Creating a positive atmosphere doesn’t mean that you have to walk around smiling and singing all the time, giving out countless compliments to your students. A positive atmosphere is instead an environment where students feel supported, nurtured and motivated to improve.
So how do you go about establishing this type of feel in your classroom?
First and foremost, it can help to realize that it is a deliberate thing. A positive atmosphere is grown by the instructor and supported by the students. Here are some elements that are present in a positive classroom environment:
- Respect. The teacher exhibits respect for the students. The students respect the teacher—and the students respect one another.
- Interest. The teacher shows interest in the students’ improvement and the students are eager to learn and grow.
- Positive reinforcement. The teacher recognizes when students are doing well and gives them feedback accordingly.
- Constructive criticism. The instructor gives corrections in such a way that the students are eager to try and improve.
- Energy. A positive classroom environment is infused with energy and enthusiasm.
Knowing that these are some of the qualities in a positive learning situation is great. Getting them to work in the dance class environment is more of a challenge. For example, how do you show a student that you are interested in them? Or how can you create energy in class?
The very first step is to ask those kinds of questions. Often the answer is not too hard if you just dig a little bit and try things out. Coming up with concrete ways to build these blocks into the class lesson is challenging, but it certainly can be done.
Here are some suggestions to help get you started:
Having rules and enforcing them consistently is one way to foster respect in the classroom. So is explaining the reason behind them to your students. For example, creating a “no talking during class” rule can be a good way to keep students focused on what they are trying to learn—but telling them that this is the reason for the rule helps them to see what treating other students with respect is all about.
The consistent piece is important to remember too. If you can create expectations for behavior in the dance classroom, then enforce these ideas each time students take class, they will begin to trust you as a teacher—and trust breeds respect.
How do you show a student that you are interested in them? Telling them is one way, but it certainly isn’t the only way.
Teachers can show interest by asking questions, commenting on personal details and letting students know that they are thought of even when you aren’t in class together. Here are some direct examples:
- “What did you like best about class today Tom?”
- “Sally—I noticed you got a haircut—it looks pretty!”
- “When I went to the ballet I saw a dancer that reminded me of you.”
A quick word here about being genuine…
While this type of interaction can encourage a deeper connection between teacher and student, be sure that you mean what you say. For example, if you really don’t like Sally’s haircut and say you do…chances are good that she might be able to tell!
Overall the idea is to look for opportunities to show your students that you care about them as people and as dancers. Once you start thinking this way it becomes much easier to find ways to foster that bond.
Again, the operative word here is genuine. Positive reinforcement in class can become robotic unless the teacher keeps in mind that students tune this type of feedback out.
Some teachers get in the habit of just saying overall words repeatedly, such as “good, good” or some catch phrase like that. This really doesn’t mean anything and it tells the students nothing, really. Specifics, such as “the second time through this combination everyone looked more lively and you kept better time with the music” will perk up the ears of your students more than a generic phrase.
We have been covering this topic quite a bit in this resource and there is a good reason why—how you deliver corrections has a lot to do with what your classroom atmosphere is like. Spend some time learning how to phrase things so students will hear them with an open mind.
Infusing your dance class with energy doesn’t necessarily mean jumping around and waving your arms—although…it can!
Thinking of energy as enthusiasm can be helpful. Here are some specific ways that you can increase the energy level in your class—choose as appropriate:
- The use of your voice. Changing tone, pitch and speed are all ways to get attention, build suspense and create enthusiasm.
- The pace and mood of the music. If your class seems to be having a rough time of things, perk them up with some great music to get going. It can be fast, funny, fun or moody—all depending on who you are teaching and what type of energy you are looking for.
- Give analogies. Are students concentrating too hard and losing the flow? Tell them to try to gaze through the wall as they are dancing like Superman, or chasse like they are on a bungee cord. Sometimes changing the way a student thinks about an exercise can add energy as they try to bring your analogy to life.