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Ideas on Learning

Getting the most out of education

It's Spring Break week! A time when many families with high school seniors are visiting colleges and starting to make decisions. In fact, 6 years ago this week, our family was visiting the University of Redlands to help my son, Theo, decide where he would spend the next 4 years. And 18 months ago, we were at his graduation in Redlands.

At the University of Redlands is the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies that Theo called home at U of R. This program is a 50-year-old experiment in collaboration and education. Theo worked with a small team of professors and students to chart out and execute his choices in courses, often relying on research papers and projects as an alternative to tests and exams.

I'll spare you details and resist the strong desire to gush about my children. But, by every measure, his college experience was a success.

At Theo's graduation, I peppered him and his friends with questions about their experiences over the previous 4 years. What worked. What failed. What was meaningful. What they most valued.

The most important ingredient for success that I kept hearing from those students and professors is collaborative community. Students, teachers and administrative faculty worked together to shape unique educations that fit the intentions and interests of students.

How is this relevant to violin teachers (and interested parents)? How does this impact violin lessons of wide-eyed 5-year-olds or restless 15-year-olds?

For teachers, it reinforces the importance of a community-based educational environment. One where students, parents and teachers can frequently interact, talk and play music. It is important not just for the inherent joy of relationships, but also for the cross-pollination that happens with people of similar interests. An environment where teachers can continually check in with our students about their interests, joys and activities and connect them to what we are teaching (and vice versa).

For parents, it is a reminder to be involved in your child’s education. You are the spokesperson for your 5-year-old. You’ll gradually transform into an advocate and cheerleader as they grow older. Ask your teacher for songs that you know your young child loves. Insist on help when you are struggling with motivation or practice at home. When you get your vaccination, invite other families to your home for dinner, conversation and music. And be with your child at their lessons when you are able.

Last, but not least, use music lessons as a practice run for advocating and supporting your child’s larger educational experience at school. Students with active parent support in music lessons progress much faster and get to higher levels of playing. I suspect that having active parent support in school will create similar results for our children in that environment, too.


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