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10 things I Learned in 10 Years of Teaching

Over the past 10 years of teaching I have learned many valuable skills running my business. (Really it’s been a few more than 10 but 10 seems like a good round number for this post!) I’ve tried things that didn’t work at all, and I found things that were a perfect fit for me and my studio! With the end of the 2017/2018 school year coming soon I thought it would be fun to reflect on some of the most valuable things I have learned over the past years.

1. Have a studio Policy and stick to it

When I first started teaching in highschool I didn’t even know I should have a studio policy. I will forever be grateful for one of my teachers helping me create my very first studio policy. My studio policy has been through many revisions since then to help fit my current studio. I like to review my policy once a year to make sure it still meets my needs. Do you have a studio policy you like? Or could it use a refresh? If you need ideas check out this post here.

2. Know when it’s time to extend grace on a studio policy

Having a studio policy has been great and has protected both me and my business but I also have learned it’s important to know when to extend grace. It certainly isn’t common for me to make exceptions to my studio policy but I think it’s important to remember we are all human and sometimes we all need grace.  

3. Not all students should take lessons from me

Trial lessons aren’t just for a student and parent to see if they like me. They are also for me to see if the student is a good match for my teaching style and studio. Occasionally I get inquiries for lessons from students that I feel would be a better match for a different teacher.  For example:I have practice expectations in my studio, and though I have created a fun and motivational way to encourage students to practice in general I find that if students want to take lessons but plan to practice less than 4 days a week they probably aren’t a good fit for my studio.  I typically find a trial lesson is a great place to learn more about a student. Looking for ideas on what to do in a trial lesson? Check out this post here.

4. Find ways to keep lessons fun and engaging

I have found asking students between the ages of 5-10 to sit on the bench for a 30min lessons is tough for them. So I started including fun off the bench activities in the last 5 min of the lesson. The increase in retention of theory concepts was amazing! In fact studies supported what I was seeing; that students learn best when playing interactive games and activities. Games and activities have also become a great way to set my studio apart from other studios.

5. Have a Plan

Eight years ago I set a 5 year, 10 year, and 15 year plan for my business By having a plan I had a clear direction I needed to head in to achieve the goals I wanted. I took a few detours along the way, some of my goals changed, and some were modified to fit my life better but I am so grateful I took that time to write down my goals. Writing down my goals helped me discern which opportunities were right for me and which ones to pass up. I continue to set both long term goals and annual a goals that help keep me focused and motivated.

6. Find a Niche, know who are as a piano teacher

Just as not all students are a good fit, I don’t have to meet the needs of every student who wants lessons. Finding a niche helped me know what students I enjoy working with and am most successful teaching. There are some things I am great at and some things I am not. I found that it’s good to learn new things but it’s also important to acknowledge when that’s just not  my strength or passion and to send a student to a colleague instead. Finding a niche also helped me articulate my advertising and website copy to better attract students that are great fits for my studio.

7. Find a work life balance

The most common thing I hear from other teachers and have experienced myself is burnout. When I first started teaching I was so inspired to teach budding musicians who love music but in the midst of the day to day I got frustrated. Student’s didn’t practice as much as they should, and not everyone appreciated my efforts as much as I had hoped they would. And I felt overwhelmed keeping up with the many hats I wear as business owner: teaching, marketing, accounting, business growth, etc.

I found I am a much happier and successful teacher and a more productive business owner when I keep a work life balance.

At the beginning of the school year I plan any time off that I want to take during the year. During these days/time off I either plan a staycation or a trip. I also find it’s important to allow time in my weekly schedule to recharge. In addition to my weekend, which is Sunday/Monday I usually make sure there is at least one morning a week that does not have any lessons scheduled and I finish earlier on Fridays.

8. Hire a virtual assistant

About two years ago I discovered I was spending a full day each week working on billing, following up on payments and other administrative tasks. I decided to hire a virtual assistant to help keep up with the billing. This has been one of the best choices, and one that also helped me continue to grow the business while still maintaining a reasonable work life balance. If your studio is over 60 students you need a virtual assistant. Your virtual assistant can do everything from payments and emails to any administrative tasks that you aren’t directly needed for.  The time they spend on these projects you can either use for more teaching and teaching prep or finally get that much needed work life balance.

9. Attend continuing education

One of the most valuable ways I have spent money and time as a teacher is taking continuing education classes. Continuing education classes have inspired me as a teacher, given me new ideas for ways to work with students, kept me refreshed, and continued to motivate me to be the best teacher to my students that I can be. If your feeling a little weary or just needing something fresh to try in lessons I encourage you to take a class, and learn a new skill or tool to use with your students.

10. Have fun!

Not every day is easy, but overall I love my job! I get to share my love for music with the next generation. Sometimes it’s challenging but the rewards of seeing student’s musical skills blossom is worth the effort. When things get stressful, I try to remember that I’m not a physician or attorney. No one’s life depends on my surgical skills (thankfully!) , and no business deals will fall through if I get sick. It’s true that not all students are easy to work with. I have students that challenge me to grow as a teacher and challenge me to think of things in new creative ways. Many of the tools I have developed for teaching I thought of because a student had a need.  Though I have found not all students are for me, I also try to remember that I can learn from each experience. When I allow students to grow my experiences and skills, I also become a better teacher and have more fun in the process.

