by Robert Fisher
With breaks from school, some teachers may find their attendance and enrollment in lessons dip some during the inevitable summer vacation months. Rather than negatively resisting students/families summer break plans, embracing the positive aspects of these summer months and schedules can do wonders in your studio. Music teachers and students can and should take full advantage of changes in schedules to build positive rapport, refill their tanks and nurture their love for music while on Summer Break!
One way to combat a decline in summer lessons enrollment and attendance in your studio is to respond to summer break schedules with some flexibility with regards to lessons timing and lesson makeups. Student Summer schedules often differs from the school year with some students doing activities/trips that may take place earlier or later in the day. Being willing to shift weekly lessons times to accommodate summer activity schedules if often all it takes to ensure students remain enrolled in weekly lessons and maintain their progress with their teacher. Yes, we want students to commit and honor their time commitments, but we can also partner with them to find a time that works best for all through the summer season!
In addition, flexibility with lesson makeups can often be a deciding factor for many families who may plan on taking more frequent or extended vacations/trips during the summer. If your studio policy does not allow for any flexibility with rescheduling lessons makeups (with advance notice), some families may decide it not worth their value to hold a lesson slot through the summer if they must forfeit lessons due to planned vacations. Often, if families know their lessons investment is not entirely lost due to a vacation, they will keep their student enrolled in lessons through the summer vacation, despite planned vacations, which is a win-win for all! Lessons studios maintain steady student enrollment and students maintain access to regular and make-up lessons when they are not away on vacation. A couple weeks off for a family vacation stunts progress and growth far less than taking an entire summer off from lessons! Seeing a student when they are in town during the summer means that growth can either be sustained, albeit a little slower, or at least prevent the inevitable “summer backslide” from taking several months off from lessons entirely. Being flexible and willing to accommodate inevitable family vacations helps establish and maintain a good rapport with students and their families. Summer vacations are a normal and often highly valued part of student and family schedules. Supporting students and their families with flexibility and grace can go a long way in showing that you care not only about their musical growth and progress but also their need to recharge and have time with family through travels and other activities. This kind of understanding and support enables long-term connections with students and their families and establishes trust. Don’t react to summer months and vacations as a negative, hostile time of year centered on a lack of progress: respond with care, flexibility and support! This investment will solidify your connection with each student and their families to experience your support, well-beyond these summer months!
As students and families take time to recharge the batteries over the summer months, this time of year offers teachers an incredible and important opportunities to “rest” in their work. This might mean planning and emphasizing time off with your own family or taking that long-awaited trip on your bucket-list. Just as it is appreciated by students when teachers are more flexible with lesson scheduling around their trips, students and families are often more than willing to accommodate schedule adjustments from teachers over the summer for vacations and trips! Flexibility often yields flexibility and prioritizing your rest and recovery also shows others that you value your personal stamina and well-being as well. We all know that you cannot pour out from an empty tank and no musician or teacher is invincible to the danger of burn-out!
Take care of your physical, mental and emotional health this summer! It is ok to pause and simply rest. Just like taking a hiatus from a particularly difficult passage in music that has been rehearsed to death can often yield better results when a musician returns recharged, so too as teachers prioritizing rest can yield a refreshed sense of purpose and renewed vigor in our lessons! The greatest composers were still human and still lived their lives around their music. So too, great teachers recognize the need for life beyond the practice room as well. This isn’t to neglect or diminish our craft; rather, it is an intentional and strategic way to refresh and reinforce our stamina and approach to teaching and playing! Rather than being the performer, consider listening to music more, attend a concert or performance as an audience member, or pick up a supportive hobby (outside of music!) that recharges the soul. Your instrument or etude will always be there when you are back in the saddle, but you might just be able to approach your playing with a renewed vigor by simply taking a brief pause to rest! It seems counterintuitive but a little rest or break can go a long way! If we were robots, we wouldn’t sleep. Alas, every night our bodies reminder us that we are indeed only human and need to recharge the body through sleep! So too, recharge the mind and spirit – rest! Read a new book, attend a new concert, explore the outdoors, start a new exercise regimen, pray or meditate, and find something new to rest the soul. Yes, many if not most of us find great comfort, healing and a form of “rest” in doing music – however, it can be a beneficial challenge to take a more passive role for once. Be the audience – rather than taking center stage in the music making, consider being the audience more this summer. Listen. Relax. Enjoy. Recharge. Rest! Rest is often the single most neglected aspect of growth for a musician, yet it is sorely needed to avoid burnout.
These summer months are perfect to reset not only the mind and the body, but also a great time to look at the year ahead. Reset the calendar. Reset goals. Reset expectations. Reset your outlook towards the year ahead!
Look at the calendar year ahead (if you work with school-age students, look online for a copy of the school-district calendar or schedule) and look for those inevitable “busy” seasons. Back-to-school, holidays, recitals, competitions, gigs, etc. The slower summer months are a great time to look towards the next year and plan while your schedule is less busy with distractions. Mark in the big dates and tentatively schedule backwards the time needed to prepare for each event. Consider taking advantage of the many “Summer” and “Back-to-School” sales from music publishers and retailers as you anticipate your future music needs. Use this time to look over future pieces or roughly divide longer works into smaller sections with set goals for future weeks. Get ahead of the curve!
Finally, reflect on this past year in your studio. What worked well? What are some achievements? What did your students accomplish? What are things you would change? Consider some new goals professionally and personally for yourself. Is there something new you’d like to learn or tackle? A new certification or method you’d like to study to enhance your skillset? A new piece, genre, style or instrument you’d like to explore? Is there a need to rebalance your teaching load with family responsibilities? Can you plan and reshuffle to create balance this coming year? Do you need to carve out some more dedicated time for diet, exercise and health goals? Are there margins (not in the summer) in your weekly schedule for mental health? Balance and healthy boundaries are essential to grow and sustain in any profession but particularly in one centered around training others in the musical arts.
As any seasoned teacher knows, sustainable success comes from the small incremental changes that are built into the schedule and habit. Is responding with flexibility, prioritizing rest and resetting goals for each year a part of your personal practice over the summer? Avoid burnout and establish a healthy practice of resting and resetting to keep your spark alive in music for the long term!