Monday, August 18, 2014

Guest Post: How to Have a Great Teaching Year in 5 Easy Steps by Tracy Selle

I am pleased to introduce the next guest in our new Collaborative Journey series: Tracy Selle, author of 101 Piano Practice Tips. 

I love the start of a new school year!  It’s fun to have students back to a regular schedule.  New families call to sign up for lessons. It’s a time for a fresh start--for students and teachers as well.

Of course, I’m one of those people who tend to set too many goals and end up having unrealistic expectations. Only recently have I learned a better way to plan for the year---simplify!

Here are 5 easy ideas to set you up for a great teaching year!

1.  Set boundaries. I’ve known for several years that I needed to make changes in my studio policies, but I kept putting those decisions off.  Finally, this year, I set boundaries and it’s such a weight off my shoulders.  I made new guidelines, informed my parents, and now I just need to stick with those decisions. By the way, I didn’t lose one student!

Here are some questions to consider when trying to simplify your teaching life:  Are make-up lessons okay with you?  Is there a limit?  Do you need to raise your rates?  Would going to a flat, monthly fee make payment easier? Perhaps you need to start taking credit cards?

Setting boundaries will help simplify your life because you make the decision once--then you just have to follow though. For example, I’ve learned that instead of automatically offering a makeup slot, I can say:  "I'll let you know if there are any cancellations."

2.  Have a written studio policy.  This is a no-brainer for many, but I’m amazed at how many teachers just "wing it" through the year. This ends up putting a lot of stress on the teacher and the families as well.  Set expectations early and you’ll eliminate a lot of headaches.

If you've never had a written policy, just keep it short and sweet by addressing the issues that matter the most to you. You might start by setting rules for make-up lessons and payment deadlines.

3. Use an invoice system.  I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t start using a payment system until last year and I regret not doing it sooner.  This has saved me so much time!  

I send out invoices the week before payment is due and it’s rare that parents pay late.  It’s also been great because I can now offer payment by credit card.  That’s really helped my “forgetful” parents!

I use Music Teacher’s Helper, but there are several online options to choose from (My Music Staff is another option, with a smaller price point than MTH).  In my experience, the time I’ve saved is worth every penny. Try the free monthly trial and decide for yourself!

4. Do one thing to be more organized.  There are lots of ways to get more organized, but they can be time-consuming and stressful!  Instead of getting overwhelmed, try working on one organization project each year.  

For example, Last year, I created student folders. These don’t go home with students, instead I keep them at my house to keep me organized.  Inside I include  information that I need to remember for the next lesson.  Sometimes I print out digital music and pop it in the student's folder. If a child’s birthday is coming up, I’ll put a little card in their folder to give them the next week.  It’s a simple idea, but it’s really helped to keep me more organized.

This year, my project is to create a teacher binder thanks to Melody. (Here's the link to some of her organizational materials.) The pages are so cute and functional. I love that you can print the specific pages you want to create a custom binder that meets your needs.

Need a few project ideas? You could revamp your studio policies, discover new iPad games, plan some group lessons, work on practice incentives, organize your digital music. Just pick something and do it!

5. Finally, Make sleep a priority.  Aim for 6-8 hours of sleep each night.  I know it seems impossible when you have a lot to accomplish, but you’ll be much more productive when you’re well-rested.  You’ll also be happier, more creative, and more patient.  That adds up to a pretty awesome teacher!  

I hope these simple steps help you have a great teaching year!

About the author, Tracy Selle, Author of 101 Practice Tips: Tracy started her music career at the age of 13 when she was hired as pianist of her church. She studied music in college, but ended up following her love of science to become a TV meteorologist. And yes, she continued to serve as a church pianist as well.

After Tracy got married and became a mom, she decided to leave television and get back to her music roots. She's been teaching piano for more than 10 years and loves every minute!

In her spare time, Tracy loves to read, crochet, and hike with her family. She's also an advocate for Type 1 Diabetes. Her son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in March 2010.

Read a review of Tracy's book 101 Piano Practice Tips here

Purchase 101 Piano Practice Tips or Amazon


  1. Boundaries. YES. Keeps us from pulling our hair out, no? Great post, thanks!