In Douglas Adams’ The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur Dent is informed of two fundamental rules: Don’t panic and always bring a towel. I’m not sure how essential the towel is, but “don’t panic” is great advice!
If we panic, we can’t even understand the situation accurately, let alone respond helpfully. If we get too concerned with small stuff, we tend to get reactive. A reactive state of mind is one vulnerable to panic. Panic is reactivity to an extreme. The more reactive you are, the more reactive you can become, so once you reach a panicky level of reactivity, it can become rather self-fueling. A panicky state can be hard to get out of!
Consequently, prevention is the key. If we don’t have to react immediately, we can resist the impulse to react and step back to first observe. This helps us see the big stuff, the underlying problem(s) that is producing the small stuff. Dealing with the big stuff improves things more deeply and lastingly. So notice the small stuff, but don’t choose a response until you’ve seen the big stuff as well. It’s hard to do constantly, but just doing it recurrently is beneficial.
Ultimately, the big stuff has to do with our values. Are we acting in accordance with our values or are we acting in conflict with them? Do we have good values? The basic values from which I seek to act in teaching and that I hope for my students to develop are:
Respect, Integrity, Understanding, Perseverance and Excellence..
Striving for excellence in learning, practice and performance by itself can produce great and satisfying progress. Achieving constant excellence in all of those things is a good aim, but not a realistic expectation. Just as every student is going to make mistakes in the process of learning piano, you’re going to make mistakes in the process of managing their learning of piano, and I’m going to make mistakes in the process of learning about a given student. Fortunately, we don’t have to be perfect. We just have to be willing to recognize our mistakes and learn from them. That might make us sweat, though, so maybe that towel is a good idea after all!