How You Look is More Important than What You Say
Have you ever played the violin for someone really tough? Someone really scary? As you fumbled through your piece, did you look up to see the scowl of this intimidating person? How did it make you feel? Did your performance improve as you watched this reaction? Or did it get worse?
One of my former teachers was well-known in the community for being scary and making students cry. I auditioned for his studio anyway, because, I don’t know, I’m a masochist. That first lesson was torture. In fact, many of the lessons were. He was highly demanding and very blunt.
But you know what? I soon realized that beneath the gruff exterior was a sweet, cuddly teddy bear. No really! This man loved teaching, and he loved his students. All of the students who could stick it out through the interview lesson grew to love him, and knew that when the chips were down, he would do anything to help them and get them where they needed to go in their careers.
So where did all of the rumors come from? Why didn’t more people realize this?
“When the eyes say one thing, and the tongue another, a practiced man relies on the language of the first.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
What are you telling your students with your face and posture? Our non-verbal communication supposedly accounts for 60% of our message, and the most powerful non-verbal communication is our facial expression. One easy way to appear more trustworthy, kind, and fun is to…
You guessed it…
You may think you look happy while you teach, but a relaxed face generally looks bored and annoyed. Some people call this the “Resting B**** Face.” Make the effort to smile a little for the majority of your lesson, and see how much better both your praise and criticism is received!
Smiling helps other people feel relaxed and at ease.
When someone smiles at you, what do you do? You smile back! Or, at least, I hope you do. If you are smiling, it helps your students to be happy and relaxed. It also draws the parents to you, and you need those guys to like you. If your students like and trust you, they are more likely to practice, progress, and succeed with the violin.
Smiling makes you feel good.
My Mom always used to tell me, “Fake it till you make it.” Deliberately putting a smile on your face leads to actually feeling happier. If you are happy, it is easier to be a fun, energetic, and plucky teacher.
Our physical state of being can actually change our brain chemistry. I know. It’s pretty amazing. It turns out that my Mom was right. Faking a smile can actually lead to real happiness.
I know what you’re thinking…
“Ok sure, but I feel phony.”
That’s what I thought too, but that feeling eventually goes away. If this is tough for you, practice How to Smile When You Talk. Just try it for a while. See if it makes a difference for your students and see if it gets easier.
This is something I have been working on myself, and it definitely is becoming more natural for me. I have noticed my students really are more responsive and engaged if I just…smile. That’s a pretty darn simple and easy change.
Have you tried this quick and easy way to improve your teaching style? What other tips would you give to make yourself a more approachable and engaging violin teacher?
Other resources about smiling and body language:
Knapp, Mark L., & Hall, Judith A. (2007) Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction. (5th ed.) Wadsworth: Thomas Learning. ISBN 0-15-506372-3
Drewnicky, Alex. “Body Language, and how to use it effectively.”
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