In the Spotlight:
How Do I Actually Enforce My Policies?
Wendy Stevens, NCTM
MTNA Business Digest, Volume 1, Issue 4
Establishing an effective policy is integral to running a studio smoothly and efficiently.
But how do we actually enforce these policies to make sure we get paid on time, aren’t run over by pushy parents or aren’t allowing our lives to be consumed by resentment toward those who don’t respect our boundaries? How can we enforce our policies while still giving attention and appropriate grace to those in need? How can we be kind and understanding of our families while making sure we maintain healthy boundaries?
Since many music teachers are naturally empathetic and nurturing, it is common to find teachers who find it challenging to actually implement their policies effectively. When faced with late payments and make-up lesson requests, many caring individuals default to what is easiest—giving parents what they request or not confronting issues. Desiring less conflict is certainly a natural and admirable position of humanity. But avoiding conflict or difficult situations can lead to a life overrun by the demands and expectations of others.
Here are five principles that can help you effectively enforce your policy while still empathizing and caring for others.
- Acknowledge that what is good for you is often good for your students.
This is an important lesson in self-care and one that I am learning as I develop a practice of meditation. I frequently remind myself that the 10 minutes I spend meditating will help not only myself, but those for whom I care since it leads to a more patient and relaxed me! By taking care of our emotional, mental, spiritual and financial health, we are able to be more patient, understanding and even creative in our teaching lives as well. Reminding ourselves of this truth can help us develop courage and resolve for enforcing our policy.
- Remember that policies and boundaries enable you to help others.
An effective policy is a set of reasonable expectations and boundaries that help us make a living, maintain our sanity, care for our loved ones and create appropriate time and financial margins in which to help those in need. We know our policy helps us make a living, but don’t often realize our policy should also create time and financial margin in our lives, so we have the means to help those in need. Sometimes those needs will be for one of our students, and it is perfectly appropriate to adjust a policy at the individual level when you see a true need in your studio. But if you fill your studio with every family that inquires, if you teach at a price that is not fair to you or if you have a weak makeup lesson policy, you will have far less time, energy, patience and money to help those in need.
- Be patient with people’s understanding and adjustment to new policies.
Even after creating an optimal document, tweaking our policy is often needed as life stages and personal circumstances change. Allow at least six months for parents to adjust to new policies. This means you will need to be fairly firm with your policies for at least this amount of time before allowing yourself to make exceptions based on need. Of course, there are always extreme exceptions to this (a parent loses their job or a close family member dies), but most of the time, requests for policy exceptions are simply a matter of convenience for a family and not real need. Stand firm in those six months and usually families will adjust. See The 21st Century Secret to Saying No.
- Realize it’s your job as a professional to repeat yourself.
Along with number three, you need to adjust to the idea that you may be asked about your new policy over and over again. Some parents take a while to understand or see that you are serious. I learned a valuable lesson about this when I was waiting in my obstetrician’s office one day. Through the wall, I heard her answering questions about baby development—questions I had recently asked. At that moment, I realized doctors are asked the same questions every day, over and over again! A doctor is expected to patiently give consistent answers to these repetitive questions, even when they are tired of repeating themselves. It’s their professional responsibility, and we would consider them rude and unprofessional if they showed irritation while they were answering! Since we are professionals too, we need to expect that it’s normal to continue to repeat our answers to policy questions again and again as many times as families need it. Eventually they will understand, stop asking, or leave.
- Don’t let unpaid accounts get away from you.
People are late with payments from time to time, and we can indeed extend grace assuming these times are not frequent. But delinquent payments, such that you may be giving free lessons with no compensation, must be dealt with immediately to prevent the need for more drastic measures like sending the account to collections. If you are in a place where you are considering debt collection, you are already past the point at which you should have stopped teaching the student. The hassle and cost of debt collection is rarely worth it. Walking out to the car to meet a parent and asking about payment is not inappropriate for accounts that are significantly overdue. Even if they don’t pay immediately, it allows you the opportunity to discuss how to remedy the situation and gives them the opportunity to explain unique circumstances. Communication is most important in these times as lack of communication leads to resentment and second guessing.
A good policy should always be governed by kindness and empathy, first toward ourselves and then toward others. Enforcing our policies should be governed by this hierarchy as well. When we take care of ourselves, we are creating time and financial margin to care for others. This gives us confidence to conduct difficult conversations, repeat ourselves when needed and enforce our policies in a consistent manner.
For help creating an effective policy, download the “The Complete Guide to an Effective and Enforceable Piano Policy” available for free on ComposeCreate.com.
Wendy Stevens MM, NCTM, is a full-time music composer of piano pedagogical music. She is passionate about writing “Music Kids Love” and helping piano teachers flourish. Her work can be found on ComposeCreate.com.