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Business Basics

Progress Reports are worth your time


I’m in the middle of doing my (at least once-a-year and sometimes twice-a-year if I can manage it) progress reports for my students. You’re probably thinking, "Is she kidding? Doesn’t she know how busy I am?"

Actually, I do know because I feel exactly the same way. Each year, before I allow myself to send out invoices for the second semester of lessons, I take the time to send personal progress reports for each and every student. I don’t try to do them all at once. I spread the task out over a few days or even a week. That way I give the time and attention to each child that they deserve.

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As a parent, I know how much I appreciate meaningful communication about my child. Grades aren’t communication. They are quantification, and not a very useful quantification at that. Grades tell me a tiny bit about where my child fits in a system, but that’s about it.

As teachers who work one-on-one, we are in a unique position to give feedback. I like to take advantage of this for numerous reasons. 

  • It’s good business. Parents pay me to give individual attention to their child, and this is a way to show them that they're receiving that individual treatment.

  • Writing a progress report forces me to stop and assess a student's current strengths. I'm forced to evaluate my teaching and plan for the coming months.

  • It reminds me to do short and long-term planning.

  • It reminds me that Annie's parents are paying the same tuition as all the other parents and that playing favorites – even in the planning department – is unwise. 

  • It opens a dialogue for talking about the child. Most parents will respond to the Progress Report email. Sometimes it’s just a lot of love going in both directions. Sometimes I'll learn something I wouldn't have otherwise.

  • Even if I only have good things to say, parents love to hear good things about their kid. 

  • If I'm teaching a more challenging child with thoughtfulness and compassion, parents are grateful and interested. They really want to hear about it. It might help them to know what's been successful.


I love teaching David. He is so curious, such a good sport (in general…) and so talented. The talented part is in some ways the least interesting to me, though it makes everything go quickly and more easily for him than if he didn’t have all that innate ability. But more important, he works hard. He concentrates brilliantly and is able to correct things just by willing them to change.

It’s quite remarkable.

I’m so pleased that we’ve discovered the works of Elissa Milne, because they are meeting a very real need in his musical life. He and I both love the interesting, moody, magical sounds, and they are tricky and challenging in the right proportions.


I’m continuing to work with Jane every week to help her understand that she needs to do what I tell her. She sometimes kind of fudges the truth (ok, she lies) about what she has and hasn’t done. I’m trying to help her understand that it’s just her and me – we have to work together, not having anything dishonest going on between us. 

I think she’s starting to trust that I will not suddenly start screaming if she says she doesn’t like something. At the same time, I think she needs to be a little braver about trying things before making judgments about them.


This semester we will continue working on all the things we always have, but will throw in some reward pieces that sound a lot harder than they are. I want her to be able to revel in the joy of her accomplishments a little, without having to always push the boulder up the hill.

But don’t worry, we’ll keep pushing hard as well. Sarah inspires me to be a better teacher. And I hope I can continue to inspire her to be the best pianist she can. (Which is ever-so-much-better than I would have ever initially imagined!)

This week I gave Maddie a Moskowski Etude which is extremely challenging and she was completely excited about it! I think she’s turned a corner on her ability to focus and now seems more interested in working hard. Her innate talent is so wonderful, any work that she does gets her farther than a more typical student. (In other words, if she works a little she sounds like she worked a lot.)

I want to be sure that she keeps working on things which are both challenging and appealing to her. I think this will be a little easier from here on out. Her motivation and abilities have kind of coalesced into a powerful unit. I’m excited to be working with her. Especially glad that she has an earlier lesson time when neither of us is as tired as we were with that late time.

Thanks for trusting me with her. She’s a joy to work with!


The reports don’t have to be long, they just have to be specific.


Prompts to help you get started:

  • Why do I enjoy working with John?

  • Why is John special? 

  • Does John have any musical gifts I’d like to take time to appreciate? 

  • What specific goals do I have for him this semester? 

  • What long-term goals do I have? 

  • What do I wish John’s parents knew about the way he works with me?

  • Does John need a longer/shorter lesson? 

  • Is the instrument John has adequate? Do I need to suggest an improvement in their instrument? 

  • Do I want to continue teaching John in the future? If not, perhaps I should use this opportunity to bring this up. 

Sample topics: 

  • Technical giftedness

  • Hard work  

  • Ability to focus

  • Handwriting and fine motor issues

  • Sight reading

  • Rhythm 

  • Getting along with other students in studio classes (social skills)

  • Performance ability 

  • Ability to receive criticism/suggestions

  • Memorization


This list is by no means exhaustive, but it may give you ideas for things to discuss in a progress report. Children are moving targets. They change not only weekly, but sometimes minute-by-minute. Not only do their abilities change, their interests and desires change. Staying in touch with them is my responsibility as their teacher.

It’s my job to help them accomplish their dreams.

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