POWER+Challenge for Movement Teachers

I was recently the guest speaker, along with RES colleague Katy Lush (Chicago) on Core Academy run by Core to Coeur- host of my online teaching studio. The topic of conversation was Creative and Dynamic class structure and we had approximately 60 participants! Clearly this is a subject that many people are interested in.

I thought I’d write a few key points down in case you missed the webinar (although at time of writing it’s still available for purchase from Core to Coeur for $20 US).

I’ve been teaching classes and workshops for over 20 years. One of the best things I’ve learned (although it made my heart sink at the time) was when a master teacher told me “you aren’t a teacher until you’ve been doing this for at least ten years. Up to that point, you are an instructor.” So what’s the difference? A teacher educates, imparts knowledge, challenges your beliefs, asks difficult questions, leads you through material in a way that you absorb it internally. An instructor, on the other hand, takes you through a set of exercises saying much the same thing each time. It’s a template, or a way of rehearsing material as you have heard it before, without really putting your own stamp on it.

So why did that make my heart sink? Because I’d only been teaching for 7 years at the time! At the same time it made an impression because I realised its truth. I would frantically take notes in every class, and then repeat the cues I’d heard and the logic I had memorised. But I didn’t really know

So in that sense, you are the conduit to the previous teacher, but you are not THE teacher! It’s a process that we all go through, unless you are some kind of original genius, but most of us have to put the hours in.

Here are five takeaways and one tip to become a creative and dynamic teacher that will give you POWER+Challenge. Practice, Own, Watch, Experiment, Repeat + Challenge.

1. PRACTICE

Practice is the best thing you can do to become a creative teacher. Put those hours in. If you are a new teacher, show up for that one or two clients if they want to take your class. Don’t cancel – you are gaining experience, and that is an investment in your career. Remember: every person you teach will teach you something in return if you allow it and are observant. Every client is a gift.

Along with your own practice, you should maintain a vigorous practice yourself. If you can’t afford to study with a mentor, spend a set amount of hours in the studio playing and practicing. Keep notes and record your ideas. Try things out before you put them in a class. If you can take class with other teachers, try a variety of teachers teaching the same thing, or try something new. Look for inspiration, you’ll be surprised where it turns up.

2. OWN THE MATERIAL

This takes time. It’s that ten year thing. But once you really feel like the exercise is yours and you can mould it to fit your needs, the world is your oyster and you will never be bored again. You’ll suddenly start seeing patterns everywhere, how exercises from one paradigm compliment ones from another, you’ll be creating a movement concoction that is totally yours and comes from a deep well of creativity within that you have been nursing for a decade or longer.

3. WATCH

Watch your clients, let them ask questions, and if you don’t know, say “I don’t know, but I will follow up and get back to you!” I’ve held on to some good questions for months or even years, and sometimes you get new information that rekindles an old conversation. This is a living practice in more ways that just the movement. 

Watch people who aren’t in your class (even people on TV). People watching must be the thing that sets movement teachers apart from all other people! I bet you do it and you can’t help yourself. If that person who just walked by came into your studio what would you already know about them? Where would you start? Is someone limping? Try to guess what is the area of their body they are protecting. It blows people’s minds when you can “guess” things like “is your left knee bothering you?” but you are just a keen observer. If someone is avoiding weight on their left knee, what other areas of the body are affected? How can you support that person?

4. EXPERIMENT

I have a class on my schedule that I call RExplore. RE stands for Restorative Exercise – the xplore part is about adding movement from sources far and wide (see PRACTICE). I tell people this is not a straight up RE class, and they can expect to play a bit. Some things might work well, some might be a dud. Don’t be afraid to fail! Just move on. Literally.

Experiment with your own body too. Not in a dangerous way, but you are your own best guinea pig. If you can do it, you can teach it. 

5. REPEAT
or, THE CLIENT ISN’T BORED; YOU ARE BORED

Often teachers who have been working for a few years (especially if you’ve been following that template and haven’t deviated much from it) are going to be bored saying the same thing day in and day out with little variety. But the client might be hearing it once a week, and forgetting it in between. You don’t need to come up with new and more challenging exercises, or ways to teach the same exercise. In many ways, methodical teaching allows the client (and you) to gauge progress. Layer on difficulty, find ways to be creative with the same exercises. One of my favourite tips here is to look at the geometry of a pose or exercise (literally, the joint positions and angles) and play with that in a different plane. The loads to the tissues change although the position hasn’t. How could you do that supine exercise prone, or standing? What if you added eyes closed, or a challenge such as holding a weight at the same time? The key here is not to add stuff just to make it “hard” or “different” – only add something if it adds benefit to the original exercise. If you can’t do that exercise in your head, draw a stick figure on a piece of paper in a pose and then move the paper all around and upside down. What did you discover? I did this with several different squat positions on a flight once and came home with some great ideas for a squat workshop!

BONUS: CHALLENGE YOURSELF

Do you want to become an expert about particular subject? Schedule a workshop or class about that thing in a months’ time and get to work! Get all your research material, anatomy books and notebooks out and start making notes on that subject. Make a list of all the exercises that make sense to teach about that subject. Practice those exercises here and there in the classes leading up to that date to polish. Say you want to teach a Pelvic Floor class, or a class on Knees and Hips, or Shoulders, Breathing etc., the list is endless. Then when you are done, you have an outline for that subject that you can build on throughout the years to come, adding content that you discover every time you go through this process. Anatomy, movement science, research studies are changing all the time as new things are discovered and reported. Never stop learning, never stop being a student. Then you will become the best teacher you can be.

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