I’m obsessed with shoes.
Not in the Carrie Bradshaw heels way - in the fresh sneakers way. Few things make me happier and put a literal pep in my step as clean Nikes do.
As a Chicagoan that generally avoids downtown and tourism central, I somehow never mind a trip to Nike-town.
Why? They make me feel like a boss. They make me feel like I can do anything. With jeans or a dress, they simply rock and then I rock right along with them.
My style is what I would call sporty chic. It oscillates between sneaker-tastic and straight up mermaid.
It’s me. It’s fun and free. It’s Adrienne!
Not only am I obsessed with shoes literally, I’m obsessed with shoes in my life as an artist and teacher - two seemingly different roles that turn out to be one in the same.
Every day as I teach, I create something called “The Land of Shoes”.
Why? Walking through life hasn’t always been sparkly sneakers for me. This land and shoe evolution all started when I moved to Chicago after grad school.
Upon leaving conservatory, entering the “real world” and embarking on my mindfulness path, I began asking myself a very important question:
“Where are my shoes?”
I became fascinated with slipping in and out of shoes in all facets of my musical and non-musical life. This fascination was born out of new awareness.
After 20 years of intense classical music training I had become extremely skilled in putting myself in other people’s shoes. Music was my map, the recipe, and the story that was my job to bring to life.
I was good at executing the details of a piece exactly the way a composer notated it. I was good at executing a note exactly the way a conductor requested. I was good at following my teachers’ guidance to a T in order to do these things at a high level.
It wasn’t about me - I was the vehicle. I was the channel for other people’s stories and ideas to flow through.
I trained for years at this so I could do it at a high level under pressure in performance and in auditions. I practiced the same measure on repeat to match the expectations of panels and standards. I shape-shift on dime and carry out these stories and missions in any type of environment.
Each and every day I was putting myself in other people’s shoes and bringing their stories to life through the artform of music. Empathy was like breathing to me. I could feel others. I could feel stories. I could feel and acknowledge the experiences of others.
After 20 years of this day to day existence, my arrival in Chicago was a shock to the system. I was birthed out into the real world. No one was instructing me what to do, how to play or what stories to tell. The web of conservatory had been released and fir the first time in my life I was not surrounded by musicians 24/7.
I had Bambi legs like you wouldn’t believe!
I bumbled around, I hesitated, I shook in my boots - had I gotten too good at empathy? In the absence of other people’s shoes, I couldn’t make out my own.
“Where are my shoes?!”
Where were they? Who I am? What’s my story and how do I want to tell it? How do I want to live it?
The face plants, the explorations and the painful realization that I had dissolved myself into other people for years were all tough pills to swallow.
It was a matter of shoes beyond shoes - it was my identity. Somewhere there had been a major disconnect, quite literally with myself.
Through my journey of mindfulness, I began flexing my “own shoes” muscle. I chose them. I stood tall. The heavens opened, birds chirped and I didn’t look back.
This shoe evolution and obsession informs all I do as a human and teacher. When I began teaching, I vowed that I would create a space where my students could not only put themselves in the shoes of others, they could keep their own shoes at the same time.
I would give them a place to embodying empathy and autonomy in one fell swoop.
I committed to this and created what I call The Land of Shoes. This is a land where people get to be sturdy in their own shoes, strengthen the ability to slip into the shoes of others and always having theirs handy next to the piano for when the song is over.
So, how do I do it?
How do I create a learning environment where young people can be deeply respected for who they are while at the same time sparking inspiration and growth?
It comes down to a series of values that I embody as a teacher. These values are patch-quilted together after reflecting on ten years of teaching, the culmination of which is has become Mindful Music.
Very simply and most importantly, I view and experience teaching as an artform. It’s an expression of creativity, imagination, meaning and potential. It’s not a place for adults to check out and go through the motions.
Rather, it’s art and a sacred responsibility.
The art is creating an environment in real time that meets the student where they are. This appears through language, energy, honesty, respect, information, mindfulness, tools of our craft and more. If the lesson is a blank canvas, those are the colors I get to paint with. They change every week, every moment.
It’s a sacred responsibility to be in the presence of wise young people in a way that has an impact on their lives. Everything I do and say carries weight and I take it seriously.
The ability to which I carry out my artform directly effects my students’ ability to keep their shoes and wisdom.
First and foremost, what I do is art. It’s an ever-changing puzzle and moving vessel. My job is to make a place where they can be as is and discover. It ebbs and flows, it’s conscious, it’s an expression, it’s art.
Many times teaching is expressed as a push and digest system where information is relayed and then regurgitated. I have a problem with this - It doesn’t honor the shoes of young people.
Rather, I am a space holder. I hold a space for them to run around in their shoes. They try on other shoes and learn empathy. They stand tall in their own as they master skills. Each day it’s my job to create and hold this space where my students are free to explore and discover.
