How Seth Godin Improved My Teaching

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Seth Godin, teacher

Seth Godin

Seth Godin is an author and marketing guru and the man behind the idea of permission marketing. In his daily blog, he writes with succinct and sometimes painful clarity on marketing, respect, our society and the way ideas spread. I find his writings always give me something to think about and often, as in this post, something to write about.

In a recent blog post called “Those People,” Seth describes his shock and grief in response to an educator’s characterization of some of her students. This woman had written off many of her students as people incapable of achieving greatness and therefore somehow undeserving of the education they sought.

This led me to consider my responsibility as a harp teacher. What am I called on to do for each of my students? What should I require from each of them? And what is the greatest good I can do for each?

I came up with some essential guideposts for my interactions with my students, whether in a lesson, a performance or just in conversation.

It is my duty and privilege to…

…help her find her path.
I will open new experiences to her, giving her a wide range of musical choices. At the same time, I will give her a firm technical foundation, passing on the knowledge my teachers gave to me.

…pull him along his path.
I will help him seek opportunities for stretching toward his goals and dreams, staying focused and purposeful, but flexible.

…inspire her by example, mine and others.
There is an old saying that you can’t push a rope. As a teacher I must lead from the front,  showing her the path I take and the paths others take. I will be generous and truthful,
as well as grateful for her trust.

Lastly, I will remind myself and my student, in a paraphrase of Seth Godin, every student is capable of his or her own harp greatness…at least once.

How can you implement these guideposts in your teaching?

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  • Cara

    I appreciated your post today very much. As a mature beginner I have found the process of learning To play the harp to be one of the hardest things I have ever done. That I am an established professional in another field probably doesn’t help because I am not used to the feeling of being incompetent at something i want so badly to be able to do. I am trying to form a clear expectation in my head of what my goals are, and stick to them. What I have found is that harpists who have sufficient technical ability to teach skills well don’t know how to fully celebrate where I am in my own learning process.


    • Anne Post author

      I think adult beginners deserve a lot of credit for precisely the reasons you mention, particularly the unaccustomed feeling of incompetence and awkwardness. It is important for teachers to place both goals and achievements in the perspective of the individual student. It is also important for the student to do this. It’s easy to downplay real progress. Congratulations on loving the harp enough to persevere!


  • Anne

    This is a comment from my friend Rob, who gas generously allowed me to post it here:

    I’ve often thought that talent is like a seed waiting to be nurtured. The seed has potential but if it is never put in soil, watered, it will remain a seed with potential and never bear any fruit. Just like a plant, we adults have to treat his seed with care, kindness, so it can eventually blossom.

    I think there is an advantage in learning while your young, in that it is the time of your life when you have the least responsibilities to things like making a living, having a place to live, health, a successful relationship, etc. But since your youth is only a small percentage of your life, we have to find ways to keep growing despite these challenges. I often think of Picasso as the ideal model for artistic growth in that he went through all of these “periods” in his artistic life, although one can argue that towards the end of his life, his content declined, perhaps for commercial reasons.

    Then again, the idea of practicing or playing an instrument without a social life, living out of a suit case while traveling, might not appeal to a lot of people either!

    I had one student whose mother told me before I had my first lesson with him that he was taking medication for HADD and that if he wasn’t on it, the lessons would be uncontrollable. He studied with me for 5 years and I was amazed at his talent and his hearing capability. He could learn very complex things and have them memorized in a short period, at any tempo. You could slam your elbow on the piano and he could tell you each pitch from top to bottom.

    He’s now at his fourth college in three years. He quit playing the saxophone and clarinet and is now a musical theatre major. He never developed any social skills as his mother has protected him all these years, or perhaps he never made the adjustment from home to living on his own.

    While he learned very fast, reading music very accurately, he wasn’t the greatest jazz improvisor, which might require a different level of creativity or experience. The point I’m trying to make, like you said, it takes all kinds of individuals-some learn fast, some slow, some over a long period of time, some over a short period, some excel in certain areas-it’s all good, isn’t it? There is too much emphasis on “becoming” something as opposed to enjoying the moment, which I guess is driven by economic concerns and the desire of parents to want independence & sec


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