Student Birthday Cards with a Surprise Twist!

Ever since I opened my full-time studio, I’ve been sending a birthday postcard to students every year – you know, kind of like when you get birthday postcards from your dentist, eye doctor, or auto-dealership? Not all businesses do this of course, but it’s a nice gesture and a great way to keep in touch with customers.

Prior to doing postcards, I would give them their favorite candy bar but I got tired of having to go out and buy individual candy bars and remember to do so throughout the year.

My reason for sending postcards has actually been more intentional than just doing something nice for students (not that that isn’t a good reason in and of itself, of course! 🙂 )

To me, it’s a way of creating great rapport with your families and I wrote a little more details on this in this post: Marketing with Postcards, It’s Not What You Think!

Each year I find a new postcard with the goal of sending something unique, fun, and visually inspiring. (Get some ideas here: Fun Postcards for Marketing Your Studio and 2019-2020 Birthday Postcards.)


Today I want to share how my (almost) burnout on this annual studio project propelled me to take a fresh approach with a little twist this year.

This will also include details on how to organize this project so you don’t have to continually attend to it throughout the year.

Sneak-peak! If you happen to use My Music Staff to manage your studio, I’ll show you a tool they offer that will display your student’s birthdays on your Google, iCloud or similar digital calendar!

 

A Simple (but Real) Burnout

For years I’ve had the same routine.

  1. Purchase a set of postcards.
  2. Print out address labels, and pre-label and stamp all the cards.
  3. Every Monday morning, look at the calendar and see if anyone has a birthday the following week, then write a little note on the postcard and drop it in the mail.

After nine years of this routine, while it was still fairly streamlined, I’ve gotten burnt out on hand-writing notes – especially when Spring comes around and I have multiple students in a week with birthdays.

I really didn’t want to stop my birthday mailing though because I think it’s important (I mean, what kid doesn’t feel special getting something in the
US Mail these days?! LOL)

 

small Tweaks to Keep it Fresh

Amidst pondering my dilemma, I realized that many of the birthday cards that come from businesses are usually pre-printed. Aha! While not the most personal approach, it was the perfect answer to give me a little break and a change of pace.

Tweak #1: Pre-print the cards

I also wanted to change it up and do a little something more for students.
A gift card to DQ was an easy idea but $5 is usually the minimum amount most places will do on a gift card, making it a pricy option. Plus, the statistics show a lot of people never end up using them and I hated the thought of wasting that money!

Over the last two years, I’ve been implementing a big push for students to always be able to play Happy Birthday. So, I began wondering how could I tie this into the birthday gift?

Aha! 

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My Top 6 “Buy It Again” Office Products from Amazon

As the years go on, the number of items I purchase on Amazon has slowly increased. With the current times, for many, it has increased exponentially.

If you’ve never done so, it’s kind of fun to go back through your Amazon order history and see how it grows and evolves from year to year and even decade to decade!

My first Amazon purchase was one item in December 2003. After that, it’s quite fascinating to see how it would stay consistent for several years but increased quickly.

2005 – 2012:  8-10 orders per year
2013 – 2014:  20-25 orders per year
2015 – 2018:  30-40 orders per year
2019:  60 orders
2020: 41 orders (thus far = by August)

Amazon is really good about not only letting you know how often you’ve purchased a product…

…they also make it really easy to “Buy It Again” directly from your order history page.

Today I want to share with you six items I’ve found myself buying for my piano studio again and again on Amazon.

Perhaps not surprisingly, they are all consumable office supplies!

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Get Organized!

Bills, Expenses, and Receipts

Don’t get too excited, I’m not about to give you all kinds of financial advice on saving money or doing taxes as an independent music teacher. (I figure we have our dear Wendy Stevens at Compose Create who has shared a lot of great stuff like that over the years. 🙂 )

I’m going to stick with my strength and talk to you today about organizing and managing your incoming bills, expenses, and receipts. Yea!

Let me introduce you to the best thing that has happened to me in our daily financial management process and that’s my file folder system.

It’s not complicated and it makes ALL. THE. DIFFERENCE.

Isn’t she beautiful? 🙂

First, a little back history on the straw that broke the camel’s back and made me come up with this system.

 

Quicken

My husband and I have used Quicken for years and love it. If you’re not familiar with the program, it’s like a check register for all your finances in one place including loans, 401k’s, credit card bills, checking, and savings accounts. We manage both our personal and my business finances through this.

