We’ve all got strengths and weaknesses in our teaching, right? But how often do you take the time to work on your teaching weaknesses? Maybe you prefer to stay comfortable, relying on your strengths. You feel confident, you feel good, so you hang out there for as long as possible, mostly keeping your head in the sand when it comes to getting better at your weaknesses.
Until they become a regular source of discomfort, pain, embarrassment, anxiety, or stress. This might not always be the case but there may be some weaknesses in our teaching that come up often and cause many of these negative feelings.
So what can you do about it?
Well, you can either run from them, letting them slowly eat away at your self-confidence and ultimate potential, or you can stop sabotaging your self-development and take steps to make progress on the weaknesses that cause you distress.
My Journey As A Recovering Bad Sight Reader
My biggest weakness as a pianist and teacher is that I’m a BAD sight reader. That was until a few years ago. Now I’m in recovery and slowly improving.
Truth is, I’ve always been a great memoriser. My aural skills are pretty good and I’m able to memorise very quickly. I’ve always thought of this as a great strength. But decades of relying on this ability left me hugely deficient, massively impacting my work as a teacher and orchestrator, as well as my ability to play simply for pleasure.
A regular cause of embarrassment and even shame, it’s fueled anxiety, and at times, caused a very low sense of self-worth.
For years I just accepted the situation and instead relied on workarounds to the problem. But these took a lot of time and effort and in the end, was only a bandage to the problem.
Not a solution.
Even though I desperately wanted to improve I failed to make a regular effort to work on myself.
Making the effort to develop your mind, your knowledge, and your skill, are essential if we want to evolve. But some thoughts are so common, so natural to us, that we don’t realise we’re making a choice NOT to evolve by acting on them.
Thoughts such as:
- It’s too hard, uncomfortable, frustrating
- I’ll never be good enough so why bother
- I’ve got too many other things to do, I just don’t have time
- It’s too late to start now, I’ve missed the boat on this one
Faced with these limiting thoughts most of us turn to the things that make us feel good, the easy rewards. We fall back onto our strengths to reassure us that we’re ok.
How often have you started working towards a goal with good intentions, but as soon as it got a little hard, or confronting, you revert to the pleasure-seeking, fast reward behaviour?
I didn’t realise this at the time but I was choosing pleasure over self-development, every time. I was derailing my self-development attempts through a goal-crushing combination of:
- an unwillingness to experience discomfort
- a perfectionist personality, meaning any work I did was never good enough
- fear of being judged or ridiculed
- a lack of education on how to actually do the work effectively
It wasn’t until I started prioritising my overall self-development that I was able to overcome some of the bad habits and limiting beliefs that were preventing me from getting started. I learnt some fundamental strategies that helped me to take action on my critical sight reading weakness, and finally, make some real progress.
4 Strategies To Take Action On Weakness
#1. Choose Discomfort
Discomfort is the currency to your dreams. We need to learn to manage discomfort instead of answering it with quitting.– Brooke Castillo
Spending the time to improve something you’re not good at can be very uncomfortable. It can be frustrating, time-consuming, tedious, and bring up all sorts of confronting thoughts and fears.
However, not working on ourselves, not evolving, not allowing our potential to be realised is also very uncomfortable.
If you’re going to be uncomfortable anyway, you may as well be uncomfortable doing something that will help you to get closer to the person you want to be. Right?
For me, in order to achieve the change that I wanted I had to completely change my whole approach to practising the piano. I would not memorise anything at all. ONLY sight read. I would hardly ever play through my previously learnt pieces and focus solely on playing new repertoire that I had never learnt before. A complete change in my usual routine.
By NOT allowing myself to take the easy, comfortable path of least resistance, and commit entirely to the harder less enjoyable task, I was able to dramatically improve my skills in a very short time.
#2. Be Honest, Be Vulnerable
I’ve always been a perfectionist. Having this gaping flaw in my abilities was a direct assault on my perfectionist nature. I was so ashamed of it that I would hide the fact from my students.
So the first thing I did that immediately made a massive difference to my self-esteem, was to accept that I don’t have to be perfect.
I started being honest with my students. I used my lack of sight reading ability to demonstrate how important it was. The difficulties and negative emotions I experienced provided a clear and effective WHY to students, which helped drive home the lesson.
Owning up to my weaknesses made me more relatable. My students could see I truly understood how hard it was for them.
As a bonus, because I was honest, I didn’t need to go to great lengths to hide it. I could be messy and my students really didn’t care at all.
And in the process, I was actually improving my sight reading every lesson simply by doing it more.
#3. Get More Knowledge
The most fundamental part of any self-development is knowledge. The search for and implementation of ideas to figure out what works and what doesn’t. I knew that simply applying the knowledge I already had was not going to do the trick. I’d been doing the same thing for years without any progress.
In my case, my bad sight reading resulted from learning some critically bad habits right from the start that were impossible to shake. Specifically, a major contributor was the use of mnemonics such as Every Good Boy Deserve Fruit etc…
SOOOO many times I tried note reading flashcard apps. I also stuck notes and staves up on walls like sticky notes in an attempt to drill this information in. And yeah, I did become better at recalling notes, but as soon as I stopped intentionally remembering them, I would forget.
This was just not the way I was going to learn to sight read better.
I knew about reading music by interval, but never really took it seriously until I decided to make sight reading a priority. An obsession with intervals soon followed and I started coming up with all sorts of ideas for implementation, testing it on myself and my students.
Developing a strategy took a lot of effort. But the process of finding, experimenting and refining a strategy actually made me kind of an expert on it.
This process actually allowed me to discover a new strength, something of real value that I could offer my students.
#4. Choose The Right Kind Of Action
There are two types of action.
- Action through consuming knowledge (taking courses, reading blogs, books etc.)
- Action through applying knowledge gained and producing a result (repeatedly practising a new skill, making progress toward a goal)
Both are a good step in the right direction, but the later is the one that really moves you forward towards improving weaknesses.
Time is the first excuse most of us make when it comes to making the effort to get better on weakness. We all have the same issues with time but when you get rid of those limiting thoughts you’re able to make more of the time you have because you’re not fighting against yourself.
But it’s important to continually ask yourself, am I taking action on something that will produce a result or am I just passively absorbing.
And remember, very small efforts over a long period of time will make a big difference, ultimately.
Become An Expert
While I may still be recovering as a bad sight reader, the time I have put into it and the research I’ve done has made me an expert on teaching sight reading.
I’ve discovered that the best way to overcome the weaknesses in our teaching is to find opportunities to USE them to create new strengths.