Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Devil's in the Details

In a study examining differences between more effective and less effective principals, Doug Fiore determined that one significant variation is that the very best leaders ignore minor errors. Though this finding was not limited to how they treat high achievers, we can see how it would readily come into play. High achievers hold themselves to very high standards. They expect to succeed at everything they do and work exceedingly hard to do so. That is one reason they are so good.
When high achievers have their shortcomings pointed out by someone else, they emotionally deflate. They are used to expecting tremendous things of themselves and they hate to let others down. If we point out minor flaws in their achievements, they take fewer risks and keep their successes more private. This is just the opposite of what we want our best role models to do. We want their work to shine as an example and inspiration to others.
The Fiore study also pointed out that if principals harp on minor errors, the faculty shies away from contact or interaction with them. The less effective the principal, the greater the likelihood that teachers will describe that leader's comments as consistently negative. For the sake of our own self-worth, we tend to stay away from someone who regularly points out our mistakes.
from "What Great Principals Do Differently" by Todd Whitaker

Do you, the teacher, see yourself as a leader? A boss? If so, does that make the student the follower? The employee?

If so, what kind of leader are you? Are you the kind that leads by nit-picking away until there is nothing left of the student's self-respect, let alone the muse? Or are you the kind that encourages a bit of risk-taking?

When I first read this quote, I saw myself as the employee, and I cheered! Yes, I said to myself, I DO become easily deflated when someone picks at little things that aren't quite perfect. I DO become frustrated when creative risk-taking is unappreciated or dismissed.

Then I took the position of the boss. I thought a lot about how complex it is to balance the "major" musical details against the "minor" musical details. As music teachers, we are trained to hear sound as a rich mix of pitch, intonation, articulation, dynamics and accent. Oh, yes, and then there are the fingerings, the pedal decisions and the technical movements that need to be assessed. What is major? What is minor, other than the keys, of course! When have we hit the point where the student is unwilling to take any chances for fear of being lacerated with the details that are whipping by?

The job of the music teacher is to teach the music AND the student. When our awareness is narrowed to the musical details, we may miss the point of overload for the student. There is sometimes a fine line between enough information and too much information, between too much control and not enough risk-taking.

If you are sensing that the student is bracing against the inevitable onslaught of criticism, maybe the line has been crossed. If you are sensing that the student is content to play without any discipline what-so-ever, chances are you've gone too far the other way. Remember, every student's line is in a different place.

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