Sunday, May 25, 2008

Benjamin Zander: Getting the Best Out of Your Students

In his book, The Art of Innovation, Tom Kelley writes about Benjamin Zander’s way of instilling within his students an expectation that they will perform well. Kelley writes:

Believe that your team members will be an outrageous success before their first day of work. That's what Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, does.

The celebrated music teacher has a unique strategy for getting the best out of his students. On the first day of class, he tells his first year students that they all get an A. There’s one condition. Their first assignment is to write a letter to him—dated on the last day of class—explaining why they deserved the grade.

Zander, who wrote a book called The Art of Possibility, believes there are several beneficial aspects of this dramatic role reversal. First, it's a great confidence builder for his students. Second, it eliminates the often counterproductive sniping that people frequently engage in when they think only a few will win (one reason we believe bell curve grading is so flawed). But most important, students invariably knock themselves out for that A. Zander believes that they do more to earn their own personal A than they would ever do for the traditional A given by a teacher.

You may not find if you are a teacher that your accreditation agency will buy the Zander principle but there is something in his approach that is adaptable and much that is empowering in his style of tossing the ball into his student’s court.

Source: Tom Kelley, The Art of Innovation, (London: Profile Books, 2001, 2004), 88.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Benjamin Zander and team.

Check out Benjamin Zander’s web site at this link. It gives an idea into the different people and parts of his life. It also posts some of Zander’s reflections and stories in his journal. Like this one on his Home Page:

“The best review I ever got was not from a music critic, but from my father. He was 94 years old at the time and completely blind. He attended a Master Class I gave in London and sat there in his wheelchair for about three hours. When it was over, I went to speak with him. He lifted up his finger in his characteristic way and said, ‘I see that you are actually a member of the healing profession.’ It seemed to me the highest accolade.”
- Benjamin Zander