Teaching and Learning: Putting Words to Your Pedagogy

On Friday, I asked followers of my Facebook page to try to succinctly define their teaching and learning philosophies. There were some amazing responses from educators around the country that were truly inspiring to me; some which aligned perfectly with what I believe and others that helped me stretch the boundaries of how I think about learning.

Here’s my initial answer to my own question:

“My teaching philosophy: Form follows function. Everyone is musical, and through developing their musicality, all develop skill. My learning philosophy: Be curious and brave.”

I get “form follows function” from Jan Kagarice, who describes it as a bigger part of natural law. Meaning: whatever it is we need to do, our bodies will develop the skill or adapt however necessary to complete the task. In biology that’s evolution; in instrumental playing, that’s technique developed through musical expression.

I also firmly believe that we all have some level of innate musicality, and the sooner we are encouraged to use it and grow with it, the longer we’ll feel confident and enjoy our participation in music at any level. Not everyone has to be a professional. I am often so discouraged when I hear people say they have no music talent. I translate that as, “I was told I wasn’t good enough to play professionally, so I must be terrible at music.” No, not everyone is going to be a musical genius. But yes, everyone can be musical.

Some of my favorite responses from the thread include:

-“we learn by doing.”

-“Every student is different. If a student isn’t “getting it”, it’s my responsibility to think of as many different exercises and analogies as I can can until one clicks. Also, the teacher does not get to determine what a positive student outcome is. There is no ‘trombone mold.'”

-“I  hope my students learn from me as much as I learn from them. I strive to inspire my students to love the process of learning rather than focus on the end result, to be fearless and tenacious music makers.”

-“we keep what we have by giving it away”

-” I try to strike a balance between giving information and asking questions to get students to think for themselves.”

There are so many good things here. First of all, “we learn by doing” is a direct offshoot of “form follows function.” Jan would say “the body learns by doing” and trial and error is a critical component of our learning process. We too often get discouraged when we fail, as though failure were not the best teaching tool there is. And by focusing on a task, slowly, critically, letting our form develop as we communicate the function we desire, creates neural pathways that lead to better, longer-lasting results.

I also love “there is no ‘trombone mold’.” I would like that tattooed on every trombone instructors arm so they can remember it every day. Often times I tell my students, “there is more than one way to be a musician” and I mean it. A homogenous, restrictive idea of what success looks like has held classical musicians in thrall for far too long, and it’s time we redefine what meaningful music-making looks like.

“Fearless and tenacious music-makers” comes from Sean Reusch, and I love the symmetry of his teaching philosophy with my learning philosophy. It shows  how much his example has guided me into my professional career and personal creed.

What’s your teaching philosophy? How do you approach learning?

The featured image on this post is John Cage’s 10 Rules for Students and Teachers.

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