Sunday, July 01, 2007

Reading the Classroom (part one)

Wow, what a great response I received from the YJ article. I got a lot of hits over the past 5 days and quite a few nice comments, as well. It seems the concept of silence really hit a nerve with the yoga crowd, both teachers and practitioners. Instead of responding individually to the various comments, I've been inspired to write a bit about communication in the yoga classroom...partially in response to Pat's query, but also because I thought it might generate some interesting discussion about how teachers figure out what their students want/need and how students convey those desires.

I started my teacher training because, as a long-time student of yoga, I wanted to help people discover how energizing and useful it was as a practice. I had had so many good experiences both mentally and physically with the discipline that I wanted to share those discoveries. My own teacher's approach was based in Iyengar and was so common-sense and approachable and I wanted people to see that yoga was necessarily a bunch of turbaned pretzel-people chanting loudly and cleaning their noses out with string (altho if that is what you want, you certainly can find it), but a healing, sustainable practice available to everyone.

To that end, I try to be hyper-aware of whether my students are getting the benefits of the class and enjoying it, and try to check-in regularly to see if my assessment is correct. I can do some of this is just by watching faces during the practice; are people grimacing and tense or nodding, smiling, and closing their eyes peacefully as we hold a pose? I also watch bodies; are they in the pose correctly and attempting the adjustments I suggest or do they seem static or unengaged? At the end of class do people seem happy and relaxed or do they scuttle out of the studio as fast as possible, never to be seen again?

I also try more aggressive tactics, just to be sure. I pass out comments sheets towards the end of a session, with questions about likes/dislikes and even specifics about music, poses and commentary so that people have an anonymous way to communicate with me and, hopefully, feel they can be honest if something is bothering them. I encourage people to come early or stay late if they need to discuss something privately (especially if they have health concerns they'd rather not share with the class). I even have asked students directly how the class is working for them, but usually just if some one seems rather shy or is new--I don't want to put him/her on the spot, but want to offer a chance to say something if s/he seems reluctant to talk in front of my "regulars".

Some times I wonder if I may be a bit too concerned about my students' response to the material, instead of just letting the practice just speak for itself. However, I'd rather make sure some one is getting the experience I hope for them, instead of just throwing information out there and seeing if anything sticks. It is hard not to take a student's bad experience personally, even if they obviously just need a different kind of yoga, but I suppose that is something you get used to with more and more teaching experience. The whole point of asking for comments is to get them...the negative ones can be the biggest teaching tools.

If you are a teacher and wonder what effect your teaching has, maybe some of these ideas will help. Or, maybe you have some good suggestions for keeping the lines of communication flowing. For my next post, I'm want to take the student's side and turn the discussion around. Let me know what you think! ©Brenda K. Plakans. All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

Kristin said...

First, I would like to say I connected with your YJ article. There is a lot to be said for practicing silence during class. After all, yoga is about the breath and if I can't hear my own breath over the music or instructor, then how can I focus internally? Thank you for a well articulated article.

I am both an instructor and a student, so I can relate to both sides of your query. As an instructor, I know there are going to be people who don't care for the style of class I lead (ashtanga) or my teaching style. As a student, I know there are going to be instructors that I connect with more so than others. I think the key is really acceptance and respect at all levels.

I also know there are going to be extenuating life circumstances which may or may not bring students back. I need to accept that and not worry about whether it was something I did/didn't do.

But no matter what, all feed back is a great teaching tool. I saw this sign once in a hair stylist cube that has stuck with me over the years: If you like my work, tell others; if you don't, tell me.

I look forward to reading your future posts. Thanks.