5 Resources Every Piano Teacher Needs

Get these 5 basic Resources and easily start adding games to your piano lessons.

Are you just starting to include fun music games? Here are five resources to get you started. I use all of these resources almost every day with my students.

 

A large die

I love my large 5 inch die. A few years ago one of my students gave me one for Christmas and it has been a huge hit. There are endless possibilities for use of a die in lessons but two of my favorites are allowing the student to role the die to determine the designated number of repetitions, and dividing the song into sections and rolling the die to determine which section to practice. You can then keep rolling until all sections have been played four times.

 

Letter cards, flash cards and rhythm cards

Good old music alphabet letter cards, flash cards, and rhythm cards don’t just have to be used for drilling. You can also hide the flash cards around the room and have them find and play the note on the piano or play go fish and memory.

Rhythm cards are also great for creating rhythms on the floor for an off the bench rhythmic activity. Create two rhythms (in the same time signature); while the student claps one rhythm you clap the other. Then switch parts. My students love seeing how fast we can clap without getting distracted by the other person.  

 

Bingo Tokens or Aqua Rocks

Aqua rocks and bingo tokens are probably the most often reached for item in my studio. I find these can help mark notes on the piano when learning keys, are great with a paper staff to create chords and scales, and are great game markers to have on hand for off the bench games. Looking for some fun games for aqua rocks or not sure what they are? Check out this post here.  

 

Post-it tabs

These aren’t really for a game, I just use them so much I wanted to include them! These are super handy to have around to mark sections in a piece that need work, and to mark note or rhythmic corrections. They are easy to put on and then come off easily when you are done with the problem section. I also use these with my more advanced students as well so they have a visual reminder of what we talked about.  

Bonus:  Pinterest

One of my favorite past times that has kept me up way past my bedtime more times than I can count is browsing Pinterest. Not only is it fun to see what other piano teachers are trying but I also enjoy browsing for any games that I think could be modified into fun music games. I have been inspired to create new games for everything from private lessons, group classes, and summer piano camps.

 

What are some of your favorite resources to have on hand?

No Stress Summer Piano Camp

Have you ever gotten frustrated with the lack of attendance at summer lessons? Do most of your students just take the summer off? Are you trying to plan creative ways to increase summer income? I have found summer camps an excellent way to increase my income.

Several years ago I embarked on my summer piano camp experiences by holding a preschool summer camp, which you can read about here, here, and here. The next year I expanded to add a half day elementary camp and each year I have expanded on my summer camp offerings. Currently I offer a preschool half day camp, elementary all day camp, and intermediate all day camp. This year I will be adding field trips to the intermediate camp.

If you are planning to offer summer camps but aren’t sure where to start by deciding the type of camp you want to host, elementary, preschool, etc and if it will be all day or half day. 

Pick your dates:

Usually, I like to survey parents to find out popular dates for camp. I set up a free survey through Survey Monkey. I ask date preferences, if they would prefer half or all day, and any misc questions I may have for that year. If it’s your first time holding a summer camp, you could also ask what their interest level is in a summer camp.

Choose your curriculum:

Once you have the level of camp you want to hold you need to choose a curriculum. Though I love planning and creating games for my students I find it easiest to have a pre-written curriculum to jump start my planning. Some my students favorite games and camp themes have come from Sheryl Well’s blog. Sheryl’s camps are well designed and easy to implement. You can check out her summer camp materials here.

I have also used Joy Moirin’s composer camp and music history lapbooks. You can find those here and here

Choose your price:

Once you have your camp type, and dates, it’s time to decide on a price. It’s a good idea to check and see what other camps are charging in your area. I choose to charge less than other camps because I hold my summer camps out of my home. But don’t charge too much less. The price range may look like quite a larger chunk of money up front but remember to factor in the hourly rate you would like to make.

Choose your location:

I choose to hold my camps in my home so we have easy access to a yard so we can have a water day. But you can also choose to host your camps in another location, perhaps at a church, or other community facility. You should also factor in cost and price of the camp into your location as well.

Identify your Ideal Size:

How many children will you allow in each camp?  What do you consider full and do you need an assistant teacher? I recommend if this is your first year starting with a small. group I personally find 6-8 students is easily manageable on my own and still profitable.  Personally 8 is a perfect size if I do not have another teacher assisting. If I have more than 8 students I have found having an assistant teacher important, and often necessary to help the camp run smoothly.

Once you have an idea of the type of camp, dates, price, curriculum etc it’s time to advertise your camp. A simple PDF with an enticing description of camp is an excellent start. Though You can email the info out to families, I find it also valuable to chat with each family in person, so they can see how excited you are about camp.

If you are planning to or decide to host a camp this summer I would love to hear about your camp plans!

