It’s a fact: Consistency in your studio makes a big difference for clear parent communication. Prior blog entries have already touched on benefits of having a “studio handbook” addressing responsibilities and procedures.
One area can that can cause friction unless it’s clearly spelled out is the policy regarding missed lessons or classes.
There is no right answer to the question “What should the policy be?” It’s just important that the policy is defined and consistently enforced. Here are some thoughts, drawn from my experience in a variety of teaching situations as well as many, many years as a student. They’re posed as questions because only you can provide the answers.
Why the absence?
Did the student forget the lesson? Studio Helper reminders can help with this, but it still takes a certain level or responsibility from parents and students. Was “last minute transportation” the issue? Sometimes that happens. Was there a sudden illness? Studio Helper emails can be used to verity this with parents, “just in case.” Not that a student ever invents a reason to miss lessons/classes (ahem) right?
How many is too many?
At one point does the number of missed sessions result in canceling further make-up sessions? Do you offer a “carry forward” credit for the future? This applies more to classes (ballet, karate, art, etc.) than private lessons. When do you work with the teacher and decide to drop the student and make room for new students who will show up regularly? For that matter, do you have a “wait list” for students that want to enter your studio?
How often is too often?
What if a student cancels for several weeks in a row? How many cancellations “tips the balance”? What happens when a student falls behind or fails to progress as a result? How do you handle potential complaints from parents when the real reason is frequent student absence? Supporting your teacher in this situation is key, of course. If you know the attendance record from Studio Helper reports, talking with parents is based on facts, not perceptions. This also removes the teacher from the middle of the equation and reduces stress on them.
I worked for a manager who used to say “your job is to get the work done, mine is to run interference with problems so you’re not distracted.” I have to say that working in that environment was one of the most pleasurable I ever experienced. If you apply this to your studio, then your teachers teach while you keep down the “noise level” they need to deal with. It also does a lot to keep teacher to parent/student communication in a positive light.
How much notice is acceptable?
It’s not uncommon to follow the same practice a medical office does: If a lesson is canceled with less than 24 (or 48) hours notice, full payment is due. It’s also possible to set a policy that if a lesson is canceled with more advanced notice, a partial fee is charged. After all, if a teacher has a “gap” between other scheduled lessons, that time is wasted for them.
What about special situations?
- Student/family vacation: How much advanced notice is appropriate? You can plan around part of this by allowing for major holidays in scheduling (4th of July, Labor Day, the week between Christmas & New Year’s Day), but spring is particularly challenging since school districts can select different weeks for “Spring Break.”
- Short term illness: What if a student gets the flu or something sudden? What sort of documentation is appropriate?
- Extended illness: How do you handle protracted illness (mononucleosis? hospitalization?). Is there a credit or refund offered to parents?
- Family Emergency: How does your studio show respect for family situations (loss of a relative, etc.) and still manage this as a business?
What to do?
Is there a consistent policy on make-up lessons or classes in the event of legitimate “excused absence”? If so, how is the teacher paid? After all, they may well have been in place, ready to teach. To ask for more time from instructors to teach make-up sessions means having a way to pay them for the additional time.
Does the studio set aside a “blank hour or two” each week or once a month to use for make-up, with the teacher paid? Is bill rate set to cover this time on average over the week/month so your studio is not losing money on the policy (meaning the teacher is paid whether the make-up time is used or not)? Are make-up activities covered as private sessions or group activities like a master class? What if the student/parents are unavailable during the make-up time?
So there you are
You can see why it’s critical to address this issue and make sure it is clear to all of the teachers, parents and students in your studio. That way, there’s consistency and the “wiggle room” opening the door for complaints and parents feeling unfairly treated is reduced or eliminated (Example: one teacher offers a make-up, a sibling’s instructor another doesn’t).
There could be other issues to include in your absence policy that are unique to type of studio you run. Remember, it’s much less important what the policy is than that there is a policy.
A fair studio is a happy studio!