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Improve Your Piano Teaching through Self-Assessment

By Leah Coutts | Piano Teaching

Dec 18

improve piano teachingSelf-assessment to Improve your Piano Teaching

It’s that time of year when many of us have just received our students’ exam results and sent out progress reports to parents. Tracking student progress is definitely an important activity, but what about our progress as teachers? Is the fact that our students are returning to us next year really enough feedback?

Just as our students are marked based on criteria, we too need a set of standards to hold ourselves accountable to. The criteria for assessing our teaching should be determined by our values.

Related: What’s Your Piano Teaching Philosophy 

What Are Your Teaching Values?

Teaching values that I strongly believe should be common amongst all teachers include:

  • Actively engaging students in their learning – It is common knowledge amongst current learning and teaching theories that students learn most effectively through active engagement rather than being passive recipients of information. A common goal amongst all teachers is to make the learning process as effective as possible for the student. After all, isn’t that what teaching is all about?
  • Seeking growth and development as a teacher – If you stop developing yourself professionally, teaching can quickly become stale, uninteresting, and disengaging. If you’re not inspired by your craft, how can you expect your students to be?

What other values and qualities resonate with you as a teacher? What do you believe makes a great teacher?

assess your piano teaching tim topham

What are your teaching values?

If you had to choose the top three qualities in your teaching what would they be? What would you add or change to the word cloud above?

Piano Teaching Feedback Process

Your values and the qualities you associate with great teaching are the standards by which you assess your teaching. Below is an outline of the process I use. It is an adaptation of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle.

Step 1 – Teach:

Think about your students’ practice sessions. Without deliberate intention, it is pretty easy for students to go through the motions of “practice” without actually achieving much (you can see how to adapt this cycle for students here). And we know as pianists ourselves how much regular, conscious, and intensive focus is needed for steady growth. The same can be said for teaching.

Every lesson we teach is an opportunity to practice and improve. We need to stay focused and engaged with action plans and ideas for growth. It is too easy to become complacent and go through the motions of teaching without staying conscious of how we are teaching. This can quickly lead to feeling disengaged and uninspired. Not the most conducive mindset for motivating and engaging students.

In order to teach by the qualities and values we hold dear, teaching is just the beginning…

Step 2 – Reflect:

While we are teaching, most – if not all – of our focus is on our student. This means that if we don’t set aside time outside of the lessons to reflect, we can never truly assess our teaching. Questions for reflecting may include:

  • Did I engage my students and make our lessons fun/engaging/inspiring?
  • Did I make the activities relevant to each individual student?
  • Did I show patience, kindness, and support?

Also ask yourself:

  • What did you do well?
  • What could have been done better?
  • What were your students’ reactions to activities in the lessons?

Step 3 – How Can You Improve?

The blogosphere makes it easy to access the latest thoughts, tips, and resources for teaching. Tim’s recommendations are all well worth a visit. Other sources of professional development include:

With so much information available to us, it is easy to get information overload. Try to stay specific in your quest for new strategies by using your reflections on your own teaching to guide your attention to sources/articles/workshops that will help to meet your needs.

Step 4 – Implement & Experiment

Reading, watching, subscribing, and attending workshops only goes so far… A great idea without action achieves nothing. The main thing now is to choose one new thing that you would like to try, and – well, try it.

When deciding what new strategy to use, ask yourself how it serves the qualities you are hoping to emanate. If you’re looking for something fun and engaging and value keeping up with current trends, you may be drawn to technological advancements. If you’re looking for ways to nurture problem-solving skills, you might assess communication methods. If you would like to be more fun and creative, you may look for new games or improvisation tasks.

This step in the cycle is all about stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing the unfamiliar. Don’t shy away from experimenting with new strategies and ideas in lessons. Don’t be afraid to use your students as guinea pigs and respond to feedback from them. One of the great parts of teaching is learning from your students in return.

Keep Improving Your Teaching

Implementing and experimenting brings us back to step one – teaching. Remember, lessons are an opportunity to practice new strategies. If something doesn’t work, that’s fine. Just reflect, learn from it, adjust as necessary, seek to clarify or change, adapt, and continue to grow.

Reflecting, researching, and lesson planning accordingly does take some getting used to. It also involves time, focus, and a vested interest in professional development and growth. But we owe it to our students and ourselves to stay motivated, inspired, and engaged. If we’re excited about the lesson, inquisitive, and happy to experiment with new ideas, imagine the impact on our students.

I would love to hear how you reflect on your teaching and how that inspires future actions in your teaching. Do you notice a change in your students as a result?

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About the Author

I am passionate about understanding learning theories and sharing how they translate into teaching strategies in the piano studio with other piano teachers. I believe that anybody has the ability to learn and grow through music. My goal is to maximise engagement in lessons, foster a sense of inquisitiveness, and above all, enable students to enjoy the musical journey.

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