In late November, I began my yearly reflection on what did and didn't worked for me in the last year and started considering adjustments for the new year.
In 2020, I used a single planner for the following categories: Finances, Business (work)/Blog/Store, and Fitness/Health,
This year I'm keeping some things the same and completely overhauling others in my quest for organization and planner peace.
I plan to follow up quarterly, so I'm writing this post as much for my own accountability as I am sharing my reflections and ideas with you. :)
Let's start with usual the elephant in the room. Finances.
In December 2019 I decided that 2020 was going to be a "no spend" year. I wrote out a sheet in my planner of the rules and guidelines for my spending.
I budgeted and tracked my business expenses digitally using My Music Staff for general bookkeeping and a P&L for my studio.
For my personal budget I used a Numbers spreadsheet.
So I set my goals and then just tried to not spend money. You can probably guess how well that worked out.
Some of it had to do with it being 2020 (hello Amazon!), but most of it had to do with my system.
I wasn't able able to clearly see what I was and wasn't spending my (and my studio's) money on, so I get to the end of a quarter and be WAY over budget in some areas and WAY under in others.
Then I made two discoveries. The first was Dave Ramsey's EveryDollar app. This app does everything my spreadsheet did and more. It's clearer, does the math better, it's easier to use...overall it's really a much better system.
I've been using it for the past couple of months and I LOVE IT! My favorite feature is the "fund". A fund is a way for you to budget for big expenses over the course of the year.
Here's how they explain it: "Imagine you have a $300 insurance bill due in three months.
Set $100 as the "Planned" amount. In three months, you'll have $300 when you need it."
Side note: did I really just say "nifty"? Ooph, I'm getting old.
The second thing I discovered was Mike Michalowicz's book Profit First. I won't be going through all the details of the book in this post, but I highly recommend reading the book.
I will be implementing the Profit First system - in addition to using the EveryDollar app - in my business beginning this month and will update you after the first quarter. #accountability
I love the flexibility and creativity that The Happy Planner products offer, but trying to plan 2 businesses and a personal life in a single planner just wasn't working for me.
I've been using a Happy Planner for almost 2 years and I've seen a lot of people purchase 3-5 planners for a single year.
I seriously thought the were crazy. Honestly, who needs more than 1 planner?
Turns out, I do!
It's not that I have a lot to plan every week, it's more that keeping everything separate makes more sense to me. When things make more sense, I don't overthink as much and am more productive.
I've decided to take the year one quarter at a time.
For the first quarter of this year I will be using a combination of my own 2-page monthly calendar and Elizabeth Caldwell's Teacher Entrepreneur Planner for my blog/store planning.
For my music school planning, I'm sticking with a vertical Happy Planner and a new daily page that I created a few days ago. (I'll update you on that as well)
Near the end of the quarter I will evaluate my systems and decide what needs tweaking and what works as is, then adjust accordingly.
Let me know if you're interested in seeing more about my planner set up. I've been considering a flip-through video.
This is where I failed the most.
I had it in my head that if I wrote down my weight every day and if I planned what my workouts would be for the week that I'd have success.
I used the long range planning pages of my Happy Planner for my workouts and created my own version of it for my weight.
In theory it all sounds great, but practically speaking it just didn't work for me.
I got discouraged when the scale when up - even though I know there are so many factors that are out of my control - and on days when I physically didn't feel up to to the workout I planned, I either did it anyway and ended up feeling like garbage for the rest of the week or I beat myself up for not "sticking to the plan". Neither of which was healthy.
This year, my fitness goals are different than they've ever been. This year, I simply want to be active.
I'm not a naturally athletic person, but I used to be active. Teaching elementary and middle school kept moving, but now that I spend so much time sitting for work, driving and my other hobbies, I'm not so active anymore and it's time to change that.
I'll be using my own 2021 At a Glance Calendar planning pages, but instead of tracking weight and workouts I'll be journaling what I did and any new skills learned that week.
I'm also looking for new active hobbies, so if you have something that you love please share it in the comments! :)
What are your favorite organizational systems?
How are you going to plan your awesome year?
Picture this: You've opened your new brick & mortar studio and had your first week of lessons. You straighten up your lesson room then head to the office to shut things down for the weekend.
On your way you glance at the waiting room...the floor is filthy.
You poke your head into another lesson room...there's dust everywhere.
You look in the bathroom...did they even try to aim, how are we out of paper towels already and why is the sink covered in bubbles?
You're exhausted and really want to go home, but if you leave it you'll still have to deal with it Monday morning.
So you spend the next 2+ hours scrubbing the entire place. Your husband calls to make sure you're okay and asks why you're not home yet. You burst into tears because you're completely spent and aren't even half-way finished cleaning.
Welcome to business ownership.
The realities of owning a business with a brick and mortar location can be overwhelming at times. We need the most help with "menial" tasks at the beginning, while we're still getting our bearings in the business world. The problem is that's the time we need help the most is the time when we typically can't afford to hire said help.
