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Mid-Year Realignment

I love the way that winter break sort of selectively wipes the slate clean in ballet class. We get to keep the progress we've made and also reset any habits that aren't serving us. For me, this year, that means making adjustments to my classroom culture. Like many dancers, my own classroom memories are pretty strict. (That's a nice way of saying I have memories of teachers who were controlling and unrealistic. I once had the . . . life experience of telling my teacher that, according to the doctor I had just seen in InstaCare, if I didn't sit and observe rehearsal that day the infection in my foot would likely progress and lead to blood poisoning. Her reaction was to yell at me in front of the entire cast for being weak.)

Obviously I don't want to perpetuate that type of culture in my own classroom. I am firmly committed to excellent and joyful ballet training. But life is always a balancing act and right now my classes are a little out of balance. Yes, my classes are enjoyable but I'm not holding students to a standard of excellence that is a little beyond their comfort zone. Class feels a little too "work hard if you want but if not, it's okay." It is not okay. I would much rather have a vibe of "work hard, appreciate your progress, and keep going."

Since I can't "teach the way I was taught" as the (really unhelpful) saying goes, I have been looking for guidance. Recently I read The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle and found a lot of insights. This will probably end up being a whole series of blog posts because there are way too many good ideas for me to implement in one day but here is where I'm starting:

  • I do not want to be nice. Did you know that the origin of the word "nice" meant "stupid or ignorant"? I do not want to be "nice"! If I tell a student, "good" when the reality is that their execution was only okay I am being willfully ignorant. This is not the teacher I want to be. Instead, I want to be honest and loving. There are lots of responses I can give that are honest and more meaningful, like "I think that concept needs to sink in a little more. We'll leave it for today and work on it again next time." Or "I didn't see a difference between the first try and the second. I'd like to try explaining the correction a different way." Or, and this is my favorite and it's from Coyle's book, "I'm giving you this correction because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them."

  • I do want to over-communicate my expectations. This is a characteristic of healthy, creative cultures in Coyle's book. If my expectations are clear, this empowers students to act in a way that they are confident will lead to success in my classroom. If you don't know what the teacher wants, you can never be sure how you're doing. I chuckled to myself when I read this part of the book because my expectations are super-clear in my head. Every time I walk into a classroom I know what my key principle, key vocabulary, key imagery, new vocabulary, and refining vocabulary are. I literally list that information at the top of my lesson plan. But I have forgotten to tell my students. I'm not going to list out all that information for them because that would be overwhelming. But I am going to start reviewing the key principle and key imagery at the beginning of each class

Book cover of "The Culture Code" by Daniel Coyle

These two things feel very doable. And they are both things within my control. I can't make Vida stop being late and I can't make Catherine hold an arm shape for the full phrase. But I can clearly state and then enforce the studio tardy policy (over-communicating my expectations). I can tell Catherine "By not incorporating arm movement the way it is given in the combination you are stopping your own progress. I know you can do this but only you can make it happen" (honest and loving but not particularly nice). I'm excited to feel the difference these small changes will make in my classes!

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