Are you frustrated by multiple absences, cancellations, and even no-shows?
Do you wish students would take their private lessons more seriously and be more considerate of your time?
When I first started teaching, I drove to clients’ homes to teach students private piano and flute lessons. Occasionally, I would show up and no one would be home! Or, I would receive a phone call (the day before, if I was lucky), saying that they needed to cancel (often from the same student multiple times). This meant I would have to sit in my car for 45 minutes, waiting until it was time to drive to the next students’ home. How annoying!
It also resulted in inconsistent income – and that’s really a bummer!
Now, I understand that things come up. Life happens to all of us! But, wouldn’t it be great to have a 99% attendance rate?
Out of 881 lessons taught during the 2018–2019 school year, there were 53 absences (94% attendance rate). However, I only taught 2 make-ups for any of those absences. How many make-ups did you teach?
Ask yourself 5 important questions
Before you blame your students or their parents for missed lessons, it is important to ask yourself some important questions first.
If you can answer yes to all of the above questions, you most likely will not have absence/cancellation/no-show issues. So, I’m guessing that since you’re reading this post, you might need help in one or more of these areas. Let’s explore them further.
Watch your attendance rate skyrocket by answering 5 questions.
1. Do you have a well defined and appropriate absence/make-up policy?
If you have a clearly defined policy regarding absences and make-ups, everyone (students, parents, and teacher) will know what to do.
Let clients know how (phone, email, text message) and when you prefer to be notified of any cancellations. Also, decide if you will charge for missed lessons or offer make-ups. And don’t forget that weather or emergencies can play a factor in absences as well.
Make sure you include yourself in your studio policy. What happens if you need to cancel a lesson? By deciding ahead of time, you will be much better equipped to deal with situations as they arise.
I only offer make-ups for emergencies and inclement weather. So out of the 53 absences this past school year (out of 881 lessons), I taught 2 make-ups.
2. Do you have a well defined and appropriate tuition/fee policy?
During those early years of teaching when I drove to students’ homes, I charged students per lesson. They would pay me at the beginning of each month, but only for the weeks they would be in attendance. Clients could cancel any lesson any time they wanted and were not responsible for paying for those lessons.
The result: Many cancelled lessons and a fluctuating income.
By default, I had put in place a policy that allowed for (and even encouraged) absences!
After seven years of teaching, I ran across another teacher that charged a “Monthly Tuition". She explained the concept to me and why it was so effective. By not charging a per lesson or weekly fee and instead charging monthly tuition, you communicate to your clients that your time is valuable and that you expect consistency.
After implementing monthly tuition the absences, cancellations, and no-shows virtually disappeared!
3. Did you make your expectations clear from the beginning?
Even if you have decided ahead of time what your policies will be, that’s only half of the equation. You’ve done your part, but you haven’t told your clients what to do!
Always have a clearly defined, written studio policy that is available for clients. You can email it to perspective students ahead of time, but not everyone will read it. You can post it on your website, but again, not everyone will read it.
Therefore, it is very important to read through and discuss your policies with your clients the first time you get together.
I found that having an “Introductory Lesson” would allow me to set clear expectations with incoming clients, as well as answer any questions they might have.
4. Are you being consistent?
We all know that consistency is key in developing good habits. If you would like your students to show up to every lesson, then it’s important that you do, too!
Don't make a habit of rescheduling lessons or taking time off spontaneously. Clearly communicate your schedule for the school year or summer ahead of time so parents and students will know when to expect lessons and vacations to occur. Clear expectations show that you respect your clients and you respect yourself.
Clearly communicated expectations show that you respect your clients and you respect yourself.
5. Are you offering high quality, valuable instruction?
Not only do you need to show up to every lesson, but you need to be prepared and professional! We can all tell when a teacher is “winging it”, right? Those are the teachers that lose your respect quickly. And besides, why should clients pay for poor instruction?
If needed, study the pieces you will be teaching. Add games or other fun activities to lessons. Use technology when appropriate to enhance student learning. Plan performance opportunities for students. Teach composing, improvising, hymn playing, accompanying, music history. Teaching in the 21st century should not look like teaching in the 19th century did with all of the free resources and ideas that are available online.
To state the obvious, if you want to have a thriving studio, then it is important that you know what you’re doing and engage your students.
Once I could answer a big “YES” to those five important questions, my studio has maintained a 90%+ attendance rate every year!
To put it into real numbers, when I taught 50 students a week, I only had an average of 2 missed lessons a month, including absences, cancellations, and the very occasional no-show.
Here are some ways to upgrade yourself from being a “Just OK” teacher to being awesome!
Have you seen results from answering these 5 questions? What do you do to prevent absences? I'd love to hear your comments below!