Teaching – How can I Improve My Skills?

One of the questions I frequently encounter is how can someone become a better teacher, or how can they get hired more. While there are a variety of things that go into both of these, I figured why not go ahead and compile a quick list of things that could help folks on their teaching journey. Again, this list is not all-inclusive, nor does it guarantee anyone anything. However, I do hope you find it useful and insightful. I have tried to provide enough to detail for you to understand, but please feel free to ask for clarification (I will try to respond but do not guarantee it). These ideas I have collected along the year from coaching, teaching dance and working with the Training Department of Red Robin.


Before the Classroom

Plan your classes – Actually take the time to sit down and go over your class. What ideas do you want to address and how will you do so? What shapes, rhythms and exercises do you want to convey? What will people struggle with and what might they misinterpret? What questions will they have? How much music should you have ready, what type of music, and what tempos do you need? What items will you address and what will your partner address? Practice your class!

Challenge but do not overwhelm – Make sure your class provides some sort of challenge. If it is too easy, people get bored. If it is too hard, they get frustrated. This may mean that you need to layer your class material to be able to reach multiple levels of students. It may mean altering your plans on the spot.

Remember your goals – As a teacher, you are offering a service. You most likely have ideas, thoughts, passions that you want to communicate, and this is probably why you do what you do. These things are import, but don’t forget your students; this is their hobby, their downtime, and their date night. The class is about them, not you. Don’t get caught up in your own ego about what the class should be. Focus on the students, providing the material they want and need and helping them to have a good time.


In the Classroom

Give your students more credit – Most of the time, we under estimate what our students can actually do, especially when it comes to beginners. Will they get it perfectly? No. But that is ok! People can understand a lot more than you may realize, which means you can probably fit in more class material than you may first think.

Short and simple – Explain things in the most simple, clear and short way possible.

Use normal language – Using words that are complicated or foreign can make classes more complicated than necessary. Instead, slowly introduce new terms, and/or provide their definition.

Use names – When someone asks a question, or you go to give them feedback, ask their name and then use it as much as possible. It will help you remember the students name and helps the student feel more connected to you.

Use titles (leader/follower) – Whenever addressing the class, try to use the terms leader and follower or leads and follows as much as possible. It helps the class identify whom you are addressing with your statement and helps avoid inaccurately labeling someone in a specific role (vs “you” or “ladies”).

They vs he/she – Unless you are specifically talking about your partner and they are ok with those pronouns, try to use “they” when referring to an individual/group. Again it helps avoid making people uncomfortable or leaving people out when addressing a specific role.

Repeat questions – When students ask questions, repeat the question back for the class. This ensures anyone who couldn’t hear the student hears the question not just the answer, plus it make sure you understand the question properly.

Ask questions – Ask your students questions. How did that try go? What was hard? What was easy? What looks different? Etc. This helps your students focus on visual learning, and it helps them assess their own dancing, and puts them on a path towards learning on their own.

Observe – Pay attention to your class. Watch them. How are they doing? Should you move on or are they struggling? Are they bored? Are they paying attention?

Show/Tell – Try – Details: Show the move and talk about it at the same time (It saves time, flows better and connects what you are saying to a visual). Let them try it, let them fail. THEN give more details/answer questions. This allows the students to figure things out on their own. Often times they solve their own questions.


Outside The Classroom

Don’t under value yourself – Charge appropriately. Under valuing and under charging doesn’t just affect you – it affects all teachers in the scene. It also affects organizers, musicians and students.

Talk to other teachers – What do they charge? What is in their contract? What ideas are they playing with? How do they approach certain topics? Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

Seek out mentors – Find a teacher you like or know. Ask them for guidance. Ask them for feedback. Take lessons from them, either group or private. Take notes. Build a relationship with them.

Continue to take classes – There is always something to learn. Whether it is a different way to explain something, or a new type of connection, or how not to teach something; you can always find something to take away from a class. Don’t stop furthering your own education just because you start teaching.

Teach as much as possible – The more you do it, the better you will get at it. Teach your roommates in your living room, group drop in lessons, regional workshops, and corporate gigs. Teach, teach, teach.