There have been a lot of discussions online recently about what makes a good teacher. It’s probably pretty much the same question as… ‘what makes a good mentor?’…’what makes a good trainer?’… and ‘what makes a good coach?’. Many of these discussions center on contrasting ‘older’ and ‘newer’ teaching/training methodology. The main point among the older advocates (myself modestly included at times and to certain degrees) is that the less politically correct, authoritarian, almost dictatorial methods of old were much more effective in motivating students. In other words, ‘tough teaching’ has significant benefits. The most obvious benefits are in the area of organization, discipline and time management. That means if you’re an authoritarian teacher, ruling with an iron hand and dispensing disciplinary punishment and negative feedback at violations of rules, you’re more likely to keep on schedule, organize your classes effectively and encourage punctuality. This is a significant advantage to you as a teacher. Your students benefit by learning their own structures within time limits and personal motivation in the face of obstacles. The down side, especially for overly sensitive and insecure students, has to do with encouraging self-doubt, damaging creativity through overly harsh negative criticism and establishing inflexible motivational strategies based on fear. Even more profound is the installation of calibrated loops in the form of negative introjects. In other words, the ‘tough teacher’s’ voice becomes internalized to become non-stop, destructive self-talk.
“All mentors have a way of seeing more of our faults than we would like. It’s the only way we grow. “
Padme Amidala „Queen of Naboo“
“Tender Teaching”, or Roger’s “Unconditional positive regard” applied to the teacher/trainer, encourages self-referencing, or the development of structures in the individual based on the student’s own sense of creativity. It also strongly encourages a free-form, open-ended style of working. On the negative side it fails to demonstrate the importance of deadlines, of boundaries and of discipline.
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have a potential to turn a life around. It’s overwhelming to consider the continuous opportunities there are to make our love felt.”
– Leo Buscaglia
To summarize, the advantages of ‘tender teaching’ are the encouragement of a positive self-image and a sense of belonging in the student, while the disadvantages are the possibility of encouraging laziness and disrespect in some students. The advantages of ‘tough teaching’ are setting boundaries, encouraging clear guidelines and the establishment of authority hierarchies, while the disadvantages include discouraging creativity and a sense of self-worth in some students.
“If we just wanted positive emotions, our species would have died out a long time ago.”
– Martin Seligman
At the heart of these discussions, yet very often left out, is the domain of feedback as an „Inner Game“. In other words, how exactly do you encourage yourself internally? How exactly do you criticize yourself internally? What are your own very specific internal standards for what you do, be it in the workplace, in relationship, with your core family and with friends and how do you gauge its quality? Our inner relationship to our own perceived strengths and weaknesses is the centerpiece of our own personal power. How we distinguish and develop our own talent and potential over time is at the heart of our impact on the world. How can we make this explicit and learnable? The model of personality ‘parts’ and the model of ‘archetypes’ are both two excellent ways to understand this inner game. We all have ways of representing to ourselves our ability to both criticize and encourage ourselves optimally. These representations differ for each of us. They also differ over time and context. These inner archetypes or ‘parts’ often become exaggerated. For example, one of the marks of narcissism is a dysfunctional inner Critic, the part which represents our ability to honestly criticize our weaknesses and correct mistakes. The narcissist filters out and/or deflects criticism externally and internally and robs himself of learning experiences. One of the marks of depression, as an example of the other extreme, is a dysfunctional inner Encourager, the part which represents our ability to champion our own causes and support our special talents and skills. The depressed individual filters out and/or deflects praise, pride, confidence and self-esteem and robs himself of the joy of accomplishment. These are extremes, of course, but valuable in understanding the negative potential of even slight disbalance within these inner functions and behaviors.
It’s interesting to observe this in both voice students and in coaching clients. There are those who simply cannot take an honest compliment. They squirm like a fish on a hook if you say something positive about them. Then there are those who cannot take criticism in any form. Even if they perfectly understand that the criticism is meant to improve what it is they’re after. Even if they have themselves have asked for helpful criticism, the knee-jerk reaction is to distract, deflect, repress or deny. Why should this be so? It’s a question with a never-ending answer. More often than not, as a voice teacher or as a coach, it’s best to understand this resistance before breaking it down.
In my experience, what I’ve heard from colleagues and based on much I’ve read, the key factor here can be simplified and summed up by one word: Vulnerability.
“Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
– Brené Brown
If these statements are even partially true, it is of great worth to examine what it is to be vulnerable, what it really means and what conditions prevent or hinder it. Being open to ‘possibility’, to potential, especially personal potential, invariably means moving away from an absolute kind of ‘knowing’. It means developing a tolerance for ambiguity; for what might be, yet hasn’t been and isn’t now. This being open, as opposed to being closed and armored, is synonymous with being vulnerable. By definition, we are woundable when we let our accustomed defenses down. This makes it clearer why this isn’t to be recommended at all times, in all places and with all people. Even if we wanted to, many of our most important instincts, regulated by deeper and older parts of our brain, wouldn’t allow it. The modification of these instincts is the definition of human maturity. That means studying vulnerability, its contexts and its varying degrees of openness is an important part of both state management and the development of personal power.
How we encourage this personal power in voice students, in clients and in ourselves is a measure of our effectiveness. Honestly discerning our own strengths and weaknesses and communicating them transparently and appropriately is high-octane in the engine of our growth. Finding an authentic, conscious and very personal balance between toughness and tenderness internally; as beliefs, attitudes, inner monologue, and externally; as behavior, habits and body language, is the essence of our humanness.
Evan Bortnick http://www.musa-vocalis.de