Putting Teeth in Your Studio Policy

It's one thing to have a studio policy and another for people to follow it. Why don't they?

Obviously, the responsibility is all yours. How can you tell people what your policy is and make them believe it's true? In other words, how can you put teeth in your studio policy? A few suggestions:

Believe in your right to set the rules. It's your business, and you may run it any way you see fit. You may set fees where you wish, make them payable when you wish, handle make-ups and reschedules as you please, and so on. It's -your- business. Do you really believe this?

Believe in the benefit of having the policy. If you are not convinced it's a good idea, you certainly will be unable to convey this to your studio families!

Make each plank fair to you and to families. Draw up the ideas you want to use with -your- convenience in mind (it -is- your business!). Then look at each rule. If you were the student/parent, would this rule seem fair to you?

Teachers are, by nature, generous, but sometimes we go overboard and fashion the rules for others' convenience instead of our own (or allow others to bend the rules for their convenience). Thus we make ourselves into doormats. We -must- have control of lesson scheduling, make-up lessons, when fees are due and what happens when they are late. If we leave this to our studio families, we will have as many interpretations as we have families - - and they will be making their decisions based on -their- convenience and preferences, not good business practices!

So, set the rules the way -you- like them and -then- look at the rules from the other side to see if slight modification is needed. If more than a few tweaks seem necessary, something is wrong. Either you didn't think out the plank very thoroughly -or- you are again favoring the studio families when writing the rules of -your- business.

How strict should you be? Again, your choice. Some teachers have a "no make-up lessons, ever" policy and say they have no trouble with it. This is about as stern as I've ever heard a studio policy plank to be, so it's unlikely that anything you write in your policy will cause alarm! If it does, those families are free to seek another teacher. I wouldn't worry about it: they chose you because they respected your musical and teaching abilities; now they'll respect your for your business abilities, too.

Enforcement can be a problem. Do it consistently and without favoritism. Do not apply your rules differentially. Yes, there will be families you "like better" and there will be some with "better excuses," but you *must not* yield. Treat everyone exactly alike. Follow your policy. You will regret it bitterly if you do not, I promise you.

Put your studio policy in writing. This shows folks that you've thought about these rules you're going to use; they're not just some flight of fancy you've decided to use today. Having them in writing, in particular, makes you look like a professional. (If you want to be treated as a professional, you must act like one.)

Distribute your studio policy systematically. It should be presented to each new student and to every student if there is a major change in the policy. Some teachers give all students a fresh copy of the complete policy at the beginning of each studio year, both to replace missing copies and to refresh everyone's memories.

Remind families of troublesome points. This can be done easily in the studio newsletter. If you have a problem collecting tuition on time (say, during the holidays), state the due-dates for November and December tuition. In May, restate your policy about summer study and fall lesson time assignments.

Many teachers have a signed contract stating the parent has read, understands, and agrees to abide by the policy. It is not necessary to have such a contract, but teachers who have one use it to encourage the parent to ask questions and seek clarifications. Signing a contract emphasizes a document's importance.

Now you have your written policy formulated and distributed. Key to success: don't grant exceptions. Ever. **Not ever.**

copyright 1998, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me about reprint permission.

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