Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Saturday.
The summer season is beginning to wind down and back to school sales are popping up everywhere. It is almost that time of year when studio teachers begin recruiting new students by offering trial lessons, instrument consultations, free masterclasses, introductory recitals, and meeting with students and parents to discuss the benefits of private lessons. An important part of this recruitment process is formulating (or reformulating) studio policies. Establishing the rules is not always fun, but having them in place is necessary for any successful studio. It is important for new flutists to know what is expected of them in order to be successful in their lessons. Studio policies literally spell out for students and parents how to get the most bang for their buck. In today’s blog, I will be discussing how to set up effective studio policies and how to appropriately share them with new and continuing students. By establishing clear expectations from the beginning, students will remain on track with their musical progress throughout their study. Are you ready to be the boss?
Studio policies should be shared with students and parents either prior to or during the first lesson. I like to do this at the conclusion of a trial lesson or first thing during the first paid lesson. Because most of my scheduling is done online and through email, my practice is to send a pdf document outlining all of my studio policies via email before meeting with a student. This gives parents and students an opportunity to review policies prior to their lesson so that we may discuss any questions they have ahead of time. Lesson time is precious and I like to do what I can to make sure that time is spent with the music. Sending studio policies ahead of the first lesson and reviewing them with students and parents at the beginning of the first lesson is a great way to make sure everyone is on board with your expectations and rules from the start.
First Thing’s First – Establish an Attendance Policy. Setting clear, easy to follow, attendance expectations is probably the most important policy to discuss with your students from day one as it protects you from wasted time and your students from wasted money. Lessons are typically charged on an hourly rate. A late student will be charged the same lesson fee whether the lesson begins on time or 10 minutes late. Their lateness is not only costing them money but costing you time (and stress – I have had nightmares about students arriving hours late for lessons, demanding my attention as soon as they show up on my doorstep. Uhm, no.). A lesson that is canceled at the last minute is the ultimate time waster. How many of us have had endured that unexpected empty half hour between lessons twiddling our thumbs, wondering where our student is, or mindlessly practicing scales until the next student arrives? That slot could have been filled by another student if we had had a 24-hour warning. In a nutshell, a 24-hour canceled lesson policy states that if a student does not inform the instructor of their absence 24-hours prior to their lesson time, they will be charged for the cancelled lesson. Having a strict 24-hour notice policy for canceled lessons prevents unexpected gaps in your teaching schedule, ensuring that your practice runs smoothly and students do not take advantage of your time. Of course, there may be exceptions to this policy due to emergency conditions. It is important that you explain to your student what types of situations are considered “emergencies.” Forgetting your flute at home is not considered an “emergency,” for example (Quick tip – always keep a back-up student flute in your studio! If students forget their instrument at home or their instrument is malfunctioning, they will still be able to proceed with their lesson using the back-up flute.). Make sure students understand this policy up front and be sure to reference the policy whenever these circumstances pop up. Although it is very tempting to be lenient with more dedicated students, you must remain consistent on policies for all of your students. Your time is just as valuable as theirs. Finally, set a good example! Be on time to all of your lessons and do not let lessons extend into each other. Set timers on your smartphone to buzz at the 5 minute mark to keep you on track. I like to devote the final 5 minutes of a lesson to improvisation, which is much easier to end at the appropriate time than reviewing repertoire. It is also a great “cool down” moment that students really look forward to at the conclusion of their lesson.
Practice Expectations. You must ask yourself the timeless question all music teachers ask themselves at one point or another – Should I require practice cards or not? I am a big fan of practice cards, especially ones that state practice requirements directly on each card and require a parent signature for any student below the age of 18. I know that these are easy to forge and recall many of my friends creating fake minutes and forging their parent’s signatures on high school band practice cards during my youth, but the proof is really in the pudding. If a student submits practice cards that claim they are practicing 1 hour per day for 5-6 days of the week, but show up clearly unprepared for their lesson, or struggling through the same material each week, then either we must address how they are practicing or if they are practicing at all. Practice cards open the dialog about how to practice effectively and how to gradually build weekly practice time. Students can even review monthly charts of their practice time and set practice time goals for the following month. In my studio, I require that beginners practice anywhere from 15-30 minutes per day, intermediate students at least 45 minutes per day, and advanced students at least 1 hour per day (depending on skill level, I may increase this to 90-120 minutes per day). These numbers are achievable for more inexperienced players. The ultimate goal, however, is to achieve consistency. Practicing for 15 minutes per day for 5 days is much more effective than cram practicing on a Sunday afternoon for 75 minutes.
