Learning to Teach through Observation

One of the most important and effective ways you can learn to be a better instructor is through observing other teachers. In fact, it is so critical that the biggest teacher training programs such as Merrithew require observation hours as part of their STOTT PILATES® certification process. Many of my students, however, are not sure what to look for while completing their observation hours towards certification.

Here are a few observation ideas that will help you not only pass your examination, but also become a fantastic, sought-after instructor.

1. Write Down the Exercises

Writing down the exercises the instructor selected may give you insight into how the teacher is programming for the individual or group. When the session is over, look at the list of exercises. Was there a specific focus for the session; perhaps on a principle, body part, or concept?

Save these session programs in your notebook because they may come in handy when you’re developing your own class programs.

2. Note the Basics of Teaching

Did the instructor speak loudly enough? Were the students’ questions answered? Did the class begin and end on time?

3. Be a Keen Observer of Non-verbal Communication

Look for signs—gestures, facial expressions, body language—that indicate whether participants are tired, bored, anxious, and so on. If you can begin to pick up on these subtle signals, you can adjust your approach to improve sessions with your own clients.

4. Try to Understand How the Instructor Picks Their Battles

Notice when the instructor chooses to correct and when she chooses to move on. It’s very important to learn how to pick your battles because you cannot fix everything in one session; it will just frustrate clients and leads to a very slow session. The first priority needs to be safety, but from there it really depends on the client’s overall goals.

At the end of the session, review your notes. What did the instructor correct? Based on the choices of corrections what can you extrapolate about the instructor’s goals for the client and the client’s goals for himself?

5. Look for an Equal Opportunity to Learn

Addressing everyone’s needs can be difficult, but should be the goal. This means if there are five students in a class, they each receive 20% of the teacher’s attention.

Does the instructor give equal time to all the students? Are there certain students who received more attention or more individual correction? Why did the instructor choose to do this?

6. Notice Where the Teacher is Positioned

A good teacher will know where she needs to stand for each exercise in order to have the best vantage point for correcting form and alignment. Notice where the teacher stands for each exercise and what she may be observing in her students.

Overall did the teacher keep moving around the student(s) or stand in one place? For any given exercise, is the positioning of the instructor the most effective position to see form?

7. Find the Hidden Foundational Exercise

There are many ways to do the same exercise on different equipment or with various props. At first you may see an exercise that looks completely new to you, but take a second look because there likely is a foundational exercise hidden within.

When you see an exercise you have never seen before, look for the essence of the exercise, and write down all the foundational exercises that it may stem from.

Ask yourself why the instructor may have decided to use that particular piece of equipment or prop with the client. For example, consider if the instructor chose to do hundreds with the arc barrel. How could that client’s form, alignment, and/or posture be benefiting from the use of the barrel? Would the challenge be increased or decreased by the barrel’s use?

8. Observe the “Cue Conversations”

“Cue Conversations” are what I call the delivery of a cue by the teacher and the response from the student. A good instructor will not only notice how her cues are being absorbed by her students, but also adapt them based on their effectiveness with that individual.

For example, if I were trying to get a professional dancer to retract her scapula gently, I might cue, “Gently glide your shoulder blades towards your spine.” If I used the same cue with someone who could barely move her shoulders and was basically unaware she had scapulae, it might not produce the desired movement. A stronger cue might be necessary to get the scapula to move, such as, “Move your shoulder blades behind you like elevator doors closing halfway towards your spine” or an even stronger cue, “Draw your shoulder blades towards each other like a you are squeezing a lemon.” There is no perfect cue, only the right cue for the individual in front of you.

Does the instructor keep saying the same thing over and over again, or did the instructor find new approaches to communicate the same idea? Did the instructor vary the style and method of presentation, i.e. anatomical cues, imagery cues, tactile cue? Did the cue have the desired effect on the student’s execution of the exercise?

 

You may have noticed a trend in these tips: A good instructor needs to be attentive to detail, able to adjust her plan to the current situation, and able to see how the client responds to cues and corrections. To achieve this, remember the essential aspects of the exercises you’re using, and focus on your client’s experience throughout the session.

Good luck! XO

Holly Furgason Fit for Real & Blue Sparrow Pilates

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5 Comments on “Learning to Teach through Observation

  1. I didn’t realize how important observation was, until I started logging my observation hours. It is so important and I learn so much every time!

  2. HI Holly:

    A very thoughtful and comprehensive description of “how to observe”.
    I will be sure to share this with STOTTPILATES trainees at equilibriumstudio.

    You are doing such a great job mentoring new pilates trainees!

    • Thank you! I’m so happy that I trained at Equilibrium Studio, MI because they really helped me find my passion! It’s exciting to be able to give back to the next crop of teachers. Thank you for sharing Fit For Real with your students.

  3. Hi Holly!!!! This is very useful info. I’ve noticed in the studio I go to that most instructors just pace back and forth in the back and there’s usually 11 of us students.

    • Those instructors who are pacing back and forth, are likely trying to see that each student is working correctly and effectively. That’s a great sign you’ve found good instructors.

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