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Earlier this year I wrote quite a long post about teaching with tips for teachers. Having re-read it recently I think there are a couple more tips that are also important.  More fundamental, perhaps, than what I wrote then.  This is what I’m talking about here.

1. Lesson Planning

Have a plan, let your students know it and make sure you stick to it.  Now it is fine to go off on a tangent if something relevant comes up, but make sure you get back to the main thing you had planned to do, and make sure you do it.

Tell your students what you’re planning on teaching them, and then teach them that. If you want to be really awesome, summarise what they’ve learned at the end. This is the older teacher’s hat trick of “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them it, then tell them what you told them.”  One of the best examples of this I’ve had lately is the ATS Classes at Drummond High School.  On the first day of term I was given a list of the moves I’d be learning during the term.  And we did learn all the moves that were on the sheet. They also handed out a suggested music list and some biographical information about the teacher, which was very helpful and informative.

To help keep you on track a playlist can be really helpful.  If you’ve planned it out beforehand, you can pick music that suits what you want to teach in the class.  You can have your warm-up music, then music suitable to whatever you’re teaching, and lastly the cool-down music.  Build your playlist so that it’s as long as your class is. Then, if that’s running in the background, the start of the cool-down music will remind you it’s time to start winding down the lesson, stretching out and summarising what you’ve taught that day or so far that term.  It will also help keep you on time, which leads nicely onto the next tip:

2. Time Management

Be mindful of the time.  There’s nothing wrong with looking over at a clock or your watch to check how much time there is left in the class and adjusting your teaching accordingly. Make sure you bring a watch or a clock – don’t rely on the venue!

I know that sometimes it can be rude to check your watch – teaching is not one of those times.  When teaching, it is rude not to be mindful of time. If you don’t pay attention to time you could overrun. This is particularly problematic if there is another class waiting to get into your space. There was one particular class I was a student of where the (non-bellydance) class before always overran by 3-5 minutes and that ate into our time. It was so frustrating.  We use to stand at the side and jingle our coin belts to try and give their teacher a not-so subtle hint.

Even when you’re not eating into another classes’ time, if you overrun you are eating into your students time.  They will more than likely have somewhere to be once class is over. In your class there are probably a few busy people who have every minute of the day accounted for.  There may be students who have arranged childcare to cover the class and need to get back to their kids promptly. If you don’t finish on time you are eating into their time, time which they have not agreed to give you when they signed up for the class.

I once had a workshop that started very late because we were all chatting, teacher included.  Because of the late start the workshop overran by at least 30 minutes.  I say “at least” because at that point I had to leave as I’d made arrangements for later in the day and couldn’t stay any longer. The workshop kept going after I left.  That teacher’s lack of timekeeping meant I had to choose between missing out on teaching I’d already paid for and was looking forward to, or being late/missing the thing I’d planned for later.  So while it might seem rude to start a class when people are still chatting, it’s really not.  You are being respectful of everyone’s time.

Many thanks to the lovely Atiya who got me thinking about this.  She’s starting classes up in Dundee – if you’re in the area go check them out!

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I know a thing or two about professional teaching and about educational theory (*cough* Post Graduate Certificate in Education, with Distinction *cough*). Following the years I spent teaching for a living in Secondary School (or High School for my North American readers) I moved back into education myself and these last three years have seen me become a student in many areas of life – academically, professionally and in my leisure time. I’ve been overawed by some of the amazing teachers who have taught me in the last few years, and taken note of those teachers I felt “could do better”.

I’ve recently been reflecting on these years of learning and decided I would put down in writing some tips and thoughts for teachers, both for my own edification and also because I think that they might just possibly be helpful for others. There’s no particular order to this list, it’s simply the order that they popped into my head. But the last one is the most important one.

1) Be aware of your own power

When you are in the position of teacher you have a great deal of power. Even when there is no exam, even when the class is just for fun, you have power. You know something that the people in front of you are hoping to learn. They have given you their time in the hope that they will get something of worth to them back from it. They may have given you money. Remember that. And remember that everyone, everyone, is vulnerable. That is particularly true when they are in the position of ‘student’.

You have the power to make people feel stupid, no good, to feel worthless. You have the power to make them feel clever, talented, full of value. You have the power make people feel bad about themselves or to feel good about themselves. And no matter how technically brilliant your explanations and insights may be, your students will remember most of all how you made them feel. Be aware of that immense power and use it wisely. Praise publically and criticise privately. Or better yet offer constructive feedback, and still do it privately. And pay attention to everyone, even the people hiding at the back right hand corner of the room (that’s typically where the really shy people navigate to). They may well be shy, but they still want and deserve attention – even just a bit of eye contact, a nod and a smile.

2) Empower your students

If your teaching is worthwhile you will be giving your students the opportunity to change something. This change might be in expanding their knowledge, it might be teaching their body to do something new. Change has consequences. Let them know what they are, and give them the choice.

