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Dance Teacher Evaluations and Replacing a Dance Teacher: Part 3 of the Dance Staff Management Guide

dance teacher evaluations

An important method of keeping your staff on track is evaluating their teaching methods in class via announced and unannounced observations. Using a systematic evaluation system, constructive critiques can be beneficial in the following ways:

  • Helping staff members grow as teachers
  • Creating consistency within the classroom, and
  • Providing tips for professional improvement

At The Dance Exec’s Studio, each staff member has a folder with an evaluation sheet for each pay period. Some topics addressed include:

  • If classes are starting/ending on time
  • If classes are following the curriculums and guidelines set forth by the studio
  • If in-class questions are being addressed in an appropriate manner
  • If instructors are showing equal treatment to all students in class

Any other policy issues and requested days off are documented, too.

Prior to receiving a check for the pay period, the staff member and owner sign off on the evaluations.

This tracking system is advantageous in several ways:

  1. It holds staff members accountable for their actions.
  2. It serves as a coaching system and notates improvement or regression in patterns of behavior.
  3. It can be used to reward staff members that are on task.
  4. It serves as documentation for potential cases of staff dismissal.

Every studio should maintain some regular system of documentation and evaluation. Your staff is integral to the success of your business, and employees that are committed to fulfilling your vision will be respectful, sensitive, and open to the constructive coaching. At the end of the day, it will ultimately improve your business and will eliminate staff members that are not invested in your culture and business.

In addition to evaluations, in-service opportunities are valuable to staff, too. You may choose to take staff to conventions, or you may go to conventions, offer the staff notes and have them take a brief quiz for a reward (gift card, etc.), or bring knowledgeable guest artists into your studio. With any career, continuing education is integral in maintaining current standards within a respective industry.

As a studio owner, you must ensure that you are on the cutting edge trends of the industry, and in turn, it is your responsibility to keep your staff informed while giving them opportunities to learn and grow.

Please remember that everyone is replaceable. The idea has been reiterated numerous times, but it cannot be reiterated enough.

At The Dance Exec’s Studio, eight staff members were dismissed within the first three seasons. While that number may seem relatively high, the bottom line is that the studio has high expectations that are non-negotiable. Before opening the dance studio, it was decided that the studio would operate by the philosophy that “every single person is replaceable.” A person would only remain on staff if they bought into the culture the studio aimed to create.

Along the way, the studio has learned to spot red flags that indicate whether a person may or may not be a great candidate for the studio. The studio has also implemented standardized interviewing procedures and strategies that generally work in identifying employees that are optimal for the studio.

Based on prior experience in studios, the workplace atmosphere often becomes too friendly, too personal, and too casual. Often, this can result in hanging on to “dead weight”, or employees that are no longer interested or invested in your business. Studio owners refuse to fire the dead weight because of fear of repercussion or fear of detriment to the personal relationship, and the cycle becomes deadly to your business.

If you take nothing else away from these recommendations, please understand that keeping toxic employees as part of your staff is detrimental to your business. This vicious cycle can affect student retention, new student registration, and the overall well-being of your dance studio.

There is a lot of interest surrounding firings because it is never an ideal situation. Ultimately, every decision you make should be in the best interest of your business. Below are some case studies that detail The Dance Exec’s choice to let employees go:

Case Study #1
The Dance Exec’s Studio hired an instructor for the first summer session, and, as a result, the instructor was asked to teach at our Grand Opening celebration. The instructor arrived 30 minutes late to the Grand Opening (without any legitimate reason), and as a result, was dismissed.  First impressions are a time when an employee is trying their hardest to impress you, and as demonstrated by the employee’s lack of regard to timeliness, it was evident that this employee would not be an optimal fit for the studio’s culture.

Case Study #2
The Dance Exec’s Studio had an instructor that over-shared personal details and announced inappropriate comments in the lobby. For example, she announced that our 6 and 7-year-old competitive team needed to be dressed in “sexier” costumes. This instructor also took choreography from conventions and competitions and claimed it as her own. Since this did not fit into the culture of the studio, she was not rehired for the following session.

Case Study #3
The Dance Exec’s Studio had an instructor that decided she finished teaching class ten minutes prior to the actual end of class (and, this was the last class of the night and the instructor had closing responsibilities). The instructor left the studio, leaving her students under the supervision of another instructor. Since negligence is a zero tolerance issue, the instructor was contacted for dismissal. The instructor said she was “over” teaching and quit.

Case Study #4
This case study was undoubtedly the most difficult dismissal because the employee was a personal friend. Over several months, the employee’s energy had dwindled. Her attitude was affecting the business and its clientele. Students were quitting because of this teacher. The first inclination was to fire her nine months before the actual firing occurred, but the Business Manager advocated her loyalty and kept encouraging additional chances.

As the months passed, the detriment of having her on staff was evident. The dismissal was difficult, but, ultimately, it was worth it. In the weeks following this dismissal, several parents came forward and stated their children’s love for dance had been rejuvenated; in fact, many of these parents mentioned that they were going to pull their students from the program because the students had lost their passion. Because of this experience, the importance of trusting your first instincts was learned; it is important to take action sooner rather than later.

Letting Staff Go

Of course, along the way, there have been many wonderful instructors that have chosen to venture on to other endeavors. (We also have some instructors that have been with us from the very beginning.) As a business, you have to respect and encourage people’s personal development and realize that if they do not want to be a part of your business (or cannot continue to be a part of your business), you should not force them.

You must reiterate and live by the philosophy that “everyone is replaceable.” At the end of the day, over reliance on one person or feeling inoperable without a person can lead to situations that will harm your business. This is your business, and you are the only person it needs to operate successfully. You must take every measure possible to protect yourself and your investment.

When a staff member is no longer an asset to your business, you must remove them from your staff roster. If you have a staffing conflict disciplinary system in place, you will likely see indicators that a staff member is no longer contributing to your business. When the time comes to release a staff member from his/her duties, it is important that you handle the process in a professional manner. Remember, at the end of day, this is your business and your livelihood and you must protect those interests before anything else.

Make sure that you call the staff into the studio for their dismissal (if permissible) and be prepared to present them with a letter stating their termination. For meetings like this, it is helpful to have a non-partisan witness in the room.

Thus far, firing has been discussed as fairly commonplace; however, it certainly is not meant to detract from the seriousness of the issue. Letting a staff member go is not easy, but once the “letting go” has occurred, there have repeatedly been noticeable, positive changes in the studio.

Of course, the other side of firing personnel, especially in the dance studio business, is being prepared to handle the backlash. You have to explain the change to students and parents and must be prepared for any negative publicity/stories that the disgruntled employee spreads. One suggestion to make the process easier is to have a qualified, likable replacement ready to step into the vacant role (preferably immediately).

In addition to staff members being replaceable, it is also important to remember that studios and studio owners are replaceable, too. A client can choose to leave for another studio or another extracurricular. It is your responsibility to make sure you are doing everything in your power to run the best business possible.

Need to Review?

You can find the other two parts of the Dance Staff Management Guide here:

Dance Staff Management Guide: Part 1

Dance Studio Employee Handbook: Part 2

Chasta Hamilton Calhoun

Chasta is the artistic director and owner of Stage Door Dance Productions in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is also the founder of The Dance Exec, a website and organization that provided resources and training for dance studio owners. The resources from The Dance Exec have a new home on the TutuTix blog, giving dance studio owners an even more in-depth library of free tools and information with which to grow their business. Chasta contributes to the TutuTix blog from time to time, offering her perspective as a studio owner (and TutuTix client!).