078 – Fall Scheduling: Don’t Be Afraid!

The Piano Pantry Podcast is available on these podcast streaming networks:

Apple PodcastsSpotifyAmazon MusicGoogle PodcastsOvercastiHeart RadioCastboxPocket CastsRadio Public


Episode Summary



Items Mentioned in this Episode

Episode 031 – Easing into the First Lesson

Scheduling: 3 New Piano Lesson Kick-Offs (Rebekah Maxner)

Digital Organization Coaching Series (Online)

Episode 006 – Tasks: They’re Not All Created Equal

Amy’s favorite quotes desktop background set


Does the thought of taking lesson time requests and doing the work of plugging everyone into a slot that works for both you and them make you break out in hives a bit?

I’m Amy Chaplin, a piano teacher who actually enjoys the back-end business side of running my independent piano studio. Any time I have the opportunity to help my fellow teachers not dread that part of their businesses, I take it. Today I want to help you no longer be afraid of fall scheduling by encouraging you to not be afraid to try one or more of the seven strategies I’m going to share.

Do you see what I did there? Not being afraid to try some new things has the potential to help you no longer be afraid of scheduling.

Are you ready to alleviate this pain point?

The week this episode drops, teachers from all over the world are anxiously anticipating the return of the in-person National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy in the suburbs of Chicago. Thanks to the online conference launched earlier this summer and the “Who-va” conference app, we’ve all been gearing up and making plans.

My friend Christina Whitlock of the Beyond Measure Podcast and I are teaming up and planting ourselves in the hotel lobby on Thursday, July 27, from 4:15-5:00pm. If you have time, please drop by and say hello, even if just for a moment. We each have some swag to give you – at least while supplies last.

NCKP – here we come!

The title of this episode kind of makes me chuckle, but you know it’s so true. It’s amazing how much turmoil and anxiety the thought of fall scheduling can bring to our community. It makes it even worse that it’s right in the middle of the summer when we should be feeling less stressed.

While I totally understand, I must admit, the unempathetic side of me wants to shout into a megaphone “just get over it.” Sometimes I think we make things worse by wingeing about parts of our jobs that are just part of our jobs.

We all know it can feel grueling and impossible, but as long as you haven’t overloaded yourself with more students than you have hours to give, it will be fine. Remember. Your studio families don’t really know how tricky it is. All they know is that they’re juggling three kids, clubs, sports, piano, yada, yada, yada.

Today I have seven things I want to arm you with that might be the easy answer you need to make things work for all involved. A lot of this has come from experiences of my own over the years as well as things I see others doing.

First, I want to tell you how I actually do my own scheduling because I know you all love logistics. One thing that has helped make things easier is that – as of a couple of years ago – all my lessons are 40 minutes, save that occasional student who needs a 60-minute lesson. This time frame not only gives me more time for younger students for extra reinforcing activities but the extra time needed for intermediate students as well.

I have the exact same time frames available so it’s easy to remember and easier to schedule. So, I might offer 3:00, 3:40, 4:20, 5:00, 5:20, and 6:00 on Monday – Wednesday. Plus, it makes it so much easier to remember my own schedule rather than having 3:00 students on Monday, 3:30 students on Tuesday, 2:30 students on Wednesday, and so forth.

Students fill out a Google form selecting ALL TIMES they COULD make work. I try to really prod them to make as many options available as possible but just know that you will have someone who selects only 1 OR 2 slots because it’s the best for them. Don’t get angry – just know it’s going to happen. One of my tips will help with that.

I then take a spreadsheet and inside one cell – for each time frame – place the names of every person who has availability during that time. Some slots might show 3 people in it, and some slots 8. By the way, the way you do this is when your cursor is inside of the cell, you hit “alt + enter” – at least on a PC – so you can insert a line break inside the cell and place another student name on the next line inside the cell.

When I start seeing possibilities, I bold the name of the student who I think I want in that time slot. That way, I see everyone’s name that could possibly fill the slot until I am 100% done with the schedule.

OK so that’s my logistics. Here are 7 things that I think could potentially really help you with your own process.