Budgeting has been important to us through our entire marriage and Quicken has a lot of tools to help you track expenses and manage a budget properly. If you keep up with it on a regular basis, keeping expenses categorized makes life a whole lot easier when it comes time to do taxes as well.

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Help Your Students “Enable Original Sound” on Zoom With This Email Template

You know how sometimes in life you’re told about something that you know you should do but at the moment, you just can’t bring yourself to mentally mess with it?

That’s how I was when we started using Zoom for our online lessons.

Teachers in Facebook groups were mentioning the importance of the “Enable Original Sound” setting to help with sound quality but I was just trying to wrap my head around getting myself set up online to pay it any mind.

Then two or three weeks of lessons went by and I was DONE with the garble. It was time to upgrade our sound.

Do I kick myself a little for not dealing with this sooner? Yep. But, oh, well, I’m over it now.

Through all of this, I have to say one thing all my studio families have been mentioning in our evaluation meetings this week, was the quality of my communication throughout this whole process. They felt the instructions were incredibly helpful and easy to follow.

That’s part of our job! Quality communication.

To spell things out as clear and easy as possible, I gave my step-by-step instructions using screenshots. It doesn’t get easier than that!

Teachers: You have my permission to copy and paste this entire email and use these images to send to your studio families (if you don’t mind having my mug shot! LOL).

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Book Review – Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

Do you have a stack of books you purchased (like two years ago) that you’re excited to read but never seem to get the time?

Yeah, me too.

Today I’m soooo excited I can finally share thoughts from one of those books in my stack:

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

I first heard about Originals when current MTNA President-Elect, Karen Thickstun, did a presentation inspired by it at MTNA Spokane 2019 (The Curious Careers of “Originals” and Independent Music Teachers).

Since I’ve always considered myself somewhat of an “original”, my curiosity was piqued and I immediately threw it into my Amazon cart.

In this post, I’ll share brief thoughts on why I love this book, why this non-piano-teaching book can still inspire us in our profession, and a few key-quotes.

 

Why I Enjoyed It and You May Too

The biggest reason why I love this book is that the author, Adam Grant, manages to take what could be boring case studies and research and presents it in an engaging story-driven manner. You’ll read about anyone from Michelangelo to George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., and (of course), Steve Jobs.

He often debunks common misconceptions about what it means to be a purveyor of change. In eight chapters he covers:

  1. The risky business of going against the grain
  2. The art and science of recognizing original ideas
  3. Speaking truth to power
  4. Strategic procrastination, and the first-mover disadvantage
  5. Creating and maintaining coalitions
  6. How siblings, parents, and mentors nurture originality
  7. The myths of strong cultures, cults, and devil’s advocates
  8. Managing anxiety, apathy, ambivalence, and anger

Often times books give us all of this great information then you’re left trying to figure out for yourself what to do with that information or how to apply it to your situation.

Adam Grant has you covered. At the end of this book, he has an entire section titled “Actions for Impact.” He goes the extra mile and gives you practical applications. Broken into three areas they are:

  1. Actions for individuals to generate, recognize, voice, and champion new ideas
  2. Actions for leaders to stimulate novel ideas and build cultures that welcome dissent.
  3. Recommendations for parents and teachers to help children become comfortable taking a creative or moral stand against the status quo

If you consider yourself an original “thinker” and love growing, learning, and thinking outside the box or you’re looking to grow a music studio and need inspiration for what it means to be a non-conformist, then this book is for you.  

 

Taking Application as Studio Teachers

It really is true that no matter what our profession is, we can learn so much from other areas of life that apply to what we do on a daily basis. This is one of those books.

One of the biggest points I took away as a teacher came out of chapter six where he’s addressing how siblings, parents, and teachers can literally mentor originality – it doesn’t just have to be innate. 

By explaining moral principles, parents encourage their children to comply voluntarily with rules that align with important values and to question rules that don’t. Good explanations enable children to develop a code of ethics that often coincides with societal expectations; when they don’t square up, children rely on the internal compass of values rather than the external compass of rules. (Page 165)

He also discussed the importance of highlighting how what we do affects others. Here are a few examples (pages 170, 169, 166 respectively):

Not this: “Don’t drink and drive.”
But this: “Don’t be a drunk driver.”

