Doing What I Ask
Mark M., New York
A few months ago, I instituted a policy acknowledgment form, which I require of all new enrollees, and which I will also require annually from all ongoing students. The forms asks students/coaches to review my current policies and sign indicating that they have reviewed them.
Recently, I’ve gotten a handful of new enrollments. Hurray. However, three of them have made their initial payments out to “Potluck Creative Arts,” my doing-business-as name, even though my policies specifically instruct that all checks are to be made out to Mark S. M.
Also, one of these three called me today, and among other things, when I told her that I was currently planning to schedule their lesson for Mondays beginning the first week of October, she asked me about Columbus Day as a day off. Even though my policies say that lessons are always considered on unless I’ve specifically informed students that I’m canceling lessons. And then she asked me what happens if they’re absent, does she get a refund or a makeup lesson, even though my policies address all of this, too.
So, you know, on one hand, I feel like, fine, people are just starting, they’re not in the swing of things, they’ll learn. But at the same time, this is my very first group of new enrollees after having instituted the policy acknowledgment. And all are demonstrating, one even more so than the others, that they’re not paying attention, even though they signed something saying they were.
This one person who called me today even started saying that she was getting a bad vibe and blah blah blah and she’s not sure this will work out. And you know, if that’s the case, fine, so be it. Some people have “stuff” going on, and they’re just not going to end up a good fit for the program, and better for them to be gone as quickly as possible. Yet plenty of people have stuff going on and can be communicated with so as to get through it, past it, to a positive outcome. I want to make sure that I’m doing everything possible to achieve that positive outcome. And while on one hand that means being clear about my policies and expectations, on the other hand that also means making sure that I communicate about it effectively rather than off-puttingly.
I’m doing my best to communicate well no matter what, but just wondering about advice for me going into this new lesson with three parents who’ve all disregarded my policies already to one extent or other. How to maximize the chances of using this as an opportunity to build relationship as opposed to squashing relationship and subverting this lesson before it even really gets started. Thanks.
Georgia H., Australia
You could try reading through the policies in the first lesson and then asking if everyone understands it or has any questions. This way you know they have read it and have had the opportunity to ask you about anything that’s unclear. I think people have a better understanding and memory of it if done this way. They then have a copy of the policy if they need to refer to it later.
I know personally I will just tick the ‘I have read and agree to the terms and conditions’, on many things, without having read them, because it would mean I can’t proceed if it’s not ticked. So basically if you don’t agree to the policy then you can’t have what you want.
As you say in your email – ‘Some people have “stuff” going on, and they’re just not going to end up a good fit for the program, and better for them to be gone as quickly as possible’.
Bernie A., California
I always take the time out to go over the fine details of my studio policies with the parents sometime around the presentation of the Relationship Conversation. I find that when I am pro-active, it helps to minimize any miscommunication.
Beth S., Tennessee
Your new students just need training, that’s all. And in order to be trained you have to do and not just say. It’s really about you, not them.
So, when the lady makes out the check, you hand it back and say, “Oh, I’m so sorry, but I can’t accept checks made out to PCA; my bank won’t take it…, etc.” And when they complain about Columbus Day, just say, “yes, I teach on Mondays despite federal holidays…do you know how many holidays are on Mondays? If I didn’t teach, I’d never make a living…etc., but you are welcome to take the day off if you’d like. Like school, the monthly tuition is just the same…., etc.”
It won’t take but once usually for them to realize that what’s written on your policy sheet is actually matched by your actions, and that’s all that matters in the long run, not a check in a box on an enrollment form.
Merri W., Georgia
It’s interesting that you pose this question, Mark, as I am in a similar situation with several of my families, some of them long-term students. I have had studio policies in place for *years* with a requirement that parents and students read them together and then sign an acknowledgment that they have done so and are in agreement with them which I then retain. (Found out a long time ago that it’s so easy just to refer someone back to my policies than to argue with them over something they really should have remembered or probably did, but hoped I’d cave in.)
Anyway, this year more than any other in recent years, I’ve had a number of parents and/or grandparents emailing or calling me to cancel a lesson with a request for a make-up. (in BIG RED letters in my policies – I don’t do makeups unless I have a time available that week, and it’s always first come, first serve.) Or a request to reschedule their lesson to another day, time, every other week, etc. (what’s up with that?) after they receive their sports schedules that begin next week, and we are in our 7th week of the school year. Sheesh! It’s driving me crazy!
When I remind them of what my policies state, the usual reply is “Oh, yeah, but I thought you might make an exception in our case…..”
Don’t get me wrong, I do make exceptions when I know the family or student is in extreme circumstances, and it won’t become a repeating pattern. I am more than willing to accommodate some of my students who have shown themselves to be diligent musicians or artists when something unusual happens like illness, a special event like performing in another venue (musical theater, chorus, band, etc.) , surgery, SAT’s, or even a death in the family. But not just because the parents have decided to overschedule their children into more and more extracurricular activities.
I’ve been mulling over having a family night where we all enjoy a potluck dinner, the students each play one piece, and then letting the students enjoy a rousing game of — something! – in my church’s gym while I meet with the parents for about 15 – 20 minutes to go over my policies with them and answer any questions they may have. I’m hoping that being there face-to-face with all of the families included might make some of these folks realize that there’s more than just 3 or 4 of them in my schedule, and it’s just not easy to accommodate all of their wishes.
Nicole O., California
I don’t have a lot of time, but I wanted to share my first thought… start their lesson with a little “quiz”. What do you remember about the policies? When is payment due? What happens when…? etc., etc… Make it game. The kids can join in if appropriate. This way you make it known that THESE ARE IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER! and that yes, you will take up class time to make sure they are known. I hope this helps.
Kristin F., California
Just wanted to give you some support on this. I think we begin to take it personally when people don’t read our policies. What I have come to realize is that a certain percentage of parents read and respond to my emails/hard copies and certain parents-don’t! Everyone has a different way of relating to the world and it has nothing to do with the important policy’s we’ve written.
I’ve asked parents outright if they remember my policies or have read my emails and they’ve admitted they didn’t read them or they have forgotten them. When this happens, I just take a deep breath and very professionally but compassionately explain to them the policy/info again. It takes patience, but when I know the parents who consistently don’t read things – I give them some “extra patience”. Sometimes also-they really do forget.
The woman who said she was getting a “bad vibe”-sounds like she’s not ready to commit and is trying to get out of it. Best to let her go. The other two-I would explain to each of the them that this program is so amazing but does require commitment and your policies are in place to ensure that their children get the maximum experience out of this program. You can get into specifics -some examples of what might happen. Using that kind of language is more of a positive way of communicating rules. I’ve gotten great responses from this. It’s all about talking to people.
So…I would recommend always emphasizing that your rules and policy’s are for the students benefit and never take it personally when people don’t read or retain anything you’ve communicated. Let it go and try not to let it bother you too much. It’s usually /hopefully a small percentage of your studio parents so overall people are listening and following your rules.