044 – Student Updates Simplified: It’s The Little Things!

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Episode Summary

Giving updates to studio parents regarding their student is something we often avoid because it feels like it has to be a formal report. It doesn’t have to be that way! Sending updates is about the little things. Here’s one tool that can help simplify the process and make it more enjoyable.


Hey there! Today, I have an idea for you that I’ve been excited to share for a while now. It reminds me, in a way, of the idea I shared back in episode 21 on showing snippets of student performance videos during your year-end evaluation meeting as a way of displaying student progress. You’re going to be really glad you tuned in today because, unlike episode 21, today’s topic is not just something you can use once a year, but all year long.

We’re talking about a way of communicating and giving progress updates to parents that don’t involve hours of email communication or written reports. Plus, it hits 4 important criteria: it’s 1) easy 2) Effective 3) a Relevant format for today’s families, and, 4) like episode #21, I would say somewhat “magical.”

Who wouldn’t like that?

Welcome to the Piano Pantry Podcast, where together, we live life as independent music teachers. I’m your host, Amy Chaplin. In this space, we talk about all things teacher-life related, from organizing our studios to getting dinner on the table and all that comes between. You’ll get loads of easily-actionable tips on organizing and managing your studio while balancing life and home.

First of all, let me make sure we’re all on the same page as far as the type of communication we’re talking about. When we say communication, the first thing that probably comes to mind is studio-wide updates on programming and such. That’s a topic for another day. Today, we’re specifically addressing communicating with parents regarding their individual students in general. That is, more of what you would call a progress update or report.

Let’s take a beat to think through how you handle this type of communication in your studio.

Do you just give updates at the end of a term, semester, or school year?

Do you wait until parents ask?

Do you wait until the student is having trouble and not practicing?

or… Do you not really do it at all?

Over the past 12 years, I can honestly say I would have answered yes to all of these at some point.

While I was gnawing over the title of this episode, the description I first thought would fit best was “Student Reports.” As soon as you hear that phrase though, doesn’t it kind of make you cringe? I really think thinking of this as a “report” is part of the reason communicating with studio families in this way can easily fall by the wayside. No matter how good of intentions we have, feeling like we have to give a “report” feels too formal and time-consuming.

The second phrase that came to mind was “Progress Update,” but if you stop to consider, updates don’t always have to be about progress or lack thereof.

The goal of updates should be to engage, not report. Communicating with a parent doesn’t always have to be a formal event or even about whether or not the student has practiced. It can – and should – be about sharing. Thus, the best descriptor here is “student updates.”

At the end of the episode, I’ll give some specific examples of nice types of updates you can send but first I want to get to the part you’ve been waiting for. The big tool that will make these types of updates easy and something you don’t dread or put off.

In last week’s episode, # 43, we talked about easing frustrations with studio families or others in life by placing ourselves not behind written words in emails and text but by ensuring we’re placing humanity into that person by talking to them either via a phone call or better yet, face to face. I don’t want to expound on that too much, as you can listen on your own, but today’s tip goes down that same route.

Over my past 12 years of teaching, I’ve always found Summertime lessons to be a good time to try new things. About five years ago, I had the kind of epiphany that makes you go, “why did I not think of this earlier?” and that is to use your voice texting feature. I’m not talking about when you talk a text, and it types it out for you. I’m talking about the button that sends an audio message in your texting app.

It’s not a new feature by any means, but it is also a feature that I don’t use a lot in my personal life, so it had never crossed my mind. Some of you may use or have used in the past apps like HeyTell or Voxer, where you can voice text people like a walkie-talkie. It’s that same idea.

When we write things out, it always takes longer – even when you use the talk to text feature, you usually have to edit it somehow. Removing the written text and putting your voice in its place allows you to put humanity into it – your inflection – your excited voice or your happy voice, or your chill voice.

