Questions to Ask Yourself Now if You Have a Problem Student

We have all had instances where a student is not participating, possibly upset and wanting a parent, clinging to your side, or acting out in class.

What do you do during those challenging times?

First, you have to try and determine the root of problem.  

These are the typical, standard basic things to evaluate:

  • Are they being forced to dance despite being completely uninterested?  
  • Are they too advanced for the skills and feeling bored?  
  • Are they possibly not socially mature or old enough for the skills being asked of the class?
  • Do they have the proper attire and shoes?  Is their hairstyle a distraction?

After assessing, take into consideration deeper environmental, physical, and emotional factors.

  • Do they feel accepted and supported by the teacher and other students?
  • Do they feel accepted and supported by their family members?
  • Are they hungry/ tired/ sad/ stressed/ lonely/ frustrated/ overwhelmed?
  • Are they injured or ill?
  • Are there any sensory triggers in their environment that could be causing distraction and/or overwhelm? This isn’t limited but could be things like: physical contact with other students or teacher, loud music or voices, loud instruments, rough flooring or wall surfaces, tight dance wear or shoes, clutter or visual chaos.
  • Is there a student with a very dominant personality in the class that is commanding too much attention from the teacher?
  • Is there a ‘bully’ or mean girl in the class that is hurting or intimidating the student?
  • Are you, the teacher, playing favorites or not being fair?
  • Are you, the teacher, being overly harsh or critical?
  • Is the child a perfectionist?

Next, you have to turn the tables to look at your own behaviors that could be contributing.  YOU show the world what you want to attract.  If you are in a chaotic, unprepared, and disorganized state, that same chaos is reflected in your students’ behavior.  If you are in a rotten mood and not being fair to all, your students will get frustrated and shut down, or reflect that harshness on each other.  We desire a positive, supportive, fair classroom that is brings happiness and fulfillment, so it is important to find a routine to get you in a great state of mind before you go into teach.  Some great mood boosters are a great uplifting playlist, essential oils (I use ‘Stress-Fix™’ from Aveda, but whatever scent you prefer is just fine), and a quiet studio for 15-30 minutes before starting your shift.

Once you have assessed the possible root cause or causes of the issue you can better know how to address it.  Sometimes it is as simple as a conversation with the parents to see if there are any recent changes to the child’s schedule or environment, such as starting a new school, a new baby, or moving to a new house.  A simple snack in the dance bag to eat on the way to class can work wonders.  Or maybe a class on another day when the child is less busy is the answer.  

If you think you may be unknowingly contributing, don’t be too set in your ways to make some small changes to your own mindset, attitude, teaching method or the activities if it will help.  Teaching is about adapting and making it work for all.  Skilled teachers know this.

What you should NEVER do:

  • Force a child to dance.  This does not accomplish anything and causes more harm than good.
  • Bribe them to dance with candy, stickers, or other rewards.  YOU and the experience are the reward.  Bribes are not necessary.  If you want to transition away from this and but still make the students feel they are receiving something, give a stamp early in the class to help them learn, such as their right hand from their left, or where their knee is located.
  • Punish a child for not dancing or behaving poorly by withholding stickers, stamps, rewards, or hugs.  This really just humiliates the child and further harms their relationship with you as an adult they should trust and with dance as a fun activity and art form.  Just don’t do it.
  • Verbally demean the child.  This is so old school.  Unkind words or threats are not becoming of a successful and desirable dance teacher in today’s studios.  No one wants their child in a classroom where the teacher demonstrates this type of behavior, and no studio owner wants a teacher like this, either.

What you SHOULD do:

  • You can give them 2 choices, to a) dance and participate with the class, or b) sit down quietly and return to class when they’re ready.  This is not called a 'time out'.  That is for home.  This is more about re-focusing and holding them to your standards.  They don’t have the option to run around the room for free play or play with props or whatever else may be available.  
  • If they are upset, you can bring in their parent to try to see what the problem may be.  
  • Rather than reprimanding the child, try praising them the instant you see them rejoin the class, having fun, trying hard, staying focused, waiting their turn, etc.  Notice this praise doesn’t have to be based on how well they execute a skill, but on their overall behavior.
  • Throughout all of this you must remain encouraging and supportive.  Set the standard.  Have a consistent and level personality from week to week.  The child needs to know you will support and love them unconditionally, even during less-than-stellar weeks.

