By Rhee Gold
Creating policies and sticking to them is risky but right
I’ve discovered a trend. It’s a growing disconnect between what’s said and what’s done. The frustration that arises among teachers and school owners stems from students and parents who feel that they don’t have to abide by the policies or rules set forth by their studio, that they, or their situations, are exceptions to the rules.
Sandra is a school owner and teacher with a large group of intensive dancers who are involved in local performances and competitions. Her students go through a professional audition process, and then they receive a handbook, which includes all the policies pertaining to participation in the program.
To keep the lines of communication open and the experience organized, Sandra hosts a meeting with her dancers and their parents to go over the handbook. It covers all expenses and due dates for tuition and explains the time commitment required.
All dancers agree not to miss more than three rehearsals or classes during the season and are required to be at every performance. Sandra explains that dedication and discipline are the keys to a successful experience. After going over all the information, she encourages her students and their parents to ask questions to better understand their responsibilities. At the end of the meeting Sandra explains that she would prefer the dancers did not register for the program unless they agree to all the policies and commitments.
All went well for the first month until Sandra received a call from a parent of one of her best dancers. The mom said, “My family will be leaving for vacation and my daughter will be out for more than a week.” The parent admitted that, yes, her daughter would miss all classes and rehearsals, including a session with a choreographer who was coming from out of town.
Sandra reminded the parent about the meeting, the policies, the handbook and their understanding that the parent and the child had made a serious commitment to the program and to the other dancers in her group. “There are exceptions to every rule and sometimes you just have to accept that,” responded the parent. She added, “I’ll pull my daughter from your school if you don’t make an exception for her.” Sandra pointed out the child’s responsibility to the other children in the group, to which the parent replied, “I’m not concerned with the other students. My own family is my priority.”
Sandra had two options: to follow through with her policies, which stated that missing more than three rehearsals or classes would result in removal from the program, or to allow the child to miss and to somehow justify to others why she had excused the student with no repercussions.
Sandra chose option two, because she didn’t want to lose the student. After all, the dancer was one of the best in the group and she didn’t want to lose the monthly income from the tuition.
During the child’s missed week, she was absent from a costume fitting, four classes, and two rehearsals. When other dancers and parents asked Sandra about the missing child, she explained that she had excused her for the week; a total contradiction to the policies of participation. The other members of the group and their parents became progressively more disgruntled and began to discuss their views in the school lobby. Some had missed family functions and other personal activities that conflicted with dance; they had taken their commitment seriously.
The negativity spread like wildfire. By the end of the week, two more dancers were missing from the choreography session, and others started to miss classes. But Sandra’s hands were tied; she couldn’t say or do anything. She had diminished her power to enforce the policies when she made the exception and even worse, she allowed the parent to pressure her into violating her own agreement with the group.
The situation continued to worsen; spotty attendance and commitment became roadblocks that affected rehearsals, choreography, and the overall morale of her entire intensive program. As the season wore on, Sandra found herself setting choreography with only half of her dancers in attendance. She would then have to go over the new choreography at the following rehearsal for those who had missed. By the time her students were scheduled for their first performance, the group was far behind. Everyone was stressed out. Most rehearsals had been dedicated to catching up, rather than focused on cleaning the choreography.
Sandra put the blame on her students and their parents, saying, “They’re not the same as they once were.” She contemplated whether to discontinue the intensive program. After all, her dancers didn’t seem to want to dedicate the time needed to create a solid program. Sandra never realized that she had created her own problem when she began making exceptions to her policies.
When first confronted by a student’s parent demanding exceptions, Sandra could have stood up for her policies and she might not have landed in such a powerless position. Instead of worrying about losing one of her best dancers and the monthly tuition, she should have enforced the rules, explaining that everyone had to make choices.
Whether or not the child continued at the school wasn’t the issue. Setting an example would’ve meant that all her other dancers and their parents knew that policies were to be taken seriously. Attendance would not have diminished; there wouldn’t have been gossip or hard feelings, and the result would’ve been much better. By the end of the stress-filled season, Sandra lost five students from her intensive program, including the one who had gone on vacation.
I’m not pretending that choices are easy or without risk. But as educators and school owners, we must have the confidence to stick by our policies, without regard to whether or not we might lose a student. The negativity generated by not respecting our own rules will almost always backfire on many fronts because word travels far beyond the school lobby. Be strong enough to stick to your beliefs, policies, and respect your understanding of what it takes to have a successful studio. Resist being intimidated by parents who are setting the wrong example for their own children. Trust your knowledge and stick to your policies. In the end you’ll be glad you did—that’s why you made them in the first place.