Student and Class Management Techniques I Learned From Other Teachers Outside of Yoga

I still remember my 3rd grade teacher. She never babied us. She spoke to us like little adults and was always there to listen. In high school I had a history teacher who made you love her subject because she was so passionate about it. What makes these people special? That certain “je ne se quoi” that makes them unforgettable? Why do we choose certain people as our mentors? 

All of us as adults have taken the role of teacher at some point in our lives. As a sibling, as a parent, as a superior employee at your work or as a professional in one’s industry. We’ve all been there. While I have only been a yoga teacher for a few years, I was an English teacher for seven. Before that, I was a registered nurse. Wearing different teaching hats in my life has made me very observant of the techniques I use to manage my pupils or patients__ some of which I have applied to my current profession, others I picked up from peers. I am here to share those pointers with you in hopes that they could be of some use for you and your classes. 

1. Break Things Down - School teachers

One of my aerial yoga students is a school teacher and she told me once that taking many smaller steps is better than making 5 long steps and confusing the student. In my field this was especially helpful because I’m teaching something that is usually very new to my students. Likewise, it is a type of yoga that regresses everyone to their days at the playground. We literally swing around in class  so I need to make my instructions short to get to the asana. Another thing I use to break down my cues, are with the choice of poses I use in the class sequence. We take baby steps___ not as you witnessed in your 200-hour training, smaller than that. because in a mixed class you can get true beginners that start from zero to more experienced practitioners.

2. Answer ‘Why’ Questions Concretely - Parents

Lyn, my sister, is a mom of two boys. Currently, they are in the phase of the why-questions. Why is the sky blue? Why do grown-ups cry even when they’re not sad? These come up because kids explore things around them. They’re like little scientists discovering their surroundings for the first time. Long ago we were like this. Fast forward to adulthood with a yoga practice, we are given the privilege of experiencing this again. By realising that our students are rediscovering themselves through their journey, they need to make sense of the work they do while as teachers we need to provide them with answers that serve them as such. How?  Be concise but wise. For example a student asked me once, “Why do we windmill our arms when transitioning between warrior poses?” I answered by saying that it was not for aesthetic purposes but it allows for exercising full range of motion while putting the muscles in place and engaged when we reach the next asana. Response accepted. 

3. “You´ll Want To” - Nurses

Being a nurse, I can say from experience that the teacher role in the job description always comes up at least once a week. Usually it was before we sent a patient home. How to take the pills, use a device, post operation care etc.  A phrase I’ve used and applied to in my teaching style was, “You’ll want to…” It immediately puts students in a receptive mode to taking instructions. I think it’s because as listeners receiving the statement, you’ll-want-to means that you do not want to experience the potential result of misreading instructions. It works like a charm. In the hospital the conversation would be “ You’ll want to take this pill only once a day.”  Same principles with yoga teaching, “ You’ll want to round out and widen your shoulders on your upward-facing dog. Try it out. 

4. Repetition - Language Teachers

Repeating and reviewing past lessons is a tried and true method of any skill you are trying to learn. In teaching a language, Its [of course] easier.. you just repeat the conversation then make a few versions of the same thing. In a yoga class we do the same thing but the difficult part is getting your body to feel the difference of each variation. For example, I always repeat that my students should stack their arms and shoulders. Look for the 90 degree angle in the shape they are forming. From there I take them through a series of poses that reinforce that lesson with Planks, Chatarunga, Vashistasana, lizard pose, etc. After this,, we review the same poses again in other days. Recently I started giving company classes  .  I hope that by the end of the summer my alignment cues become second nature to them so we can do a ladder flow. 

5. Make Up Your Own Questions and Answer Them - Doctor

My brother is a Urologist and lecturer for a method he and his team developed in his field. Public speaking is his forte. What I noticed about him when he explains things is that he makes up his own questions and answers them. Why does he do this? Because it saves time. Furthermore, he already anticipates that the queries he creates will be commonly asked. This is very useful if you are doing retreats or teacher trainings. It keeps the lesson moving and avoids pop-up questions that can potentially eat up class time.  

6. Non-verbal Communication - Acting Coach

An acting coach told me that you can achieve many things without the need for words. true because 70% of communication is non-verbal and very applicable to yoga classes. We can take advantage of the fact that our classes don’t require much talking. Some of the most valuable non-verbal communication methods I’ve picked up over the years was walking the room. While students are holding a pose I make the long spiels while answering a few “why questions”, I also make sure to be peripherally visible to the student who’s having an off-day. You know this student. because she’s the one doing her own thing or talking to the other person beside her. standing between them breaks that. While there are many forms of non-verbal communication and you can easily pick up a book on the subject, I suggest you internalize on what works for you and your student. Keep in mind that you need to get what you need form them in class without engaging or condoning unwanted behavior. 

7. Care - From Yours Truly

I think in all the years I’ve been put or have put myself in the teaching role I can say that the most important thing I have as a teacher is that I care. I care about what happens to my students during class and after they leave. I strive to learn more about each of each their conditions, I attend more courses so that I am better qualified, I always remember something they said in previous classes and follow up on that. Whether its an old injury or even a small ache, I always ask and try to incorporate something in class that takes care of their needs.  The point is that it’s always about the student. Everything follows from there. Taking care of their needs, being genuinely sincere will bear fruit from augmenting your class size to the trajectory of your career. Caring has a powerful butterfly effect that no one should ignore.  

 

To sum everything up. Break things down. Remember your students are re-learning how to crawl and then walk. Be concise, but wise. Explain why you do the things to do in a way that unifies your lessons in the minds of your students. It gives their practice sense. Use the phrase “you’ll want to” to make students more receptive to following your cues. Review past poses and alignment cues followed by reinforcing them with the corresponding asanas . When lecturing in a workshop or retreat. formulate common questions and answer them yourself. It saves time while keeping the lesson’s dynamic pace. Practice non-verbal techniques to maintain student attention. Sometimes addressing the problem without engaging the student is the best. Last but not least, care. Care about what you impart on your students because you got into this profession to reach out and connect. Hope this article serves you well.

Jennifer Yusi
My name is Jennifer Yusi. Vinyasa/Aerial yoga instructor, writer for Momoyoga, founder of misfityoga.co. I believe in the fusion of yoga with different forms of movement. In my downtime, I like hiking, painting and karaoke.

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