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Reaching Your Potential as a Teacher: Foundations, Fundamentals, Strategies & Tactics

Teaching is An Act of Creation

You might be the best yoga student on the planet… but if you walk from your practice mat to the front of the room to teach, things change in an instant. You are stepping into a completely different role—one that requires skills that are unrelated to being a good student.

As the teacher, you are creating an environment with your energy, word choice, selection of poses, teachings and practices, style of demonstration and teaching, and perhaps other elements such as music or touch.

And everything you are sharing is not for your own preferences, but for the unique needs of the various people in front of you.

How could you possibly do all of these things effectively if you just took what you knew from being in the role of a student? You couldn’t, of course.

How you prepare to teach a class is as unique as you are. Some teachers use a written plan that includes a detailed sequence, teaching points and more. And some teachers walk into class with only a mental image of their intended focus. Still, no matter your style, teaching is an act of creation.

Even if you select pre-existing sequences and teachings, your choices and how you weave things together and verbalize them is an act of creation. And that’s just the tip of the creation iceberg. Let’s say that after seeing a student struggle with your teaching of  Chaturanga that you determine to come back prepared with more propped versions and different cues. Or maybe after noticing how quickly the daylight gave way to darkness, you decide you want more ideas for a class that balances the energy of winter.

Such ideas are forms of inspiration; and to act on your inspiration, you need to actively gather information and create a plan. You won’t do this successfully or efficiently by checking your email or social media for ideas on Chaturanga variations. Even if you’re scheduled to attend a teacher training workshop, Chaturanga might not be the focus that day.

These information sources  are set up for passive consumption of particular topics determined by someone else. These are not necessarily bad activities, but they are passive. If you want to create something specific, you must set distractions aside and directly pursue what has inspired you. This might mean that you review training notes or books, pull up saved email files or search a trusted site. You might use your idea as a focus for your own practice, or engage with a mentor or colleague to discuss it.

These are all fine options, and they all require you to take proactive action. This is in contrast to passively allowing yourself to follow wherever your device leads you.

Setting the Foundation: 3 Commitments

There’s no reason you can’t reach your potential and be the best teacher you can be. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, however. (It’s not.) Nor does it mean that it will happen as a natural result of your working hard. Working hard is necessary but it’s not enough.

  • Reaching your potential as a yoga teacher doesn’t happen because you took a 200-hour or 500-hour teacher training.
  • It doesn’t happen because you really, really want to be better.
  • Nor does it happen because you do a lot of yoga.
  • It doesn’t happen because you are a smart or capable person.
  • And not because you have a mentor or online mastermind group.
  • It doesn’t even happen because you’ve taught for a year or five years or a dozen years.

Don’t misunderstand us: such tactics and capabilities are fantastic, and will surely contribute to your becoming a fine teacher. But they don’t guarantee it. They are tactics that you can choose but will only be sure to lead you where you want to go if you’ve set a foundation through a few, more overarching decisions.

To be the best teacher you can be today, and to keep growing to meet your explosive potential is dependent on these foundational commitments:

1) Set an Explicit Intention

If you are simply interested in being a decent teacher as a hobby, that’s one thing. If, on the other hand, you want to be the best teacher you can be, it won’t just happen with time or a general hope. It takes an explicit intention.

This is like anything else. If you dreamed of qualifying for the Boston marathon or you were determined to become the best farmer, lawyer, partner, nature guide, college professor or rock climber you could be, you would intentionally commit to prioritizing the necessary steps to succeed.

The only way you’d stick with the necessary training schedule to run your preparatory 10k races at target pace and then the race-pace half marathons and marathons is because you have dreams of qualifying for an elite competition and you’ve set that intention.

Your explicit intention ensures your commitment to following through even on the days when you don’t feel like it, even when a task is difficult or boring, and even when you hit a wall and need more support to try something different.

2) Commit to Continuous Learning

You may have had the assumption that a 200-hour or 500-hour training would give you what you needed to be a teacher. But, like your colleagues, you soon realized that the trainings are simply a beginning, and the knowledge base you can draw from is endless. To become the best teacher you can be naturally requires a commitment to continuous learning.

3) Commit to Translating Your Learning into Teaching Skill

This career means turning your passion, practice and learning into the actual act of teaching, and then refining your skills in an effort to inspire, inform and support students.

Said another way: what you know and how you teach are two different things. No matter how much you teach, the things you’ve learned and want to share don’t always come out in the most effective way. To teach well requires a dedication to not only your practice as a student but to your development as a teacher. It takes experimentation and polishing.

  • If you rarely teach, then no matter what you know, you’re not going to reach your potential as a teacher.
  • And if you teach often but don’t seek feedback and commit to improving, then time and again you’ll miss the same opportunities and make the same mistakes (whether you’re aware of them or not).

At times, of course, you need to immerse yourself in your practice and study for the pure joy of it, or for the desperate need of it—without having any thought of teaching. But to be your best, you must also continue to evolve your teaching. Like turning a written draft into a polished article, turning knowledge into teaching is a craft that must be honed.

