Fact: You have a lesson policy.
Maybe you don’t have a five page Word document outlining every little detail of your studio (or maybe you do), but you still have a lesson policy. You have teaching methods and materials that you regularly use. You have acceptable methods of payment and behavior. You have certain times available for lessons and certain times when you won’t teach. Even if you think “No way! I’ll teach anybody, anywhere, anytime, in any style, under any condition, for any amount of money!” Guess what? That’s a policy.
Assuming that your lesson policy is a little more particular than the above example, here are three tips to help students and families participate in your policy and adhere to your guidelines.
Write It Down
Putting your lesson policy in writing serves three important purposes. First, it helps you clarify your own ideas. What types of payment do you accept? How do you handle missed lessons? How much do expect your students to practice? When you’re explaining these ideas verbally to another person, it’s easy to leave a lot of grey area. (“Well, we’ll just handle that when it comes up…”). Explaining these policies to a computer screen forces you to use more black and white language. Writing things down also forces you to think about situations before you’re dealing with them face to face.
Second, it presents your entire policy to the student at one time. Students appreciate consistency and knowing what to expect from you. Nothing will agitate a family more than learning five months into lessons that you only do make-ups on Tuesday nights during their Boy Scout meetings. Nothing will embarrass a family more than learning you only accept cash when they show up to pay with a credit card or check. Presenting your policy in written form will let families decide if your studio is a good fit for their student before anyone becomes too invested (financially or emotionally).
Finally, putting your policy in writing allows to maintain consistency across your entire studio. You no longer have to make decisions on a student-by-student basis (Steve can have 3 make up lessons a month because he’s into the same music as I am; Anna only gets 1 because she always chews gum and that annoys me). All your decisions are made up front, at the time you write your policy. Then, when a situation arises, you simply consult your own policy. “Oh, X happened. That means I do Y.”
Make the Family Sign Something
The back page of my lesson policy has a place for the student and their parent(s) to sign, stating that they’ve read and agree to abide by my lesson policy. This accomplishes two things. One, it makes the policy feel more like a contract (which it really is). Two, it gives me leverage when students object down the road. “You don’t like Policy X? Well, you signed here that you would agree to abide by it.” No family has ever continued to argue with me after I show them their own signature on my policy.
Be Strict In the Beginning
On the first day of kindergarten, my whole class thought our teacher was the Wicked Witch of the West. By January, she was Glinda, Good Witch of the North. I’m the oldest of eight children, seven of whom had the same kindergarten teacher, so my family got to know her pretty well. She mentioned once how she was always deliberately “mean” at the beginning of the school year in order to establish control over the classroom. As the year went on and the children knew what to expect, she could lighten up.
She based her plan on the fact that you can never become more strict; you can only become more lenient. Once you make an exception for a family, they will invariably expect that special treatment all the time. Special treatment may be fine for a few families in your studio who genuinely have difficult circumstances, but you’ll lose your mind if you have different policies for every student. For the first few months of lessons, I adhere to my lesson policy word for word, no exceptions. This prevents families who are less serious about lessons from taking advantage of me and my time. As I get to know each family, I allow myself to make exceptions to my policy when I feel they are warranted.
What other strategies do you use to promote and enforce your lesson policy? Leave your answer in the comments below.