Early piano registration: How to plan ahead for the unknown [COVID-19]

The world over, educational institutions are in deep discussions on how to handle registration for the upcoming year. This seems to be the week that announcements are being delivered on proposed plans. Piano teachers face the same dilemma. What is the most ethical, professional and responsible way to handle any announcement regarding piano lessons for next year for new and returning students?

The trouble is, there are so many unknowns. Ultimately, no matter where you live or the stage of COVID-19 in your country, you likely feel at the mercy of forces over which you have little control.

In order to navigate all of the possibilities that lie ahead and guide your studio forward, consider these thoughts and ideas.

Pre-registration

Many teachers launch the registration process in the spring, well in advance of fall lessons. Current studio families are asked to indicate their intention to return to lessons, often with a non-refundable holding fee. In my studio this holding fee folds into the materials fee for the next year. It pays for the printing of my DIY Piano Dictation Book, helps print recital programs and fund stickers and incentives.

Pre-registration allows piano teachers to plan ahead and know how many spots are full prior to accepting new students. (In turn, this allows new students to know they’ve been accepted into your studio and that they need not continue to look for a piano teacher.)

This is not a normal year. Is it still advisable to have pre-registration? And with what message? Should the holding fee be non-refundable this time?

Holding spots

Do you currently have students who are taking a break from lessons, either because they don’t have strong internet or simply don’t want online lessons? If so, you might be wondering what to do about their spot in your studio. Should you hold it for them? And should you continue to do so indefinitely, not knowing how long it will be before you’re able to teach them again in person? Or should you fill the spot with a student who is willing or able to take online lessons?

Future unknowns

What if you are able to begin teaching in person in the fall but a second wave of the virus hits? Should you be prepared with a contingency plan now?

Answers

The aim of this post is not to guide teachers in your decisions. I’m not able to read the future or know country by country whether COVID-19 will have receded enough for you to get back to normal in the fall. My goal is simply to help craft your approach to early registration.

I’m going to share my pre-registration letter and process with you. This year with COVID-19 throwing a wrench into the gears of life, I felt pre-registration required a little more than usual. In the post below, I take you through the message step-by-step.

My PDF letter is available in my Printables section as a free download, and I’ve also included a version you can download and edit to get you started.

Page 1 of my pre-registration letter.
Page 2 of my pre-registration letter.

Address the unknown, confirm your commitment

First, it would be responsible for you to address the unknown. Simply admit that nothing is certain. In my letter to my studio, I worded it like this:

I am writing to provide you with the most information I can at this time about plans for teaching and learning in the coming fall term. 

The world faces many uncertainties at this time, and yet music has the power to be an uplifting force, a calming refuge and a wholistic activity that gives a sense of normalcy. I have been working hard to provide my students with options and opportunities for learning, and am dedicated to supporting their continued education in every way I can. 

There are many unknowns about the public health conditions and directives that will apply in September and beyond. This letter proposes a flexible plan that will take into consideration the many variables and options ahead. 

Put health first

Your number one message needs to be concern for the health and wellbeing of your students and their families. Let them know that any decision you make will put their safety first and foremost. I worded it like this in my pre-registration letter:

Since the beginning of this pandemic, my primary concern has been the health and wellbeing of my students and studio families. Within this context, I am also motivated to ensure that learning can continue. 

Lay out your plan

It might be best to announce an open-ended plan to continue lessons in the safest way possible. This wording will allow you to teach in person if your elected policy makers deem it wise (and you, personally, feel it is safe for yourself and your community). Or, if the safest platform for lessons continues to be online, you are free to make that choice. Piano teachers are a fortunate group. We’ve been able to continue our professional work online and will be able to continue online if we so choose.

In my pre-registration letter, I proposed three options:

With these key considerations in mind, I propose:

1) Should schools still be closed in September, that piano lessons continue online. I would be open to teaching some students in a morning schedule as we did in the spring, giving others the option to choose afternoons or evenings.

2) Should health conditions and official directives allow schools to be open in September, that piano lessons resume in person. There would be precautionary steps taken like frequent disinfecting, handwashing and possibly masks. We will return to our regular in-person schedule on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Should a student feel unwell, they would be asked to notify me and have their lesson online that week.

3) Should we begin in person or online and then receive an official directive that changes the social distancing requirements, that we reassess and continue lessons in the safest way possible. Because there is a possibility of a second wave, I ask that you choose both a preferred morning time slot for online lessons and an afternoon timeslot for after school lessons. In the event of a change, we would simply toggle to the opposite plan without interruption.

Ask for response

The final step is to ask for families to reply with their intention to return. I ask for a $20 holding fee and an indication of the times they would prefer. I also give a deadline for them to let me know by. Here’s how I put it:

I ask that you return the last page to indicate your preferred times (one for online lessons, one for in-person lessons) together with the holding fee of $20 by Friday, June 12th, 2020. This fee ensures that I reserve your place in my studio. This helps me know how many students to plan for and how many new students I will be able to accept. It also helps new students know they have a piano teacher. If you are unsure about piano lessons at this time, please let me know and I will try to help you make the best choice. If you choose not to pay the holding fee and there is still room in September, I will certainly accept you into my studio. If there is no room left, I will help you find another teacher with the invitation open for you to return at any time in the future.

Remember that returning students who register early have first choice of time slots and that others, including new students, are scheduled second.

After I sign the letter, I lay out a table for preferred piano lesson times:

Schedule for families to indicate their preferred times.

This year early registration is more important than ever before. The message you send your students will reassure them that while you are taking their health into consideration, you are also working hard to do everything you can to continue their musical education.

Check out my registration letter in my Printables section. It is provided in two versions: a PDF so you can see exactly how I worded it to my students, and one you can edit for your own studio!


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I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching!


Video of the week

Deep in the Meadow (Level 3, Early Intermediate) is a beautiful, fluid lullaby for piano, good for developing a singing style. Available in the print and eBook Madge’s Notebook, A Piano Tribute to The Hunger Games, Early Intermediate to Early Advanced piano, music that is a bright light in a dark world. Or, check out the Deep in the Meadow eSheet!

Here’s an audio clip of Elvis Presley, How About a Date?

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