Reflective practice is a wonderful way to help ourselves to develop and progress our dance teaching practice. It is a way of continually learning and developing through our own practice. At the end of a teaching session we can reflect on what we did. We can consider the things that worked well and those that did not work so well. Honesty in our reflections is vital and it can take some practise to develop the objectivity that we need. It is worth it though because our teaching benefits enormously from quality reflective practice. And our students benefit too, of course.
Seeing our teaching through someone else’s eyes
Seeing our teaching through someone else’s eyes can be both enlightening and a bit frightening. Having your teaching observed by another teacher or assessor is a bit scary at first but it is a very useful form of professional development. An observed session followed by an opportunity for reflective discussion and feedback between the observer and the teacher might seem daunting. But it is productive and offers useful insight. It is important to reflect on both the positive and the negative aspects of the session.
When we reflect upon our teaching practice we need to ask ourselves critical questions about all aspects of our teaching. I will often start with ‘how did I feel about the class’? This can be very revealing. I am sure that all dance teachers have experienced the range of emotions after a class from ‘that was a great class’ to ‘why do I do this job’? This is a good place to begin reflections on a dance class. I also like to reflect on how the students felt in the class by asking myself, do I know how the students felt about the class? The answer to this question says something about how involved the students were in the class. And indicates the level of communication between teacher and students.
Ethical teaching practice
Examining our teaching through reflection lets us identify and ask questions about it. We can consider the teaching methods and approaches that we used. And we can consider the implications of teaching suggestions or feedback given in class. Were they appropriate? Did they do what they were expected to do? We can ask ourselves if our teaching promoted a person-centred or ethical approach? And we can consider the amount of encouragement that was given to each individual student in the class. by analysing our answers we can decide if our teaching is meeting the needs of our students and our teaching agenda.
Reflective practice offers endless opportunities for dance teachers. Sometimes our reflections might be just a few minutes immediately after class. Other times we can spend longer for a more in-depth evaluation. I like to do a bit of both. I find a short reflection after each class is useful to note key issues. But a longer reflective session perhaps once a week can identify strands of teaching communication and feedback that pops up regularly. This also gives me a chance to compare reflections between different classes or taught sessions.
An example to reflect on
Reflective practice has the potential to enhance life in the dance studio for both teacher and student. I like to use an example from the film ‘Billy Elliot’ to explore our own beliefs and attitudes to teaching and the people we teach.
Consider the scene from the film. Billy practised his pirouettes over and over again. He showed his teacher how his turns had improved. No positive feedback was offered. Instead the placing of his arm was criticised. Billy’s disappointment was obvious.
Reflecting on this scene we can see that his teacher was intent on correcting technique and did not consider the psychological impact of negative assessment in response to all Billy’s hard work. We can use this example to reflect on how we would have dealt with the situation. There are a couple of questions that you might want to begin with.
- Upon reflection would you have done anything differently?
- How would you show, for example, that you were sensitive to the needs of the student?
With practise we can make reflective practice part of our teaching. And it can help to enhance our teaching of dance.
The content of this blog post originally appeared in an article that I wrote for The Dancer ((July 2001. The Dancer is the magazine of The British Ballet Organization.