 

Studio Policy Guidance 101

Yesterday I had a discussion with a parent who was looking for a violin teacher.  She commented that one of the teachers she considered sent her a 10 page studio policy as soon as she contacted him about lessons. This parent felt overwhelmed, and her comment was, “I don’t care about a studio policy.  I already know there will be a studio policy I must comply with; I want to know what can he do for my child!”

Coming from a parent who is very serious about lessons and respectful of a teacher’s time,  got me thinking. I think the length and content of a studio policy is important to consider. Every teacher wants to acquire students, so how can we set boundaries, yet not overwhelm parents?

successful-studio-policy-imageI think we first need to consider what to include in a studio policy. Your studio policy shouldn’t address everything and the “kitchen sink!” So what should your studio policy include?

You only need three main parts to your studio policy.

  1. Tuition and Studio Activities

  • How tuition is charged: rate/hour, monthly, etc.

  • Acceptable methods of payment: check, cash, or credit card?

  • Due dates for payments and when late fees are assessed, if any

  • Special fees charged: recital fees, music books, etc.

  • General information about recitals and group lessons, as applicable

  1. Cancellations

  • Makeup policy if you or the student misses a lesson

    • 24 hour or more notification?

  • Policy for bad weather days

 

  1. Important Standing Rules

  • Such as washing hands before lessons etc

Your studio policy should be no more than 1 to 1 and a half pages in length and should be written so it is easy to read and understand.

What about addressing all the little things that bother you?

For those of us who teach from our homes, we may be tempted to use our studio policy to address various irritations such as:

  • students wandering to private areas of our home

  • students tracking mud on our floors or staining furniture with food, etc.

  • parents visiting long after a student’s lesson is complete

It’s always best to assume that most people are respectful of your home and time and to handle the exceptions on a case by case basis.  If several families are taking extra liberties, then send a polite email to specifically address an issue.  In general, sending respectful  emails or personally speaking with a parent are better methods than using your studio policy to address issues that have irritated you.  You want prospective parents to be motivated to join your studio, not overwhelmed by all your rules!

Five Things to do with Aqua Rocks in a Piano Lesson

Ever used aqua rocks or glass gems in your studio?  Ten years ago when I picked up a bag of aqua rocks, (the ones used in fish bowls and floral arrangements; you can find some here (link)) I had no idea how much my students would enjoy using them and how versatile they would be in lessons! Students of various ages enjoy using the gems. Maybe students like the gems because they are shiny and have a nice, smooth texture. If you are in need of a new resource to refresh your teaching, I highly recommend purchasing a bag of glass gems at your local craft store. These gems are an inexpensive resource and come in a variety of colors. Here are five ways you can use those new gems in your studio.

Aqua Rocks Post Image

Learning Key Names

When students are first learning the names of the piano keys, using gems and a set of letter cards is a great way to practice the key names. To play, shuffle a set of musical alphabet cards and place them on the piano bench next to a selection of glass gems. Have the student draw the top letter card and place a gem on the correct key. Play continues until all the letter cards are gone, or at least one key of each letter in the musical alphabet is covered.

The Ultimate Game Token or Bingo Chip

Gems are my students’ first choice when it comes to game tokens and bingo chips. Anytime you are playing a game that requires students to cover a space on a game board, gems can easily be used and add some extra fun to the game. If your selection of gems is different colors, you can also use them for game tokens.

Listening Activities

Aqua rocks can be used when implementing listening activities with students such as discerning major or minor intervals, high or low notes, or other listening skills. Provide a worksheet for students, and instead of writing their answer,  provide aqua rocks for them to place on the example you played. Since aqua rocks are round, they make great notes.

Melodic Dictation

This game goes well with the above listening activities. If your students need to practice melodic dictation by listening then writing the notes they hear played, this method is a great way to isolate identifying notes by ear.

  • Provide students a piece of staff paper with lines and spaces large enough for the aqua rocks to represent notes. As you play a melody for the students, ask them to place the gems on the correct places on the staff to represent the melody you played.

  • Remember you should tell students what note you started on to provide a reference point.

  • After students have placed the gems on which notes they think you played, instruct them to check their work while you play the melody again. By using gems to mark notes, students can easily change the notes without time consuming erasing.

  • Once students have determined the correct notes with gems,  instruct them to write the notes on their staff paper, notating proper rhythm.

 

Counting Aid

Working with your students on a particular section of their piece? Aqua rocks are a fun but simple way to keep track of repetition in practice. For each time a student plays a section correctly, have them place a gem on the music stand to keep track of their progress. (Remember studies show that keeping repetition to 4 or 5 times is more effective than excessive repetition.)

Teaching Form

Gather a selection of different colored aqua rocks,and use them to teach form or to identify and practice different sections of a piece. For example, if you have an ABA form, instead of giving each section a letter, give it a color. Put multiple gems of each chosen color in a cup, such as three blues for the A section and three greens for the B section. Have students close their eyes and select a gem. Whichever color they select is the section they will play. Continue instructing students to close their eye, select a gem, and play the section selected until all the gems are gone.   This method is very effective in helping students gain confidence in playing pieces from memory.