This is the point where I say, have some common sense. This is not exactly the place to air big frustrations. Keep this in context. If there are deeper issues you need to cover with a parent, don’t send them a voice text. Ask to meet with them in person.

I don’t have any kind of prescription for when I send these updates. The best part is when it comes naturally. I probably don’t even do them once a month per student – although I think this would be a good and doable goal. Right now, I probably send a couple per week myself.

The first time I ever sent one of these, the parent replied back with all the huge uppercase letters and exclamation points about how much they loved this and how they so much appreciated me trying new things and making an effort to engage. Now, that particular parent was a teacher herself, so she related, but even so. Every time I send an audio voice text, it seems to be received with extra appreciation.

I came up with a half dozen examples now of the types of things I might send in an audio message to a parent. Notice they’re all short, to the point, informational, and positive.

Hey! I just wanted to let you know I sent a new book home with Derek. I think he’ll really love it because it includes a variety of styles, including some rock, jazz, and classical. I’ll be interested to hear your feedback on if it seems to motivate and energize his practice time.

Hey! I just wanted to drop you a note and let you know that Sara came in today and played 3 songs for me that she learned over break by ear. I was amazed! Did you know she was learning these? She really seems to have a nack for picking out tunes. I can’t wait to hear more from her each week!

Hey! Maggie came in to her lesson and said she was feeling really tired, so while we worked on both of the new pieces I gave her last week, we spent extra time playing games. It was a good opportunity though as the games we played helped her better recognize the shapes of intervals which she has been struggling with recently. I think the games really helped.

Hey! Just a heads up that James said he couldn’t find his blue book, so I sent mine home with him for this week. Could you help him dig it up and make sure both books make it back next week? Also, if I haven’t already said so, he really flew quickly through his last book. This new book may be a bit of a challenge so let me know if you notice any frustrations.

Hey! Since you guys were gone on vacation last week -, BTW, I hope it was a great time! – Ava didn’t make much progress on finishing up memorizing her piece for the performance – which was totally expected. Now that she’s back into a routine, I just wanted to touch base and give perspective that there’s only three weeks now before the recital. To set her up for a successful performance, she’ll need it memorized for a full two weeks prior which means she’ll need to have all those tricky memory spots polished up by next week. Let me know if I can be of any help. See you next week!

Hey! Wow, I just wanted to let you know that Dillon is been very consistent in recognizing the different between duple and triple meters – that is, whether the beat feels like it’s divided into twos or threes. His pieces are flowing nicely rhythmically, even when he has to move around the piano. Ask him to play The heavy elephant song for you – it’s his favorite!

If you need some motivation to start engaging your families more with casual updates, let this be it.

Being a podcaster is a little scary at times because part of me is going…hmmm….maybe I was the late one getting on board with this, and everyone else has already been doing it? I don’t know, but it was a revelation to me. What I do know is anything that can make the backend work of teaching easier is worth sharing, especially when it comes to simplifying and streamlining communication. We are human beings; we speak, move, and have emotions. Let’s use our voices more and texts and email a little less.

All of this being said, while the inspiration behind this episode was to get you to consider using your voice more, I hope you see the bigger takeaway. Touching base with parents doesn’t have to be hard or time-consuming. It doesn’t even have to be about progress or lack of. Think of it as sharing and engaging.

I hope you found today’s tip useful and inspiring. I would love to chat with you about it on social media. Find me at amychaplinpiano on Instagram or on Facebook at Piano Pantry.

Todays fun fat is something I’m probably going to have take time to show you on social media this week although I’m not sure how well it will come across. While I’m not a big gum chewer, I do have an awesome skill that involves chewing gum. It’s one of those things that I find so easy I just assumed everyone could do it but have realized that’s not the case.

I can blow bubbles with gum like crazy inside my mouth. It’s like a rice crispies cereal snap crackle pop over and over inside my mouth without every opening my lips. Unfortunately if you do it for too long it can be annoying to others.

Anyone else have this amazing gum skill?