What are the foundational reasons for having a policy?
Sometimes it is easy to get into a tizzy about making policy changes when something pushes us to our limits. Conversely, some teachers "set it and forget it," to the detriment of not making policy changes when needed, or not revising policies to keep up with the times. But even teachers who are somewhere in the middle of these extremes can lose sight of some of the most important reasons for having good policies.
Knowing these reasons and keeping them front and center in our minds can make any kind of policy change easier for everyone involved, and can help us have the determination, courage, and kindness we need to implement and enforce the changes. Not having the following ideas foremost in our minds can cause us to give in when we know we shouldn't, be unkind when parents try to circumvent our policy, and second-guess decisions that were made with good business strategy in mind.
What are the reasons we have a policy?
1. Policies help our business be profitable.
Being "profitable" is not a negative characteristic of a business. You are running a business and therefore, you must be profitable in order to stay in business.1 The amount of profit each teacher receives certainly differs, but running a business without any thought to profit is dangerous to your financial future and your health.
It is also important to remember that actual money in your pocket is not the only thing that matters in determining profit. What about time invested in the business? Time is money and if you are giving away your time by investing it in the business but not receiving appropriate payment, then your business may be less profitable than you think.
Policies help our business to be profitable by ensuring that we are paid fairly for the services that we provide and the time we invest. If we are not paid fairly, then not only does the bottom line suffer, but our mental health, our energy, and our motivation suffer as well.
2. Policies help us be efficient so we have time to teach creatively.
The less time we spend on business issues, the more time we have to think and teach creatively. And time is of utmost importance in doing anything creatively. Here are some of the policies that we can implement that specifically help us free up more time for teaching:
• Establishing a tuition-based policyWhen we charge by the week, then precious time and energy is given to billing parents, reminding parents, and chasing payments since the amount changes every month. However, implementing tuition that's divided into equal payments, so that parents know exactly what to pay without your reminder, can make a big difference.2
• Restricting make-up lessons This could include completely eliminating make-up lessons or offering alternatives that put the work burden on parents, like arranging their own swap.3
• Requiring specific payment methodsExamples of this include incentivizing parents to sign up for auto-pay with their bank or a recurring payment with their credit card.
• Establishing office hoursSetting boundaries and only answering emails or returning calls during specific hours or at a pre-scheduled appointment time is important in helping us be efficient with our time and carve out needed time to relax.
• Being firm about a "do not come too early or stay late" policy Obviously, we don't want to be rude, but if a parent habitually brings a student early and it interrupts other students or your prep time, it's important to have a kind conversation about this.4
3. Policies help us create boundaries to stay mentally and physically healthy.
When we set our teaching hours and are appropriately firm about them, we create boundaries that allow us to have time to exercise, read, study, and rejuvenate ourselves for our students. But when we give away our time even in small increments (especially for make-up lessons) we lose these valuable, large chunks of free time that we need to stay healthy.
4. Policies set expectations to help students succeed.
Parents need to know up front what we expect. They need to know how much time their child needs to practice in order to make appropriate progress and achieve their goals. Making this clear with your policy from the beginning can help parents know if you are really the right teacher for the child. More importantly, though, it can save you time and energy in weeding out those parents and students who will be a drain on you because you'll have to constantly talk to them about practicing more, paying on time, etc.
5. Policies teach people how to treat us.
It is true that our policy can teach people how to treat us initially. But how we enforce or do not enforce our policy is really the way that we teach others how to treat us for the future. If your policy states that you do not give make-up lessons and yet you frequently give in to make-up lesson requests, then your policy means nothing to parents because you have taught them that your time is not really that valuable—even to you.
If your policy states that payment is due by a certain date but you allow a payment to get more than thirty days' delinquent and still teach their child, you are teaching parents that you are not serious about running a business and so they don't need to be serious about paying you.
6. Policies help us create margin to help others.
This is a mixture of all of the above points, but it is the most important reason that we create policies. Policies are meant to help us create margin in our lives so that we can have the space to help others who really need it! Refusing to help anyone just because of our policy is too rigid of a policy. For example, if you have a no make-up lesson policy and a student of yours develops cancer, then it is more than appropriate to work with that child and her parents to figure out a way to continue lessons through her treatment, if possible. Similarly, if you have a student who has a very dear relative that dies, it is reasonable to give that student a make-up lesson because of the funeral.
The only way we can have room to be generous with others is to have the necessary margin in our own lives. And that margin is what we can create when we set and adhere to our policies.
Policies are for helping ourselves and for helping our families by making our business successful. Most importantly, they are for helping others by teaching them to play the piano in the most efficient and creative way possible. When we keep these crucial reasons for having good policies in mind, implementing policies can be a much more enjoyable and purposeful process.
1Of course, it is possible that some years will show a loss in profit and others will show a gain. Balancing this and ensuring that all years are not losses is something for which we should strive.