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Finding Balance between Piano Teaching and Family

By Rosemarie Penner | Pedagogy

Sep 19 2020

Finding Balance between Teaching and Family - Topmusic Blog

You’ve found a perfect balance of piano teaching & family responsibilities. It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? But, can it be a reality?

Absolutely! It just may not happen perfectly right away  — or even all the time.

I genuinely believe that no teacher or studio owner should ever have to choose between balance for their life & creativity for their studio. At least in the grand scheme of things. And, that’s because this is something I have created for myself. I know it’s possible.

The Early Days: Looking for balance between piano teaching and family life.

Before I taught piano, I was a junior high school special needs teacher at a private school.  And I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit this, but I was one of those teachers that knew exactly what parents “should” do with their kids for every situation.  It wasn’t until after maternity leave that I realized just how much my priorities had changed & how little I knew.  I finally had an inkling of what my students’ parents were going through.  

I wasn’t the wife I wanted to be.  I wasn’t the mom I wanted to be.  And, I certainly wasn’t the teacher I knew I could be.  So I left that job to do something I had always said I wouldn’t do.  Be a stay-at-home mom.

 But, bills had to be paid & twins are not cheap.  So, my husband & mom encouraged me to get back into teaching piano.  

 As I sat at our dining table attempting to create a studio website & figure out basic HTML coding, our 3-year old twins would often come over. “You have to see this, Mommy!” “Can you play with us now, Mommy?” Mommy.  Mommy!

The first months I taught, our twins would cling to my legs every time I would leave the house to teach.  Depending on the week, it was necessary to budget anywhere from 5 – 15 minutes to say goodbye each day.

Balancing teaching & family those first years was a challenge.  All I knew is that I didn’t want to go back to my “normal” teaching days from the school system.  I wanted it all.  A career and a great family life.   Even if it meant that I had to create my own definition of what a successful studio is.

Creating Your Own Definition of Success

One of the reasons I have been able to have “all” is because I changed the definition of what success looks like to me.

 When I first began my studio, the plan was to increase my monthly income by $1,000 each year for the first three years.  By the end of my first semester of teaching, I realized that the reality of meeting this goal was not what I wanted. Yes, I could have expanded my studio.  But, I would have been right back to my classroom teaching hours.  And, that wasn’t something I was willing to do.

What are your non-negotiables?

When you first start your studio, there will be a certain amount of taking the students you can get, so you meet your financial obligations & build a reputation.  Balancing teaching & a family can feel impossible.

 Part of this process is figuring out what works for you.  

 Do you want to say goodbye to the kids before school?  Greet them at the end of their school day?

 If you have little ones running around underfoot or a baby that isn’t sleeping during the night, when will you take a break during the day, so you don’t burn out?

Related: Hear how Rosemarie handles studio/family balance in our podcast interview with her.

Streamline programming

A few years ago, one of our twins was dealing with a lot of anxiety. I’d had complications over the summer that meant emergency surgery.  Instead of being his usual independent “I’ve got this!” attitude, he was running back across the field after me before school.  The number of tearful phone calls from the school asking if he could come home were adding up.

 I had expected to have more time to create great things for my studio.  Instead, I was bewildered about how to help my child become independent again.  After talking to a psychologist, we made a change.  I sat with him every single morning on the couch for 15 minutes.  Most days he snuggled up to me.  Sometimes we talked.  Sometimes we didn’t.  Some days he needed that time after school as well.

Regardless of what I “had” to do in my studio, those 15-minute sessions with my son became a non-negotiable.  Instead of creating new activities, I bought them instead.  Instead of adding new studio offerings during the year, I streamlined anywhere I could.

balance piano teaching and family with ready-made solutions

Rosemarie’s Practice Kit for students is perfect for porch-pickups or beginner welcome kits.

Related: Find ready-made solutions for teaching piano at Rosemarie’s shop on our TopMusicMarketplace

And it worked!  Within just a few months he was eager to walk to school with his brother again.  So long as he had his snuggle time in the morning, of course.

Streamlining your teaching programming can be the difference between success & burnout. 

Give yourself grace

Each family is unique. Situations come up that require you to change the original plan.

Your definition of success can also change from year to year.  Your time is not just your own. It’s also the time that your family needs.  And, that means success has to fit within those time constraints as well.

The year my son needed me more; success was about ensuring my clients & students would still feel they got a great lesson experience.  And, they did … even though I had to change expectations of myself to meet that goal.