Not this: “Please don’t cheat.”
But this: “Please don’t be a cheater.”

Not this: “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases.”
But this: “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.”

(The last one is, of course, an ironic example at this point in our history. LOL.)

Children were found to do better when having their character praised rather than simply having their behavior praised.

So, as a teacher perhaps one quick example we could reword would be something like this:

Not this: “That was very creative.”
But this: “You are very creative.”


P.S. I would love for us to all share some examples of how we can turn our praise from behavior to character in the comments!


 

9 Key Quote(s):

I’m sorry, I was really hoping to share just 2 or 3 but I just couldn’t cut them down!

“The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists.” (Page 7)

“Advocating for a new system often requires demolishing the old way of doing things.” (Page 13)

“They [originals] feel the same fear, the same doubt, as the rest of us. What sets them apart is that they take action anyway. They know in their hearts that failing would yield less regret than failing to try.” (Page 28)

“When we bemoan the lack of originality in the world, we blame it on the absence of creativity. If only people could generate more novel ideas, we’d all be better off. But in reality, the biggest barrier to originality is not idea generation—it’s idea selection.” (Page 31)

“It’s widely assumed that there’s a trade-off between quantity and quality—if you want to do better work, you have to do less of it—but this turns out to be false. In fact, when it comes to idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality.” (Page 37)

“Many people fail to achieve originality because they generate a few ideas and then obsess about refining them to perfection.” (Page 37)

“Exposure increases the ease of processing. An unfamiliar idea requires more effort to understand. The more we see, hear, and touch it, the more comfortable we become with it, and the less threatening it is.” (Page 78)

“Being original doesn’t require being first. It just means being different and better.” (Page 105)

“In the quest for happiness, many of us choose to enjoy the world as it is. Originals embrace the uphill battle, striving to make the world what it could be.” (Page 242)

 

I hope you will find this book an interesting and inspiring read as I did! You and find it on Amazon or any other place that sells books! 🙂

 


Did you find this post helpful? Consider subscribing to the Piano Pantry email list where you’ll get my once-a-month “Secret Letter” which includes what’s been going on in my studio that month, books I’m reading, favorite Instagram posts, and other fun things like that. 

Sound good?! Subscribe here.


 

Save Time and Money Taking Online Payments With Coinhop

As many teachers are considering what it may look like to run their studio (temporarily) online, one topic that may be necessary and quite urgent is making the move to online payments.

If you’re still taking checks from parents and worried about making the switch, rest assured, while it may take a little leg work setting everyone up, your future self won’t regret it.

Taking online payments will not only save you time from manually depositing checks but the payment portal I want to share with you today will save you money compared to 90% of the other online payment services out there.
(P.S. That number was arbitrary. Basically, the fees are cheaper than anything else I’ve found out there.)

Coinhop has been my payment portal of choice for several years now. I hope the reasons why I love it will help you as you’re considering online payment options for your studio.


Please note that Piano Pantry is enrolled in the Referral Program with Coinhop which simply means that if you sign-up, I will get a small commission without it costing you any extra.


Sign up for Coinhop now!


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Implementing Incentives

The Struggle Is Was Real

To incentivize or not to incentivize. That is the question.

(Or maybe you’re simply wondering at the moment whether or not “incentivize” is actually a word? It is, by the way. 🙂 )

Do you struggle with implementing an incentive program?

Is it because you’re torn between the philosophy of extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation or is it because it’s a struggle to be consistent in implementing something? (Or maybe a little of both?)

While there’s plenty of research supporting both sides of this age-old question of extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation, today I’ll be sharing my journey with (and support of) implementing incentives. Specifically:

  1. Why I struggled for years with implementing incentive programs.
  2. Four things I found an incentive program (and I) needed for long-term success.
  3. How others in the field helped inspire and develop my own philosophy regarding extrinsic rewards along the way.
  4. How short term rewards can turn into long-term joy including a specific example from my studio.

In a later post, I’ll get more specific with the incentive program I’ve been using with success for several years, and a list of popular prize box items.

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Top Tools and Resources

Four Tools I Can’t Live Without

Being known as an organized person means I frequently get asked what some of my favorite tools and resources are I use on a day-to-day basis.

Of course, if you’ve been around Piano Pantry long enough, you know my #1 is by far Evernote.

