It’s easy for me to know when boundaries are being crossed. I can feel it. It feels…well, bad. My blood pressure goes up, I lose sleep I feel angry. Maybe, my student is always being picked up late, or tuition isn’t being paid on time. It could be that my time and space are not being respected. Maybe it’s something blatantly disrespectful or maybe it’s a situation that has become more and more upsetting over time. This is why I am presenting “Scripted Communication for Sticky Situations”.
read the post “Piano Studio Etiquette 101”
I have been teaching for over 35 years. In my home studio, at commercial studios, online, and as a teacher who travels to student’s homes. It’s been a great career! I have met so many amazing families. Occasionally I have run into some sticky situations. Over the years I have learned to be a better communicator. I have gained some insight into how to set boundaries and, make my expectations known. This has made me a much happier teacher and a happier person in general. In this post, I will present some situations that come up, from time to time and how I handle them. Feel free to take what you think will work for you and leave the rest.
This post “Scripted communication for Sticky Situations” reflects my studio rules. Of course, you will modify it to fit your own.
Why, oh why, oh why can’t people just use common courtesy? Why do they have to skip lessons, make messes, arrive early, pick kids up late, forget to pay you, and look in the refrigerator?
I haven’t completely figured this out yet.
Thankfully, most people are nice and respectful. The vast majority of my students are. and have been amazing. But there have been a few in the past who have given me a run for my money.
In all honesty, I don’t think that these people are malevolent or out to get me. Some of them just don’t really think too much about what they are doing, others may be overwhelmed and have some real issues going on in their lives. Then there are those who consider themselves savvy business people and love to negotiate. It helps me to understand this. I can try to look at the situation and understand what is behind the unwanted behavior. I can also try to find ways to avoid those sticky situations.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” Benjamin Franklin
Post Everything Everywhere!
Have a studio policy put it in writing post it in your studio, on your studio website, on your Facebook page, email, and hand parents a hard copy. I go over the policy at the lesson with my students and parents.
“Here’s my studio policy I always like to go over it with new students (or from time to time with existing students). Just to see if everything still seems reasonable and to ask if you have any questions.”
If I feel like it is needed I could also have a studio policy review week. I might do this if I feel like things are sliding out of control. I would precede this with an email.
Hope you are all well. I am having a studio policy review next week. Please take a moment to look a the policy and let me know if you have any questions concerns or suggestions. I am working hard to make sure things are running smoothly so that I can best serve your family.
Looking forward to seeing you at the next lesson.”
Attach the policy and be prepared to go over the policy at the next lesson. If a parent has a concern be prepared to listen and consider it. I have learned over the years not to respond immediately unless I am sure of my response.
Here’s the script:
Parent; “I have a question about your make-up policy, I don’t think it’s fair if my child is sick, I feel I should get a make-up.”
Me: “ I totally understand but I just am jam-packed and have no time in my schedule for extra lessons. I have accounted for that by providing books and materials and not having a recital fee. I want to make sure you are getting a good value. my students are my top priority.”
If I am not sure of my response here’s the script:
Parent; “I know you require students to participate in at least one recital per year but my son hates to perform can you waive this requirement?”
Me; “Thanks for letting me know about this, I will think about it and get back to you on it if that’s OK.”
What if that doesn’t work? What if tuition still isn’t being paid on time, and students are not respecting your studio space? The next step is a general email. Send it out to all of your students.
I may say something like this.
“Hello, students and parents,
This is Ms. D taking some time out for a little studio “housekeeping”. Just a quick reminder that tuition is due the first week of each month. Late payments will incur a $15.00 late fee. After the third missed payment lessons will be suspended until payment is caught up.
Thanks so much for the privilege of working with you and your children,
These general strategies usually work, but not always. It’s likely that you will have a few sticky situations that you have to confront head-on. No one likes to do this (almost no one) but it is necessary at times. Below are some possible situations and scripts on how to deal with them.
When a family gets behind on a payment I would first I would contact the parent via email.
Here’s the script
“Hello Ms. G,
“Just a quick reminder that your piano payment is due at the next lesson. The payment will be $$ which includes the late fee. If you have any questions or concerns about your payment please contact me so that we can work out a payment arrangement.
Also if you could take a moment to reply to this email so that I know it has been received I would really appreciate it.
Thanks a million,
If a child shows up at your door after the allotted grace period is over.
Speak to the parent on the phone or in person.
Here’s the Script
Me; “Hello Ms. H how are you? Johnny is here at the studio but he doesn’t seem to have the payment with him.”
Parent; “Sorry I can drop it off next week”
Me; “OK, he will be waiting for you to pick him up as I cannot conduct a lesson today because of the late payment.”
This type of situation isn’t much fun. However, keep in mind that you have given this family clear expectations and every chance to work with you. At this point, it is they who are crossing boundaries and taking advantage of you. Make no apologies be polite and professional.
As an aside, one thing that could really help with collecting payments is to accept more ways for people to pay. Credit and debit cards make it is to have a payment recur. Paypal also offers convenient payment options.
Here are some other scenarios and scripts
A student shows up 20 minutes early with a parent.
Me; “Oh you’re a bit early, I will be with you in 20 minutes” Shut the door and let them wait.
Student shows up early or is picked up late without the parent there.
Send a text immediately
Me “ Hi Mrs. J. Susie arrived at her lesson 20 minutes early. Her lesson time is 3:00 pm.”
“Hi Ms. V, Mike’s lesson is finished he is waiting for you. His lesson ends at 4:00.”
When students disrespect your studio, home, or time;
Student; “Ms. D, may I use the bathroom?”
Me; “Yes but please keep it clean and wash your hands.”
I also love signs. If something has become a problem a simple sign can be all that is needed.
“Tuition is due this week.”
“Please pick up the toys before you leave.”
“Park on my side of the street.”
“Keep the restroom neat.”
Sometimes a boundary being crossed is of a more personal or even pedagogical nature. Perhaps a student is not practicing or is being rude at the lesson. Maybe it is a parent who is being confrontational or calling your teaching methods into question.
Here are a few dos for these situations:
Do stay calm. Remember, this too shall pass.
Do think before you speak. If you are not sure what to say wait until you have had time to think about it.
Do say something nice. “A kind word turns away wrath”. I have found that saying something nice often immediately diffuses a touchy situation.
Do use humor when appropriate.
Do be confident and not confrontational. Keep in mind that you are a professional.
Do Keep explanations short. Most of the time you don’t have to explain anything. For example, you don’t necessarily have to explain why you don’t give discounts for siblings.
Do be willing to listen. Sometimes my student or their parent is right and I am wrong. That’s OK if need be I can make changes.
Do say something good about your student and their parents at every lesson.
If you like this post get the book. It’s all about how to have a peaceful, profitable, and joyful studio. “The Happiest Piano Teacher in Town”
There are thousands of possible scenarios and scripts. In this post, I have presented a few. Feel free to visit my Facebook Group “Piano Teacher Apprentice” and share your insights and experiences.
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