If the child continues to act out or want to sit out during class after extensive attempts to get her to rejoin, it may be time for them to withdraw from class and try again in a few months.  While we never want to lose a student, we also want to act in the student’s best interest at all times.  If the family realizes that their child is our priority, they are more likely to return in the future and recommend the studio to their friends.


Why It Is Absolutely Essential To Control Your Students (And The One Phrase You Need To Know To Do It)

Every year it never fails.  You have one child who is off-task constantly, week after week.  While you deal with this student, the rest of the students are left waiting.  You get little accomplished during class time because of this. You are exhausted and frustrated by the end of the class. 

As a teacher, we must plan and intend to control the classroom. We must act as an authority figure.  Children crave adult leadership and consistency.

Let’s talk about that word: CONTROL.

I am not talking about being strict, severe, or crushing a child’s enthusiasm and love of dance.   I am talking about being fair to all students.   The same rules need to apply to everyone, all the time.  Expectations need to be predictable and appropriate for the age group.  It is possible to remain kind and nurturing but still demonstrate control.

It is also your responsibility to provide a safe environment, both physically and emotionally.  A physically safe environment is common sense and easy to identify and correct.

Emotional safety is equally as important, but not often recognized or discussed when it comes to teaching dance.  Students want to feel the teacher likes them and cares about them, even if she won’t allow their off-task behaviors.  Students need to know that you are looking out for them.

If you are unable to control the class, the strongest students will.  Your lack of control will create an environment of emotional insecurity and stress for your weaker students.

You must commit to controlling your class.  Commit to being the adult who will provide the stability for your students. 

If you have a strong student in your class, try addressing her behavior immediately with this phrase:

 “That is not an option.  You don’t have that choice.”

Then go right back to what you were doing.  It should no longer need attention.  You don’t need to raise your voice.  It does not reflect your opinion of the child.  You are correcting the behavior. 

Most importantly, you did not stop class while you dealt with the behavior! 

You cannot reward bad behavior with lavish attention.

You cannot punish the children who ARE behaving appropriately by giving attention to the bad behavior.

They will test you.  That will never change.  Your challenge is to keep your power.



Setting Yourself Up for Success in the Classroom

I am sure that all of us dance teachers, whether seasoned or new, have had more than our fair share of struggles in the classroom.  It could be coming up with teaching material from week to week, dealing with the dynamics of parent-teacher relationships, and who hasn't dealt with a difficult child?!

But if you can properly prepare the lessons, classroom, and yourself beforehand, you will have a greater chance of success.  I know, I know.  You've taught before.  You know how to prep for classes.  But here is just one MUST-DO strategy that will make a world of difference in your teaching and the response from the kids...It's PREPARING so that you can prevent the issues before they start.  

Yes, I know it seems like a simple solution.  I am sure dance teachers are well prepared, but let's go a little deeper, and explain exactly what I mean and how through preparation you CAN prevent issues in the classroom in a positive way.

1.) First things first, you must prepare the space so that it is clean, safe, and free from distractions.  Don't make it more difficult on yourself and the students!  That corner that you store sparkly costumes in?  Clear it out.  Extra chairs and barres?  Gone.  Parents waving through the viewing window?  This is a decision to be made between the teacher and studio owner, but be prepared to possibly make a change.  Consider swapping the paint on the walls for cool, calm colors and make sure the lighting is bright and the space welcoming.

2.) Next, make sure YOU are fully prepared.  Children can be very sensitive to adult emotions, and when they can sense something is off in our lives, they too are 'off'.  I myself have noticed that when I am tired or stressed, the students tend to be a little more squirmy and not listen or follow directions to their ability.  Do whatever you need to do to go into that classroom happy, energetic, and present.  Maybe it's showing up 45 minutes early to review your lesson plans and stretch, or getting a special coffee drink before class, or listening to mood-lifting music on your commute...whatever it is, do that.  I make a point of avoiding phone calls, emails, and social media for the last 15-30 minutes before I teach.  Nothing can derail your emotions like a heavy phone call or message!  Having yourself prepared in mind and body helps you to be more present and engaged, helping those students to stay more fully engaged, too.

3.) Properly prepare your lessons and music.  You MUST go in with a written plan, and also a backup plan if your planned activity needs to go out the window that day.  Check and double check everything--you should not ever have to leave your students because you forgot a prop or piece of music! If you are well prepared, that leaves little to no time in between activities for the students to lose focus or misbehave. 

