A Lesson in Motivation

Author: Jessica Clayton

November is child safety and protection month. We at Dance Exploration believe in teaching all classes in a positive “Yes” Environment where children are encouraged, motivated and nurtured to make the right decisions. We teach all ages and are aware that each age group requires a different nudge in behavior.

I teach a very small Teen Jazz class on Tuesdays. The girls have been enrolled in dance by their parents to “keep them out of trouble”. However, with that being said, they are a great group of kids and really enjoy dance and want to learn as much as they can and improve at it.

Often I give my students a chance to let me know what they want to work on and this week Marcie decided,

“Miss Jessica, I want to work on turns across the floor!”

Great Idea!!!

One of the tools I use for teaching consecutive turns across the floor to beginners is a scarf. I have the dancers tie the scarf in a knot and stick it between their inner thighs. This prevents the “penguin walk” effect of chainee turns. The goal of this is to have the dancers use their muscles to hold the scarf in place while half turning across the floor. Usually my students find this a ton of fun and laugh the whole way.

My Tuesday night girls reacted a little differently. These girls are at that age where self image and being “cool” and accepted is so important. As soon as they saw what they had to do they decided,

“I can’t do this!”

All the way across the floor they kept stopping, taking the scarves out and just wanting to give up.

Keep in mind, I have never had students react to this exercise in this way, they usually love it. So I knew I had to come up with a quick way to movitvate these girls to come back across the floor on the left without any problems. So I decided to use the trick of “dangling the carrot in front of their noses.”

“Ok, I tell you what. If you can make it all the way across the floor without dropping your arms, touching your scarves, or saying you “can’t” do this…then next week when we repeat this exercise you won’t have to use the scarves.”

Play music, 5-6-7-8

Those girls turned all the way across the floor: perfect posture, great arms, and not one dropped their scarf or claimed they couldn’t do it.

Encouraging our students to change their behavior can sometimes be the most difficult aspect of our job and it is not always easy. This turn of events last night reinforced my decision to ensure that all of my dance educators are trained in teaching in a “Yes” Environment, where our students are nurtured, encouraged to change behaviors for the better, and driven artistically and creatively.

To get the best results positive reinforcement is always better than negative! Take for example the story below:

In one of my preschool classes, I had two sisters who always seemed to want to display sibling rivalry right in the middle of class. Pushing, shoving, fighting, crying… you name it. Now these students are preschool aged, so much younger than my teen jazzers, but the same lesson in encouragement and motivation needed to be taught. To attempt to combat this behavior, I used a technique that I’ve heard about frequently throughout the years used by not only by dance teachers, but school teachers as well.

I wrote all the names of the dancers on a chalk board with three stars. I told them that at the start of each class, that each of them had already earned 3 stickers and to keep each sticker, they must follow the class rules (ie: no running, sharing, saying please/thank you…etc). If they didn’t follow the rules, a star would be erased and they would be down to 2 stickers.

This didn’t work as planned, the sisters still wanted to argue throughout class and my warnings,

“Please remember that you have three stars and they may be taken away if this continues!”

just upset them even more!

“No Miss Jessica! Please don’t take away my stars!”

I brainstormed and finally realized, taking things away isn’t positive at all! The reason behind this technique, which is trying to foster positive behavior, was positive, but the result is not. It causes more distress than good. It didn’t take me much time to realize this wasn’t working and quickly came up with the following solution:

“This week you all have one star! Which means you all have already earned one sticker! You will be able to earn more stickers throughout class. You can earn stickers by being nice to your friends, sharing and listening to Miss Jessica!”

This solution didn’t stop the sibling rivalry completely, however when the girls were asked if they thought that kind of behavior would earn them another sticker, not only did the behavior stop more quickly, but we avoided the tears that followed with the threat of having a sticker taken away.

If you are finding that your students are having a difficult time staying motivated, positive, and on focus, it is probably a lack of motivation to behave differently. Start asking yourself the following questions after each class:

Am I rewarding and congratulating my students for positive behavior?
What, if anything, are they receiving for following my direction/lead?
What other ways could I approach my teaching style to motivate my students to focus?
Is my approach more negative than positive?
Is my approach age appropriate?
Do I know my students and what they want to gain from my class?

After asking these questions, you may realize that you need a different approach to teaching your classes. Which is fine! You may in fact need to change your teaching styles a few times! But never give up on students! Always remember it is your job as their teacher to lead by example. If you are negative, they will respond in a negative way! If you never reward them or congratulate them, they will never show you results.

I hope if you are a teacher reading this that you will apply these techniques and let me know how your next class goes! Did you see a change in behavior? What are some positive reinforcements that you use in your classes to keep kids determined, motiviated and on track?

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