December 2016 | Ask Rhee Gold

12-askrhee_t

Advice for dance teachers

Q: Dear Rhee,

I have owned my school for 11 years. We are lucky to have been running at capacity for the last couple of years. The school is open six days a week with as many as three classrooms going at once, which takes a faculty of 13 to maintain.

All is good except that I can’t get my teachers to commit to attending faculty meetings; each time only half of them show up. It bothers me because I want to make changes or get input from the group as a whole, and it’s impossible to do that without everyone there. When we do make decisions in the meetings, I must make the time to call the teachers who didn’t attend and update them. Sometimes they argue with me about changes because they don’t understand why the people who did attend made those decisions. If they had attended the meeting they would know why, or they could have been part of the discussion.

I feel like I need to require faculty members to attend at least two or three meetings a year, but if I do that, will they expect to be paid for their time? And what if someone misses a required meeting—would I have to let them go?

I need to do something because we are not all on the same page. Sometimes we contradict each other, and that makes all of us look disorganized. Can you offer some suggestions? —Janey

A: Dear Janey,

I know that you are not alone in your frustration about staff meetings; I often run into school owners who are dealing with the same issue. I agree with you that all faculty and staff need to be on the same page in order to communicate with the clientele, and staff meetings are a good way to ensure this. It’s important to make it easy for your employees to participate, so that they are more inclined to do so.

First, I do believe that faculty members should be compensated for meetings. What you pay them doesn’t have to be their hourly wage for teaching, though; for example, a meeting stipend could be $15 to $25. This compensation will help them understand that their participation is serious business, and they will believe that their input is appreciated.

Here at the magazine we have staff on both coasts, so we hold meetings via Skype. You could do the same if it would increase participation: everyone could meet by Skype, or some staff could meet in person with others joining by phone or Skype. There is no rule about how to hold meetings; the point is to get everyone to join in the discussion. I wouldn’t recommend disciplining staff who can’t attend a meeting here or there, unless it becomes a pattern. But you can make it clear that anyone who misses a meeting, especially without advance notice or a reasonable excuse, gives up the opportunity to argue for or against the policies or decisions made there.

Some additional tips for you: right at the start of the season, put all required meetings on the schedule. That way, your faculty has plenty of notice to save the dates. Create and distribute an agenda a few days before each meeting. This enhances your appearance as a professional and gives attendees a chance to gather their thoughts on the subjects to be discussed. When it’s time for the meeting, start on time and get right to business. Take notes (or ask someone to do so); after the meeting, instead of making individual phone calls to those who didn’t attend, send an email, with a synopsis of what was discussed and any changes that will be made, to everyone. It’s a good record for you and them.

You are the owner who has built a successful business; if you are frustrated because you want your team members to dance to the same beat and the only way to make that happen is by having everyone at staff meetings, then it’s time for you to make those meetings part of the job description. Good luck. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

I have loved teaching dance for the past 15 years for a really awesome boss who treats me with respect as a teacher and in terms of my compensation. But I am questioning whether I can continue.

Over the past few years, I feel as though I have been beat up by a few of my students’ parents. They have strong opinions about almost all of my decisions and are not afraid to tell me so. If I choose music or costumes, they ask why or suggest something they think would be better. I received an email from a mother who wants me to add a few more tricks to her child’s group number. The questions come by text or email, or sometimes parents call my cellphone because according to them I’m not fast enough in responding.

I don’t believe this should be happening and I don’t know how to stop it without offending them. Our boss is always pushing us to be aware of outstanding customer service. Thank you for any advice. —Shana

A: Hi Shana,

Your boss is right in believing that solid customer service is key to a successful dance school. However, it is a mistake to confuse customer service with deferring to the parents about decisions that are the responsibility of the school owner and/or teachers. Customers are paying dance teachers for their knowledge and expertise, which means that school owners and teachers must maintain control of the business. That includes the decision-making process regarding class placement and choreography and other artistic choices. If I were you, I would go to my boss with the following information so that you can work together to eliminate the problem you describe.

It’s good to be open to parents who offer friendly suggestions and constructive criticism or ask a question once in a while. I believe that friendly communication builds loyalty. Listening to them and considering their input can help you improve or give you the chance to clarify something you didn’t realize needed an explanation. Yet it’s important to establish boundaries. Parents who consistently interrogate you or challenge your decisions reveal their lack of respect for you, which you don’t deserve.

Part of the reason for this kind of behavior may be what I call the “Dance Moms effect.” The TV show encourages parents to interfere with their children’s dance education; they believe that’s what it takes to make their kids successful dancers. Another reason is that some teachers unknowingly open the door to criticism and demands by asking parents for their opinions on costumes, music, and so on. If you ask them, “Do you like the choreography?” you invite them to state their opinions, and the more you do this, the more natural it becomes for them to offer advice, even when it’s unsolicited. It’s human nature. Instead, teachers should invite parents to see the choreography, then say, “I’m so proud of the choreography and your children.” That’s it. End of discussion.

Politely ask the parents to stop calling or texting you. Explain that your time away from the studio is your chance to catch up on your personal life and that you can’t feel obligated to respond to school-related messages during that time. Ask no more questions of the parents. If they give you advice, say that you appreciate it but that you have always focused on what is right for your students and that you’re going to stick with your costume or music or choreography.

Don’t quit your job; take control. I wish you the best. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

What do you believe is the proper profit or markup for recital costumes? By the time I spend staff wages on costume ordering, sorting, and distribution, I feel as though we are losing money. What would you do? —Angie

A: Dear Angie,

The average profit margin on costumes seems to be about $20 per unit. In other words, if the costume costs you $50, you charge $70. You could also go with a flat fee, which is what The Gold School does. For example, a child-size costume is always $75 and an adult-size costume is $85; this includes a pair of tights. The flat fee averages out to $20 profit per unit, but this system gives you a little leeway to spend more on one costume and less on another.

Bottom line: you have a right to make a profit or at least cover any expenses associated with recital costumes. I hope that helps. —Rhee