When we talk about “tools” though, there is a wide gamut we use daily whether it’s for organizing music, social media, our schedule, resources, etc.

Today I want to highlight four digital tools that help me stay organized that I in 2020 I would now find it very hard to live without.


P.S. All of these along with a whole lot more of my favs are listed on a permanent page here on Piano Pantry.

Under the Menu select Resources > Recommended Resources


 

Evernote. The easiest way to describe Evernote is that it’s a digital filing cabinet where you can save multiple types of content formats in one location: documents, URL links, clips from YouTube, selections from internet pages, PDF files, and more. Highly useful for both our teaching and personal lives!

Check out all my Evernote tutorials on Piano Pantry.

 

Feedly. Using an RSS Reader is, in my opinion, the only way to properly manage content in today’s world. An RSS Reader is like a personalized digital newspaper. You tell it the website you want to follow and it will stream all the newsfeeds into one location so you can keep up on new content in one place.

Read more about how I use Feedly in this post: Managing Internet Content the Easy Way

 

Grammarly. My English teacher and writing sidekick. With Grammarly Premium, you not only get the basic critical grammar and spell-check errors, but you also get instant feedback on over 400 advanced grammar rules. Microsoft Word spell-check can’t even touch the capability of this program.

Read more on why I love Grammarly in this post: Grammarly – Spell Check on Steroids

 

LastPass. In this day and age, I couldn’t manage all my accounts and passwords properly without Last Pass. Your life will be made easier (and more secure).

Since I haven’t written a full post about LastPass, I’ll just direct you to an excellent one on Leila Viss’s site: Keeping Safe with Password Safety and Online Security.

 


P.S. All of these along with a whole lot more of my favs are listed on a permanent page here on Piano Pantry.

Under the Menu select Resources > Recommended Resources


What are tools would you have a hard time living without?


Did you find this post helpful? Consider subscribing to the Piano Pantry email list where you’ll get my once-a-month “Secret Letter” which includes what’s been going on in my studio that month, books I’m reading, favorite Instagram posts, and other fun things like that. 

Sound good?! Subscribe here.


 

Giving Tuesday

10 Music-Based Organizations to Consider

In light of the upcoming global cause called #GivingTuesday, I thought I would share with you a list of 10 organizations that we as music teachers could consider supporting as we approach the end of the year.

First of all, I was curious and did a little research on this initiative and wanted to share some fun facts:

  • It is held the Tuesday following the U.S. Thanksgiving.
  • Giving Tuesday was started in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation.
  • The movement was a response to the rise in commercialization and consumerism during the post-Thanksgiving season (a.k.a. Black Friday and Cyber Monday).
  • The hash-tag (#) makes it empowering via social media.
  • There’s a whole website dedicated to #GivingTuesday!
  • It’s not just about donating money but about encouraging people to find a way to give back – whether that’s monetarily or simply of your time.

 

Presented in alphabetical order, here are ten organizations working for the betterment of our musical world. (In order to give you the most accurate description of each of these organizations, the descriptions have been taken directly from their website.)

Disclaimer: This list is simply based on research. I am not being paid by any of these organizations nor do not have experience donating to all of these organizations. Always do further research so you know where your investment is going!

 

#1 Give A Note Foundation

Give A Note Foundation was created to bring awareness to the importance of music education and to nurture, grow, and strengthen music education opportunities—for every student, every school, and every community. Because music not only offers students the chance to develop creativity and self-expression, but also builds skills such as communication, collaboration, and critical thinking that are necessary for success.

#MusicEdMatters

Visit: giveanote.org

 

#2 Hungry for Music

At Hungry for Music, our mission is putting quality musical instruments into hungry hands. We serve children who demonstrate a desire to learn music, as well as teachers who have students willing to learn.

In 25 years, we’ve delivered more than 13,000 instruments to children in 49 states and 30 countries.

Visit: HungryforMusic.org

 

#3 MTNA Foundation Fund

The Music Teachers National Association uses the Foundation Fund to expand its mission through a variety of grants and awards to deserving music teachers and their students.

