Student Retention – That dreaded 1 Lesson Balance

Student Retention – That dreaded 1 Lesson Balance

Ah, that dreaded 1 lesson balance, when a student has just one lesson paid left! Does it make you sweat? Do you feel uncomfortable addressing it with your student? I agree, at first, it can be a little daunting and intimidating but it doesn’t have to be.

Student retention sounds a lot easier than it is, let’s face the facts. The unexpected happens but in most cases, the magic lies with you. Now, before you get upset with me I want to remind you that when you are first starting out as an online teacher that it is normal to struggle with retention. I’ve been there. Most of your colleagues if not all of them, have been there.

When I started out I was very uncomfortable addressing the lesson balance, I was afraid that I would sound desperate or too eager. However, I did learn it is not what you say to your student but HOW you say or relay the message.

Below I’ll share my personal thoughts and ideas on retention, the things I feel are important to perfect which will increase your chances of retaining your students.

The Key

The key to retaining your student is based on the first impression you make. Retention is all about the relationship you build with your student from the first lesson. Your first lesson with your new student sets the tone of your relationship and future classes.

Student Goals

A student wouldn’t hesitate to renew classes if they feel their goals are being met. Think about yourself. Are you taking any classes or courses? What makes you come back and renew your package? It’s simple, put yourself in your students’ shoes.

In general, the students’ goals need to be specific to their interest. Don’t assume that students’ interests and goals can’t change so it’s important to review this after a few lessons.

In some cases, we need to show our students the progress they have made. Sometimes they feel “eeeekkk I don’t feel confident, I don’t think I am making progress” and it’s up to you to show them by means of testing or free talk that they indeed are reaching their goals. Slowly maybe but still on the path to reaching their goals.

Students want to see results and if they see results they will stay.

How do we get results? We push our students but include them every step of the way. We test them (remember not to over-test or too frequently) but create meaningful assessments. Get your students out of their comfort zone and test all aspects of language learning. Don’t focus only on speaking or reading, but remember to focus on listening and writing. Encourage your student to set monthly goals and motivate them to reflect on these goals, their progress. The process is just as important as the result or goal. It’s important to remind your student that sometimes you have to do the less fun things to reach these goals.

Get creative and interactive

Keep your students challenged so that the lessons don’t become mundane. If every lesson is the same it can become boring. My recommendation would be to spice things up. Give them projects, problems to solve and have active and engaging lessons. Is your student going on holiday soon? Maybe a business trip? Is it a new unfamiliar destination? Use this information to your advantage and host a lesson on the destination, discuss traveling trips and share experiences. There is no limit on how creative you can get with these types of lessons. At the end of the day, your student is learning because they want to be able to communicate with others and incorporating natural situations where he or she will need to use English will absolutely create value in your sessions.

Free teaching

Teachers naturally are inclined to be more controlling. We like to lesson plan and know each step for our courses. Allowing your student to be part of the decision making can be very liberating not only for you but for your student. Encourage your students to make their own decisions on how they learn best, or what topics they like most. Each student learns differently, it’s not a one size fits all so be prepared and willing to be flexible and allow your students to be part of the selection and decision-making process.

Something I like to do is help my students feel safe and confident. Most students shy away from tests out of fear of judgment, anger, frustration or disappointment. When my students have completed a assessment I don’t mark it. I send them the answers and they can mark it themselves and see their results. They don’t have to share their results with me if they are not comfortable. They are however welcome to ask me questions regarding things they did not understand in the assessment. In most cases when students do not want to share their results with you it is because they either failed the assessment or feel their marks are not high enough and do not want to disappoint you. You might ask, but Hanna how does this work? How is this positive? This is what I call honest reflection. The student in most cases realizes they need to work harder and want to improve. Creating a judge-free environment is better than having a environment where the student feels ashamed and then drops out. These assessments are based on the content we have learned and creates the opportunity for the student to reflect in private and also revise their goals, strengths, and weaknesses.

Keep your communication simple

If you follow the above tips I can confidently say that addressing the dreaded 1 lesson balance will not be so scary. Ask yourself, do your lessons bring value to your students’ life?

If so, don’t hesitate to send your student an email or skype to remind them of their lesson balance. Make sure you make them feel valued and appreciated and it’s completely normal to remind your students regarding their balance but when you do, remember to remind them of the value the lessons hold.

My emails or messages usually goes something like this:

“Hey Lucy,

It was great to see you!

I am so proud of the progress you are making. I am having a great time learning with you.

Here are some of the goals you have achieved: xxxxxxx

Just a reminder, your lesson balance is 2.

Remember to top up in order to avoid scheduling disappointment.

Don’t hesitate to write me with any questions or concerns.

I look forward to our future lessons, see you soon!


Let’s recap:

  • The key to successful retention is based on the first impression you make.
  • Students seek value and comfortability and if you lack in those two departments your students will feel demotivated and bored.
  • Think creatively to bring your lessons to life, engage with your student and make them part of the decision making progress.
  • It’s never a teacher vs. student but rather teamwork. Work together to reach the goals. Encourage honest reflection and ensure you create a safe and comfortable environment for your student to speak freely and honestly about their goals or results.  

You are a great teacher, you should be confident in yourself and your lessons.  I hope this helps you with feeling more comfortable addressing the 1 lesson balance.

If you have tips to share, please drop them below!

Hanette Lian Stimie

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