It means assuming a person is aware and able to understand even if they don’t show this to you in a way that you can understand.
This might sound obvious, or it might even sound like a trite, politically correct phrase tossed around by special ed teachers.
I assure you – it’s not. Presuming competence is a mindset, and a very practical one.
To presume competence, you may have to look past the “usual” indicators of someone’s perceived age or intelligence – speech and behavior – and recognize that there is likely much more under the surface.
✅ Assume that people who are nonspeaking still have something to say.
✅Assume that people who are unreliably verbal aren’t quite getting out what they mean.
✅ Assume that people with low motor control can’t make their bodies do what they want them to.
Do this by default. Not doing so means presuming INcompetence, and that can do irreversible damage to a student who understands you but has a different way of being in the world.
It can affect students’ self-esteem, behavior, interest, and frustration levels if they do not feel respected.
Not only will presuming competence affect the student’s wellbeing, but it will strengthen the teaching relationship and set the student up for success in piano learning.
So do this at the outset, and give them plenty of opportunities to demonstrate what they KNOW however they can, instead of assuming what they don’t know.
If you’re ready to learn how to communicate effectively with your students and how to determine their true capabilities…
Head over to my course, “Unfazed: Teaching Piano to Students with Disabilities.”