More than $150,000 in grants and awards each year for:

  • Competition Prizes for the winners of the MTNA Student Competitions
  • Collegiate Grants for the professional development of Collegiate members
  • Program Development Grants for music organizations to use as seed money in their quest for larger-scale funding
  • Community Engagement Grants for programs and projects designed to be used by affiliates to engage the local community in musical events
  • Teacher Enrichment Grants for MTNA members to pursue needed professional development opportunities
  • Affiliate Enrichment Grants for local and state MTNA affiliates to develop educational and professional development projects and programs
  • Composer Commissioning Program for MTNA state affiliates to commission new music to be featured at the state conferences

Visit: mtnafoundation.org

 

#4 Music Link Foundation

Our Mission:Any child who has musical potential deserves the opportunity to nurture this talent to its full extent. Many children lack the chance to receive music lessons due to financial need. The MusicLink Foundation reaches out to low-income families by linking these students with professional music teachers willing to reduce their fees to make the lessons more affordable for the child.

Note: The MusicLink Foundation does not reimburse teachers for this scholarship donation, but supports them in a variety of ways.

Visit: www.musiclinkfoundation.org

 

#5 Music Unites

Music Unites is the leading non-profit charity organization supporting music education around the world. Music Unites partners with music stars, celebrity ambassadors and music sponsors to promote music projects and events at local schools – educating kids through music. Music Unites is a music foundation that empowers children through donations from individuals, foundation partners, organization events and music education projects. Along with our music partners, musicunites.org features news, events, video and press of the organization. Special charity partners have supported the Music Unites Foundation while guiding youth towards planning achievable goals for the future. Music Unites feature workshops with ambassadors such as Swizz Beats, John Forte, Sting, Gary Clark Jr., and more.

Visit: www.musicunites.org

 

#6 The NAMM Foundation

The NAMM Foundation advances active participation in music-making across the lifespan by supporting scientific research, philanthropic giving, and public service programs.

#7 National Association for Music Education

National Association for Music Education (NAfME), among the world’s largest arts education organizations, is the only association that addresses all aspects of music education. NAfME advocates at the local, state, and national levels; provides resources for teachers, parents, and administrators; hosts professional development events; and offers a variety of opportunities for students and teachers. The Association orchestrates success for millions of students nationwide and has supported music educators at all teaching levels for more than a century

Visit: nafme.org/

 

#8 Pianos For Education

Pianos for Education supports piano education by loaning quality pianos to institutions…

…In pursuit of that goal, we have over time expanded our programs to seek out deserving institutions and organizations that lack the financial resources to acquire and maintain adequate inventories of quality pianos for their music-education curriculums. We also accept applications from private piano teachers and studios in need of piano loans for their students’ studies. All of our loan programs include regular service and maintenance throughout the term of the loan.

Visit: pianosforeducation.org

 

#9 Pianos for Peace

This program gives talented but disadvantaged young people the opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge to actively contribute to the development of their communities…

…We encourage and support students to become “Ambassadors for Peace” to build bridges and heal communities through creative, educational and cultural exchange programs. Target groups include children, students, refugees, and deserving academic institutions.

At Pianos For Peace, we are achieving peace starting with the individual, to the community and the world.

Visit: pianosforpeace.org

 

#10 Pianos for People

Pianos for People inspires successful futures by providing free access to the transformational power of the piano.   For families and individuals with limited resources, we break down financial barriers and leverage the piano as a gateway to empowerment, community, and self-esteem. In an environment of support, inclusiveness, and equality, we do this four ways:

Inspiration:  Free Pianos
Education:  Free Lessons and Workshops
Community:  Free Special Events
Enrichment:  Free Summer Music Camps

Visit: pianosforpeople.org

 


I’m sure there are many, many more organizations out there that would benefit from our generosity on #GivingTuesday. If you know of any other organizations that work to support music education, please feel free to share in the comments!

 

Email Madness

Three Tips for Managing Your Inbox

You know who you are.

As soon as you read the title of this post you thought: “Busted!”

As independent teachers, not only do we get daily correspondence both personally and for our studio’s, but you likely get weekly emails from multiple professional organizations and website subscriptions.

Does your email Inbox have a big fat red number kind of like this (give or take a few thousand)? 🙂

Some of you may be nodding your head in agreement, raising your hand in confession, and some of you may be having anxiety seeing such a large number because you are already on a path of email management called “Inbox zero.” If you’re the latter, then kudos to you!

There are three major tips that I want to share with you today on how to manage your email and the first begins with this modern productivity term “Inbox zero.”

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