  1. Don’t be afraid to make a phone call.
    1. Sometimes, it’s much easier than waiting on a text. I have been doing this more and more over the years. As I’m sorting out everyone’s availability, sometimes it’s easier to talk it out over the phone. Last year I had a girl who lives in another town and is home-schooled but has lots of extracurricular activities in our town. I couldn’t get figure out a good spot for her based on what they listed, so I just gave them a call so the mom could verbalize their schedule for me. It helped clear things up, and I could open a slot that I hadn’t necessarily planned on, but that was doable and worked OK for both of us.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask if they could make a time not included on their availability form work.
    1. This is a little bit of an overlap with the one I was just talking about, but I think it’s important to note. Just because they didn’t make a time available doesn’t mean they couldn’t make it work. Our student families don’t think the way we do. They may prefer not to come after dinner hours but would still be willing. Some families are really good about stating these things on their forms, and some are not.
    2. Most people are likelier to mark times that are their best options, hoping they get the times they want – even if we’ve asked them to leave open all times they COULD BE available. The bottom line – it doesn’t hurt to ask and double-check. “Hey, I know you didn’t mark 3:40 as available, but is there any chance that’s doable? I sometimes approach it as I’m asking them for a “favor.” For example, last year, I had a student that has been with me for 8 years, and I can say they have almost always had a perfect time. This year I really needed one of them to come during the day instead of after 3:00 since they are homeschooled. I just asked, and they said they could make it work. I texted the mom to ask if there was any chance I could “twist her arm” to come during the day at X time. I even gave her some flexible options.
  3. Don’t be afraid to do the scheduling in stages not all at once.
    1. There are two things that I’m talking about here. First I have heard of teachers that open their schedule and just let everyone book their time. I have always stood back in awe and wonder at this practice. I can’t even fathom the idea of making the scheduling a free-for-all. In my experience, the people who are the fastest to respond are the ones who often have the most availability and flexibility, and the ones that are last to respond tend to be the ones that really do need certain spots.
    2. The other version of doing the schedule all at once is when you set the schedule and then just announce it to everyone all at once without having any extra communication and confirmation process. In this process I see people send out request forms, then take in everyone’s request, set the schedule, and publish it all at once. Then ultimately there’s always someone that can’t do the time we scheduled and THAT’S when we get SERIOUSLY frustrated.
    3. I know you want to sit down and hash it out in one hour and be done with it, but I have saved myself a lot of angst over the years by putting schedules together in stages. Sometimes even one by one. I realize if you have more than say 25 or 30 students, this might be trickier, but if you think about it in 3 groups rather than all at once, I’m sure it will save you time in the long run.
    4. Start with the really easy ones – the no-brainers like those that take daytime lessons that there’s virtually no one else that I know can even do that time. Next up are those who are always the most challenging – you know who they are. Make sure you communicate with them and confirm the time you are looking at booking them in – and I use that terminology to start – not that it’s the final confirmation – but just the time I’m considering for them – make sure it works for them before you start plugging in others.
    5. The third group are your easy ones – those that you know are happy to be flexible and have more availability. I always tell everyone this is your “tentative” time then I check back in before “confirming” the final time.
  4. Don’t be afraid to try a different format for your schedule requests.
    1. Maybe ask them to mark off the times they CAN’T be available rather than the times they ARE available. This is something Nicola Cantan has mentioned she does. I tried it last year, and it worked just fine. I’m not 100% sure I can say it was better than asking them their availability, but I will say last year I had my easiest scheduling year ever, so ….who knows!
    2. If you’re going to do this though, make sure you reiterate that you are asking them to mark what they CANNOT do.
  5. Don’t be afraid to do something different for the first 1-3 weeks of the school year.
    1. Approach August with a light touch. If you’re a September starter, you probably don’t need to do this so much, but August is always so busy with school starting and everyone trying to figure out their schedule. They’re waiting on their dance schedule or their soccer schedule or whatever it may be. I have had some years where I start with open group classes where students come in groups of 3-4 and we just play review games and I give them new repertoire to get started on. Last year I had students book themselves into set lesson times using a scheduling software for the first two weeks. Rebekkah Maxner has some great suggestions on her blog for the first few weeks of lessons that I’ll link to in the show notes. You might also listen to 031 – Easing into the First Lesson where I talk about some of these same ideas.
  6. Don’t be afraid to maintain the same schedule ongoing. I know some people that do it. Students are booked into a lesson time when they start lessons, and that’s their slot until it’s not. I’ve never tried this myself, so I don’t really know how well this works. I imagine there are times where you will have people as kids get older who simply cannot do the same time as the year prior due to new commitments, but it might be a matter of little shifts here and there. I don’t know. I would love to hear if any do this and how it works.
  7. Don’t be afraid to feel a little (or even a lot) frazzled. I said it at the start of this episode, rather than stressing over it and making it this awful thing. Perhaps we can keep ourselves from going crazy by accepting it and knowing it’s just part of what we have to do in our job. Maybe look at it as an easy way to add a fresh twist each year – not seeing students in the exact order you did last year. Look at it on the positive side

Alright you guys, I hope out of these seven items you were able to find a new little idea to try something new to ease the pain of scheduling in your upcoming school year. Don’t forget to jump into the show notes for some of the things I mentioned and I’ll look forward to chatting with you next week.

Today’s tiny tip is to keep your digital workspace fresh by regularly changing your backgrounds and wallpapers. I’m talking about anything from your computer’s desktop background to your iPhone Wallpaper on both your lock and home screens. I would even go so far as to throw your Facebook cover photo in the mix. I don’t necessarily mean your profile photo – but the cover photo that shows behind your profile image when inside your profile.

This last one is something I don’t change often – maybe once a season at most – but it can be really refreshing to change up your device wallpaper and computer desktop background once a month.

I like to set a recurring reminder on my Google Calendar Task List to change out backgrounds on the first of the month. It literally takes less than 5 minutes to change out. For more tips on task management, listen to episode. 006 – Tasks: They’re not all created equal!

Speaking of backgrounds, if you want something new to look at, check out my set of 12 free backgrounds featuring some of my favorite teaching, productivity, and inspirational quotes. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes.

If you’re not even sure how to even do this, well… one of my favorite things to encourage people to do is: Google it! Type in your search bar “How do I change my iPhone wallpaper.” Better yet, consider joining one of my upcoming digital organization courses. This is just one tiny piece of the types of things we cover in this live coaching series. The next session starts this Monday, July 31, and is a 3-day intensive. Find details for all the things I’ve just mentioned in the show notes.