4) And then over-prepare.  Sometimes it becomes obvious that that skill or activity we intended on teaching will not be received well by the students that particular day, for whatever the reason. Always have one or two activities and any corresponding visuals, props, or music ready at a moments notice so you can move on seamlessly.  No need to make a big deal out of it or draw attention.  The students do not need to be made aware that they are throwing you off your original plan.  Mark the change in your lesson plan and plan to attempt the activity again next week.

Adequate preparation of your emotions, your space, and your lessons will help you prevent any off-task behaviors before they start and should make your class run smoothly and allow for more efficient use of time.  

Comment below:  How do you prepare yourself for class?


Best Props for Preschool Classes

Until I began teaching the ‘little ones’, I had no idea the magic of utilizing props for teaching dance. The right prop can be amazingly helpful! I like to talk to other teachers to get ideas for their best props—props that teach the lesson without creating a distraction (so it’s probably not a good idea to use props from popular movies or that are a character, like Elsa from “Frozen”.)

Besides the props for our Magnificent Moving Kidz curriculum (shameless plug...sign up for the wait list here), we have even more that we use regularly. Here is how we use them, but don’t let yourself be limited to our ideas…

Hula hoops- Use for indicating a specific place for a pose or dance move. The hoop serves as a visual reminder that something is supposed to be performed inside the circle.  Or, lay 2-3 differing colored hoops on the floor in a sequence and assign each color a pose or dance move. Gradually add more colors or specific counts for older groups.

Little plastic skeleton- Use for teaching anatomy.

Big plastic bowl and tennis ball- Introduce the pelvis (represented by the bowl) and it’s purpose of balance (represented by the tennis ball). Put the ball inside the ball, roll it around, and show how your balance shifts in your pelvis to keep you balanced and on your feet. You can also demonstrate what could happen when you ‘lose’ your balance and make a big ruckus with the bowl and ball crashing to the floor.

Orange cones- Create an obstacle course and utilize the cone for the start/end point or a specific shape or move. You can also indicate a floor pattern through the space for the students to follow (zig zag, diagonal, etc.) or teach formations like columns, staggered lines, semi-circle, etc.

Barbie doll- Demonstrate leaping.

Rectangular foam block or stuffed animal- Leap over. Make sure you have both high and low level options for the older kids (4 and up), low level only for 2-3 year olds. 

Tape, tape, and more tape- Use a variety of colored electrical tapes for a variety of activities or to mark places for dancers to stand.

Bean bag friends- Dig out those old beanie toys and use them to balance on kiddos heads during pliés, arms in a la seconde position, or on lifted ankle in attitude.  There are multitude of ways to use these but these should get you started.


Secret Revealed: How To Change Up Your Lesson Mid-Class & Keep Your Cool

If your young students are always predictable and super well behaved, congratulations!  You don't need to read any further.  You have earned a nap! (And maybe you need to start your own blog for the rest of us to follow!)

But for those of us who aren't so lucky, we need to talk about the importance of always being prepared and ready to change your plans mid-class.  We never know what kind of child we will get on a given day.  They may be happy, tired, hungry, stressed, need a hug, be wound up, want attention, or any combination of physical or emotional states.  (And don't even get me started on their parents!  That's a whole post in itself!)  It is not your fault, but it is your responsibility to know how to cope.  Recognize when you may need to prevent problems or change your plans, if necessary, to have the most successful class.

For the littles (ages 2-5), I always plan one or two extra, alternate activities in my lesson plan, and bring in all props, music, and visuals necessary for that extra activity.  I even mark it as "Extra 1" and "Extra 2" on my lesson plans (clever, huh?)  This makes adapting seamless.  You don't need to stress, try to come up with something on the spot, or frantically have your assistant or office manager find the right prop or music for a spur of the moment plan change.  You just adapt.  No one knows you have changed your original plan.  The kids don't know.  The parents don't know.  You just do it and move on.  Hopefully the alternate activity helps you, whether it is to refocus students, regain control of the class, or fill the empty block of time that was created when you had to abandon an activity.

Being prepared does take a little bit of extra effort, but it is well worth it to keep those classes running as smoothly as possible and your sanity in tact.  With your experience in recognizing the need for a change in activity, and having the necessary visuals, music, and props ready to go, you will remain calm, flexible, and manage your classroom like a BOSS!