It’s tempting to start with a trip down memory lane, but suffice to say, after nearly 20 years of teaching privately, the way we communicate with our students and their families has changed beyond all recognition. Studio communication has gone digital!
I’ve always believed, and continue to believe, that building a sense of community is crucial for private music teachers. We might teach only one-to-one lessons, and our students’ paths may never cross, but that doesn’t mean that a sense of community isn’t attainable.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of community is that of sharing. That might be of sharing common interests, but it might also be the sharing of ideas and learning from one another.
One way in which you can start to build a sense of community is through communication, and in this blog post, I want to share with you some of things I do in my own teaching studio.
1. Why is studio communication important?
Let’s be honest, the primary function of communication is to keep people in touch with what’s happening. Effective communication keeps both students and parents up-to-date.
But, as I mentioned above, I think effective communication is also essential to your studio community as a whole. It values each student not just individually, but collectively as part of a community of students. It also values their families too, and by consequence, their connections with the wider community too.
Communication in the music teaching studio is also important because it allows us to keep in touch with people we might not see very often. We also have to communicate with potential new students, and in some cases, keep in touch with students who have moved on to pastures new.
These are some of the essential ingredients of an effective community. As new people come, and others leave, so the community evolves. Your teaching studio isn’t simply a museum piece.
2. Successful approaches to studio communication
Over the years, I’ve tried many different approaches to communication within my teaching studio. These have evolved over time, often in response to technological advances, and inevitably, some have been more successful than others.
There are obviously the day-to-day communications with students and parents, these days, probably by email, text or WhatsApp, but what else can we offer?
Termly printed newsletter
I started a termly printed newsletter, Cadenza (the flourish before the end) in 2005. Since then there have been 40 issues.
I’ll admit, sometimes I wonder if it’s a bit ‘old hat’ now, but the students and their families who receive it seem to like it. I think there’s still something nice about a printed publication, and there’s no excuse that it was lost in your junk mail folder!
It contains a mixture of news (exam results, successes, performances etc.), information (term dates, deadlines, changes to studio policy etc.) and articles (about a whole range of topics, often written by the students themselves).
Last year, I started to send a monthly newsletter via email, Cadenza PLUS. This is very much an information-type newsletter with reminders of term dates, deadlines etc. With often four months between printed issues of Cadenza, it provides a means to distribute time- and date-sensitive information on an ongoing basis.
My Music Staff
I have been using the My Music Staff platform since 2015. The system offers an effective way to manage studio administration including timetabling, lesson booking, invoices and lesson notes. There are also additional features which some teachers use such as accounting and practice logs.
Some might say, is this a means of communication? I think it is. It offers a portal to which students and parents can log in. Not only can they find up-to-date information there, but they can also manage things such as lesson bookings and fee payments. Perhaps we might call it a form a passive communication?
Electronic lesson notes
I made a gradual transition to electronic lesson notes a few years ago, and I now send all these via email. I have a Google Doc for each student where I type up lesson notes, and these are then copied and pasted into My Music Staff where they are emailed to students and parents.
I find that not only do I write much more comprehensive notes, but I can also send links and other such resources. Each day, My Music Staff emails me an agenda for the day which includes the notes from the students’ previous lesson.
3. Unsuccessful approaches to studio communication
It is inevitably the case that some of my approaches to studio communication have been more effective than others. This is where each teacher has to think about the make-up of their own studio community and to consider what might work best for them, their students, and their families.
Over the years, I have had several Facebook Groups for students and their families, but they have never really taken off. One of the problems is that not everyone is on Facebook, so none of the groups ever cover the community as a whole. Information shared there would still have to be shared elsewhere. This could, however, be effective in a large studio with many active students and parents on Facebook.
Similar to the above, I don’t find social media a particularly effective way of communicating with my studio community. Whilst some follow me on Twitter or Instagram, and some like my Facebook page, again, not everyone is in one place. This means that a lot of posts on different platforms are needed, or information has to be shared elsewhere for those not on social media.
With both these approaches, you are at the mercy of the platforms themselves as to whether people see you posts anyway. They can be a useful marketing tool, but not necessary an effective means to communicate with those already part of your studio community.
Many of the approaches to studio communication highlighted above are electronic. Technology can be a wonderful thing (when it works), but it isn’t necessarily a substitute for face-to-face catch-ups (when they’re possible).
I’ll also be honest and say that however you communicate with your studio community, there will always be the one or two who have absolutely no idea what’s going on. They didn’t know about the fee increase, they didn’t know when term started, and they didn’t know about the book you asked them to order. As I’ve blogged previously, that’s life. I do however feel, with a multi-pronged approach, that I’m doing the best I can to communicate effectively. You can take a horse to water…
Ultimately, I believe that effective communication is vital to the success of any community. There is no reason why, even if you teach only one-to-one lessons, your own teaching studio should be anything other than an effective and supportive community.
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