Click here for Student Growth Plans!

Maybe it’s my special needs teaching background.  Maybe, it has to do with teaching at private schools.  Or, maybe I just feel a deep desire to be organized (or at least feel like I’m mostly organized).  Whatever the reason really is, each summer I make annual student growth plans.  Why would I subject myself to this extra work? Especially since I am not the type of teacher to push exams or festivals on students.  Well …

Why you need a plan

Many parents don’t have a music background.  They have no idea what constitutes progress.  But, they want to know.

I am providing a service & should be able to explain why I get “paid the big bucks”.  While I have never heard this exact phrase from a client, I think this viewpoint comes from teaching in private schools.   One of my principals gave me good advice.

“Never go to a parent with a problem unless you are able to give an extensive list of how you have tried to solve it.  They pay a lot of money for their kids to go here & you need to let them know why it’s worth it.”

~ A blunt, but awesome principal (paraphrased)

Student growth plans show students & parents a comprehensive plan to move them forward in their musical goals.  This fosters a sense of trust & confidence in my abilities.

Looking at the end picture of where I would like my students opens up a whole new framework of activities, repertoire, etc.

I need a plan in order to be flexible.  No plan means I drift along week to week without any idea of whether I am helping my student move forward.  Having a plan gives me the freedom to slow down on a concept because I know that it is the foundation for what comes next.

Allows me to consciously provide links between what my students are learning in school with what they learn in piano lessons.  (Tons of research out there on how important it is to link new information with what students already know!  Check out the Cool Cat Teacher, Piano Pantry, Colour In My Piano, 88 Piano Keys, & Tim Topham.)

The way (not) to create student growth plans

There are many ways to create an annual growth plan for your students.  And, depending on which country you live or where you teach (i.e. school vs. private studio) there may be certain concepts or frameworks that already are in place.  Some teachers prefer studio incentive programs to guide their students each year.  (If this is your style, check out Music Educator Resources for a wide variety of ready made incentive programs.)  It really is whatever works best for you.

I’ve had many different versions of student growth plans over the years.  I like to think that they have improved each year as I have tested out what worked & didn’t work for me.  In talking with my clients, I have also changed the type & amount of information I share with them.  Below is the progression I have gone through.

1.  No plan  

  • Unmitigated failure since the best I could do was point to how far they got in their method book.
  • Parents who were happy stayed happy.  Parents who were unsure about continuing lessons found a reason to drop lessons.

2.  Plan based on a single method book only

  • Slightly less of a failure since I could actually SEE the concepts I was going to teach & look for materials.  Still completely reliant on a method book.
  • Showed parents every single learner outcome.  They were overwhelmed.

3.  Plan with provincial music program & some method book

  • More progress in the depth of concepts.  Did not reconcile learner goals with how to actually do them in lessons or whether students could/needed to/were interested in the actual topics.  We didn’t get as far as I had hoped.
  • Showed parents all learner outcomes we accomplished.  Still were overwhelmed at the list.

4.  Plan with student goals & progression of level-appropriate concepts

  • Rather than completely scrapping the student growth plans from previous years, I used what I learnt as well as my research & modified the goals.  This was a MUCH better use of my time since I wasn’t recreating the wheel & able to pull on the collective wisdom of several methods & experts online.
  • By creating repertoire lists (including several different method books), I knew my students were getting a broad range of choice while getting the foundational concepts before moving to the next level.
  • Parents participate in student-led conferences once a year.  This has been a HUGE success & leads to greater involvement with practice times!  Parents who would like the plan will get it, but otherwise it will stay a private document that I can use to articulate each student’s growth plan for the year.

How to create student growth plans in 5 easy steps

Alright.  Perhaps “easy” may be a bit too optimistic. The steps below are not necessarily hard, but they ARE time consuming the first year.  The nice part is that it gets MUCH easier every year thereafter as you can reuse & tweak aspects of your student growth plans to better fit your students & yourself.  So if you prefer having an individual plan for each student, this is your guide to creating a framework for your year.

Step 1: Look at past student growth.

  • What have students accomplished in the past?
  • Be honest with whether your students are in your studio for recreational or exam/festival purposes.  Neither focus is negative.  But, it does change what you will focus on in your research.

Step 2: Look to the piano experts.

