When the topic of motivation comes up in conversations, most parents mistakenly believe students should be motivated all on their own. An even bigger myth is that motivation is a dependable strategy.
The truth is, you can't just "will" it into action. It's not like doing jumping jacks to work up a sweat. There's no magic pill. You don't snap your fingers and instantly motivate your student.
However, there are certain factors you can put into place to make that chance higher.
The Recipe for Student Motivation
Before we talk about these things, I actually don't believe motivation is a good strategy.
It's not dependable, but discipline is. Motivation comes and goes, but discipline stays.
So before you think about motivating your students, I'd recommend hammering them on the importance of showing up every day to do the work (no matter how they're feeling).
Without discipline, there is no motivation.
How to Motivate Students: The Formula
So how exactly do we "get motivated?" In my experience, it depends on the following 3 factors:
This is the recipe for long-term permanent motivation - i.e. commitment. When you're missing one of these ingredients, that's when failure sets in (and what makes consistent motivation difficult).
Out of those three, the why is the most important - they are the "logs" (if motivation was a fire).
But here's the thing, what fires you up is probably different than what's important for a student.
As adults, our purpose is usually tied into reasons that are uniquely meaningful for us.
When we're able to remind ourselves of these reasons we can consistently tap into motivation.
But for a child, their "why" usually has to do with recognition or approval. For teachers, the question is how do you elicit these feelings from your students?
Let's find out.
To have a student desire recognition or approval from you, they have to care about you. For a student to care about you, they have to like you.
Just like in business, a repeat customer buys from you because they like you. Yes, sometimes there are exceptions, such as ease and a lower price point, but those aren't transactions built on trust - just convenience.
If convenience is the foundation of your business relationships, you're in trouble. It's like a marriage based on money.
So before you even teach the content, the very first - and most important - step is to develop rapport.
Get to know your students on a personal level. What are their interests? What's going on in their personal lives?
Think back to your own experiences with the best teachers you've ever had, you really enjoyed their classes because they showed interest in you first.
The student comes before the content.
Side note: sometimes you'll come across a student who is absolutely obsessed with playing piano and practicing.
These students are self-motivated and don't even need reminders to practice. But the danger is that they care more about the music than you. If so, then you're replaceable to them.
When you've developed a bond with your student, the next step is to show them how their piano studies are linked to life.
This is where school teachers usually fail to capture their students' attention. The reason students "hate" their subjects - besides the teachers showing absolutely no interest in the students themselves - is because they don't see or understand what value it will have in their life.
So if you want to create long-lasting motivation, you have to show them that it's more than just piano lessons.
How do you do this? You start with yourself.
Think about what purpose practicing and teaching piano has served in your own life. Not only that, what other side interests and hobbies do you have? Chances are, you can connect these all together.
For example, I've done extensive research on productivity, business, learning and studying languages. I also love reading. I'm able to take concepts from all of these fields and weave them together in piano lessons (when the opportunity presents itself).
That not only increases my value - I have skills no other piano teacher has - but it's easy to come up with hundreds of examples and stories to share with them. After that, just be patient - you're planting seeds.
I once had a student who pulled a complete 180 in her last year of studying with me - she finally understood the value of all the ideas I had been sharing with her. The several years before that moment, I patiently sprinkled in these ideas throughout our weekly lessons.
Did I know this would happen? Nope, I kept trying because I felt it was the right thing to do.
She had problems with practicing piano since our first lesson. Many a time she would show up without having even practiced for the entire week. But I never thought once to give up on her, and I'm glad I didn't.
No amount of complaining, cajoling or berating her got her to practice more. Once she had her "awakening", and once I supplied her with a concrete action plan, she just started practicing on her own.
And that last year of lessons, she never had a problem with piano practice again.
Of course, some students will never understand what you're doing. If that's the case, they're just not ready yet (sadly, they may never be).
But you still have to keep trying for their sake, and don't let any disappointing experiences stop you.
Now, the how usually comes last or at the same time. Students need to be fully "bought in" before I teach them the real mechanics and how-tos of piano practice.
You start with the big picture before you work on details. It's the "macro" versus the "micro."
How to practice - or how to apply whatever concepts you're teaching them to their personal life - is just as important as the other "ingredients." If you only know the why and what, but not the how, you'll suffer endless frustration.
I'll bet you've experienced this before. The worst teachers will tell you that you need to "work harder" or "practice more."
This happened to me when I was a college student, a professor reamed me out in front of the entire class:
"Warren! This is SO disappointing. You NEED to practice harder OKAY?!"
Newsflash: I was practicing 6-8 hours, every day (another lesson for any teacher: never make assumptions).
So this might be the last step in motivation, but it's absolutely necessary.
For example, once my previously mentioned student found her motivation, she began asking me for advice. And since I knew the roadmap, I could share specific action steps to help her achieve her goals.
But if I didn't know how to show her this, that would've been a major problem.
She was a young woman on a mission and if I didn't know how to get her there, I'm sure she would've dropped me like a bad habit to find someone who could.
Now, of you plan on teaching for a long time let's talk about the not-so-pleasant things that will most likely happen.
For example, even if you nail everything on your end and overdeliver on your lessons sometimes they'll quit anyway.
Why? Because parents don't always understand the value of what you offer.
The best way to avoid this scenario is by setting up the correct expectations in your very first consultation or meeting. And this is probably the only chance you'll get to make an impression and educate them on everything you do.
And even if that first meeting is spectacular, understand that some clients still won't care. If a parent is the hands-off type, and doesn't care to check in with you about their child's progress, there's always a possibility of the student quitting at any time.
It sucks, but there's really nothing you can do about it (I've tried sooo many times). The more you try, the more you just delay the inevitable - and prolong your misery.
Just remind yourself there's always a chance an uninvolved client will vanish at a
Accept this as a (bitter) truth and you won't take things personal.
So keep your head up, remember that it's about doing the right thing because "no good deed goes unpunished."
I hope I've both deepened your understanding of motivation and given you some tools to try out at your lessons.
Remember, motivation is seasonal. In the summer you might be full of energy and looking forward to going on adventures, while in the winter you might curl up on your couch with a cup of eggnog (and your corgi).
Our levels of energy are different during certain times and the same goes for motivation. If you try out these ideas successful, I'd love to hear your story. And if you need more answers, I'm always here to help.
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