Compassionate Boundaries

The Fermata Series

“It’s hard for us to understand that we can be compassionate and accepting while we hold people accountable for their behaviours. We can, and, in fact, it’s the best way to do it…

“We can confront someone about their behaviour, fire someone, or fail a student, or discipline a child without berating them or putting them down. The key is to separate people from their behaviours – to address what they’re doing, not who they are.”

Brené Brown, Ph.D, LMSW
The Gifts of Imperfection (Hazelden Publishing, 2010)

Online forums see daily requests for advice and support from teachers who are struggling with tricky pupil and parent relationships. For piano teachers, the problem often seems to stem from a lack of agreed boundaries around issues such as prompt fee payment, lesson attendance, punctuality, respectful behaviour and effective, regular practice.

How do we balance on the one hand enforcing contractual obligations and appropriate behavioural expectations and, on the other hand, offering compassionate support, putting musical learning needs first, and positively enthusing our pupils?

I would suggest that the only effective balance here is to give 100% to both.

Pupils and parents do not, cannot, and should not need to know every detail of how a teacher organises their personal world. Effective studio policies, clearly communicated, fence off our personal and professional lives, and are especially important for those of us whose studios are based within our homes.

Boundaries help us devote ourselves to our shared objective of pupil progress, giving of ourselves wholeheartedly and without distraction.

Only when our personal and professional boundaries are securely in place, enforced in a firm, fair and friendly way, can we move on from the sense of resentment which develops when we feel others are taking advantage of our compassionate commitment.

In my experience over the years, the vast majority of my students (and their parents) have respected my professionalism when I have offered, explained clearly, and stuck to fair policies.

And in turn, this has created a studio environment where commitment, friendship, respect, compassion and enthusiasm have thrived.

Let me close this Fermata pause for thought by handing back to Brené Brown:

“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behaviour or a choice…

“For our own sake, we need to understand that it’s dangerous to our relationship and our well-being to get mired in shame and blame, or to be full of self-righteous anger. It’s also impossible to practice compassion from a place of resentment. If we’re going to practice acceptance and compassion, we need boundaries and accountability.”

Brené Brown, ibid.

Fermata Series