084 – Student Gift-Giving

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Episode Summary

Why do we often find ourselves struggling on the whole to give or not to give question in regards to gifts for students whether that be Christmas gifts, birthday, or even recital gifts. In this episode we talk about the decision-making process, the emotions behind it, and some practical gift ideas as you plan your year.


Items Mentioned in this Episode

Power-Hour (sign up for full series September – May)

Power-Hour (sign up for individual months)

Marketing with Postcards: It’s Not What You Think

Fun Postcards for Student Birthdays

Unique Student Birthday Cards on Etsy

Student Birthday Cards with a Surprise Twist

Christmas Gifts for Music Students: Who Couldn’t Use Another Idea?

Christmas Gift Round-Up

Music-Themed Bookmarks for Student Christmas Gifts


Do you ever find yourself going back and forth with or having mixed feelings on the topic of giving students gifts? This is one of those topics that surprises me that people get so tied up about in Facebook groups.

I wonder if, perhaps, it’s because it feels like it’s an act or choice that’s tied not to our teaching skills but to our personhood – our humanity. Like, if we choose not to give students gifts, our families will think less of us as a person.

I don’t know; I’m just speculating here and have absolutely no data on this, but it’s the only conclusion I can come to on why so many teachers struggle with the question of whether to give or not to give.

While it generally surprises me to see so many struggle with the gift-giving decision, I’ve gone back and forth on it myself over the years, so I get it.

I wanted to talk about this topic early on in the school year so we can consider the variety of gift-giving opportunities that may form over the course of a lesson season. from back-to-lesson gifts to birthday gifts, recital gifts, and perhaps the most often considered – Christmas gifts.

In today’s episode, we’ll talk a little about the decision-making process as well as some gift ideas.

Oh, by the way, I’m Amy Chaplin, a piano teacher with more than 20 years of teaching under my belt, and this is The Piano Pantry Podcast.

It’s the first week of September, which means that it’s time to kick off our monthly power-hour series. The first Wednesday of every month from September to May, I organize a free work session on Zoom. It’s not a coffee date or coaching session but acts as accountability time for you to have a focused one-hour work session to get done whatever you need.

I’ve seen teachers use the time for all kinds of things like lesson planning, composing work, email communication, physical studio cleanup time, and more. You’ll log in at 12:00pm ET, type in the chat what it is you plan to do, and get to work. The last 5 minutes before we log off, we unmute, give a quick verbal update, celebrate with each other what we accomplished, and move on with our day.

You can either sign up for the whole series in one go and get it added to your calendar or join month-to-month as you’re available. Jump into the show notes for the link to sign up.

If you’re not sure how to find the show notes, if you’re using Apple Podcasts, you just click inside this episode and then scroll down to the area right below the play button.

Once again, the power hours will be available the first Wednesday of every month from September to May from 12:00-1:00pm Eastern Time. Hope to see you there!

I’ll ask the question I stated in the intro one more time. Have you ever struggled with whether or not you should give students gifts? If so, I want to pause and get you to think back to those moments and assess what it was exactly you were feeling.

Was it about assumed expectations – that you assume that it’s just something that is expected?

Were you feeling pressure to reciprocate if and when students give YOU gifts at Christmas?

Was it dread of having to put time, effort, money, or all of the above into making it happen?

What emotions were in play and what was causing those particular feelings? Let’s sit on that for a few seconds…and I want you to see if you can verbally put it into words.

When I think back to times when I was considering whether or not to do gifts for students – for me – it was often tied more to life and energy circumstances than expectations from others. In the first year or two of my studio, it was about money. I wanted to give Christmas gifts but needed to keep it on the cheap. Some years it was about just not having the brain bandwidth to decide and execute.

Your reasons may be different. Maybe you just don’t feel like giving Christmas gifts, but you do it anyway because you feel bad when students hand you something, and you don’t hand something back.

Maybe you’ve always given students gifts at spring recital but suddenly feel burdened by them and are afraid that if you stop, students will feel “jipped” of their gift.

Emotions are a tricky thing, are they not?

What if, teachers, we can let go of the emotions and expectations that bind us to gift giving and instead only do it if our heart intentions are right?

We often hold ourselves to standards and expectations that aren’t really there.

It’s OK to let gift-giving change from year to year and live in a place of joy rather than a place of dread, fear, or worry.

Guess what. I have a feeling our students aren’t really going to care or notice as much as we think they are. Yes, they may have really enjoyed them in the past, but that was then, and this is now.

Since the start of my studio, I have always mailed my students birthday cards. In my early days, I gave students their favorite candy bar but quickly realized that was way too much work. I needed to do something that showed my students and families that I cared but was easy for me to execute year after year. I decided kids these days don’t get much real mail so it was an easy way to show I cared and was thinking about them with little effort.

I’ve been doing this since 2011 but have recently considered stopping doing it. Doing the same thing year after year can often lead to burnout even with simple little things like this. I’ve changed it up a couple of times just to keep it interesting. For example, one year I told them if they came to their next lesson and played Happy Birthday from me they would get a little gift which was a 2 or $3 gift card to a local donut shop.

If I decided to stop sending postcards though, I honestly don’t know that any of my students would even notice. Yes, I’m sure they enjoy getting it in the mail but also, it’s not something I have to feel tied to.

See what I mean?

I hope you’re starting to see that it’s OK to either do things differently or not do them at all.

If you’re interested in more details on student birthday postcards, I’ve shared quite a bit over the years on the Piano Pantry blog, including how I organize and execute them in a way that’s easy and efficient. I’ll link to all of those blog posts in the show notes.

Let’s talk more about student gift ideas. A teacher recently emailed me asking for ideas for back-to-lesson gifts for her students. Her email, plus all of my blog posts on student birthday cards and Christmas gift ideas, was enough to prompt this podcast episode. In content-creator world, this is called repurposing content. Ha! LOL

Anyway, I told this listener that I actually thought a lot of the ideas I’ve shared over the years for Christmas gifts would also make good back-to-lesson gifts. Outside of music-themed ornaments and homemade hot cocoa have included:

Music-themed magnetic bookmarks

Hershey’s Symphony candy bars

Grand piano Japanese Erasers and

Clear ceramic grand pianos filled with little candies

The first blog post I ever shared on Christmas gifts was called “Christmas Gifts for Music Students: Who Couldn’t Use Another Idea?” because it’s true! If you enjoy (remember the importance of that word – we want to only do it out of joy, not expectations) If you enjoy giving Christmas gifts, after teaching so many years, it’s easy to run out of ideas.

I also have a big round-up blog post on gift ideas that links to a lot of other articles from bloggers like Jennifer Foxx, Melody Payne, Joy Morin, Leila Viss, Rosemarie Penner, so you don’t have to stress over coming up with something new, fun, and unique. I will link to all of that for you in the show notes.

The bottom line is this. Have fun with it. If it works for you this year to do gifts whether that be for recitals, birthdays, Christmas, all of the above, or none at all, so be it! It’s not something that’s worth feeling stress or pressure over but is something that should always and only come from a place of a joyful heart and spirit.

Hey, you know that pile of stuff that’s been on your desk for months? It’s time. Stop putting it off – and conjure up the wherewithal to sort and action what’s there. You’re spending more brainpower deciding not to do anything with it every time you look at it than would take to just finally sit down and go through it.

Hey! I have an idea! Why don’t you join one of the power hours and dedicate that time to the pile? If you listen on the day this drops, our first session is TOMORROW! That’s Wednesday, September 6.

See you soon!