Welcome to another Flute Friday/Labor Day Weekend. I promise one of these days I will start publishing these posts on Fridays!
A few days ago on Facebook, a former professor posted his frustrations regarding scheduling lessons with all of his students at the beginning of the new school semester. I absolutely understand this frustration as I often negotiate a calendar of lessons between students who only want lessons once or twice a month with those who want weekly lessons. A student’s schedule is always changing and juggling each shifting schedule on top of your own is often a monotonous and confusing task. If you run an independent private studio and have rehearsal commitments of your own, finding the ideal slots in your schedule to accommodate everyone’s demands is a huge obstacle that may even lead to turning away new students or referring them to colleagues with more flexible teaching schedules. In one of my recent day jobs, I worked as an assistant to a university Dean with an insane calendar of meetings, committees, and events, and quickly became a scheduling specialist. In today’s blog, I will be sharing some of the organizational insights I developed in this position to help those of you trying to quickly and efficiently set up your Fall schedules amidst a mountain of rambling emails. It’s okay to give your students a little bit of scheduling responsibility, and you may find that technology will help you achieve this in far less time than you ever imagined.
Let’s start out with one basic mantra – You are the master of your own schedule. It is very easy to bend so much to the needs of your students that you end up creating a disastrous schedule that leaves you wiped out by the end of the week (if you even have a moment when your week “ends” – hello, Sunday lessons!). Before suggesting possible lesson times, block out sections in your schedule that are completely off limits. This obviously includes teaching and rehearsal commitments, but it also includes times when you need to be home with your family, dedicated practice time, work-out times, travel time, and meals (give yourself at least half an hour for lunch to avoid eating hurriedly between lessons or teaching on an empty stomach. Teachers often morph into frustrated, Frankenstein-like creatures when running on empty (we’ve all been there!)). Begin structuring your schedule with your sanity and health in mind to maintain that proper “work/life” balance that the motivational speakers at faculty and staff workshops are always yammering about. Having this balance in your life helps you to strengthen the areas that matter the most while avoiding stress and eventual burnout. You will also end up being less of a zombie around your family after hours!
Avoid Friday and Monday lessons if possible. The best days to schedule lessons are any time between Tuesdays and Thursdays. A number of national holidays occur on Mondays, meaning that you will be setting yourself up for rescheduling headaches down the line if you pile up your teaching on Mondays. By the same reasoning, Fridays are traditional “leave early so we can beat the traffic” days for both yourself and your students to embark on the occasional out of town, weekend adventure. Avoid Fridays and you also avoid rescheduling nightmares later. That being said, Friday mornings are sometimes great times to reserve for lessons. My most productive and relaxed lessons in grad school took place on Friday mornings at 9:00 am. As long as Friday lessons are over no later than noon, you should be able to avoid the chronic early weekenders that reschedule lessons at the last minute.
If you can, try to schedule your lessons in 90-minute time blocks. Okay, okay, okay – Before I start receiving the traditional, “You’re insane! That is not even remotely possible!” response, I understand if this simply cannot be done, especially if all of your students are scheduled for 1-hour, weekly lessons. However, studies have shown that the most effective people work on tasks in 90-minute productivity bursts to increase focus and prevent burnout. Any less and your mind wanders. Any more and you become off-task and bored. Schedule an hour-long student followed immediately by a 30-minute student, then give yourself a 30-minute break to check email, grab some coffee, perform light research for an upcoming project, meet with a colleague, etc. Rinse and repeat! If 90-minutes is not possible, switch to 120-minute blocks but proceed with caution and take longer breaks between productivity bursts. Work these slots into your schedule as available time blocks before circulating your availability to students.
Now that you have mapped out all available and unavailable times in your schedule, it’s time to Doodle. Set up a Doodle Poll www.doodle.com listing all of the times you are available for lessons and circulate to your students via email. Doodle polls are absolutely essential for scheduling anything that involves a relatively large group of people. Students may simply click a checkmark next to the times that they are available for lessons and submit their responses using an online form. All of their responses are collected on one page, allowing you to quickly determine the times that work best for students while staying within your parameters. No more long chains of emails to click through. No more endless schedules to stare at. All of your answers are in one place! The only downside is that you will need to confirm your student’s time via email once it is set (there is no automatic email confirmation feature), but considering a simple, 1-sentence email to each student will suffice, this should be a relatively quick and easy process.
Another option that removes nearly all of the scheduling work on your end is to set up a Google Calendar specifically for lessons. Again, block out the times in your schedule that are off limits (preferably using a terrifying purple or red color to make sure your students know you mean business). Enter your student’s email addresses under the Permissions tab as calendar editors (can view, can edit). When you email this shared calendar to the group, it then becomes the student’s responsibility to schedule their own lessons on a first come, first serve basis. Your work is done for you! Integrate this calendar into your master calendar and change the permissions as soon as everyone has responded. My favorite things about using a Google Calendar to schedule lessons is that I can set up lessons as reoccurring appointments on my master calendar, enter notes on each student’s appointment entry regarding what we are working on in their lessons (pieces, goals, techniques), and set up reminder notification alarms 5 minutes prior to each lesson to help keep me on track and not rambling over into another student’s allotted lesson time. Letting your students schedule their own lessons on a shared Google Calendar does take a bit of bravery on your part, but if your students are on the older side and prepared to accept responsibility for their own time management, this is a truly a win-win scheduling system.
Finally, if you have a TA (teaching assistant) or even a PA (personal assistant), setting up your lesson schedule is a perfect “welcome to your new job” task to delegate to them. TAs can easily bug their friends during class to fill out the Doodle Poll ASAP or to pull up the shared calendar and fill it in by the end of the week. They might even enjoy finding new ways to make technology streamline your schedule and help keep you on task with your teaching responsibilities. Trust your TAs with the dirty work!
What are some of the systems you use to schedule private lessons? Do you use Doodle or another similar program? How much responsibility do you give to your students to schedule their lessons? Please comment below!