Communicating with parents can be scary and intimidating. After all, they are our bread and butter and we certainly want to keep them happy. However, they deserve to know exactly how their children are proceeding at all times in their musical studies. There are many ways to handle sharing your evaluation of a student with their parents. Phone calls, emails, letters, conferences, and weekly progress reports can be done. This year I have vowed to do an even better job of connecting with parents.
Music Teachers Helper has been an invaluable resource in following through with my goal. Reconciling lessons after each day of teaching helps me to reinforce assignments that were given at the lesson (Music Teachers Helper can automatically email these notes to both parent and student). I always include something positive that the student did during the lesson or as a result of good practice during the week, and constructive comments for improvement. I use the private notes to help me prepare for the next week’s lesson and to remember to follow up about something that the student told me during the lesson (like an upcoming music concert, sporting event, or special occasion). Since this takes some time, I hope that the parents read it! I think most of them do and I was especially surprised when one parent emailed me asking where the notes were (I had been a little late in getting them out)!
Though I prefer the ease of communicating electronically, some issues are better discussed on the phone, especially delicate issues like a behavior problem or lack of adequate practice. Emails can be easily misconstrued. An old-fashioned phone conversation is often necessary. I have found out the hard way that it is better to deal with problems immediately and directly before they become irreparable. This year I have decided to conduct mid-year phone conferences. I plan to contact all my piano families to touch base on progress so far this year. This will be a nice personal touch and helps to establish healthy relationships with my clients.
“Live” Parent Conferences
For several years I have conducted year-end parent conferences where we sit down eyeball to eyeball and discuss progress as well as future goals for their child. Prior to the conference I send out a Student Report that includes questions for the student about what they enjoyed most and least, pieces they would like to perform, their favorite composer, etc. During the conference, the parent and I review the Student Report and I share my written evaluation with the parent. My main question for the parent is, “Are you satisfied with your child’s progress and if not, what can I do to help?”
We can perhaps look to schools for how they handle structured interaction with the parents. I view piano lessons as part of the child’s education and take my students’ progress or lack there-of very seriously. The conversation between parent and teacher is vital. How do you handle it when you have a student that is not making sufficient progress? Do you communicate with the parent immediately? Or do you hope that it is just a phase that the student is going through and it will pass. If it doesn’t pass, what do you do?
How do you communicate with the parent? One book that has helped me to understand this tenuous relationship is The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. It is a beautifully written book that contains many examples of the dialogue between parents and teachers.
In the Suzuki philosophy of teaching music, the parent, student, teacher triangle is emphasized. The more we can do to strengthen this triangle, the better. Though not always easy or pleasant, it is necessary to view our communication and conversation in a collaborative spirit – as Bill Cosby so eloquently wrote, “Parents and teachers need to work in unison for the benefit of our children and our world.”