I think of it like the lane at a bowling alley. I provide the bumpers and my students bowl. Although, I’d like to think my bumpers are a bit cozier with better lighting!
I’m there to hold the most amazing space possible - unique to each and every student. I meet them as they are, from the seat of a space holder and from there we flow.
It’s my job to hold a space where my students can be fully themselves.
This is a safe place and because it’s safe, they can be brave.
The Land of Shoes is built on co-creation between me and the student. I ask them questions. I listen. I learn about their shoes. We talk. How would I ever know if I don’t ask?
They share their goals and desires. I share what I believe would support their goals. I share other goals that will expand them further.
We decide together.
The amazing thing about co-creation is not only does it create a space that honors both people, the student has choice over what they are doing! They get to contribute without force.
When they choose, not only are they using their decision making and expression muscles, they have skin in the game. Co-creation is an act of reverence and it calls them to rise on their own.
Trust goes both ways in the co-created space and it’s built through respect and vulnerability. How could you co-create a land between two people without that?
I respect my students through the way I speak to them, honor their feelings, their voices and simply as a fellow human. I speak to my students basically the same as I do with adults. There are a handful of age appropriate or learning style adjustments (no F-bombs!), however the vibe is the same.
When teachers speak down to kids, they either identify down or behave down. Speaking to them and actually believing that we are equals builds trust.
With trust comes vulnerability. I am honest with my students. During the pandemic, we checked in on one another and were honest about how we were doing. I am honest with feedback and they are free to be fully honest too. All of this is the essence of being human and connecting in a genuine way.
Vulnerability is also required to put your heart out there and learn an instrument. Trust matters in order for people to be vulnerable and try new, scary things.
Building trust and relationships as humans first and musicians second is an absolute must in the Land of Shoes.
One of my students recently asked me in a frustrated tone, “Why don’t you ever just tell me the answers?!”
I could absolutely relate to his frustration, and yet, I would not tell him the answer. I offered a tool that he used and found the answer on his own.
I told him that I wanted him to be able to play piano without me. I wanted him to have the tools to do everything he wanted to on his own and that if I told him, he wouldn’t be able to”.
Because of this value, co-dependency is inhospitable in my art.
I believe in equipping my students and empowering them with tools, processes, practices and information. This keeps them standing tall in their own shoes!
In the bowling lane of our land, a challenge is when one of my students smashes into the bumper. I’m waiting there for them with a plethora of tools extended out. They are empowered to pick them up.
Every time a teacher tells an answer to a young person, it robs them of using their autonomy, intuition and problem solving skills.
Offering tools nourishes and empowers them instead.
The space I create with my students is a playful land of laughter and delight. It’s a game of expansion and after all, don’t we play the piano?
Not only does joy make lessons more fun, there is science to back it up. Turns out people retain exponentially more information and need less repetition to lock in habits when it’s done in a state of play.
I’m so down for this and it’s an important part of the Land of Shoes. I co-create joyous games and rituals with each student that is a fun way to meet their goals. Another layer of the joy? I custom arrange their favorite songs for them to learn too.
Discipline is easy when it's sprinkled with good vibes and fun.
I’ve learned that self-love is the path to my greatest happiness, highest performance, most creative expression and potential in all parts of my life. It’s the one lane highway to my shoes and my ability to put myself in the shoes of others.
I wasn’t taught self-love in school. I learned it through a harsher teacher - life.
Through my teaching, I gift my students this skill from the get go. They get to love themselves early on and infuse it into their lives, all in the name of shoes. It’s at the forefront of all we do.
Self-love is a skill that can be learned. Through language, thought, choice, mindfulness, awareness and actions - I empower my students to love themselves and be their own best friend.
We practice radical self-love and love of others - all by way of shoes.
Not just for music, for being human.
Through my specific art of teaching, it’s my greatest vision that my students will be asking different and better questions than I was - especially with their shoes.
Instead of “Where are my shoes?”, I hope they can one day ask:
How do shoes show up in your life? What’s your style? What do they mean to you?
Have you ever wondered where your own shoes are?
Can you step into the shoes of someone else’s story?
If you could use teaching as art, what colors would you paint with? What land would you create with your students?
The art of teaching is something I get to do every day with people at the piano. If you’re interested in this type of space for a young person in your life, reach out to me here! I would love to create a land of shoes with you and have a ball together while doing it.
Today is the last day for the Teacher Resilience Bundle! This is a compilation of mindfulness practices, audio collection and course in holding space. It’s on sale for $55 (originally $150!). If you’re a teacher or parent that works with young people and wants to learn how I do what I do, this is for you! I’d love to share it with you. Click here to grab it.
Finally, if you’d love to learn how to use teaching as an art-form rather than a job, I would love to share it with you! I coach teachers on how to hold an intentional space and spread a positive ripple to the next generation. For more information on coaching, book a free call with me here!
Keep your shoes.
Keep your light.
Then, help others do the same.
Shoe obsessed and supporting others at their best,