5 Minutes That Can Make or Break Your Teacher Retention


Teacher retention can be as important to a lessons business as keeping your students and customers. Parents are more likely to stay with you for the long-term when teachers demonstrate you have a program designed for longevity in education. If your instructional staff has a high turnover rate, it can signal instability to families looking for consistent instruction. Consider the following example.

The Problem
Recently, a piano instructor left my store to teach at a competing music school a few miles away. It shocked me—I thought he was happy and we had a good relationship. During his exit interview, I asked him why. His response completely caught me off guard: “I know you don’t like me. Our relationship is rocky.”

I expected the promise of more money and students or paid time off. But he explained that the reason he knew I didn’t like him was that I didn’t come out of my office to say “hi” when he arrived at work daily, nor did I take time to chat while he was waiting for students between lessons.

By the time my teachers arrive in the early afternoon, I’m paying bills, talking with vendors, going over customer accounts and handling any of the other hundred tasks I do daily. It never occurred to me that anyone would expect me to come say “hello.” I certainly wouldn’t expect it of my instructors.

Ultimately, the school down the road took four of my 28 instructors before the end of the summer. Each departure made me wonder how much of an impact 5 minutes out of my day might have made.

Time to Change
Each day, around the time instructors start arriving to work, I now leave my office for at least 5 minutes. I say “hello,” ask them about their day or their students, and visit them in their studios. I take the time to compliment instructors who’ve decorated their studios for the season. If an instructor is returning after a vacation, I ask him or her about the trip.

It’s important that I treat my instructors the same way I treat my customers—demonstrating that I care about them and their lives, that I’m interested in what’s going on in their studios, and that they are worth my time. My instructors are an important commodity. If they’re unhappy or feel unsupported, the families they teach will also feel uncomfortable.

Keeping a List
With 28 instructors, plus eight sales staff and admins, it can be difficult to keep track of whom I’ve spoken with. I make notes in a journal. Sometimes, I’ll note something I see on Facebook, or something I’m told in a conversation. It helps me remember that important event later.

The Music Authority Roadies, our store’s parent’s organization, now makes sure each instructor gets a birthday card. When an instructor goes above and beyond, I write them a thank you note. I also keep a stock of pins, pens, bookmarks and small desk items that say things like “Making a Difference is What I Do.” A small token of acknowledgement goes a long way.

More Smiles
Today, a few months after one of the toughest conversations I’ve ever had with an exiting instructor, I’m noticing more smiles, more laughter and more lightheartedness around my store. I didn’t realize how much a few kind words would make a difference in the overall energy and attitude of everyone on staff. My instructors know that I care, and in return they care about the store.

Social media shares from the instructional staff are up. More instructors are telling us about upcoming gigs, something we push through our own social media whenever possible. Parents and students are happier because their teachers are happier. Referrals are up because happy customers refer their friends.

This was a tough lesson that cost my shop instructors and students. Right now, we’re still down about 40 students (not quite 10 percent) from where we should be at this time of year. It will take time to rebuild. Unintentionally making a staff member feel unwanted can have long-term consequences. But by giving up 5 minutes each day, we’ve taken the lesson and turned it into something positive—a happier, more confident teaching environment.

Melissa A. Loggins is the owner of Music Authority in Cumming, Georgia. Music Authority has 28 instructors on staff and serves more than 500 students weekly from a single-location music store.