The Art of the Tune Up

Tune up: a stern talk delivered to give someone an attitude adjustment; see also: jack up, talking to, life changing event

You know this woman won’t put up with any crap. Photo by David Monje on Unsplash.

A tune up.

A jack up.

A talking to.

If you want to demonstrate how much you care about a student’s success, nothing delivers a more impactful punch than one of these.

A clear sign that you are in the presence of a great educator is their ability to give a good tune up. If you’ve had someone that loves you, be it a parent, grandparent, teacher, or coach, you probably know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a good talking to.

Yes, it’s a little terrifying. But a proper tune up leaves you feeling hopeful… motivated… believing in yourself. It resets the course you were on, and makes you remember where you’re trying to go.

You can bet The Warm Demander teaching persona from Zaretta Hammond’s book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain knows how to deliver a good tune up.

How do you even get good at tune ups?

It is a skill I have always been envious of, but I’ve never been able to do very well. I seem to lean towards guilting, or invoking soft appeasement from the students (they do better for a few minutes just to make me leave them alone). I am like a gentle puff of wind, maybe able to blow a raft back on track. Meanwhile, a tune up can redirect even the mightiest cargo ships to the right course.

And in all my education research and reading, I’ve barely heard tune ups mentioned. I think they are what we mean when we say to “hold high expectations for students”. They are an effective way to communicate these expectations, but how do you actually deliver the talking to? What are the key points? What do you say?

Everything I know so far:

I witnessed a 10/10 tune up the other day, and I had a stroke of insight. Two key talking points are:

  • Make the student remember what they want
  • Make the student remember what they don’t want

In this instance, the teacher emphasized how this student wants to be in my small group that gets to leave class. She emphasized how the student would not want to have to go back to class, or have to go to the office, or be kicked out of the group.

Notice there were no grandiose talks about performing to potential, or learning so they can do well on the test or get a good job.

  • She read the student. She knew exactly what this junior high kid wanted. So that’s clearly an important piece.

There was also no yelling during the tune up, just a stern, strong voice that refused to be interrupted. This is possibly another important talking point:

  • If someone tries to interrupt, you have to say, “Do not interrupt me while I am speaking.”

That’s all I have so far. If you would like to support my cause, please send your own insights to my email.