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. A byproduct that can easily lead to quitting lessons altogether.
Let’s take a closer look…
Josh isn’t going to make it to his piano lesson this week. He’s got a thing after school that’s been scheduled for a while and if Josh is like every other twelve year old in the universe (and most adults I know) the fact that he’s not going to have a piano lesson for 2 weeks will undoubtedly alter his attitude towards lessons. Here’s how:
- Josh is not going to practice. Or at least not near as much. I don’t want to be a cynic, but it’s true. I’m an adult and if my whatever get’s pushed back a week, more times than not it’s just an opportunity to ignore it. Deadlines, goals, imminent embarrassment, all leads to effort. Josh is moving on until that lesson is nice and close.
- It’s now nice and close. Josh hasn’t thought about his piano lessons and now he’s confused. And anxious. He knows that the material he was given to work on two weeks prior should be sounding better. And even though he likes the piano and loves his teacher, lessons just became stressful. Stress about an enrichment activity is the first step towards its early demise.
Whenever a student misses a lesson there is a break in the learning chain. I found this phrase, “break the chain”, in an article about Jerry Seinfeld and his joke writing strategy. Yes, these are certainly different disciplines, but hear me out. The idea is that consistent engagement is crucial to success in the long run. We make progress when we are consistently active. A missed lesson interrupts that process. It not only momentarily breaks the progress, but we have to exert a lot more effort just to ramp up to the place we were before the interruption.
Here’s how the break in the chain plays out for Josh.
- Josh knows there’s no lesson on Thursday. He doesn’t practice. Thursday comes and goes.
- It’s the following Monday and Josh still hasn’t practiced and is now totally confused about the material and how to approach it.
- The return lesson devolves into a review of the lesson Josh had two weeks prior, the one before the miss.
Offering live makeups or giving a group makeup isn’t going to change what happens when a student misses a lesson. And offering Josh nothing does not acknowledge the lesson disruption that happens when he skips a week.
Every missed lesson is an opportunity.
An opportunity for stress or anxiety or confusion. An opportunity for that learning chain to break. Maybe even an opportunity to quit.
Or maybe not.
Maybe the missed lesson gives the teacher an opportunity to re-connect. To re-engage. To reach out, right when that student needs a personalized “check-in” the most. We can’t help that students miss, but we can help them survive those misses by keeping our learning chain intact. This needs to happen right around Josh’s regularly scheduled time for the maximum impact.
LessonMate is a platform designed specifically for that personalized check in. During Josh’s missed lesson time, his teacher creates an online lesson that reviews the previous week and looks ahead to the coming week. Video and audio recording, text and youtube clips are all available to keep Josh understanding where he’s at, what he’s supposed to work on and new activities he can start. It also keeps him connected to his teacher. A video and some enthusiastic text reminds him that his teacher is kind, cool, understanding and supportive. It dials down possible confusion and anxiety and turns up the inspiration that he would get at his normally scheduled lesson. And this is all done on the spot, no extra teaching time required!
Because students will miss. Regardless of your policy, students will miss lessons. But if we have a system in place that will give families value and keep students engaged despite those misses, we’re going to have a consistently healthy, happy and productive studio without any makeup policy distractions!