For teachers and students, September has always been the true beginning of the year.
So what do you do to gear up for the new year?
Last week I found myself excited when I drove by a Staples store! My own daughters, ages 9 and 13, seem to have caught my “September fever” and we had a fun school supply shopping trip in preparation for 4th and 8th grade. After all, for most of us, a teaching career followed straight on the heels of our own schooling and September has always felt like a new “beginning”.
In my studio August is a quiet month. Many of my students are away and lessons are sparse. But August is one of my most creative times. I look forward to those quiet days. I schedule a series of “work days” just as I would set time aside for teaching hours. Yes, I make sure that I head for the beach or delve into a new book too! After all, this is the month to catch up on lost sleep and get ready for the excitement of the new year. August is a rare opportunity, without the busy-ness of the school year routine, to be creative about the business of teaching.
Here is my August plan for this year:
1- I send out a fall packet. Even though my students can now see my online calendar through Studio Helper, I find that families appreciate the advance planning and schedules to hang on the refrigerator. My fall packet includes:
- a welcome letter (one for new students and another for returning students)
- 2 copies of my contract with studio policies (one to be sent back to me before Sept 1st)
- a schedule for the school year with vacations, recitals, group classes, and area workshops
- a lesson time and fees worksheet. On this worksheet I list their weekly lesson time and bi-weekly group class time, the date of the first lesson and first group class, the monthly fee and any unusual September fees (I charge a parent class fee and an accompanist fee for the year which is due Sept. 1st)
2- I spend a day in my studio filing music, deep cleaning the space, thinking about what materials I will want to have easy access to in the coming year. I jump on the computer and surf for new music websites and youtube videos, I download new recordings for the coming year, and update my online calendar, studio news and website.
3- I plan the first month of group classes. I photocopy and organize music for the flute ensemble classes, find recordings of our songs whenever possible, buy new folders (we all love having a new color each year), and add a fresh pencil to each folder.
4- I plan the parent classes for fall. In my studio we have 4 classes spread out over 2 months. These classes give parents a chance to connect with each other, share practicing ideas, learn some basic music skills, and talk about creating a positive, supportive environment for music learning at home. My studio has a very large age range. My youngest students come to lessons with their parents and are 3-5 years old, my oldest are preparing for college auditions. But all families have committed to music education for the children and see value in the music learning process. This is one important way I can support the parents and build community.
5- This is my favorite part… I make up games. Practicing games, repetition games, review games, motivational studio charts for the wall. Many years ago I made a simple chart on the computer that lists all the pieces in Book 1 around the outside edge. In the center is a circle with numbers. A few minutes at the copy store and I had a laminated review song board with a hole in the center for a plastic spinner. That easy-to-make game has been the hit of my studio for over 10 years.
6- I update, reprint, and bind my Flute Studio Companion. The Companion is a spiral bound book I started using a few years ago and every student has one. It includes:
- a fun cover
- our monthly group class schedule and calendar for the year
- a page of resources- area music stores, repair technicians, web addresses for online music and supply companies
- a page with the circle of fifths
- a page with a summary of the periods of music
- a page of basic music terms
- a full year of practicing pages (50 weeks) On one side is note taking space and a few lines of staff paper, on the other side is a practicing grid with main topics and boxes to fill in during the lesson. Students are required to bring it to lessons every week.
7- I schedule and send invitations for a Welcome Back Flute Studio Party. The week before lessons begin I have a pot-luck party in my backyard. Families are welcome. The little kids play ball games, the teens sidle up to each other and then sit in groups chatting, the parents enjoy an hour or two together. It a wonderful time for us, as a studio, to gear up for the new year.
What do you do to gear up for the new year? What would you add to my list of August activities? How can you bring your colleagues into the process? Do you share a space? Can you have a studio work day to spruce up the building or grounds? How about a one-day workshop for teachers? I look forward to hearing your ideas.