Handling Scheduling When We Are All VERY Busy :)

Almost nobody likes a deadline, but sometimes, deadlines are the only way something gets done.

In pondering the subject of this blog entry, I decided to use an example from my own studio – and hope the strategies and thought-processes I have used will be helpful to you.  I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter.

Scheduling is a convoluted mess at best, and a nightmare at worst, but it does not always have to be that way.  When juggling so many families, students, schedules, and conflicts, the teacher’s job is rarely (often never) just teaching.

How many times have you put off that deadline until last minute?  Or, how many times have you assumed the teacher or organization would make an exception for you, because your situation is so unique?  Many teachers spend hours coordinating the schedule and arranging time-frames so students are given the best possible scenario for their lessons.

This coming school-year, a few major changes are happening in my studio.  One such change… I am returning to school, possibly full-time, while continuing to teach.  I may also become very involved in the care of my nephew & niece, so my sister & brother-in-law can both work.  Teaching is my career, my livelihood, but I can make some sacrifices to help family and further my own education.  While I would like to retain all my students, sadly some will just not be able to handle the changes I need to make.

Way back in April, I sent out a time sheet request of all 6 days (Monday through Saturday) for lesson times, asking students to indicate their top three time requests spread over at least two days.  In May, we finalized the summer schedule.  In August, we will be finalizing the school year schedule.  But, changes and conflicts occur.

How do you handle the last-minute changes when parents and students can no longer make their requested time and day?  What do you do if you discover you are unable to teach on a day you know is your student’s only option?  Hopefully the family is very understanding.  Hopefully you’re able to find them a new teacher who is able and willing to take them in as a student.  Hopefully your schedule fills up where needed and gives you space when it is necessary.

Here is the deadline schedule set in my studio…
May 1st = registration for summer (lessons June 21-August 25)
May 10th = last payment for school year tuition
June 10th = ½ payment for summer tuition
July 1st = registration for school year (lessons begin September 12th)
July 10th = ½ payment for summer tuition (remaining)
August 10th = ½ payment for September (counts as holding fee)
August 11th = school year schedule published to studio
September 10th = remaining payment for September
October 10th = begin normal monthly tuition payment schedule

Notes about Schedule:
So far, almost all the families have submitted their requests for the school year, and all but one or two different families have paid the remaining summer tuition.  Deadlines matter, and families who are respectful of my time constraints will be given the school-year lesson times they need.  In return, I do my best to make clear my expectations and communicate the schedule as soon as possible – because most people like to plan ahead.  Students on the waiting list are then offered the available times, and sadly, current students who procrastinated to make my studio life & education planning easier, may lose their opportunity to continue lessons.

As it turns out, teaching will only be able to happen Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.  Friday & Saturday lessons are out – and while the entire idea saddens me (I’ll be losing a couple students), I know I will be a healthier, happier, better prepared, more energized, and more focused teacher than if I spread myself, my time, my energy, my resources, and my family out a little over each day of the week.  Simpler is better, and I am certainly glad I set clear expectations, and that the families in the studio are prompt and flexible.  I hope to return the favor when needed.

How do you handle scheduling?  When do you start the process?  Do you keep the same schedules as the previous year?  Do you continue through the summer?  Do you have a free-for-all first-come, first-served system?  What has worked and what hasn’t?  Do you ever run into any problems in your studio as a result of the system you use?  How well would you say you are able to focus on teaching and leave the business side of lessons out of the lesson when possible?  Let’s share with one another, so we can all grow and learn as teachers, administrators, and schedulers.  :)   The new school year will be upon us before we know it!

2 thoughts on “Handling Scheduling When We Are All VERY Busy :)

  1. Hi Kristin — so glad I found your blog! How do you handle students who, due to sports and other extra-curricular activities — change their lesson time every 2-3 months? My studio is becoming full, and I don’t think I will be able to retain these students much longer. But, some of them have been my students for a long time and I really really hate to see them go! Do you have any written language in your policy that deals with this issue? Thanks!

