Students Signing Agreements
Mark M., New York
Like at least some other teachers out there, I have a form in addition to the enrollment form that I ask people to sign when they enroll, expressing commitment/agreement to certain things. Also like at least some other teachers, I’ve had spots on those forms for both student and parent / life coach.
Somewhat regularly, especially with younger kids, the kids won’t fill out their portion, while the adult does. In those situations, I haven’t been very picky. On one hand, I think I should be more strict about it, because after all I made the form that way. But on the other hand, I think, you know, if I was the parent in that situation, I’d feel like I’m signing, I’m making the commitment, the teacher is even telling me elsewhere that the parent is responsible for the kid’s practice routine, and my kid is young, so it seems reasonable to have just the parent sign. I’m starting to think that maybe I ought to change my forms so that only one person signs — either a self-coaching student, or the parent/coach of a student who is not self-coaching, and that’s that.
I know there’s no right answer here, but I’m curious what thoughts people have about this.
Marg G., Australia
This is an interesting point. Has made me think. To date I have only had a space for the parent/life-coach to sign however I’ve had a couple of parents get their older Primary aged children (9-12years) to sign as well. At the time I thought “mmm that’s a good idea but never did anything about it. Now you have raised the issue, Mark, it’s made me think again.
When I do my Foundation Session I talk about the 3 legged stool and how we all have to play our part. I sign my agreement along with the parent/life-coach, SO if we are following through on this idea of the 3 legged stool where we all have a role to play then I’m thinking we ALL should sign. This is an ideal opportunity for the parent to explain, further, to their children the importance of them following my instructions and listening to their parents “coaching”.
Robin T., Tennessee
I initially had a “contract” that I had parents and students to sign as well, but I too found it to be “forgotten” as the learning process progressed. So, after one of the Forum Posts (I think it was regarding staying organized?), I took the suggestion of another teacher who had students complete a sign in form each week. I just started this in late August, and it’s gone quite well. Below is an outline of how I use the sign in process (sorry for the long email!):
Each child has a file folder (I actually took advantage of the back to school clearance sales and got all kinds of designs for the students to choose from). I also included in each one a plastic business card holder with adhesive on the back to allow them to have a pocket for parents to write me a note or leave a payment inside and attached that towards the top of the folder but you can obviously do what works for you. Each folder has a Calendar and a Student Check In Sheet inside
I did print the calendar (because it’s used for a full year) on card stock so that it was more durable. On the calendar, all they do is circle the date if they were in attendance.
On the Student Check In (I printed front and back to save paper, etc.), they fill it out each week. I made sure that I put questions on there that are mostly in a YES/NO format so that it was quick to fill out. My question are (again, you can change yours):
- Watch video?
- Questions / Problems with the assignments? (this one they leave comments)
- Did you practice the recommended 5 days / 15 minutes? Please explain. (again, this one they leave their comments)
- Did you play the entire playlist?
- Did you compose?
- Did you share your music?
I also have students put their SM Evaluations from each level / program in their folder to make sure we don’t “lose” them when we’ve completed the levels. THAT’S REALLY WORKED WELL!
I have a small “sign in table” at the entrance to my studio, and each student upon coming in grabs their folder and begins completing the forms. If they arrive early, it has ensured a “quiet” environment out in the lobby/waiting area. If they get there and class is ready to begin, they just bring it in with them and fill it out while we are doing “how was your week” and settling in. And, I do allow parents to assist younger students who might struggle with reading/ writing (which, again, is why I try to make the questions yes /no for quick and easy responses)…. but I make sure the parent understands that this is the students’ responses. I also continually have discussions with them about “this is a SELF ASSESSMENT, so be honest and don’t lie to your SELF!” and “it’s just a way for you to evaluate your week… not something for you to get in trouble over”. The students have really responded well to that, and their feedback has so far been honest, constructive, and held them accountable (“I didn’t practice this weekend at all because there was a Sponge Bob marathon on… but I don’t think it’s on next weekend so I’ll do better!”… Whitson, age 10.)
I have a small container of sticky notes that parents can write me a quick note if they have questions, concerns (often the student will think they did really well on a song and the parent may stick a note in there saying, “they are struggling with starting positions, etc.”) This has also been well received because in a group environment, sometimes the parents don’t want to “call out” their child’s issues, and I was constantly bombarded before and after class with parents saying, “We won’t be here next week” or “here’s your check”. The pocket has eliminated all of that (as the classes change and kids want hugs and some are leaving and some are arriving and… AHHHH!). Also on my sign in table is a separate “container” of file folders with all the playlists in them, so if they need a playlist, it’s there for them to take. And, it’s their responsibility to grab it. (I think I use Laurie Richard’s playlists if anyone has questions about that). It makes them responsible for it (I also have them available on my website for parents to print off at home if they forgot… so NO EXCUSES for not having it or completing it!).
