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The NYC Guitar School Best Judgement Policy Explained

The NYC Guitar School Best Judgement Policy Explained

At New York City Guitar, we have lots of policies to ensure a safe and respectful environment for our students and team, from rules against harassment and discrimination common to many businesses to specific rules for teaching guitar to kids, like a policy to always invite parents to observe lessons and a policy to not touch the student’s fingers when teaching technique.

Five or six years ago we added a “Best Judgement” policy to provide guidance for situations which aren’t already addressed in the existing policies. It is pretty simple:

Best Judgement Policy:

When working with all students, use your best judgment at all times. If there is any question about whether or not something is appropriate, don’t do it!

I love this policy, and combined with good values (ours are honesty, being people-centered, working hard and relentlessly improving) it helps everybody stay on the same page in an environment of trust.

Good Policies Provide Clarity And Peace Of Mind

If the reasons behind policies are explained and discussed, then they provide clarity so that everyone can enjoy peace of mind and be on the same page–and concentrate on teaching and learning.

I have a very high degree of confidence that our teachers are not only following our regular policies, but are using good judgement every day. It makes me proud of our school and fills me with respect for our teachers.

Bad Policies Or Unenforced Policies Create Distrust And Confusion

However, organizations can be tempted to have too many policies–and sometimes organizations fail to teach or enforce their policies.

For example, I have a friend who works in a school with dozens of rules about lesson prep, observations, office hours etc. Some policies are solid and important. Others aren’t. But according to the letter of the policies, teachers could be reprimanded or fired for not following the policies. Unfortunately, management doesn’t consistently follow up. So, some teachers do everything by the book, because they are conscientious, or because they are afraid of being punished, or both. Others ignore some of the policies. This creates resentments and double standards within the team–and cheapens the most important standards.

The Best Judgement Policy Emphasizes Trust And Values, Not Control

An infinite number of issues could come up–but school leaders should not attempt to match those issues with an infinite number of policies, which could result in a negative and controlling environment or, perhaps even worse, a climate in which rules are not followed or respected. Instead, focus on policies that you are truly committed to, and then make sure that they are clearly communicated, discussed and inspected.

The purpose of our Good Judgement policy is to support our teachers and team members in using their professional judgment to do what is in the best interest of the student, the school–and themselves–in occasional cases when an issue is not expressly addressed by another policy.

Grey Areas Exist

What might be examples of these grey areas? Let’s just look at one possibility–lyrics.

Many teachers will encounter a student who is a fan of a band which uses profanity in their lyrics. What if that student is 65 years old? What if that student is 8? What if the song contains the word “hell”? What if the song contains an explicit description of a sexual act and the student hasn’t listened to the lyrics before? What if the teacher looks at the lyrics online and notices explicit lyrics? What if the song if from the musical “Rent”, and the parent and the child are big fans, and the parent told you the family wanted to learn the song? What if that student’s parent is in the room? What if that student’s parents are not in the room? What if the teacher and the parent don’t have a relationship or have never met?

Do you agree that the answers to those questions might make a difference in the proper action?

Using Good Judgment: Slow Down And Think

The moment you have a feeling that you might be entering a questionable area, the very first step is to PAY ATTENTION to that feeling. It is telling you to SLOW DOWN and THINK.

It is now time to exercise good judgment.

  • Begin with the end in mind–helping your student reach their potential as a human and musician. That is what the best teachers focus on, and that focus makes most judgement calls disappear, because you will already be using excellent judgement.
  • Slow down! Typically there is no rush. Do you have a question for the school? Do you have a question for the parent? Take your time and ask it.
  • Ask: “what is the worst that could happen”? For example, if you teach a child a song with adult content, could there be bad outcomes? How might the child feel? How might the parent react? Do you think the school would “have your back”?

The Better You Teach, The Fewer Judgement Calls Come Up

In dozens of discussions with teachers about good judgement, I’ve discovered that the most successful teachers are less likely to meet with unexpected situations–because they are proactive. The two most important elements of teaching kids in a calm and productive way are to have a good relationship with the parent, and to have a good plan for the child’s progress.

Parent Communication

The best teachers establish a relationship with the parent from day one. They make sure the parent knows they are welcome and invited to observe the lesson. They let the parents know what the student is studying and invite questions.

I promise you, this won’t take very much time. But it will result in dramatically higher student engagement and success. You will have an ally in making sure that practice is a priority at home, and you will be an ally to the parent in helping their child grow and progress–and you’ll probably have a very long term student, too, which will help your personal teaching studio to grow. And because good communication has been established, if any questions or issues do come up, there is already a good working relationship established.

Have A Plan

The best teachers are following a plan for the student’s success. Of course they adapt the plan, or use different songs depending on the student–but they will never be in the position of being a “song vending machine” or being reactive to the student. Being reactive causes problems–have a plan beforehand. Remember this quote about being deliberate: “Be prompt, but don’t hurry.” There should never be a need to rush. Of course, using a book is one of the best ways to ensure that you have a plan.

Good Judgement Isn’t Just For Teaching

Although we started the Best Judgement policy as a guide for making decisions in teaching, it is good advice for other areas of our lives as well. And, just as having strong relationships and being prepared make teaching easier and more effective, they will help us in other areas of business and life.

Please let me know if you have a similar policy or have questions or comments. And…use good judgement!

Best Judgement Policy:

When working with all students, use your best judgment at all times. If there is any question about whether or not something is appropriate, don’t do it!

On to Greatness,

Dan Emery

Founder & CEO, NYC Guitar School

Take A Lesson! ? ? Take A Class!

Dan Emery is dedicated to Coaching Personal Greatness, One Lesson At A Time. He is the founder of NYC's friendliest and fastest growing guitar schools, New York City Guitar School, Brooklyn Guitar School, Queens Guitar School and NYC Guitar School, East, and the author of the Amazon best-selling Guitar For Absolute Beginners and six other books on learning guitar and deliberate practice. He coaches new entrepreneurs through the Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator program and especially enjoys helping other Educational Entrepreneurs. He has a Masters in Education from Columbia University Teachers College, extensive performing experience as songwriter and guitarist for The Dan Emery Mystery Band, a wife, three kids, a cat and some juggling equipment.


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