This is where I was a couple of years ago. I did (still do, but not for long) EVERYTHING for the business side of my studio and I was on the verge of burning out.
I hired teachers to help me teach new students, but couldn't afford to have someone come clean, or take phone calls while I taught, or run my social media accounts, or handle advertising. It was all on me. And I was at the end of my rope.
That's when I discovered how important it is to have solid systems. I carved some time out of my day off and did some research. Once I got past the "a business owner should never clean the toilet" advice, I found that the most successful system for me would be a cleaning schedule.
A cleaning schedule? Like a chores chart? Really?!
Yes, really. And yes, it really helps.
I tried a few "premade" schedules, but found them either lacking or overwhelming, so I created my own schedule.
I divide each day's tasks into two categories, before teaching and after teaching. I should note, this is a mental division of tasks. They're all just written out on the schedule. When I come in, I get my self unpacked and start the firsts thing on the cleaning schedule. When I'm done teaching, I finish the list and we're ready to start again the next day.
I'm still tweaking the schedule to suit my needs, but I have to say, the academy stays clean and I get to keep my sanity.
Want to get your hands on an editable version of my cleaning schedule? Click here to download your own free editable copy.
I started my career as an elementary band director. A far cry off from where I am today, but not far off from where I wanted to be (or so I thought).
Sadly, those first two years of teaching in public schools were the only two really good years for me. This is not at all a reflection on my students or the programs.
When I graduated, public schools were at the beginning of their difficult times and music and art teachers were bearing the brunt of it. Needless to say, I got out.
One of the things I took away from that experience was how much kids benefit from little snippets of information combined with instant gratification.
We all know how long it takes to get to the point in learning an instrument where you can make music that's fun and recognizable.
To encourage my students along the way, I decided to start posting a "Music Question of the Week" on the white board in my band room. Students would come in for their lesson and get a piece of candy (something I hear you can't do anymore) for knowing the answer.
I've altered this for the academy to "Music Symbol of the Week". It works the same way as the question, but is a little more focused on music symbols rather than general knowledge.
And if they don't know the answer because they haven't learned it yet, students write it down and learn about it before going into their lesson.
Get your copy of the 2021 Music Symbol of the Week Calendar here.
Last week I shared a composition activity about Ralph, the Smelly Elf. I had so much fun creating that activity that I found myself singing my own version days later.
I got so into it, that I note only wrote a song, but I also wrote it in 4 different arrangements, as well as a second verse and a teacher duet!
What can I say, Ralph stayed with me and when creativity strikes, I cannot ignore it. :)
The Smelly Elf, is an early elementary song that can be used in piano lessons, guitar lessons, ukulele lessons, voice lesson, orchestra string lessons and wind lessons. (whew!)
How does it work for so many instruments? There are 4 versions in this bundle to make this piece accessible to a variety of instruments: Grand Staff in C position; Pre-reading in C position; Treble Staff in C major; and Treble Staff in G major.
The Smelly Elf can be found here in my store.
This October we will be having our 7th annual Candy Corn Challenge! I know candy corn is a hotly debated candy, but I promise this is a challenge that works!
A little while back I wrote about how I use sticker cards as an ongoing incentive program.
This program had worked splendidly for 5+ years of my teaching, but I was noticing that several of my older students were getting frustrated at how long it took for them to complete 25 pages of music...especially compared to the little ones.
Then, something I've known for a long time finally hit me. If I'm to reach my students where they are, I must acknowledge the importance of instant gratification in addition to delayed gratification in their lives.
Every generation experiences a faster paced and more stimulating world than the one before it. It's only natural that this generation needs immediate feedback more than I did growing up. Now I run a studio-wide incentive program every few months that provides them with instant feedback.
For the first Candy Corn Challenge, I put together personalized theory packets for each student. At the time, it seemed like a good idea, but putting them together took ages and keeping track of those packets turned out to be a nightmare.
Last year, I overcompensated for my mistake and played Halloween themed games. It was fun and the planning was easy, but in addition to taking up a lot of lesson time; the older one's were bored with some of the games and the little one's hadn't learned many of the concepts yet.
This year's version of the Candy Corn Challenge is a hybrid of the last two. I've laminated some of the theory sheets I created that first year and added some letter name and interval cards. Starting next week, all students of the academy will start their lessons with a level-appropriate theory task. Every correct answer and every wrong answer that they fix on their own earns them a piece of candy corn!
Still wondering why candy corn?
1. You get a lot of candy for a little money. 4.5 pounds for under $10 at BJ's. Score!
2. They're small candies, so I don't feel badly giving even the little ones a few pieces.
3. I don't like it, so I won't be tempted to eat it. :)
Head over to my store to get your own copy of these Halloween themed worksheets & games.