  • What general framework do several method books follow?  These are tested frameworks that can serve as a great jumping off point for other repertoire & activities.  Plus, you will notice a lot of overlay in the order of concepts.
  • Ask other teachers for advice (online or in person).  The sharing community in the education field is amazing!  I am so thankful that I can ask for advice from any number of teachers.

Step 3: Pull the most realistic & most common goals.

If it keeps coming up in your research, there is probably a good reason why. Put the goals into a general student growth plan document you can save for each level.

Step 4: Take all that lovely data & make a plan!

  • Think about your student’s overall music goals.
  • What needs to be added (or taken out) to help that student move forward?

Step 5 (bonus): Add resources you already have that fit with the goal.

  • Make a list of concepts where you need resources to support learning.  (When I first began, Music Lab Task Cards where hugely helpful!)
  • Begin a list of repertoire that supports the goals you want the student to reach.
  • Pull those student growth plans throughout the year so you can shop smart.  (And, hopefully keep a bit more of that hard earned money by not repurchasing items.  How many times have I done this?  Way too many!)

Method book cheat sheet

And, if all of this planning seems overwhelming … click below for access to my method book cheat sheet!

Get your FREE Method Book Cheat Sheet!

This cheat sheet will help you make the most of your studio library.  My students LOVE the choice in music & I love that we cover all concepts needed throughout the year!  Even if they play from several different books.

Planning for the year … your thoughts

Will this be the final iteration of my student growth plans?  Probably not.  I hope that each year I develop better ways of guiding my students (& myself).  My journey started out rough, but I felt things started to fall into place when I started to research ideas (including Teach Piano Today‘s article).

Click here to read more about Student-led Conferences

Since every teacher approaches this differently, I would love to hear how YOU plan (or don’t plan) for the year.   What are some of the strategies that have worked for you?  And, what are some of the pitfalls you have discovered?


  1. Thanks so much for this very thought provoking article. You have inspired me to set up my own repertoire lists for each level. I’m now pulling from so many varied sources with immediate downloading of fresh music that I want to be sure to build concept upon concept. The magnitude of options can be overwhelming without a plan!

    1. Becky, it can be overwhelming at first. I would recommend starting with one level & building from there. As you build on your database it will slowly come together to create a robust library that is right at your fingertips! Good luck!

  2. MTNA has a wonderful Goals program that I use each year. I love it because it is open ended and I can fill it in with each individual student. The first 2 weeks are used completing this form and it is one of the most important things I do with them and when finished we keep it in their binder and have something to refer to throughout the year. We start with my goals for them and move on to the goals they have for themselves. We include both short and long term goals which I feel is very important. I love this part because it introduces them to self reflection and accountability. Once it is completed we send it home to mom and dad and it must be signed by all of us. Parents see that I am holding myself and their child accountable and with their signature they are agreeing to help their child with these goals. There is a start and and an end date and we check things off as we move along throughout the year. At the end of the year students who have met the requisite number of goals receive a certificate that MTNA has a template for on their website. These sheets provide us with a starting point for the following year. Thanks for this great article! It gave me some good ideas for goals to add for this year!

    1. Maria, I have heard that MTNA provides incredible resources for its members. However, I hadn’t heard about their goals program & the template they provide. It sounds like the community you have created with your students & their parents is one of mutually working together.
      Thank you so much for sharing how you create goals for the year! I liked how you go through your goals & then the student’s goals. This would give you time to find resources rather than scramble at the start of the year I assume. I am glad that the article gave you new ideas as well.

    2. I would like to access the repertoire list mentioned in the article, but the link isn’t working! Is it available somewhere else on your website?
      Debbie Heath

      1. Hi Debra, thank you for your question.
        Unfortunately, there was not enough teacher interest to justify the many, many hours needed to update this product. However, feel free to check out what is included to see if this matches many of the books in your current library.  It is still a great value because you can get a big jump start on creating your own repertoire lists. Click here to check the repertoire lists available.
        P.S. The image in the article has also been updated to take you to the repertoire lists.

  3. Love this article! As you know this year my goal is to be more purposeful in everything my students and I do. I’m really looking forward in seeing the growth! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    1. Your studio incentive programs always look so put together, Jennifer! I like how you have a focus for the entire studio that drives everything you present for the year. It has inspired me as I plan for my students this year!

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