Review: Unconditional Teaching (Paul Harris)

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Paul Harris is one of the UK’s leading music educators. His name is known worldwide, and his brand new book, Unconditional Teaching, joins over 600 other publications, many of which are published by Faber Music. Personally speaking, it’s always a great privilege to add another of Paul’s books to my bookshelves. For me and for many others, they have been ‘must-reads’ since we started teaching, and this new volume in his Improve Your Teaching! series is no exception.

But, what is ‘unconditional teaching’?

“Paul identifies and reimagines the barriers or ‘conditions’ that can stand in the way of effective teaching, to build the most immersive and positive learning experience.”

This is a subject which is close to my heart as it links with my own PhD where I explored autonomy and control in private instrumental teaching. Rightly or wrongly, the notion of ‘condition’ is closely aligned with that of ‘control’.

Unconditional Teaching by Paul Harris

In this book, Paul seeks to unpack these ideas from both a practical and psychological perspective.

“this seminal book will begin your journey towards an unbounded, unconditional way of teaching.”

It’s bold to label any book as ‘ground-breaking’ and ‘seminal’, but as I found when I was carrying out my own PhD research, this is a topic which is overlooked, and in many quarters, actively avoided. Perhaps the three important questions Paul seeks to answer are:

  1. What does it mean to be unconditional?
  2. What are our own conditions?
  3. What are lessons for?

These are important questions for all educators, not just instrumental teachers.

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As I read this book, it really resonated with me. Paul has put into words much of what I’ve been thinking and writing about for years. He writes:

“Being unconditional suggests that we accept the situation in which we find ourselves and work within it as positively and effectively as possible.”

p. 12

Indeed, only last week I reassured a new student to come as they are. This has always an important aspect of my teaching, to accept people just as they are. But, as I found in my own research, we impose conditions, in some cases, as a means to exert control. Paul goes on to write:

“Maybe some of our conditions, whether deliberate or not, are in fact blocking the flow of effective teaching and learning.”

Unconditional Teaching by Paul Harris

One thing I have always admired about Paul’s writing, is that it is accessible, and above all, practical. He writes from the perspective of an experienced teacher rather than, in the nicest possible way, an ‘academic’. Paul never seeks to criticise teachers, but rather offer them an opportunity to reflect, with practical advice designed to allow them to develop their own response to the topics covered.

Do I have conditions as a learner?

Paul always writes from the heart. His books are readable, accessible and inspiring. Paul isn’t in the business of creating clones of himself, but rather to facilitate teachers’ own development in the situations specific to them.

Whether you’re a new teacher, or an experienced one, this book is a must-read. Prepare to be both challenged and inspired; everything you take from it will enrich and enhance your teaching. This is the book I wish I’d read before I taught my very first lesson, but it’s of no less value now.

Unconditional Teaching by Paul Harris is published by Faber Music, ISBN 0571542174, RRP £12.99.

I was sent a review copy of this book free of charge; however, this review is my honest opinion as a teacher. You can find my Reviews Policy here.

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