Like many other piano teachers, I use the beginning of the school year to set goals for my students. I do a mid-year checkup in January and then set a separate goal for the summer.
I call my student's goals their "Mission Statement" and they are responsible for helping create it each year.
The Goal Setting Process
I highly recommend that you get your students involved in setting their goals for the year. The importance of having students choose their own goals cannot be over stated. When children are able to have a say their own learning, they feel empowered and take more responsibility in their studies.
But choosing goals can be really hard for a kid, because you don't know what you don't know.
I've come up with some questions to help my students set their Mission Statement for the year.
Questions for Young Beginner Piano Students
For young piano students (5 & under) I ask them these three questions:
Most of them don't give me a completely coherent answer - okay, let's be honest, the little ones ramble - so I listen and then rephrase their response to fit into a two to three sentence Mission Statement.
Questions for Elementary to Advanced Piano Students
For older students, we get a little more involved. They choose one "what" question and one "how" question from the following list.
Students choose one "what" question and one "how" question from each list to answer and together we create their Mission Statement.
I have them start their Mission Statement with "I (name)" then answer their two questions.
After they've written it down, we take it over to the Mission Statement board in the waiting room. Putting it on the board makes official and keeps them accountable. I've found it really helps my students stay on task throughout the year.
I've created this printable to help you and your students set their goals for the year.
Do your students set their own goals?
When do you set your student goals? Do you use a different method of setting those goals? I've love to hear your thoughts!
We may still be in quarantine, but I'm thinking ahead to summer when, hopefully, we'll be able to see our friends and family and students face-to-face. It's at that time when I'll be kicking the practice incentives into high gear.
When I started teaching, I didn't have any trouble getting my students to practice over the summer. I'd give them an assignment, write a little practice log in their books, and they'd come back the next week with their work complete.
Then about 7 years ago, something changed and I started hearing excuses..."I didn't have time", "I was at camp all day", "We went away for the weekend"...instead of music.
So, over the past few summers, I've given my students fun and new ways to practice.
One of those activities is Summer of Music Bingo. I haven't done this particular program in a few years and I'm excited to be bringing it back!
How to Play:
To complete the challenge, students must get bingo - 5 in a row (vertical, horizontal, or diagonal). And of course I will add an optional challenge to finish the whole board by the end of summer!
Students color in the square when they've completed the activity and we go over the board together at every lesson to track their progress and answer questions. Once they achieve BINGO they are to take a picture of themselves with their BINGO board and send it to me!
It's up to you whether or not you want to give out prizes. Sometimes just letting the fun of finishing be the reward is just what kids need.
In years past, the student(s) with the most activities completed at the end of August would receive a surprise at their summer piano party (more on that later). Since I'm not sure whether or not we'll be able to have our summer performance parties, I'm doing rewards a little differently. This year, I'm doing a 3 part reward system.
Most of the activities can be completed within a day or two, but some of the activities will take them a few days or weeks to complete. My goal for this, as it is with all of my practice incentives, is to encourage consistency in my students practice habits.
Want your own copy of Summer of Music Bingo? Download the pdf here
Over the past several weeks, I've been sharing several resources I've created and used in my music studio as we transition to online music lessons.
In March, I shared 11 benefits of online music lessons. Last week were student and parent guides to online lessons.
In today's post, I'm be sharing dynamics practice sheets.
These fun llama-themed sheets - from my "Llama Hear Ya Play!" series - will help your students understand reading and playing with dynamics on the piano!
The theory sheets can be emailed to your students or printed and put into their piano practice packets!
Using the packets
There are 3 versions of the dynamics practice sheets: Pre-Reading, Beginner, and Elementary.
Each packet has an informational page that introduces the dynamics forte & piano, their definitions, and a description of how to play them properly on the piano. The next page provides your students the opportunity to practice these dynamics with easy to read and play exercises.
Packets can be used as an introduction to dynamics in your students' lessons or you can send it to your students as a fun supplement to their daily practice routine.
Click the photo to download the Llama Hear Ya Play! Dynamics Packets or on the link below.
I, like you, have been a busy bee these past few weeks.
In addition to teaching, running a multi-teacher business, transitioning my other teachers and their students to online lessons, and transitioning church services to an online format, I've been hard at work creating teaching materials.
You may have noticed there wasn't a post last Friday. That's because I chose to use that time to create new resources that I think will benefit you more than reading me ramble on about being a piano diva.
Don't worry that post will come! :)
Back in March, I shared 11 benefits of online music lessons with you. If you haven't read it and grabbed your freebie, head over there now before continuing on!
Got your freebie? Great, here are the next ones!
After creating that download, I realized that very few of my parents needed convincing about how good it is for them to continue lessons and needed more guidance in how to help their children succeed, so I created a guide, or cheat-sheet if you will, for parents and students to help with having successful online music lessons.
You can get your free guides here:
I hope your families find these resources as useful as mine found them!