The Secret to Improving Student Retention Rates

The Secret to Improving Student Retention Rates

improving student retention rates

As music teachers running our own studios, working for an outside studio, or teaching independently, we’re always striving to captivate our students’ imaginations. We want to leave them hungry for more, eagerly anticipating their next lesson.

We do this by customizing their lessons, making them challenging but fun, and getting to know our students as people.  

But to build the satisfying, long-term relationships that will sustain your career, you must take care to nurture another, “behind-the-scenes” relationship.

If you’ve found your student roster shrinking or plateauing, you may need to ask yourself, How much effort am I putting toward getting to know my students’ parent(s)*?

(*This could include caregivers, or whoever is in charge of your students’ lessons.)

Related: Podcast- What to say to parents when their child is about to quit

Why it’s so important to build rapport with parents.

Frankly, parents are powerful. They decide if you will teach their child. They pay you (or your employer). If they like you, they’ll tell their friends about you — in real life and on social media — and voila, you can stop worrying so much about marketing.

As a result, music teachers should go the extra mile to chat with parents and ensure you’re meeting their needs. This relationship-building helps you in several ways:

  1. By making parents part of the experience, you engage their interest. There’s nothing like telling a parent, face-to-face, how well their student is doing. Or what they need to work on. Or how a parent can help with practice.When parents feel they are a part of lessons, they will value them even more. They feel not just financially invested, but also emotionally and intellectually invested.
  2. By keeping parents in the loop, you build trust. By seeing parents as your teammates, striving toward a common goal, trust grows. Both of you want the student to succeed, and you’re sharing, week by week, the techniques and strategies that make that success possible.
  3. By building trust, you build loyalty.  The more a parent witnesses your investment not only in their student but in their entire family, the more loyalty grows. In the best teacher-family relationships, it can be tough for a parent to imagine their student with any other teacher.And as teachers, isn’t that kind of loyalty the ultimate goal?

Enjoying this post? You might also like Tim’s open letter to piano parents. Click here to explore how Tim explains to his piano parents the importance of a creative music education. 

How building rapport with parents improves student behavior.

Strong parent relationships can be especially relevant for younger teachers who aren’t much older than their students, or for teachers who otherwise struggle with establishing authority.

  1. A student sees you in a new light when they witness you engaging thoughtfully with mom or dad. Suddenly you become an adult, a role model, an authority figure — and in-lesson student behavior improves.Why does this happen? Chances are, the student knows that on some level, you’re talking with mom or dad about their lessons. Kids naturally want to please their parents, so if they know you’re communicating, they know they’ll be accountable.
  1. Getting to know their parents is another way to get to know your student.The more you get to know your student as a person, not just as another kid on your roster, the more respect grows. By getting to know their parents, you also get a more thorough understanding of your student’s personality and learning style.No matter what you learn from ongoing parental interaction, you’ll be better prepared to work with your student as a result.

Get to know your students and also their parents. It could stop them from quitting.

What to do if you’re too busy, and/or you never see the parents.

Many of us are working swiftly through back-to-back lessons, so making extra time to chat can feel impossible.

Try working in a five-minute “parent talk” at the beginning of the lesson. Doing this takes the pressure off trying to “squeeze in” a talk before your next student, and you don’t run late as a result.

While you might feel this approach detracts from your student’s lesson time, remember that you’re investing in their long-term success. Make parents aware of this intention, so that they can expect the same agenda each week.

If you never see the parents because a caregiver takes them to lessons:

  1. Don’t neglect relationship-building with caregivers, nannies, or other family members. They are direct links to parents, and making a good impression with them goes a long way. In many cases, these caregivers are the most directly responsible for enforcing good practice during the week.
  2. Establish an alternate way to communicate with parents. Ask if parents would prefer an email, text, or phone call to follow up on lessons. Having an agreed-upon way of being in touch shows busy parents that you’re committed to their student’s weekly progress and engagement.  This strategy also applies if you have a teenaged student who takes themselves to lessons.

What to do if you’re shy or hate “schmoozing”.

If friendly small talk is in your wheelhouse, then schmooze to your heart’s content!

But really, this isn’t about schmoozing — it’s about relationship-building. You want to create a space where questions are asked, answered, and encouraged. You want to share what you’ve observed about your student, and how you think that student can be best supported at home.

If you’re shy, you need not pretend to be extroverted. Your reflectiveness and observations are more than enough to guide the conversation. If you’re someone who cuts to the chase, skip the small talk completely and get right down to nuts and bolts.

In other words, make the content and feel of the conversation workable for you. Keep the relationship authentic.

Parents always love talking about their own kids.  So, regardless of conversational style, a teacher with genuine interest in their kids will be a parental favorite.

Building strong parental relationships is one of the most powerful ways to improve your student retention rate. The few minutes you spend on it each week will enrich your work and increase your students’ progress. It’s anything but “small talk”.


How do you form meaningful relationships with your piano parents? Does it help you improve student retention rates?

By the way, if you enjoyed this post but need a bit more help selling your teaching, then I’ve got the perfect post for you. Click here to read.

Abraham Levitan

The founder and head of Piano Power, Abraham has studied piano— jazz, classical, and rock — since 1984, and even won an award for it! He is also one half of rock/pop collabo Teletype; their debut album "Spontanaiety"—an album that "glows with pop radioactivity"—is now available on Spotify.

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