As a kid, I never thought twice about it when my parents dropped me off at private piano or violin lessons and left. I never worried that they had just left me with someone we didn’t really know, even when my lessons were in someone’s private residence. There was a common understanding that private music teachers were safe, trustworthy, upstanding members of the community. I hope that is still true today, but as professionals, I think we need to intentionally implement a few strategies to protect our reputations and keep in good standing in the community. A good reputation means more students. A bad reputation means a struggling studio. And even false allegations of a crime can ruin a private music teaching career forever. It’s sad that we have to take these things into consideration, but in the world we live in, with high profile abuse cases in the news every day, it’s important and prudent to protect our rep. Here are a few ideas that I am using my studio. What other things do you do to protect your reputation?
Open door policy. Educationally, I know it isn’t always the easiest strategy to have parents sit through their child’s piano lessons. But I always make it an option. That way, the parents are aware of my entire interaction with their child. Most of the time, parents stick around for convenience anyway. Ideally, I like to have parents wait in an adjoining room, so they can listen in on the lesson without actually being in the lesson. I like to keep the windows and doors open and the room well lit, too, so that people nearby are also aware of what is happening in the lesson. Even though it can be a little more distracting for the child, the parent never has to worry what might be going on behind a closed door. And some parents enjoy learning as their child learns, which gives them something enjoyable to talk about at the dinner table.
Clear studio policies. I can’t say enough how important it is to have clear, consistent policies. People need to know what to expect regarding attendance, payment, lesson materials, makeup lessons, etc. It helps you to be fair to the students, their families, and to yourself. And if anyone ever questions you, you have an easy reply: “My policy states…” You never have to get flustered or cause a parent to be uncomfortable because it’s already written down in your policy.
Be surrounded with people. When I teach, my house is typically a pretty full place. My hubby and kids are floating around somewhere in the house, other students are coming and going and waiting in the studio, parents are sitting around, and sometimes there is even a babysitter, too. It may be a little chaotic at times, but there is safety in numbers. Students and families feel safer because it is like being in a public place, and I feel safer because I know there is someone around. It may be a little bit noisy, but it’s happy noise, and it makes people feel good about being a part of a busy place.
Beware of Facebook. I love Facebook – it is one of my favorite ways to communicate with friends, family, and even my piano students. But I avoid posting anything that I don’t want the entire world to know. The privacy settings on Facebook aren’t perfect, so I don’t even post things privately that should be kept out of the public eye. Be wary of who can tag you in photos, what other people say on your Facebook wall, and what you put out there. A good rule of thumb to remember is that whatever is made public on Facebook can be found on Google. In fact, there were a few warnings going around that all of Facebook’s private messages from 2010 and earlier were automatically made public and posted on the original senders’ walls. Would that affect what people thought of you?
Google yourself. You need to know that your new – and even some of your old – students will be typing your name in a search engine. It’s a good idea to try it out for yourself and see what information appears. This way, you can deal with any potential problems up front. When I search for myself, I see things like articles I have written, blog posts I’ve made, my LinkedIn profile, my studio website through Music Teachers Helper, and links to a few things on iTunes and Lulu. Make sure you try the search with and without quotes. You might be surprised what you do or don’t find.
Avoid common pitfalls. Keep good records so your families will trust you. Return phone calls and emails promptly. Keep your word. Don’t give students rides alone or preferably, at all. Always be courteous, and maintain your composure.
Maintain a positive presence in the community. I’m not saying to go do public service just to get more students. People will see right through you. But if you are moved to serve others in some capacity, then you definitely should do it. A passion for helping others and serving the community will help you maintain a positive reputation in your community.