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Setting and Communicating Boundaries with Parents

By Dr. Carlynn Savot

The working relationship between a music teacher and students and their parents is a unique one, and its scope can be difficult to define. To provide students with an inspiring and challenging learning environment—and at the same time keep our sanity—it's helpful to set boundaries and communicate them clearly. These boundaries will be different for every teacher, and the strategies listed here can help us each to decide on our own comfort zone. 

1. Use the lesson time
Forms for school or summer programs that need your signature? Ask the family to bring them to their next lesson. Tough orchestra program or special audition coming up? See if you can schedule an extra lesson to tackle just orchestra/audition music so your regularly-scheduled repertoire doesn't have to be moved entirely to the back burner. 

2. Value your time
Since our job is to nurture and support our students in their musical lives, it can be difficult to turn down extra requests a family makes outside the regular lesson activities. However, we're all working with limited (and valuable!) resources of energy and time, so it's not always possible to say yes. If an activity keeps you from being able to do your regular teaching well, it's probably a good time to decline. For example, adding a makeup lesson to an already-long teaching day might sap your energy for that day and the next, and saying no can help to protect it. By giving ourselves the option to say no to families' requests, we can take responsibility for our own availability.

A music teacher's schedule can be somewhat mysterious to parents and students, and we shouldn't necessarily expect them to be able to gauge whether a request is reasonable or convenient (or even possible!). Parents should feel free to ask, just as teachers should feel free to say no. When you have decided that you truly are able to participate in an extra activity or offer help outside the lesson, you can do so enthusiastically and without reservation.

3. Create space to make a decision
One strategy for making the best choices about where your boundaries lie is to give yourself time to really make a decision. If you're like me, your instinct is to say yes first. By responding with something like, "That sounds like a great opportunity—I'll need to check my schedule to see if I'm able to commit to it," you can give yourself time to consider what kind of commitment you're making and if you really can make it work.

4. Make families responsible for their schedules
The longer I teach, the closer I move to a true no make-ups policy. While this works differently for every teacher, I've found that a switch list helps me to set the expectation in my studio that families will be responsible for changes to their own schedules. Everyone receives a copy of my teaching schedule for the days I'm in Chanhassen, along with contact information that the parents have provided. If they can't make their regular lesson time, they can either miss it or make a switch with another student and let me know about the change. With this system, I don't have to keep track of the weekly schedule of each of my students but stay in the loop so I can offer a switch if a lesson time opens up at the last minute.

Setting clear boundaries enables us to give as much help and guidance to our students as possible without feeling overextended. By making these decisions and communicating them clearly and kindly, we create a working environment where student, parent, and teacher can all thrive.

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