Inner Circle Member Spotlight: Sarah Kirby - Creative Music Education
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Inner Circle Member Spotlight: Sarah Kirby

By Tim Topham | Creativity

Nov 07

inner circle member sarah kirby

Inner Circle “Member Spotlights” give you a sneak-peak at the progress of one of our community members. Get inspired by what they’ve achieved, be heartened by their struggles and get motivated and share in their plans for the future.

The first member spotlight features Sarah Kirby, a teacher from Andover, Minnesota who has recently shifted her mindset from being “the girl who happens to teach piano” to a business woman who is changing the lives of students through music. Wait until you read about her recent successes and goals for growing her studio in the future.

You can find out more about Sarah at her studio website.

sarah kirby piano teaching

Sarah Kirby in her studio

What does your studio look like?

I recently moved to Minnesota, so I am going through the process of rebuilding my studio. I teach from my home presently, but a long-term dream is to have a separate space to teach from.

Currently, I have 13 students, ages 7 to 65 and am excited to continue growing my studio through creating unique learning opportunities for each student, investing in my teaching abilities, and building my brand.

I use both traditional and nontraditional teaching techniques with each student. My goal for each student is that they walk away with a deeper understanding of what it means to be a musician, a greater overall love of music, and more proficiency at the piano.

What concept, idea, app or strategy, has had the most positive impact on your studio and teaching recently?

Goal setting through the 4 Week Challenge in the Inner Circle has absolutely had the most positive impact on my studio over the last couple of months.

I am very task-oriented, so having specific areas to improve in has led to some big changes, both personally and professionally. This specific, time-based goal setting has led to actual change, not just a list of things to do “eventually.

The 4 Week Challenge has helped push the boundaries of what I can or can’t do that I had previously set for myself, intentionally or unintentionally. I have also benefited from seeing others’ goals, ideas, and difficulties in completing each goal. Having a community that will cheer me on, give advice, or just empathize is a wonderful thing.

I have also started doing a once a month “brain dump” – all the thoughts, ideas to chase, frustrations, things to research, books to read, curriculum to order, etc. gets written out into one big list. This list then gets pared down into a couple different categories and I go from there.

I try to break each goal down into small chunks, small steps that lead to that big change. I use an app called Wunderlist – a mobile and desktop to-do list, which has become one of my favorite apps for work.

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What was the biggest thing you did to achieve that outcome?

Well, honestly, it’s been taking myself seriously and making the mind shift from being “the girl that happens to teach piano” to treating the studio as a business.

Looking at what I want to accomplish through the lens of a business woman means that those ideas and dreams can actually happen – I just need to make that plan first.

How has your membership of the Inner Circle played a part in your development as a teacher?

Joining Inner Circle has played a huge part in my growth as a more well-rounded teacher this year. The ideas, encouragement, resources, and the community helps to keep me focused on why I am a teacher, what it is I love about teaching, and keeps me pushing my boundaries.

The Inner Circle is a constant source of creativity and that fact alone makes being a part of the community so wonderful. I can always count on gaining at least one wonderful new idea every time I log on.

Why did you decide to join the Inner Circle?

I am new to the area that I am teaching, and with the process of starting a new studio came the exciting and slightly terrifying chance to ‘reinvent’ myself, my teaching style, and the business side of my piano studio. This led to looking for some sort of community, brand, or group to be part of.

I decided to join the Inner Circle community because I knew I would continue to grow and learn there. I had been a faithful reader of Tim’s blog for quite some time, and the content was always encouraging, helpful, challenging, and useful.

What’s been the highlight of your membership so far?

The highlight of being part of Inner Circle so far has been both the community and the educational resources, which seem to go hand-in-hand.

Having a group of experienced teachers to ask questions of, share success stories with, and learn from has been incredibly beneficial in every aspect of my studio. The amount of resources available has changed how I teach for the better.

Tell us about your next big goal for your music studio and/or teaching? What does the big picture look like?

The next big goal for my studio is to tackle both the enrolment process for new students and develop a system for welcoming potential students.

I truly believe that the most professional and stress-free way to do business is through having a system and process developed, in place, and ready to use. I am excited to take this on and get to the point where I am no longer slightly panicked over a new inquiry about joining my studio.

The big picture would be 30 to 40 students weekly, teaching out of a separate studio space. I would love to be able to provide specific opportunities throughout the year for each student to use their musical abilities to bless others, combining community involvement, practical life experiences, and performance opportunities.

Personally, I want to be in a place with my business where I am able to donate my time and resources to an assisted living or nursing home company. I would love to teach basic music skills to small groups of residents in those facilities.

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What is one tool that you couldn’t live without and why?

Honestly, I couldn’t live without an app called Wunderlist, which is a digital to-do list. Between that app, my paper calendar, and Google Drive my studio stays running smoothly.

What’s the biggest challenge in your teaching or studio business right now and what strategies are you exploring to help?

I currently have multiple transfer students. About half of my transfer students are struggling with basic note reading skills. Without the use of finger numbers, they are totally lost.

For example, I recently asked a 5th grade student who has had 4 years of lessons to play middle C for me. He played G above middle C. When I then asked him to play his 1st finger note, he hit middle C no problem.

Past teachers in each of these students’ lives have pushed them to “keep learning” music when they don’t understand what they are playing. Learning a new song is laborious, discouraging, and almost impossible without constant help. Sight-reading would be a disaster.

My biggest challenge is taking these students a few steps back to reteach some pretty fundamental information in a way that keeps them interested in playing piano, but doesn’t give them the impression that they “aren’t smart enough” or have done something wrong.

I will be approaching each of these students with a review of basic theory using worksheets and theory books. I am also going to start incorporating tablet games and off the bench activities to reenforce the staff. I am excited to help each of these students learn and grow.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new piano teacher (or someone considering it as a career), what would it be?

From the start, treat your music studio like a business. Get the tools you need to do your job well. Be as professional so possible in each area, while still remembering to have fun and find joy in the big and little things.

Looking for more support in your teaching?

We’d love to have you join us inside the Inner Circle Community where you can get support, ask questions, access training and resources and feel 100% supported as you steer a path to your future. No need to feel alone in your teaching anymore – we’re here to help.

Members get access to expert teachers from around the world, a library of webinars and training videos to support your teaching, regular live and online hangouts and masterminds and a heaps of bonus offers from our partners.

You can learn more about the Inner Circle Community here.

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About the Author

Tim Topham has one mission in life: to stem the tide of children quitting music lessons by helping teachers maximise student engagement through creativity, technology and innovation. Tim hosts the popular Creative Piano Teaching Podcast, blogs regularly at timtopham.com and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, Californian Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.