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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Monday Morning Check In: Role Models

Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013

When I joined the symphony many years ago, I recall watching a woman enter rehearsal and stride to her seat on the inside of the second stand of the first violins. I could not help but notice her. She walked with a calm air of confidence. She looked like she knew what she was supposed to be doing and would be able to do it well. She had such a strong air about her, and at every rehearsal I would watch her entrance on the stage. I wanted to be just like her. I wanted to exude that same self-confidence and feel that same sense of purpose that I saw in her.

I have talked about the importance of role modeling before, but I have been thinking this week about the importance of having role models for ourselves. As teachers, we are careful to present ourselves publicly in a way that we hope will inspire students, motivate parents, and lead others in a direction that would benefit others as a community. The Suzuki Method places a great emphasis on role modeling: parents for students, teachers for parents and students, and students for other students. All of us who are part of the Suzuki Triangle are role models in some way to each other.

My students are also role models to the other students in their classes. For example, in my current group class configuration, there are some students who are thoughtfully role modeling certain behaviors for other students. Last year, I had a young boy about 7 years old who was quite fearful in his approach to new things. He was afraid to make mistakes and definitely was out of his comfort zone whenever we attempted a new skill. He came to me as a student when his previous teacher moved away, so I did not have an opportunity to teach him from the very beginning, although I did back him up and revisit the Twinkles to make sure that we addressed any bad habits he might have developed.

During group classes, I noticed that this young, fearful boy seemed to be drawn to another older boy of about 13 years old. I watched the interactions between the two boys over the course of several classes. The young boy had an anxious energy about him, while the older boy was much calmer and much more open to trying new things. The older boy had a kind, gentle, and nurturing spirit. The younger boy constantly watched the older boy in everything that the older boy did. If the older boy tried something new, then so did the younger boy. Here is where my story gets really interesting.

I found out when we practiced for our spring recital that the younger boy did not know how to take a bow. He completely resisted my efforts to teach him how to take a bow. He said that it was embarrassing. I pushed as gently as I could, but I backed away from going all the way. At the next group class, I asked the older boy to be our leader and to practice having the group take a bow together, with our goal being to bow simultaneously. To my delight, the 13 year old would slightly rise up on the balls of his feet while taking a bow, giving a really clear signal to take a bow. I had placed the little boy almost directly behind the older one, and the younger child copied the older boy exactly. That was the end of the balking bow issue from that point on. I had an opportunity to talk to the older boy about what a fine job he did as a leader during the group class and how important his job was as far as the younger boy was concerned. From that moment on, I saw the older boy take a personal interest in the younger boy. The older would talk to the younger and show him how to do things, and the older would act very demonstratively about any new skills we brought up in class.

It is a new season and a new group class. The older boy approached me after class the other day to bring to my attention that the younger boy seemed very different this year. The younger was much more courageous about playing new songs and about participating in class. The older boy felt a true sense of worth about the role that he played in the success of the younger boy. That is the power of role modeling. Not only does the modeler provide a strong example that can give a great sense of value to the modeler, but the person watching the role modeling receives a great opportunity to learn.

I have been thinking about those individuals in my life who serve as role models for me. There is the young boy that recently joined my studio. He approaches everything as if it is going to be the most fun thing to do. He has an instant smile, an eager spirit, and great enthusiasm about his participation. I want to be like that. I want to be happy and smiling and enthusiastic about my work and my participation in life.

There are the other members of the Artisan Quartet. These people are important to my life and provide me with many role model behaviors that I want to emulate, such as consistent discipline, artistic musical expression, and general good humor and positive outlook. There are some people that I work with at the university who provide good role modeling for me in terms of collegiality, teamwork, and diplomacy.

Remember that woman I mentioned who sat in the fourth chair in the symphony? She passed away a long time ago. I have had the honor of sitting in her chair for a very long time now, and very seldom does a rehearsal go by that I do not think of that woman and how I admired the way that she conducted herself. I continue to try and emulate her style as much as I can, and I wonder if anyone thinks about me that same way that I thought of that woman.

Who are your role models and what lessons do you learn from them?

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