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If you run a music lesson studio you’ve got a missed lesson policy. Students miss lessons and when they do, parents need to know what to do.

Certainly, there are options — refunds, live makeups, group makeups, no makeups, video makeups… whatever your policy, the key is to make sure that it doesn’t become a liability for your program and doesn’t create more issues than it solves.

Here are the 5 things things your policy needs to be -

1. Easy to explain

You’ve got to be able to explain your policy in full within 1 or 2 short sentences. Complicated policies are, well, complicated. Complicated policies don’t get followed and will lead to stressed staff and frustrated parents. A simple policy shows you’ve thought something through, you care about how it is perceived by your families and you’re confident about it as a solution. …

A look at the missed lesson options for your studio.

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Your policies are important.

The policies you create for your studio not only impact how your studio functions day to day, but help define the core values, the very culture that is your studio.

The policy decisions I make for my studio have to jive in four ways:

  1. Do they feel right? Is the policy I’m creating as a studio owner something I would accept as a parent? Does it feel fair to my both my teachers and families? Does it affect morale? Does it inspire confidence?
  2. Operation. How difficult is the policy to implement? How difficult to maintain? Can it be automated?
  3. Do they pair with good education? We are the experts. We have websites that extol the virtues of our teachers, staff and programs. Our commitment to quality, thoughtful education has to reflect this. …

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“When we run strong businesses, we empower not only ourselves, but our entire profession.” Shanta Hejmadi

I love this quote. That Shanta is a piano teacher (as well as a music teaching blogger and music teaching business advocate) is icing on the cake. This could work for any industry.

Teaching is the most honorable of vocations. We should feel as confident in our business and the good we do as any other professional. But we are musicians sharing our joy with others and maybe because of that joy, and the personal connections we make with our families, we tend to be flexible on the business side. While this flexibility is of questionable benefit to our students, it can truly do harm to us in the long run. Our business model, as Shanta says, also contributes to the industry standard for music teaching studios. …

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When we create a makeup policy for our music studio, it’s usually done with the purpose of confronting one big challenge. How do we satisfy parents and students who have missed a lesson without throwing our studio into a scheduling mess? We’ve been paid by families in advance for time slots and when there’s an absence, we feel the pull to offer something in return.

Rescheduled lessons, refunds or group makeup lessons are among the usual policy choices used in hopes of satisfying parents. These are certainly flawed, but I’d like to talk about another policy. The “no makeup” policy.

The “no makeup” policy is the policy that offers nothing when a student misses a lesson. I’m no fan of the live makeup — its challenges far out way it’s benefits. But having a “no makeup” policy ignores a key byproduct of a student missing a lesson beyond a feeling of value lost. …

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Help Your Students Help Themselves (or Sharing is Caring)

Your students are trying to learn something difficult. No matter how awesome things go during the lesson, they’ll have to spend time at home. Practicing. It’s simply the nature of the process. If they don’t practice in some capacity on a regular basis, they won’t progress and they will quit. You know this. No one wants this. The student, the parent and certainly not you.

Give your students the tools to practice like they mean it by really sharing what you know.

Of course you already share. You’re a teacher, you share all day long. …

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What you do is important. Really, really important. I’m biased — I have 25+ years experience as an educator and own a music school in Los Angeles — but I’m also right. Music is not only woven tightly into all of human culture, but central to human joy. You are a mighty torch bearer. Thank you!

Yet, in the face of those facts, anyone involved in enrichment music education faces an uphill battle. What we expect of students, parents and teaching can be seriously hampered by conflicting activities, unrealistic expectations and challenging communications.

Now, some of this is beyond our control. But good organization and solid, fundamental communication with students and families are within our control and will go a long way in making things easier and more successful for both you and your students. …

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So what do we do about that Missed Lesson?

Our options…

  1. Give a Live Makeup every time? Sometimes?
  2. Give a Workshop, Group Lesson or Schedule an Extra Week as a makeup?
  3. Create a Swap List
  4. Simply give nothing?

In the post The Missed Lesson we detailed these options.

Let’s look at the facts.

Lesson attendance promotes progress. Progress promotes continued interest. Interest is what drives retention. Students that do not attend lessons, do not stay in lessons. The weekly lesson check-in is the key.

Our goal should be to promote regular attendance above all else.

Once a week, every week. This is simply good education. A student needs time to process, but too much time leads to confusion and detachment. Missing weeks and catching up by scheduling hour lessons or multiple lessons within the space of a week is a poor substitute for the regular schedule of week to week. So that’s what we need to be asking of our students and their families. Come every week. If you miss, you miss. No live makeup. It’s not an appropriate solution. …

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The idea of LessonMate really started to take form when we began to acknowledge a truly important component of the educational process. Transparency. Everyone knowing what’s going on week to week, month to month. Teacher, student and family. This is slightly different than communication, where there might be an expectation of constant dialogue between all parties. Transparency simply means that no one is in the dark, no one is confused about expectations and everyone understands the common goal. Confusion ultimately leads to stress. Stress stinks.

Enter the weekly LessonMate note. Your path towards transparency.

Unlike the LessonMate Makeup, the weekly note is a brief summary of the what was worked on in the lesson and what should be worked on for the week ahead. You’ve got a list of features to choose from in LessonMate — recording videos, embedding youtube clips, attaching pdf’s and mp3’s, ect. You don’t need to use them all. In fact, with the weekly note, you shouldn’t. Let’s try to be brief. Remember, the idea is to give the student something to reference during the week, the family some indication of how the student is doing and in the event there is a last minute sub, information that will help the sub jump right in. …

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It’s time to talk about something a bit dicey. Maybe less joy and certainly more stress…

The Missed Lesson

The Great Pit of Music Instructor Despair. The Big Black Hole of Time and Money. Has there ever been a solution that truly feels right? A solution that satisfies the teacher, student and parent? A solution that is good for both education and business. Certainly, a lot had been proposed. …

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The makeup lesson

It feels a bit icky just saying it. Explaining policy, scheduling, explaining policy again — live makeups, whether private or group, never feel good. They always seem complicated and inconvenient for staff, student and families alike.

So let’s just ditch ‘em.

Leave them behind with all that is antiquated and start anew. Let’s give the makeup a makeover.

Dave Hemann

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