By Steve Porter, IVA Board Member
I am amazed by how often my parenting consists of exhortations of the following sort: “if you’d just try harder”; “if you’d just do your homework right when you come home”; “if you’d just pay more attention in class”; “if you’d just clean your room a little bit each day”; “if you’d just not get so upset”; and so on. While these sorts of directives are well meaning, they rarely bring about change. To see why, perhaps it would be helpful to think about how these sorts of exhortations fail to bring change in our own lives. For instance, one time I heard the following dieting advice: “if you’d just eat less calories than you burn each day, you would lose weight.” Of course, that is true. But, at least for many of us, it is extremely hard to just do. In many cases, knowing what we just need to do is an important part of change, but knowing that alone is insufficient to bring about the change.
Recently my son, Luke, finished a three-year music education program that teaches piano and music theory in a small group setting. Over the last three years I have repeatedly said: “if you’d just practice piano a little bit each day, you’ll do great in this class.” But about 99.99% of the time, Luke would cram a whole week’s worth of practice into the hour or two before his class. This made learning piano stressful, frustrating, and upsetting. When Luke would angrily give up on a song that simply could not be learned in an hour, I was there with my well-timed exhortation: “if you’d just…” That always went over real well.
Luke had his final recital last Saturday. Two weeks before the recital he started practicing every day. I didn’t have to exhort him, cajole him, or even bribe him. He simply started—seemingly out of the blue—practicing every day. And he did great in his recital. But what changed? Did my exhortation finally sink in? I don’t think so. As I paid attention to the onset of Luke’s newfound motivation in practicing piano, I noted three ingredients—the same three ingredients that I regularly see at IVA.
First, Luke was rightly challenged. His piano teacher challenged him to work hard, the music itself was challenging for him, and having to perform in front of others was a challenge. The challenge wasn’t too much or too little; it was just right.
Second, he enjoyed learning. He didn’t like all of the songs and he didn’t like any of them at first, but eventually he enjoyed the music.
Third, he experienced positive momentum. In other words, he was more encouraged than discouraged in his learning. Sometimes I had to intervene to help him get this sort of traction. For instance, helping him learn a difficult section or suggesting he take a break from a difficult song.
I see these same three ingredients regularly at IVA. Our teachers and school culture rightly challenge our students to be attentive, to be autonomous, to be courageous. The students regularly enjoy the learning process and this gets positive momentum going whereby they are more encouraged than discouraged by their learning. Of course, sometimes one or the other of these ingredients does not materialize. But what is wonderful about IVA is that you don’t hear people saying: “if you’d just…”
As the school year comes to a close and we move into summer, be thinking about how you might rightly challenge your child with enjoyable learning opportunities that would help her or him keep building on the positive momentum of the nine master virtues.