Advice for dance teachersQ: Dear Rhee,
My school is located in a higher-income county in the South, which you would think would be a good place to run a financially stable business, with parents who can afford to pay for their kids’ dance education. After several years of operating my studio, however, I have figured out that my clientele can pay but then won’t commit to anything. Some students miss two out of four lessons in a month, many arrive 10 to 15 minutes after class starts, and some were too busy to show up for our recital’s dress rehearsal.
The parents do want to register their kids for dance, but I think they do it so they can brag to their friends that their children are in the arts. At the same time, they don’t encourage their kids to learn commitment; actually, they discourage it. Our students can’t miss a snack, but they can miss classes and badly needed dress rehearsals with no problem.
My husband thinks I should be fine with my situation because the money is very good. But I started my school to actually teach dance to kids who want to be in my classroom, and to impart life skills they will use well into their future, just as I learned in dance class. In my classroom now, though, I feel that there are no lessons learned because the parents don’t believe their kids should have rules or discipline. These parents seem to think that because they’re paying, they’re in charge.
Obviously I don’t want to lose income, but at the same time I want to feel like I am running a legitimate business that offers quality dance education. How can I turn this around without having to start all over again? —Heather
A: Dear Heather,
Congratulations on making a quality dance education more of a priority than money. In our society, often money wins out over everything else, and your question is a welcome reminder that this isn’t true for everyone.
But now I need to offer you a reality check. From what you describe, it appears that you have allowed the parents to tell you how they want to run your school. It’s time for you to become the leader and make some policy changes that you will stick with even if you lose income. First, make it a rule that any student who misses dress rehearsal (unless it is an emergency) forfeits the right to participate in the recital. That’s it, no question, and this policy applies to everyone.
Also, set a limit on the number of classes students may miss before they are dropped from the class. This may seem harsh, but if you don’t take a stand on what you perceive to be a solid dance education, then your students and their parents will never know what that means. Educate them.
You may lose some students, but you probably will gain respect from parents of the kids who do consistently show up for class and who make a commitment to be at the dress rehearsal. I am sure some of those parents wonder why you haven’t taken action yet. You may already have lost clients who want a school that has well-defined policies that are enforced.
Bravo to you for wanting to sell a quality product with standards. Now it’s time to make this happen. You can do it. —Rhee
Q: Dear Rhee,
The social media aspect of business is driving me crazy! We use social media to put only a positive spin on everything dance and never post anything negative. But there are community group pages on Facebook where parents who don’t know us and who have never walked through our door talk about us, saying that we are bad teachers and mean to our kids. How do you fight back against something like this? Why is there a way to hurt the reputation of people or businesses that you’ve never interacted with? It crushes me to work so hard at being the best dance teacher I can be, and then have to live with this mean commentary about my business. How can I fix this? —Val
A: Dear Val,
This is one of those times when you have to be confident in knowing that the negative people and comments are wrong. If you can muster up your confidence, which has been shot down through all of this, this situation could inspire you to become even better at what you do.
Maybe these are parents whose kids dance at other schools, and they think they are helping their own schools by being negative about others. Sadly, people consider the internet to be a medium where they can say anything they choose to—and many don’t use that opportunity to be positive or truthful. But overall, I believe that people can determine what is truth and what is fiction.
Round up some of your students’ parents who appreciate what you do and ask them to counter the negative comments on those community pages with the positives they have experienced at your school. Ask them not to post negative comments about other schools; you know how it feels to be on the receiving end of such criticism. Hold your head high, and reread some of the cards or emails you’ve gotten from your students and their parents who love and appreciate you. This will bolster your confidence. Good luck! —Rhee
Q: Dear Rhee,
I have four employees—an office secretary and three teachers. I am always reminding them to be upbeat and positive when they are at the school, but the majority of the time they seem to be going through the motions, as if they don’t like their jobs. In the last year many younger students have dropped classes because they’ve lost interest in dance. I think my teachers have lost interest, and their attitude is being passed on to my students.
How do you get your employees to be enthusiastic again? If they don’t change, I’m going to lose my business and they’re going to lose their jobs. Any advice would be appreciated. —Barb
A: Dear Barb,
First, you have to set the example for your staff of what you mean about being upbeat and positive, by acting that way when you’re interacting with them and with your clients. Sometimes people don’t know what someone else means by “enthusiastic,” or they find it difficult to be outgoing.
Start popping into your teachers’ classes to point out what you appreciate about them. Leave random notes for your employees to say thanks for something that they might think you hadn’t noticed. You’ll quickly note a new level of motivation and enthusiasm.
Take your employees to a teacher workshop to renew bonds and set shared goals. Ask for their input on just about anything—from the recital to summer programs to new ideas they’d like to bring to the classroom.
I have been where you are, and it took me a while to get over how upset I was with my employees’ apparent lack of enthusiasm. After a lot of soul searching, I realized that part of the problem was my own lack of enthusiasm. I was only noticing the negatives, and when I started seeing all the positive stuff my employees were doing and made it a point to tell them I appreciated them and what they were doing, all but one of them turned around. Kindness and appreciation go a long way. —Rhee