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It's all your business: invigorating our studios.

We all want our studios to be thriving centers of learning and enthusiasm. Yet at times, boredom, stress or exhaustion can creep into the studio of even the most enthusiastic among us. In the business world, companies constantly evaluate efficiency, assess causes for success or failure and strive to improve products and services. As independent teachers, we need to take a similarly proactive approach to create a studio with refreshed, invigorated and innovative teaching.

We may all face a time as music educators when we seem to have lost our zing. Our students may not appear to be responding to our suggestions, until the lessons reach a point of painfully uninspired repetition and boredom. If the only conversations we have with our students are about fixing mistakes and pointing out shortcomings, they will be bored--and so will we.

Boredom isn't our only enemy. Feeling stressed or overworked also can impact the health of our studios. I have had people say to me, "What could possibly be stressful about your work?" It can be stressful to fit more things into one day than we have time for or to be pulled in a thousand different directions. It can be exhausting to feel like our work is never done or that studio responsibilities are chewing away at our inner peace.

There is an antidote to feeling bored, stressed or overworked. The main thing to remember is that the whole situation is within our control. It may sound simple, but the solution is to change. Once we change to a more invigorated approach, we can see how "in control" we really are.

Just as a major corporation has a long-range plan for development, so should the independent music studio. The ultimate goal of such a long-range plan is for us and our students to feel continual, positive and exciting growth. Rather than attempting too many changes at once, it's best to experiment with one or two new ideas at a time. To keep our teaching careers energized, we can:

* Start beginning students in a totally new method book, especially if we have used the same one for many years.

* Decide to learn new teaching pieces. A commitment to working on something new each week will result in a rich repertoire of fresh and exciting pieces.

* Choose to rotate recital pieces so no piece appears more than once every three years. This keeps recital programs interesting to us, our students and their parents.

* Plan an annual themed recital and vary the theme every year.

* Start students on composition. Our own inexperience as a composer need not hold us back. A local teacher who is successful with composition can be hired to give a presentation to students on how to start composing.

* Read an article every week from a music magazine, and use what is learned. Put aside an hour a week for continuing education, just like doctors and dentists do.

* Take lessons on our primary instrument again. Increasing our technique will allow us to be more effective in our teaching, and taking lessons will energize our approach to musical concepts as well.

* Practice daily. When we set aside time for daily improvement, our students will be the beneficiaries.

* Spend less time teaching individual pieces and more time teaching important skills. When we read up on what the experts have to say, we can better teach skills such as efficient practicing, successful memorization and effective sight reading. When our students learn these skills, we will have more time in lessons to discuss gratifying musical elements.

* Start using a workstation. A workstation can be added fairly inexpensively or at great cost, and can be with or without computers and MIDI keyboards.

* Use technology in the studio. Many of us fear technology, but there is no escaping the fact that we all need to get on board. If there is concern about being able to catch on, we can:

** offer a tech-savvy student free half-hour lessons in exchange for free hour lessons in technology

** ask a daughter, son, husband or neighbor for help

** visit another teacher who uses technology and learn from her

** enroll in a music technology class or seminar

* Start to incorporate more music history into our lessons. Choose repertoire books with written descriptions of composers and styles. Buy music history tapes, CDs and workbooks to include at a listening workstation.

* Give students outside assignments researching composers, periods of music, world music, jazz, opera and so on. Students can share their research in a group class or PowerPoint presentation.

* Start a new program such as a Chamber Music Festival. If there is a string teacher in town, work in partnership with him to have students perform chamber music. If there is not a string teacher in town, string players can be hired to come and perform with our students. MTNA has a great link for an Intermediate Chamber Music Repertoire Database on the website at www.mtna.org, under "Resources."

* Organize a summer camp. Pick a theme--opera, jazz, African music, Native American music, Schubert, baroque dances, contemporary music, or developing skills such as sight reading, hymn playing or memorization. Rather than worry that "I don't know enough about that ..." we can research a topic that interests us. There are plenty of good resources in music catalogs, including CDs, tapes and movies.

* Suggest that our local or state music organization gives presentations about summer camps, technology, new teaching repertoire or any area that would improve the health of our studios, and then learn from each other.

* Stop saying that professional conferences cost too much. Instead, budget money and time for professional development as a legitimate and necessary business expense, which will pay back ten-fold in improved knowledge, skills and professional relationships. Plan now to attend the next MTNA National Conference.

A teacher who has been doing things the exact same way for 30 years is not learning, she is not being innovative, and she is not rejuvenating her professional life. But how do we find time for innovation when we may already feel overworked? To provide ourselves with more time and less stress, we can:

* Research time-management skills or clutter control if either would help us work more efficiently. Experts know ways to solve these problems, and we can benefit from their advice.

* Cut back on book work by studying more effective systems for billing for services, keeping records, marketing or corresponding with parents.

* Firm up our make-up policy, if make-up lessons are chewing away at our time.

* Start a lesson swap list so that students can swap lesson times when they have a conflict.

* Ask our local association for programs on time-savers, so we can learn from each other.

* Cut back on extra activities that are stressful and do not add to our studio health.

* Schedule regular, paid vacations. We are professionals who deserve, and need, time away from music and teaching.

* Adopt a proactive approach to increasing our personal income so that we can teach less and teach better, without being overwhelmed with financial concerns.

* Make a list of our own activities and the time currently spent doing each, to see where our time goes.

* Make a list of where we would like our time to go, being sure to schedule time for self-improvement, family and fun. This is a top priority if we are to enjoy our work.

* Assess personal strengths and weaknesses. Rather than accepting weaknesses, we can each develop a plan for professional improvement. Our students will not improve if we do not improve first.

For us to feel our studios are successful, we also need to feel valued. We all know the movie, It's a Wonderful Life, with Jimmy Stuart. He is shown what would have happened if he hadn't lived. What impact has each of us had on our community? What impact would we like to have?

What would be the impact on our community if no independent music teachers taught there ever again? What would happen if television and computers were allowed to replace the joys of making or hearing live music? Think about the positive impact we can have as teachers who teach students, not for one year, but potentially for 12. Think about the wonderful things we can teach our students about music, not just correct notes, but about the beauty and power of music, and then feel joyful that we have been blessed with this special calling.

At some point, any one of us might believe our teaching has lost its vigor or feel overwhelmed or question the value of what we do. Should that happen, we can take control of our studio, initiate or review our plan for change and personal growth and remind ourselves that we have indeed chosen a wonderful and important profession.

Beth Gigante Klingenstein, NCTM, is nationally known for her presentations and writings on professional issues affecting the independent music teacher. Klingenstein taught as an independent teacher for 28 years before accepting a position at Valley City State University, where she also is the founding director of the VCSU Community School of the Arts.
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Title Annotation:Professional Resources
Author:Klingenstein, Beth Gigante
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2005
Words:1514
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