Monday Mailbag – How to Handle Non-Practicers

I am wondering about having a contract with my students, expecting a certain amount of practice commitment from them. I have one family, in particular, whose children seldom ever practice. This has been going on for approximately four years now. I have mentioned this to their parents and to the students. They always say, “Ok, we’ll have them practice more.” Nothing changes. I’m tempted to ask them to leave but I don’t want to hurt their feelings. Perhaps, if I had them sign a contract as the school year resumes, with guidelines to what I look for in their progress, I could let them go if they don’t meet those expectations. What do you think about that?

This is a tough situation. I will say that you are more patient than I am, though – I don’t think I would last four years in that sort of a situation! Here are some things I suggest. Some are preemptive; others are responsive:

  1. Conduct an initial parent and student interview and make it clear what the practice expectations are. Have them sign a commitment to practice consistently at that time.
  2. Have the student keep a practice record each week.   I develop custom pages to correspond to our practice incentive theme each year, but here is a sample Assignment Page/Practice Journal. I write the assignments in the open area on the left and then the student places check marks for each item in the column for the day that they practice it. They total the number of minutes they practiced at the end of each day, and at the end of the week, the parent signs off on it.
  3. Conduct Year-End Evaluations with the students and parents at the end of each school year. This helps the student and parent honestly evaluate their practice habits, and gives me a starting point for discussing changes that need to be made in order to ensure that more consistent practice habits are enforced.
  4. If during the year the student begins to slack in their practicing, alert the student and parent that if they don’t honor their commitment to practice consistently, you will have to let them go and make their spot available to another student. I know this is really, really hard to do! I’ve had to do it a couple of times, and one time I did have to let a student go because he just wasn’t practicing or progressing.
  5. If you would rather approach this from a different angle, you could try incorporating a fun practice incentive into your studio, or you could schedule regular group performance events that might motivate them to practice more consistently. Try to tap into the interests or opportunities that will motivate those students. The hard thing is that you’re working against four years of them establishing a pattern of not practicing, so it will be difficult to counteract that. Part of the motivation that drives practicing is experiencing the exciting rewards of consistent practice habits. If you can provide the impetus for them to experience that, even for a couple of weeks, that may be enough motivation to keep them going.
  6. Finally, I would say, yes, definitely have them sign a contract or do something to ensure that you’re all on the same page as far as practice expectations. Then you’ll have something concrete to help both the students and parents remain accountable for that commitment.

If anyone else has thoughts on how to handle non-practicers, please jump in and share them!

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

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