Running a dance school requires you to build relationships with your students and their families. But being friendly and accommodating isn't the same as being BFFs with everyone, and there's a difference between making yourself accessible and being on call 24/7. How can you set boundaries for yourself and your faculty? Your choices may depend on both your comfort level and the size and type of school you operate. Here, three veteran teachers share their rules for social media, texting and more.
Staying in Touch
Should you give students and parents your cell phone number? How about your personal e-mail address? And how available do you need to be to keep things running?
"We generally ask people to contact us through our office," says Robin Dawn Ryan of the Robin Dawn Academy in Cape Coral, Florida. While a few longtime students do have her cell number, Ryan says, "Nobody abuses that privilege. If they're running late or need to check the time of a practice, they'll text me, but it's not a long conversation. We stick to business."
Similarly, the HARID Conservatory in Boca Raton, FL, has a no-texting policy between faculty and students—except for emergencies. "We recognize that there are times when you need to contact someone right away," says Gordon Wright, HARID's executive vice-president and director. For instance, he points out that when traveling, kids will often check texts before any other communication method.
Both HARID and Robin Dawn Academy have school e-mail addresses for faculty—and HARID goes a step further by creating a "harid.edu" account for every student. Not only does this keep teachers' personal and professional lives separate, "it ensures that communication between employees and students remains transparent," Wright says. "With those e-mails on our server, if we had to take another look at an interaction, it's available to us."
If that approach sounds too formal for your studio, think about setting boundaries in terms of your time, instead. "Almost all of our competitive students have my cell number," says Jami Artiga of The Dance Zone in Henderson, Nevada. "I give it out, and my instructors often do the same. But if someone's texting or calling at an unreasonable hour, or otherwise behaving inappropriately, we'll say something."
Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. The list goes on—and you have to decide not only what type of presence you'll have on each platform, but also whether you and your faculty will network with students and family members.
The easiest option may be to prohibit these interactions entirely. HARID's policy is that staff and faculty may not "friend" or otherwise connect with current students or those under the age of 18 on social media. Once a dancer is no longer a minor, Wright explains, there's no longer the need for that line in the sand.
The Dance Zone's handbook, meanwhile, states that social media should be handled "in a professional manner." Artiga encourages students and faculty to share photos and tag the studio, but prefers not to "friend" kids from her personal account. "Of course, my son dances at the studio, and we have teachers with kids who go here, so sometimes the line gets blurry," she says.
Ryan also has a few students on her Facebook friend list, "but I don't put a lot about my personal life on the site," she says. She uses the platform more to keep track of what dancers and their parents are posting about the studio. "If they put up something they shouldn't," she says, whether that's a bullying post or an unflattering image, "I'll ask them to take it down."
As far as commenting, Ryan notes, "it's tempting to respond to everything, because you care about your studio family—but that can get out of control fast." She tends to keep her social media shout-outs generic: "So proud of this year's graduates!" and "Our dancers looked beautiful at prom!" That way, she can show support without spending hours online or worrying about missing any one student's achievement.
"If you go to one high school graduation," Ryan warns, "you have to go to everyone's." She experienced this problem firsthand a few years ago—after she attended one student's event, others wanted to know why she hadn't gone to theirs. Now, her policy is virtually set in stone: "I don't go to graduation ceremonies, birthday parties or holiday parties. I might go to a graduation party, especially if it's for a group of my seniors who've been with me for a decade or more, but that's it." She will buy a card for each graduate, usually with a gift card inside. "That's not easy to do, especially in a year with a big graduating class," she says, "but it's how I thank them for having been a part of our family."
Chances are, you can't make a big deal out of every academic award, religious rite and community honor in every student's life. Even for a small-town school, the celebrations can become overwhelming. Consider what you truly have to offer in terms of time, money and energy, and set boundaries accordingly.
The Bottom Line
Whatever rules feel right for you and your school, make sure they're clearly delineated. If you have a handbook or contract for students and parents, include regulations for interacting with teachers outside the classroom in that document. The same goes for employee manuals: Instructors should know from day one how they're expected to act.
And don't be afraid to enforce your boundaries. It's easier to nip bad behavior in the bud than to change habits far down the line. "It's an individual process, to determine what you can handle," Artiga says, "but you can't have a problem telling a teacher, student or parent, 'That wasn't appropriate.' Clear communication helps keep the studio culture positive."