As is the case in most businesses, yoga studio instructors need time off. Whether it’s due to holidays, the cold or flu season, vacations, or personal life events that result in long hiatuses, instructors will eventually need someone to cover for them. Just this past month, several of our instructors had illnesses that lasted weeks. Another had to take medical leave, one teacher was on retreat, several were on vacation, another traveled to assist in a training outside the studio, personal tragedy struck for two more of our dear teachers, and several more missed teaching classes due to short term illness. While this is a rather extreme example, it happens more often than you might think. As studio owners, we are called to keep things running smoothly—it is vital to the success of our business that our students feel they can rely on a consistently supportive environment at the studio. The keys to minimizing the toll instructor absences take on both your business and your stress levels are policy, preparation, and communication. Additional considerations include setting your own boundaries for subbing, as well as self-care to minimize your own sick days.
The first point to consider is how to shape your policies for making sub requests. Your policy should spell out the “who, what, where, why and how” of executing a sub request, and it should be clearly written in your instructor/independent contractor manual.
An often neglected consideration of the subbing process is the “who”. Finding the best fit for a class that needs subbing is critical for both the teacher making the request and the studio. We want there to be consistency in students’ experiences and for them to have confidence in the studio’s ability to find a good fit for the class. Remind your teachers that finding an appropriate sub supports building their class, because it helps their students to stick with the yoga habit they’ve established. Even the best instructors with large classes can see a dip in attendance when they miss a few classes—an instructor’s consistent teaching of a class helps build consistent attendance. This is why, if multiple days of subbing are required, choosing a sub who can take most or all of the days is ideal. If an instructor has a lot of classes to get covered, they may be anxious about getting subs for them all and accept the first offer they receive. Encouraging teachers to make wise choices for their sub, and not grab the first response to a sub request, is some of the best advice you can give them.
Teachers who are newer to the studio are often eager to sub if they don’t have a lot of classes on the schedule. Consider requiring teachers who are new to your staff to take at least five classes from fellow instructors for whom they could sub, and instructors who can do the same for them. Having a newer instructor sub is a great way for the instructor to get more exposure to the students, but it may not always be the best strategy for the teacher requesting the sub. Teachers can provide support for each other by encouraging students to check out the class with the wonderful substitute teacher, and sharing a bit about why they asked this person to sub. Likewise the sub can encourage students to welcome the teacher back on their return date. Have the sub ask the class if there is anyone who has not yet met the regular instructor and share something that supports students’ return to the class to meet the regular teacher. This shows strong community among the teaching staff and your students will feel it.
The next step is outlining how and where to request a sub based on when the sub is needed, since the amount of lead time will determine the route taken. Encourage instructors to plan two months out when they know they know they have commitments that will take them away from their teaching responsibilities. We’ve created a Google email group to provide a place for these requests to be shared among the instructors. The group, which has specific guidelines for a sub request, is a time saver for everyone. In our Google group e-mails, the subject line reads “Sub Request” with the date and time of the class needing a sub. The body of the email includes the pertinent details such as length of class, level of class, size, and additional information that supports the sub and the students. A closed Facebook group for your studio’s teaching staff may be more effective if checking emails is not something all the teachers do routinely.
Although planning subs far in advance is ideal, quite often sub requests are made last minute because life happens. In those cases, texting is critical to timely responses, and it’s important that your instructors can easily access everyone’s phone numbers on their own. Google Sheets is a great way to provide access to a list file that needs to be updated every so often, because every time you add or change information the list that everyone sees is updated as well. Some of your more tech savvy instructors may be fine with opening the Google Sheets whenever they want to look up a number, but it is not always practical to do in a rushed situation. That’s why it’s important to strongly encourage your instructors to enter phone numbers for all potential subs into their phones so they have them on the ready. Using this protocol in place should reduce the number of requests for phone numbers that you receive, and when you do receive them, train yourself to say, “Take a look at the contact list to find your information”. While forwarding contact information to your instructors may only take a few seconds, the time adds up over the course of months and years. It also encourages instructors to take initiative.
Communication with students is another key point. Students are often disappointed to find out that their favorite instructor won’t be teaching the class, so it only seems fair to make the necessary changes to the online schedule so that fewer students are surprised to have a sub. The subbing information needs to be communicated to the studio so that the online schedule can be updated as soon as possible. The sub will also need basic information that’s specific to the class being subbed, such as how to get into the studio or check in the students if it’s a class with an unusual time, any announcements that need to be made, and contact information for staff should there be any questions. Does the studio provide this information, or is it the responsibility of the teacher who is requesting the sub to communicate it? If you are asking your teachers to convey this information, develop a template for them that will organize the information. This may seem tedious, but in the end it will save you numerous headaches.
Last but not least, take care of your own well-being. Before committing to sub a class, ask yourself if you are truly the best sub for that class; also make sure you are being realistic about how many classes you are able to sub in a week. Fill your cup first so you can be a steady, grounded, healthy leader for your colleagues and teaching staff. What you model sets an example that will define your studio. Subbing can move to the bottom of your stress list with solid preparation and communication.
Diane Butera is a studio owner, instructor and yoga consultant. Her studio, Eugene Yoga, was founded in 2010. She also works for YoniSpeaks, a yoga consulting firm. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.