Using Technology to Create Balance with Piano Teaching and Family

Balancing teaching & family responsibilities requires, what can at times feel like, clockwork precision.

Technology has been one of the best ways for me to create balance, at least most days.  But, this is only because I made sure it is used intentionally.

Hear about Rosemarie’s tech tips, studio systems, and apps on this podcast episode (The Truth About Family Life and Piano Teaching with Rosemarie Penner Part 2).

Teaching

For teaching, I keep as much at my digital fingertips as possible.  This reduces the need to send anything outside of lesson time.

“Why add more to your to-do list if you don’t have to” is my motto.  

This means using online storage & templates for things I need to send clients.  

It also means creating videos during lesson time that get sent immediately (or right after the lesson).  For online lessons, this can be as simple as starting & stopping a recording of the lesson.  No need to even edit afterwards!

Business

You know the adage.  

Your kids will be fine on their own so long as you are close by.  The moment you put your attention elsewhere — they need you.

For my business, I make good use of all the apps I use to run my studio.  And if there is no app, I test out how well it will work in the browser on my iPad Pro.  While I have an office, there are times I need to be working upstairs.  Rather than fight the fact my kids will need me, I make sure I have the option to be close by when needed.

Related: Read about my favourite must-have apps for teaching.

Professional development

This last year, I realized my kids were reading comic books at breakfast.  Typically, I read from a novel at breakfast time, so I hadn’t really made the connection.  But, when I did, I realized it was a missed opportunity.

While my kids were reading, I pulled out a professional development book (you know, the ones that collect dust on the bookshelf for the day we will “have time”).  Each morning, I read one chapter from the book.  It was shocking how quickly I was able to go through the books once I implemented this.

Once the pandemic hit & we were all together for the full day I’ll admit to not having the energy or brainwave length to keep this up.  Instead, while all 3 of my guys watched a show on tv, I began putting on my noise-cancelling headphones.  Some days I listened to the sound of water as a way to deal with the auditory overstimulation.  Other days, I listened to podcasts.

I know oftentimes we want to be focused when we read or listen to our professional development.  However, I want to suggest something a little different.

Use the power of your subconscious.

You do not need to act on everything you read or hear right away.  You can choose to let your subconscious mull over the ideas for you.

Some of the best ideas for my businesses have come from giving my brain the time to assimilate lots of different ideas into the one that will work best for my situation.

TopMusicPro has been a constant source of ideas over the years. It’s been the place that has grown with me & my goals.  And, the inspiration I have gotten from the teachers there has helped me create a success story that is unique to my studio.

Ladder of Priorities to find balance with piano teaching and family life

You have a lot of things vying for your time & energy.  

They can all seem important & usually feel pretty urgent, especially when kids are involved.

Think of the Ladder of Priorities as the ultimate Eisenhower matrix.  If something doesn’t fit into your ladder of priorities, it’s automatically not important.  Unless you are working on taxes or paying bills.  Sorry.  I wish I could let you off the hook there, but sadly it isn’t the case.

This simple exercise has been the single greatest thing I have ever done for balancing teaching & a family.

And, it revolves around one single question.

“What brings you joy or security?”

Imagine a ladder.  At the base is your foundation.  This is what lets you balance piano teaching & family life.  

As you go up the ladder, other priorities come up, just like in the real world.  But, as you go through your day & make business decisions, everything goes through the filter of your priorities.  The more critical the priority, the more it will be apparent in your studio policies, lesson programming & how you spend your time.

You can have balance & creativity in your studio.  Once you define success your way, reduce time spent on the non-important things & know your priorities, balance becomes much easier.

Above is an image of the Ladder of Priorities to get you started.  And exclusively for TopMusicPro members, there is a workshop in the community guiding you through this life-changing activity.

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About the Author

Rosemarie Penner is an educator, boutique piano studio owner & writer. She has a Bachelor of Education (with a focus on special needs education) and has been teaching for over a decade. One of the main things Rosemarie has learnt is that, as educators, we never really stop learning. When Rosemarie isn’t teaching, writing or researching, she loves to spend time with her family, reading copious amounts of novels, enjoying a cup of tea, or baking vegan goodies! The Unfinished Lesson is her guide to all the skills that take teaching and running a business from overwhelming to fulfilling. She provides creative strategies & smart tech ideas to solve the challenges of running your business while keeping students coming back for more!

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