There are some things that can be taken for granted. The color of the sky for instance or the fact that Chik-Fil-A will always be closed on Sundays…
But there are other things that we are better off not taking for granted. One of them is how much our parents understand their responsibility in the music lesson environment, and another is that they have the necessary tools to carry it out.
I’ve been working at the Catoctin School of Music for about 2 years now and I think the biggest change I have witnessed (and had a hand in implementing) is how well we equip our parents to be their children’s most valuable asset in learning when it comes to their music lessons.
It’s so easy to think, “What are the parents not getting? You bring them to their lessons, make sure they practice and bring them back!” To music educators it looks that simple. I don’t actually think anyone thinks this way intentionally, but because music education is our life and livelihood, it’s easy for us to see it in a simplistic, ideal way; completely missing the part where it could be the last straw for an already busy, overworked parent. It’s also very easy for a parent to overestimate the commitment and do too little because they feel so overwhelmed or maybe they underestimate the commitment and are left confused as to why their student is not advancing and their teacher is displeased. These situations can easily spark discontentment from a parent who feels they’re at the end of their proverbial rope – while the teacher blinks back at them trying to figure out what on earth went wrong?
Each of these scenarios is an avoidable misunderstanding. At our school, we’ve taken several steps to ensure that parent/teacher camaraderie and partnership is a developing reality in our studio – a reality I’m sure all music educators desperately desire.
Parent Orientation Classes: Each month, we host a parent orientation for all our new parents. We send out notifications of each orientation date to all parents who have been onboarded in the last 6 months and have not yet attended an orientation. This class is run by me and one of the other teachers here at the school. We use it as an opportunity to get the parents talking to us and to each other. We ask questions like, “What is practicing like at home?” and “Why did you choose to enroll you student in music lessons?” This creates conversation about motives and ideas about music and we find that pretty much every parent thinks music is great for their children and they want to get the most out of it…sometimes they just don’t know where to start.
We go over practicing habits and techniques (even some tricks) and let the parents tell their own stories. It’s great to see a parent sigh with relief and go, “I’m so glad I’m not the only one who has a kid who doesn’t want to work at it…” They realize that struggles with the lesson work do not necessarily mean a death knell for music in their household. We go over coping strategies to better equip them to deal with the occasional meltdown from their student, but mostly they discover that they are not alone in this. We make sure to fully outline all the resources we have at our studio and stress that communication lines should be open at all times. They are encouraged to email their teachers or sit in on lessons as often as they’d like. Our favorite catchphrase in these orientation classes is, “There are no mystic rituals going on behind that door.”
Parent Mentor Program: Every new parent who onboards with our school gets a buddy…a parent who has been with us a long time and pretty much has all the ropes down. The mentors are all ones that have had unique and sometimes frustrating experiences with their students. We give each new parent the contact information of a mentor and tell them to feel free to contact them any time with questions they might have. We try to pair them strategically (so that they both have the same teacher or instrument or age of student, etc.) so that the mentors can commiserate, sympathize and get advice.
Studio Helper: Before SH, we had no client portal or calendar that the parents could see. They had to call and ask about their accounts, next lessons, etc. We purchased a subscription to SH for one key reason: our parents. Everything is transparent to them through the online portal and with the practice log and other tools; it gives them yet another resource for success.
The key thing about each of these programs and resources is that everyone has to meet in the middle. When we onboard a parent, we inform them of upcoming orientations, give them a mentor and a Studio Helper account. And then the ball is in their court. They can choose to use them…or not. But we have definitely noticed a dramatic decrease in teacher/parent misunderstandings or disagreements. We used to have a concern or issue rise up at least once a month from at least one of our 15 teacher’s studios. Now, I can expect to have something in my inbox maybe once a quarter and usually the issue is easily resolved without hurt feelings or harsh words. And about 90% of the time when we have a significantly confused or disgruntled parent, we can see it is one who did not take advantage of any of the resources offered them.
Of course every program is different and as studio owners, you must create resources that will work in your environment, but I would highly encourage you to make some efforts, no matter how small, in orienting your parents to your culture. It’s definitely worth the time and energy to avoid later struggles that could have easily been managed in a more business-like and more student-centered way. Having your child take lessons (especially if it’s something you have no experience in) can be scary and daunting. Give your parents some extra help and I guarantee you will reap the benefits.