Structure & Follow Through

So far, we’ve introduced what we propose is a visionary way to think of teaching. Rather than allow yourself to be a passive consumer of yoga information, come to realize that:

Teaching is an act of creation.

And then we suggested three commitments that will set the foundation to enable all of your efforts to add up to success:

  1. Set an explicit intention.
  2. Commit to continuous learning.
  3. Translate learning into teaching skill.

And now we’d like to offer a few tactics that can support your efforts:

  1. Engage in Deliberate Practice vs Naive Practice.
  2. Set weekly and daily priorities.
  3. Use an effective organizational and filing system.

Deliberate Practice vs Naive Practice

A key to unlocking your potential is learning the difference between:

  1. “Naive Practice” – a form of repetition, and
  2. “Purposeful or Deliberate Practice” – designed to specifically build on strengths and improve weaknesses

Is someone who has been driving for 20 years a better driver than someone who has been driving for five? (The answer seems obvious, doesn’t it?) Anders Ericsson has spent his lifetime researching how people develop expertise in every walk of life. And he teaches us—amazingly—that the answer is, no, the 20-year driver is NOT better!

After Automation, You Stop Improving

Once you have reached [a] satisfactory skill level and automated your performance—your driving, your tennis playing, your baking of pies—you have stopped improving. People often misunderstand this because they assume that the continued driving or tennis playing or pie baking is a form of practice and that if they keep doing it they are bound to get better at it, slowly perhaps, but better nonetheless. They assume that someone who has been driving for twenty years must be a better driver than someone who has been driving for five, that a doctor who has been practicing medicine for twenty years must be a better doctor than one who has been practicing for five… But no. Research has shown that, generally speaking, once a person reaches that level of “acceptable” performance and automaticity, the additional years of “practice” don’t lead to improvement. – Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise 2016 p 12

Ericsson is not referring to someone who is a beginner. Presumably, effort of most any type by the beginner brings results. But when trying to continue to improve, to develop further expertise in a chosen area, then we must not rely on “naive practice, which is essentially just doing something repeatedly, and expecting that the repetition alone will improve one’s performance.” Instead, we must engage in “purposeful practice” where practice is specifically designed to bring about improvement.

Your Planning System

There are innumerable ways you can plan your year, your day, your class. Don’t get caught up in doing them all. First, do one well. When should you add another system or tool to your arsenal? When either of these things is true:

  1. When you’re ready to, or
  2. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, indicating that what you’re doing isn’t working

In the following 2-minute message we share our #1 Strategy for reducing inbox overwhelm and minimizing social media usage:

To conduct a goal-setting exercise, or to add more structure to your planning, we offer recommendations and support (including worksheets) in our membership section:

Organizational & Filing System

Why You Need to Be Organized

Even if many of your teaching tools are in electronic format, if you don’t have a way to organize yourself, your mind will feel cluttered. It’s the nature of this information-overload world. Having a simple organizational system in place can provide you with:

  1. Quick access to practical teaching resources.
  2. The raw material you need to transform what you’ve learned into teaching that inspires, informs and supports your students.
  3. A natural way to turn your teaching tools into offerings such as workshops and retreats that encourage pre-registration and increased revenue.
  4. A way to avoid overwhelm from information overload.

A Simple Process

Here you’ll find a process for organizing your teaching support tools. There’s nothing to buy and no software to learn. Simply take our process and incorporate it into your own systems.

  1. Use any technical platform you wish. We use email folders – a super simple approach that works just fine.
  2. Create folders using the categories we provide (below). This is a long list so as to cover the bases for all the types of information that teachers of different backgrounds and experience levels might need. Just choose the categories that you personally need and delete the rest.
  3. As you come across materials you wish to keep, whether or not you take the time to read them now, file them in the relevant folder.
  4. For notes or tools that you have in a different format, forward them to yourself via email. You can forward web links, notes or quotes, scanned documents, articles or any other items you wish to keep. Now they can be filed with everything else.
  5. If an item covers multiple topics, send a duplicate to every relevant category. For example, if you want to keep an article that provides teachings on the anatomy of the core and also on Plank Pose, file one copy in Core Anatomy and another in Core Strengthening Asana.
  6. When you’re ready to update a teaching plan, or to create a class or workshop, refer to the appropriate file. You’ll be surprised how much more effective it is to focus on one topic exclusively, consulting multiple sources. Your ability to think holistically and creatively will be greatly enhanced.

Filing Categories

For a list of categories you can use as a guide for your filing system, download this Word document: Organizational Files. Following isa  list of the categories from the Word document, but here we also provide links to member support on each topic. (We’ve been using this system since 2011 so our support around these topics is immense.)

 Philosophy
Energy & Subtle Body
Anatomy & Physiology
Pranayama & The Breath
Asana General
Asana Details
More Teaching Topics
Teaching Plans

See also: Your Class Builder plans

Teaching General
The Business of Teaching
Injuries & Conditions

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