The sign in table is also a place where I can post things, “New SM Newsletter…. check your email!” ; “Want to see Mr. Neil play the BagPipes?… check out Facebook” ; “PARENTS: Please turn in your planned “holiday” absences” (as we approach the Holiday Season!), “Field Trip: Date & Time” etc….
This entire process has really helped in eliminating class time discussions over business items, it’s held the STUDENT accountable each week while giving them a SAFE place to be honest and look at how well they are doing, it’s given students and parents a better avenue to communicate with me so that I’m not getting lots of comments before/after class that I will never remember with the hustle and bustle of class changes, and it’s allowed me an avenue to communicate better with them (if they didn’t read the email I sent, etc.). I can put payment reminders in there (if someone needs a gentle nudge….), the kids will leave notes for each other in their folders (“I really liked your composition”), and it’s so far been a great process. Feel free to change / eliminate/ alter ANY of this to best suit your needs and your studio, but this has been very helpful in holding my students accountable (which was my first overall goal with having them complete or sign an agreement). It’s a weekly reminder!
Mark S. M., New York
I do believe a student statement of responsibility is valuable, just as you say with the 3-legged stool. The question is one of practice beyond principle. How young is reasonable to expect such a statement? Students who are too young may not even be able to write their own name, and they surely have little real concept of commitment. These students are signing a form essentially only because big old grown-ups — teacher and parent — have told them to. Is such a statement really a statement of responsibility at all? Hard to imagine telling a 4-year-old, “Look, kid, you signed something. You promised. Now do what you said you would.” Especially when the whole reason that the Simply Music method has parents attend lessons is that kids don’t, and can’t be expected to, know self-discipline and commitment on their own and must be brought there by their parents/coaches. We as teachers say we hold parents responsible for doing their job. That means the parents as parents/coaches hold the kids responsible for doing theirs. We may also hold the kids responsible, but the very existence of the coach means we ourselves, as teachers, do not hold them fully responsible, definition. We only hold the parent fully responsible.
1) At one extreme is a single signature, from self-coaching students or the coaches of coached students, and that’s all.
2) At the other extreme is expecting the above plus signatures from all coached students, no matter whether age 16-17-18 or age 4-5-6 or wherever in between.
3) In the middle, one can add signatures from not all coached students but only those above a certain age cutoff one chooses, above which one believes that a signature/statement actually means what it’s intended to mean.
I can see arguments for all three of these.
My forms have been for #2, and though I like the student commitment in principle, in practice it simply feels too intense/unreasonable for younger kids. This has led me to abandon the integrity of my policy and treat my forms as #3 in practice. But formalizing #3 to bring policy integrity to that alternative practice seems a pain/complication for forms and logistics, not to mention that the it seems weirdly arbitrary: At age A you can vote, at age B you can buy alcohol, at age C your religion sees you as an adult, and at age D your Simply Music teacher sees you as old enough to sign a statement of responsibility but not yet old enough to coach yourself. I can’t see instituting this kind of middle ground policy.
#1 has the con of eliminating the student statement of commitment, which we agree in principle is nice. But it has the pro of getting around both the intensity of #2 and the complications of #3, while also putting responsibility very squarely on the adults to do the job we’re having them attend lessons for in the first place. All of this is having me lean toward #1 right now.
But who knows, still definitely curious to hear more thoughts.
Carol P., Michigan
I haven’t asked students to sign anything, but during the relationship conversation I frequently explain the responsibilities that each of us has and then ask the student to “shake on it”. I know that five year old I’ve started understand the concept of giving ones word and shaking on it. I think it’s sort of part of our popular culture. I had a seven year old refuse to shake on it at one point. I think she understood that she was committing herself and was actually afraid to do so. She didn’t last, by the way.
Nancy B., Kansas
Wow, what another neat thread. Thanks everyone!
Robin, I especially appreciated your message –I am just now in the process of creating a little “reminder/communication corner” with color coded classes (for my sake, mainly) and possibly clipboards, a bulletin board, etc. I really like the file folder idea and all the specifics you’ve listed here. I have been drawn to find a way to encourage them to more specifically “own” their assignments without me having to specifically ask them about each aspect each week (my brain is just too scattered to keep track of some of that stuff). So I think your form will be a great solution for me too! I would love to see the playlists you mention (or Laurie, if you are reading this, if you could share them again?)