Nothing seems easy with scheduling piano students during a worldwide pandemic.
Should you keep teaching online? Should you teach in person? Should you start one way, then should the risk in your area change, take time to completely reorganize and switch?
When I started teaching this year, only one thing was clear: I wanted a flexible schedule that I could toggle to any immediate decision I would face. I wanted one schedule that could accommodate:
- In-person lessons
- Online lessons
- A hybrid schedule
As of the writing of this post, there is no community spread of COVID-19 where I live, or in my larger geographic area. I live in the Atlantic Bubble.
But beyond deciding how to deliver lessons, whether online or in person (or a mix of the two), I wanted to create a streamlined schedule that:
- Prevents fatigue from online teaching
- Avoids adding extra blocks of time between lessons for disinfecting
- Allows for in-studio lessons for all students who want them
I’m sharing my strategies for streamlining my teaching schedule. I hope this post sparks ideas on how to simplify your own schedule and save yourself time and energy.
Shorter teaching days
In the past when I taught only in person I taught much longer days. But last year when COVID-19 changed everything, I realized I wouldn’t be able to keep the same schedule. Other teachers were saying that online teaching was exhausting, so I quickly changed things up and spread my teaching out over more days. I taught fewer students in a row each day.
I say that I “quickly” changed things up — but in reality it was a lot of work to change tracks from fewer longer days to more shorter days.
This year I didn’t want to have to reinvent my schedule several times mid-year. Because I only wanted to create one schedule that could accommodate any change, I started out with shorter teaching days from the beginning.
It’s a flexible timetable should I need to teach fully online or fully in person (or somewhere in-between).
Avoid breaks between students
I saw online that some teachers were adding time between students to air out and disinfect their studios, but this didn’t appeal to me. I still wanted to teach back-to-back to keep my schedule contained and efficient. I didn’t want to lengthen my work day.
Avoid students crossing paths
However, I still needed to keep my studio space safe and distanced for everyone involved. I needed to prevent students running into each other on the way in or out.
Imagine the black and white blocks of a checkerboard, and imagine that the white squares are for in-person lessons and the black for online. That’s how I’ve offset some of my students’ lessons. If student A is online this week, student B will be in person. Back and forth. The following week they’ll switch, and student A will be in person and student B will be online. This way every student who wants lessons in person can have at least half of them that way.
What I’ve created is a hybrid schedule, for the most part. Within my studio I now have students with the following kinds of lessons:
- 12 students who come in person every week.
- 2 students who are completely online every week.
- 5 students who switch week to week between in-studio and online lessons.
I’ve accomplished this without students crossing paths at the door and without adding blocks of extra time between. It’s running smoothly for all, Mondays to Fridays.
Strategies to reduce time disinfecting
Siblings same day – I scheduled all siblings back-to-back. Prior to making the schedule, I asked families if they’d be willing to bring both children on the same day. All agreed to do this. I’m able to disinfect once and teach two children.
Childcare bubble – I noticed that five of my students belong to three families who all share the same after school child care. I asked them if they’d all be willing to be scheduled on the same day. Since they’re already part of the same bubble, scheduling them back-to-back does not increase their exposure (or mine), even if they do cross paths on the way in and out. I disinfect my studio once at the beginning of their lesson day and once at the end.
Limit touching – This isn’t related to my schedule, but is a time-saving strategy that reduces disinfecting. I meet my students at the door and open all doors for them until they sit at my student keyboard. They touch no surface on the way in or out. I do still disinfect high touch spots, but only once a day as I’m the only one touching anything.
Heads-up to families about time creep
Even with my best efforts, there is still some “time creep.” This comes from technical glitches with online teaching, and the time it takes to walk students in and out of the studio lessons.
At the beginning of the year I let families know in an email that I anticipated some slippage and asked for their patience, understanding and flexibility with exact start and finish times.
Most days I run only about five minutes late. On my worst day I was about 15 minutes late by the end (that happened once), and lately I’ve been running on time more and more as we all get used to the way things work this year.
I much prefer a little time creep to scheduled breaks that would surely lengthen my days.
Simplify switch lessons
My students have the option to switch with each other should they have an occasional activity that conflicts with their regular piano lesson time. I’ve continued the switch program this year, with one added change: switched lessons will be online only, for both switching students.
This is because I already have a delicate balance of who is in person and who is online, and who is bubbled together. To avoid having to change around a lot of other students’ expectations for a switching student, I’m simplifying by having all switched lessons online. This leaves my other in-person students in place as scheduled.
Ready for two worlds
In the olden days of in-studio lessons only, I got dressed up, cleaned my studio, vacuumed, had teaching supplies available. But I didn’t need to have teaching materials set out for each student, as my stuff was all within reach and everything seemed easy.
Then when my teaching changed to online only, the preparation switched. I only half dressed up (top up), as the rest was off camera. I was more relaxed about vacuuming and tidying off-camera areas. I became very organized about student materials and prior to teaching each block of students, had a file ready of each students’ books and last lesson notes.
But with this hybrid schedule there are days when I teach both online and in person. At first I found it difficult to be ready, because before I even began teaching I needed to be 100% ready for both teaching set-ups. This, too, is getting easier as the year progresses.
Online teaching requires:
- Laptop and iPad ready (I work with two camera views).
- Earphones ready and charged.
- Lesson notes printed off from previous week.
- Books handy and organized by student for quick reference.
In-studio teaching requires:
- A clean, vacuumed studio.
- Disinfecting keyboard and high-touch spots.
- A full professional outfit head-to-toe!
I learned that I had to give myself some extra lead time to be ready to teach both ways all in the same day!
Ready for online only
With my schedule already set up with shorter teaching sessions, should we get community spread in our area, I’m already set to go online. In one email I could make the changeover.
Ready for in-studio only
In the same way, if our government ever gave the go-ahead for our industry to get back to normal, I’d be ready to send an email inviting students back to regular weekly lessons in person.
Great flexible, hybrid schedule
In the meantime, this is a great transitional schedule in a part of the world that is able to function under somewhat normal (COVID-less) conditions.
I believe this post would have been much more helpful and timely had I posted it in early September, but the truth was I was struggling. This was by far my most time-consuming piano lesson start-up ever. I had to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. Now that it’s up and running and I’m beginning to feel settled with the schedule, I’m happy (and have the time) to share what’s working for me.
What elements of this post do you envision adapting to your own studio to make things easier for yourself? I have a feeling that COVID-19 is going to be a dynamic factor for our profession for a while, so keep this post in mind and refer back to it!
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I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching! ❤
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