After leading a teacher training recently, my thoughts turned once again to teacher topics and what makes a great teacher stand out above a good teacher. Good teachers keep students safe. They set up a safe environment through safe rigging and mats; they use proper progressions to ensure a student works at the correct level of moves; and they are respectful of all their students. I believe what takes a teacher to the next level is hidden behind their words, or more exactly: their cueing.
Tip #1: Clear up Your Language.
When I was writing my senior thesis at the end of college, my mentor almost drove me to quitting. Every time I came in with my paper done, she was there to ask – at every sentence – “What are you trying to say here?” Every time I wanted to scream at her, “I trying to say what I said.” But, I knew what she really meant. She was forcing me to cut out all the garbage, all the excess, all the unnecessary, and do my best to state exactly what I wanted to convey. Nothing more. Nothing less. I’m a very thorough person, so concise has always been a weak-point for me. Take this paragraph for instance….
See if you can take the challenge next class time to say exactly what you want people to do. Don’t demonstrate. See if you can find the words that convey the desired response. Think carefully about which muscles need to engage to initiate an action. Cue direction in a way that people will correctly interpret what you mean. Use imagery to obtain the desired quality of movement. Clean up your language. Don’t rely on the demonstration. Rely on your tongue.
Tip #2: Start with the neutral cue. Use teeter-totter cues as necessary.
The most obvious example is the shoulder positioning that every newbie struggles to find. Many aerial teachers will cue “Keep the shoulders pulled down away from the ears.” I would like to suggest that it would be better to use this as a back-up cue, rather than a primary cue. When the original position is taught – the hang on the apparatus for example – the cue for everyone should be “Fight to keep your shoulders in neutral.” From there, you can add – when you see it is necessary – “If you start to feel your shoulders creep up towards your ears, give your neck more space by opening your shoulders.”
I call the “keep the shoulders down” a teeter-totter cue because you will have students on each side of the teeter-totter. If this is the only cue you use, you will have students who think that the shoulders should be pulled down in a way that leads them to overdo it. There are people out there who are under the impression that their overly-exaggerated shoulders-down position is the correct way to go about aerial shoulder positioning. The idea that they might actually need to release some of the tension in their back to allow their trapezius to do some of the work in order to bring the shoulders to a lovely neutral would be a novel idea. This shouldn’t be news to any of your students! Non-neutral cues should be used sparingly and cautiously as they are likely to develop extremes.
Tip #3: View Every Move along a Continuum
This one is complicated but worth gold once you get it, so stay with me.
When teaching a multi-level class, do you ever have students who will take the more challenging options even though they shouldn’t? You are doing the right thing as a teacher by presenting options. You don’t want to single out people by telling them to stay at a particular level while you let others move on. You are letting students self-select, but some students are trying the moves above their level of strength. This situation can be solved by powerful cueing. The secret is to work along the progressional chain of the move in a way that changes the steps from discrete to continuous.
Take a simple move for example: Say you want to start work on an arm hang. Some students in your class should not be hanging all their weight from their arms, and some are already rockstars at it. You don’t want to walk on the ego of your adult students by assigning particular people a modification (although you have total permission to do so – a good student can let go of their ego to learn what a good teacher has to offer). Perhaps you present the entire exercise as a continuum that starts with a chair position. Feet are on the ground and part of the weight is in the bent arms which are gripping the apparatus of choice. Cue the students to lift one leg at a time.
A good teacher might say, “If you feel ready, lift both feet off the ground.” This is where a section of your students will try to lift their feet even though they don’t have the strength. This is the moment you wish to avoid. An effective teacher will instead cue: “Now, as you continue to lift one leg off the ground at a time, focus on the connection from your pinky finger down into your back pockets. Connect this engagement with the front of the ribs drawing deeper into the core. Focus on engaging the core so deep that your legs become lighter and lighter.” At this point, you don’t need to cue both legs coming off the floor. Avoid that instruction altogether. Simply continue to focus on the parts of the body that need to be working. With the amazing cuing, every mind will be so focused on their body that they won’t notice that some of their peers will lift both legs while others are still trying to find that lightness you speak of.
Switch your cuing over to this method whenever possible, and everyone will start to feel comfortable right where they are at. No one will feel like they are missing the goal because everyone is working on the same exercise. The experienced aerialists who come often will start to catch on that this is the way you teach and they will reach for the harder moves when appropriate, realizing that you give them the opportunity to do this – even when the explicit cueing isn’t present.
This cuing method is sophisticated and took me years to realize, recognize and then practice. One teacher that rocks this trait is Jordan Anderson of Aerial Fit. If you are interested in listening to this type of cuing in action, Jordan’s aerial yoga classes are available in the aerial yoga section of our Video Library here at AerialDancing.com. Listen to Jordan’s voice-over instruction to hear a master teacher at work.
Jordan knows how to cue classes slowly and deliberately. This has the side-affect of presenting a teaching presence that is calm and in control. Students will be more fully present with their movement if they sense that you are very focused. They can get this sense through your words and your tone.
Now you don’t have to wait years to realize this one amazing difference that makes the great stand above the good.
To learn more about becoming a quality teacher, consider pursuing mentorship within a program such as Born to Fly Aerial Teacher Trainings.