I always remember when I first started learning Geology, back in the dim and distant. In the first lecture we were told that this class would change the way we viewed scenery and landscapes. And it was true. By the end of it I couldn’t just look at a landscape and think “Aww, that’s pretty”. No, I would look and see the faults and folds, I would theorise about the geological events that had caused the land to look the way it did. And because I was forewarned, I felt like the change was at least somewhat within my power – it was not ‘done to me’, I felt that I had done it to myself.

Another example is from a workshop I took with Ansuya where she taught floorwork. At one point during the workshop she stopped and talked to us about “acceptable pain”. About the bruises, cuts, scrapes and the pain that she and many other performers were prepared to accept as part of their work. She explained that what she was about to teach next was sore, particularly if we did it repeatedly. In doing so she offered us the opportunity to participate or not, depending on our individual attitudes to pain and bruising. That was empowering because I didn’t just go into it blindly and then feel resentful afterwards for the pain I’d suffered.

Dancing connects you more firmly with your own body. For many people this is welcome, but for others it might not be (I’m thinking particularly of people with chronic pain, as an example). If people are new to dance they might not be aware of this consequence of learning your dance form – let them know. Let them know if there’s a good chance they will ache afterwards or even bruise. You don’t know their plans – they might be going to a wedding the next day, or modelling and those bruises may not be okay for them to have. Give them the power to choose by giving them enough information to make the choice. Never assume that they will know, and certainly do not assume that they will be okay with it.

3) Know your limits

Be aware of where your knowledge and competence stops and be okay with that. No-one knows everything, no-one is competent at everything, and it’s alright to learn from others even when you yourself are a teacher. In fact it’s more than alright, I would argue it’s necessary that you keep learning – both to broaden your knowledge/competence base and to remind you of what it’s like to be a student.

Be prepared to admit when you don’t know something or how to do something. You will have far more integrity if you own your own ignorance. In doing so you make it okay for your students to not know things too, and you avoid straying into the potentially dangerous (and perhaps even litigious) areas of making things up because you are ashamed that you don’t know, or making your students feel stupid for asking by giving a defensive response that hides your ignorance. When you acknowledge your own limits you create an environment where not knowing is fine, where it is acceptable. This is the fertile ground where learning occurs best. I split this post as it was getting looong, click here to read the rest

I’ve come across a model of learning in the last year that I’ve found quite useful when thinking about the different things I’ve been learning of late – more bellydance, yoga and counselling skills. It’s been buzzing around my head of late so I thought it’d be interesting to share.

It is commonly known as the Four Stages of Learning or Conscious Competence model. It’s origins are unclear – some claim is was Maslow (better known for his Hierarchy of Needs model) other have suggested it was a training company, Gordon Training International, that coined it. The first stage in the model sees the student in a state of unconscious incompetence – they don’t know that they don’t know. This moves to conscious incompetence as they start to think about their need to learn – they now know that they don’t know (and how disheartening is that moment when you realise how vast the gap in your knowledge/skill is?!?). Over the course of their training/learning they achieve conscious competence – they know that they know and consciously think through what they’re doing. Eventually, by this model, they move to unconscious competence; they don’t know what they know, their knowledge/skills become second nature to them.

Here’s a handy diagram borrowed from another blog (click to visit):

I think this is a fairly useful, straightforward model that describes a learning cycle applicable to many fields (and certainly applicable to what I’ve been learning lately). Where I think it reaches is limits is when thinking about when you reach a level of competency where you are able to teach what you know. What I mean by this is the competency that differentiates an English as an Additional Language (EAL) teacher from a native English speaker. Both are unconsciously competent with the use of the English language but the latter may struggle to explain and teach the skill. In fact, having to think through and explain something you know well can be quite disruptive to your ability to do that thing – I have a few memories of standing in front of students of both Physics and bellydancing and getting myself all muddled up trying to explain something I hadn’t thought through well enough in advance (happily the more teaching experience I’ve had the less this has happened!). Dave Mearns, a leading figure within person-centred counselling, describes the interaction between his knowledge and his ability to pass this on: "…I believe I am much poorer as a facilitator now than 15 years ago. Paradoxically one of the factors which has contributed to this has been the growth in my understanding of person-centred counselling…" (Page 59, Person-Centred Counselling Training by Dave Mearns, 1997).

It’s a complex relationship between subject knowledge and the ability to teach. I think describing it is not a straightforward task as it varies between different people and within different subject areas. Dave Mearns has found increased subject knowledge a hindrance for him in his field, I have found it inspirational, that it can drive my desire to teach – and I believe the more energy you have for teaching, the more passion you have for your subject, the more inspirational you are as a teacher.

If you’re interested in learning more about this model, and it’s disputed origins, this article is quite interesting (even if the webpage is a little unattractive to read). And if you have thoughts to share on any of this please feel free to add them below.

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