Lesson Rates and Payment Policies. This is the most controversial topic on today’s list. Although it is generally agreed that you must put your lesson fees rates in writing so students know exactly how much each lesson will cost, there are different opinions regarding timelines for collecting monthly or weekly fees. Many teachers require students to prepay each month, and refund any cancelled lesson fees on the next month’s bill. Other teachers, like myself, prefer to invoice students at the end of the month. There are pros and cons to both of these approaches. The primary benefit of prepayment is that you are paid for your time before any of it is given away, preventing students from taking advantage of late or unexpectedly cancelled lessons. Tracking of any refunds, however, is a bit more complicated. Invoicing is great for documenting all charges incurred within a month, including any canceled lesson fees, materials purchased by the teacher to be reimbursed by the student (this may include pieces purchased through Fluteworld, equipment, or tickets to orchestral concerts), masterclass fees, or any other lesson fees incurred over the course of a month. The downside to monthly invoices is that you will be collecting fees and therefore must establish payment deadlines. If a student skips town, recovering these fees may be quite difficult. I am lucky to have had very diligent students and parents over the years that pay monthly invoices upon receipt, but this may not always be the case. If you select this route, make sure you include in your studio policies deadlines for invoices (a 30-day deadline is fairly standard), and a fee schedule for any payments extending past payment deadlines. To help make the payment process easier, include a list in your policies detailing all of the ways that students may pay their invoices (cash, check (made out to yourself or the institution with which you teach), PayPal, or direct bank transfers). I highly suggest investing in a Square card reader for your iPhone as it may encourage students and parents to pay monthly bills on the spot.
Required Supplies. This section reminds me of the school supply lists that our teachers sent home with us in grade school. It is important to outline any materials that students will be required to purchase for their lessons in your studio policies and where they may be purchased. Examples of supplies to list in this section include pencils, notebooks, etude or warm-up books, metronome, tuner, recording devices, software subscriptions (such as SmartMusic), and any staple repertoire that all students will be expected to learn. To simplify things, you may offer to purchase these items for the student and add the charge to their monthly invoice. I do this for standard etude book purchases such as Trevor Wye’s Practice Book on Tone, and copies of Taffanel and Gaubert’s Exercise #4.
Basic Lesson Structure. Include an example of how a normal lesson progresses in your policies so that students and parents know what to expect during lesson time. For example, I use this paragraph to explain that I begin each lesson with long tone warm ups, moving on to articulation studies and scales, followed by etudes, duets, repertoire, and concluding with an improvisation. We may shift focus primarily to one of these categories over the others during certain lessons, but in general this is my standard playbook. I like to think about section as the categorized receipt for each lesson.
Include a Short Snippet of your Teaching Philosophy. This does not need to be the 2-3 page document that you may submit for a job application; 2-3 lines will be sufficient. Including a short paragraph explaining your approach to teaching helps students and parents understand what to expect from your teaching style. Do you rely on the Socratic method? Are you more prescriptive? Do you like to explore music and movement? What makes you different as a teacher? And most importantly, what types of knowledge do you hope to impart to all of your students? This paragraph is essentially a statement about who you are as a teacher.
Events. Make sure to include a listing of any upcoming studio events such as student recitals or masterclasses and the required level of student participation at each event. For example, in my studio, students are required to participate in a quarterly studio masterclass and must perform at least 1 solo either unaccompanied or with SmartMusic accompaniment. The length of the solo will correspond to the skill level of the student. If certain students are preparing for a recital performance or school competitions, performing in a masterclass gives them a great opportunity to confront any performance anxiety prior to the performance while inspiring younger flutists to think about what they can achieve through their continued hard work. By including a list of event expectations with your studio policies, you are helping students and parents know exactly what opportunities and challenges to expect in the coming months. This is transparency at its finest and a very important component to a student’s success in your studio.
Contact Info. Okay, this one is pretty straightforward. Be sure that students and parents know exactly how to contact you if they have questions, wish to reschedule lesson times, or to report any emergencies. Simply list your phone number, email address, and a link to your website. Encourage parents and students to send text messages if they are running late to a lesson or need a simple answer to a flute related question. More introverted students prefer to send text messages rather making phone calls when they need to contact you.
Finally, Include a Signature Block. Any good, binding, contract must be signed and dated to be valid. By signing your studio policy agreement, students and parents are acknowledging that they understand what will be expected of them and what policies are in place as patrons of your studio. This indicates that any deviations of studio policies may result in the termination of flute lessons. You are solidifying the rules but also making it clear what you expect from your students and what services you will provide in return.
What do you include in your studio policies? Which policies do you find most important to communicate to new students from the beginning of their study? How often do you update your policies? How do you share your policies with students and parents? Please comment below.