This may come as a surprise, but many parents overlook our athletic accomplishments as champions and high-ranking black belts. Instead, they base their decision to join our school on how convenient the schedule is for them.
It is imperative to recognize that student service is just as important as martial arts skills when it comes to running a successful school. We define student service as making the process of being a student as easy as possible. This does not mean making the exams easy. It means having the exams at a time that makes it easy to attend.
Our goal is to make every student feel he is important to us personally. This is in contrast to the way many of us were raised in the arts. But as we well know, the way we were taught is probably not the best way to teach now.
Scheduling is an area of great concern and frustration to many school owners. What kind of schedule you run will depend on what stage your school is at in terms of its growth. A school that is new and has an abundance of white belts has little need for a brown- and black-belt class. Conversely, a more mature school must provide convenient classes for students of all ranks, and therein lies the challenge.
Seven Steps to a Successful Schedule
1. Schedule the first children’s class about 20 to 30 minutes after the local elementary school lets out for the day. Parents and children are very schedule-oriented, and if you can create a schedule that allows them to come to the martial arts school directly from elementary school, then you have a much better chance of keeping those students “on schedule” with your program.
2. Combine no more than three belts in one class. It is a major error to have more than three belt-levels in the same class. Having two belts is even better. In an all-ranks class, beginners tend to be overwhelmed, while the more advanced students get bored, since the instructor will tend to work techniques that are somewhat in the middle of the group.
3. Separate your students by age. Four- to six-year-olds are very different in their needs and maturity levels than nine-year-olds. Furthermore, most adults do not want to train in class with young children. Reaching a balance between children’s classes, adult classes, and family classes (all ages) is very difficult and depends on your ratio of children to adults. Many schools that once had a majority of adults now have a majority of kids, yet they have not made schedule adjustments to accommodate their new demographics.
4. If your staff is small, you may have to schedule a short, ten-minute break between classes to take care of student needs. If your staff is larger, it is best to schedule classes back-to-back, which allows you to offer more classes to the students. Most successful schools have five to seven classes per day.
Schedule class lengths according to age and rank. Thirty-minute classes for four- to six-year-olds are fine, while the rest of the children’s classes can be 45 minutes. The exception is the brown- and black-belt children’s classes, which can be as much as an hour. A key principle in teaching is to leave your students at the peak of enthusiasm. Long classes can make students wish for class to end rather than surprised that the fun is over.
5. For adults, beginners will be fine with a 45-minute class, as will most of your student body. Again, brown and black belts might warrant an hour-long class. Here is a key point: Length of class does not relate to value. Quality of class does. If a student thinks that he is not getting the same value because the class is going from 90 minutes to 45, then you have to make the point that countless studies have shown—the optimum learning time for maximum retention and interest is 45 minutes for adults and 30 for children. If you had a four-hour class, would it be more valuable than a 45-minute class? Of course not. Working from a lesson plan and running a fast-paced, exciting classroom is more important than logging hours. A longer class is not a better class. It is just a longer class.
6. Have assigned classes for your students. When a student first joins, it is a good idea not to let them come as they please and as often as they please. Instead, let them know that, like any school, “Your program allows you to come to two classes a week. Which two classes would you like to attend?” When they join the Black Belt Club, they can attend more than two classes, but until they show that commitment to earning a black belt, they can only attend two. Truthfully, most students will have a hard time making it twice a week as it is.
7. Having set times makes the class more important. For instance, if a student is preparing to go to class on a Wednesday night and his buddy calls and invites him to go see the Jet Li movie, he has a decision to make. If he knows he can skip tonight’s class because he can come tomorrow night instead, then he may do that. Of course, if something comes up Thursday night, he has missed the week. However, if he knows that if he misses his Wednesday night class, he will not be able to get to class until next week and that absence could effect his exam performance, then he is more apt to pass on the movie. When you make the transition from, “Come when you like” to assigned classes, tell your students, “In order to have a more accurate attendance program, we need to know what nights you are coming to class. Please pick the two classes per week you will be attending. Call us if you are going to miss that class, so we can schedule a make-up.” It is difficult for most students to get to school twice a week. Those few students who complain that they want to come more may do so once they join the Black Belt Club. Assigned classes in the martial arts school will be as normal to them as they are in high school.
A schedule is like gold fish in a bowl. The school can only grow as much as the schedule allows, so it is important to schedule for growth. Rather than wait until you have 300 students to change the schedule, you must schedule for 300 students to begin with so there is no roadblock to reaching that level. When schools have a hard time increasing their student body past a certain point, it is often the result of inadequate scheduling. If your schedule is still designed for a new school with a majority of beginners, yet you have been open for two years, then the schedule may be holding back your growth.