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    • Hi Carla,

      Thank you for posting. :) I’m honored to have you visit!

      This coming year is going to be different in the studio. Last year, there were absolutely NO refunds for lessons canceled or missed for any reason, regardless of the notice given. It was a strict policy but fit what needed to be for where the studio was headed. Even with that, I have a packed schedule with a waiting list.

      However, this coming school year, I have structured it differently… I have a schedule structure with more weeks set for lessons, including just before Christmas, Thanksgiving, and just after Labor Day. I am expecting to be out of town spontaneously two or three times for extended periods of time this coming school year, and having the flexibility the following policy allows will make it easier for families to plan accordingly…

      In my home studio, I will be charging by the lesson (due at the beginning of the year) rather than a pro-rated amount – and with 24 hours notice (for any reason), students can cancel up to 2 lessons every 3 months… but those lessons will NOT be refunded… instead, they will carry over to the coming summer… the lessons would then be forfeit if the students don’t continue through until summer.

      To answer your question about families whose schedules change every few months, many teachers will use a swap list for families to arrange a new time. It often is useful, as they will see how difficult it is for the teacher to accommodate an ever-changing schedule – and if they are successful, everyone is happy. If they are not, and you have a busy schedule, it may be time for them to consider what their priorities will be for music. And, as you enter the upcoming schedule scramble for the new school year, ask families what sports they expect to participate in – and how they expect to work around it. Many families I teach take lessons on “off” sports days or later in the evening – if they are athletic kids. The students who don’t participate in sports usually seem to prefer the days sports generally would take place. Just how it happens here.

      You might say in your policy… “Your lesson time is set aside for you, and you only for the entire school year. Please consider your available times carefully, and when a conflict arises, an alternate time is NOT guaranteed.” You could mention something about the fact that you just don’t have the time available to change the lessons around. Maybe they can come earlier in the day or later? Fill their empty time as soon as possible so as to avoid losing valuable income, and let the family know when/if they change their lesson time successfully that they must keep that lesson time as it will be taken by a waiting student.

      The good news, but also difficult thing for a teacher, is that even though you may lose these students, others will come along. Let them know upfront that your schedule is tight, and their lesson time is valuable to you, and to them. If they cannot make their agreed-upon lesson time in the future, they may have to forfeit lessons altogether.

      Sometimes, families coming into the studio will let me know of an expected long-term conflict with sports or other school activities well in advance… and if that potential needed time for them is available at this time, but not in the future, any future students taking that time will be notified that they may be requested to switch to such-and-such time when the student changes sports.

      It all sounds extremely complicated. But when you have a reschedule/cancellation policy, you will be able to set it in very simple terms – and stick with it, no matter the reason. Throughout the year, I get requests from families in the studio to switch to a different time sometime in the future… hopefully, they have given plenty of notice that it will actually work… and by the time the conflict arises, a family in a workable time for the first family will want to switch with them.

      Establish time-lines for notifying you, set boundaries for how many times per year you will permanently allow a lesson schedule change, and also putting yourself in the shoes of the family whose child is taking lessons helps… I can’t adjust to everything, but often, families in the studio understand & are willing to switch with the family in need.

      Hope that helps. :) My first recommendation is to ask families if they are willing to be on a swap list (and only those on the swap list may request swaps). Then, set your start & end times of the day & allow the student changing times to take a spot open on one of those days (permanently). And last, don’t allow the change at all. You have set aside their lesson time indefinitely, and they have agreed to it… especially if there isn’t much notice of a need to change, you are under NO obligation to switch it (unless your policy states you will). :)

      A family in my studio let me know about 2-3 months ago that they would need to switch days for swimming lessons. She reminded me every couple weeks, and when a student moved away, I held onto that available time for the girl taking swimming. :) It worked great, and another student has already taken her old time. Communication is key. Hold onto the students as much as possible, who are courteous enough to give you plenty of notice. It is a sign of respect on their part, and when you need a change in the schedule in the future, maybe they will be more understanding of your need to switch things around. :)

      Sincerely from one teacher to another,
      ~Kristin

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