Foster Relationships to Increase Student Retention
I’m always talking about engagement. In my opinion, it is the number-one indicator of your students’ long-term success. One way to increase your students’ engagement is to build your music studio community. Students can support and motivate each other, and maybe more importantly, parents can support and motivate other parents. It’s no joke, being a Suzuki parent is a kick-in-the-pants sometimes. It can be extremely helpful for parents to reach out to others in similar situations. It is powerful to know that we aren’t alone in our struggles.
My first teacher is a pro at building her music studio community. Every summer she holds a practice challenge, and if the kiddos practice sixty days over the three months of summer, they can attend a special pizza party in August. She has fun games and cool prizes. As a kid, I thought it was totally awesome. The fact that I even remember it now (more than twenty years later) proves just how important that party was to me. (Super important.)
So how do we increase our student engagement and retention by building a studio community?
We can build a studio community by using parties, contests, duet or chamber recitals, group lessons, practice buddies, and social media.
My students love parties. I like to make parties a practicing reward (like my lovely first teacher), but an all-inclusive studio party is great too! We had our Back-to-School Studio Potluck this Saturday. I like to hold this right after school starts, so that any new students can attend and see how fun playing the violin can be. The students performed their fiddle pieces for their parents, and everyone socialized and enjoyed delicious food!
Contests or Challenges
Maybe this is just part of my competitive, Type-A nature, but I love contests. I love a challenge. Not everyone does, and they can cause conflict. It may be helpful to find a way to avoid having the competition be between students. Create a challenge that requires the child to compete with themselves, without the stress of “beating” the other kids. We held a Music Theory Challenge this summer and I awarded prizes at our party last Saturday.
Duet or Chamber Recitals
Playing the violin can get lonely. I have a very clear memory of sitting inside, halfheartedly reviewing Suzuki Book 3, watching through the window while my friends played kick the can. It was not very effective practicing. Playing duets or chamber music can put the “playing” back in violin playing. Nothing is more motivating and exciting than playing with your peers. Use that to your advantage!
Group lessons are another way to get your students playing with other young musicians. I like to make the group lessons extra fun by playing tons of games and being ramping up my energy level. I know most of my students prefer the group lesson to their private lesson, and I don’t blame them. We have treats.
I love practice buddies. Most of my advanced students graduated last spring, so I’m in a practice buddy drought right now. When I have advanced students, one of my favorite things to do is to pair them up with a younger student as practice helpers. Sometimes parents really are too busy to practice with their child if they work full time, or have many children. Having a practice buddy come practice a few times a week can be a life-saver.
Practice buddies are also beneficial for the advanced student. These practice sessions require them to review old pieces, and revisit the basics of violin technique. They can even earn a little bit of money, which they really like.
One of the most important lessons we can share with our students is the importance of using their talents to serve others. Providing opportunities for your students to serve in your community will not only enrich the lives of those they serve, but theirs as well. These experiences will bring your students together and unite them in a common goal. You can model a love of service by holding fundraising concerts, performing in senior centers or hospitals, and much more.
Nowadays, if you do not have a website or social media presence, you basically do not exist. That may be unfair, but it is true. Most of us spend an inordinate amount of time on Facebook or Twitter or whatever. Stay-at-Home parents, in my experience, often view social media as an gateway to the outside world when they feel isolated. I’ve had a Ferrin Violin Studio Facebook Page for many years now, but have not posted anything very personal to my studio because I did not want to share private information or photos of my individual students with the whole world.
Now it is easy to create a private Facebook group, which alleviates those concerns, and posts are more likely to be in the newsfeed than the posts from my like page. My Studio Facebook Group is a place where parents can share stories, inspiration, and ideas. It is still new, but my hope is that it will become a source of support and camaraderie when practicing gets tough, or children go through difficult phases.
I know all of this seems like a lot of work, and heaven knows, we’re already working like crazy people. But it just can’t be ignored, investing in a studio community can bring a myriad of rewards including:
Increased student retention
(If they have friends that they play the violin with, they are less likely to quit.)
Increased student progress
(If students and parents are seeing other students thrive, they will work hard too.)
Increased student acquisition
(Your efforts will not go unnoticed. If you do a good job making your studio a fun place to be, your students and parents will spread the word about how awesome you are.)
In short, creating a thriving music studio community leads to more income, and more joy and satisfaction from your teaching. That sounds pretty good to me.
Thanks for sticking with me here. I would love for you to share your comments below. What do you do to build your music studio community? Is there anything I missed? (I’m sure I missed lots, so help me out!)