp days progressed.

Reflection. Dr. Suzuki suggested that parents needed to reflect on their behavior and attitudes on a frequent basis. I think this is an excellent suggestion! If parents would spend a few minutes every day reflecting on how their behavior impacted on their children, I believe that parents would understand better what their children actually experience daily because of the actions of their parents. Parents would not be tardy. Parents would arrange their time to better accommodate their children's needs for security, routine, and social acceptance.

Time. Make time to allow empathy to grow. Spend time in reflection. Most of all, make time to spend with your child so that you understand what your child's needs are. Spend time understanding what your responsibilities are for your child, and then allow the appropriate amount of time to make sure that your child is able to participate fully in whatever activities you and your child have chosen.

This week, let us be mindful of how our decisions and actions impact on others, especially those who are dependent on us. I do not have children, but already I can think of ways that I can be more mindful of how my animals can be better served by my being more considerate of their needs and how my actions can adversely or positively impact on their environment and schedule.


  1. Such wonderful points and tips, Paula! Consideration for time and reflection are such wonderful lessons for both students and adults to learn. With your permission, I would like to share your article in my school's monthly email newsletter.


    1. Thank you, Maria! Of course you may use this article! Please link me a copy if you can. I'd love to read what your newsletter says. This is a good way to get writing ideas.

  2. Hello Paula,

    I have taught middle school for many years. In general they are like grade threes in bigger bodies and their actions and behaviors are generally a perfect reelection of one or both parents. What do you think of the the trend of mothers having their daughters call them by their first name. I just tell myself that it s not the students' fault and move on.

    1. I wonder about mothers asking their daughters to call them by first names. I have witnessed a few moms who seem to be trying to turn their daughters into girlfriends. I wonder if that will ever be appropriate. The fact is that the relationship will ALWAYS be mother & daughter, and no changing of the names will change that fact. Unfortunately, the daughters may not have the maturity to understand that there is a hierarchy to the relationship. Someone needs to be in charge and make final decisions. First names may blur this distinction that it is the parent who should be in charge. This is a problem in general among many parents today. Here in the South, it is not very common to hear children address adults without "ma'am" and "sir." I grew up in PA, and my mother didn't like hearing these forms of address. I've lived in TX 37 years, and I am quite used to hearing and using these forms of address. I wish we could revert back to the Pride and Prejudice days. It seemed to be a kindler and gentler society, even among spouses.