Dance Classroom Management: Warm/Strict

Today’s Behavior Management Monday Technique from the book Teach Like A Champion 2.0 (paid link) is one of my favorites. It is an extremely simple technique that I use regularly in my work as an educator, both in the traditional classroom and in the dance classroom.

This technique is under the larger category of building character and trust in your classroom. Using the Warm/Strict technique allows us to “send a message of high expectations, caring, and respect” (p. 438).

This is a short section in the book, but I really love the way that the technique is described:

We’re socialized to believe that warmth and strictness are opposites: if you’re more of one, it means being less of the other. I don’t know where this false conception comes from, but if you choose to believe in it, it will undercut your teaching. The fact is that the degree to which you are warm has no bearing on the degree to which you are strict, and vice versa. You should be neither only warm nor only strict. In fact, as the Warm/Strict technique shows, you must be both. You should be caring, funny, warm, concerned, and nurturing–but also strict, by the book, relentless, and sometimes inflexible.

In fact, you should seek not only to be both warm and strict but often to be both at exactly the same time. When you are clear, consistent, and firm while being positive, enthusiastic, caring, and thoughtful, you send the message to students that having high expectations is part of caring for and respecting someone. (p. 438)

In reading the above paragraphs from the text, I am reminded that the idea of showing caring through high expectations is a core belief of mine. As a child training in dance, I remember complaining a few times to my mother that I was being “picked on” by my dance teachers. I remember my mother explaining to me that if the teachers didn’t care or think that I had potential, they wouldn’t correct me. She pointed out the some students never received corrections and got away with doing movements incorrectly, but the fact that teachers took the time to make sure I did things the right way shows that the believed in me and knew I was not giving my best effort. Those teachers wanted me to be my greatest self. Today, I realize from the way in which I communicate with my students and the lens through which I view parenting decisions is largely based in this belief: When you truly believe that someone can accomplish great things, as if it is an undeniable fact, you won’t have a problem with helping them see themselves in the same way and encouraging them to reveal the best part of themselves through their own work and effort. This is one of the qualities that I love most about the technique of Warm/Strict–it combines caring with high expectations and reminds us that high standards are good and should be sought and desired.

Making Space for Creativity in Your Dance Class

It’s okay to sometimes be a little uncomfortable when you’re teaching. This might sound surprising to some, but it is a fact that I’ve found to be true. I have found this sentiment to be most true when I am working to allow space for creativity in my dance class. Now that I’ve said that, let me give you a little background.

As an elementary teacher for 6 years now, I have spent several years working to find my teacher voice, establish my authority in the classroom, develop my warm/strict mechanisms, and to really just own the idea that I am the “expert in the room” (a validating phrase that I heard frequently at one organization where I taught for two years). But with all of that, sometimes we forget about allowing kids to create. We forget about all of the detailed lessons based in the theory of constructivism that we developed while training to become educators. We forget to make space for our students to experiment, take calculated risks, and to build in their own learning environment.

Also, besides forgetting, sometimes we just get comfortable. We get into a groove, our students enjoy it, we get positive feedback and no complaints (classroom teaching heaven, am I right?), and we decide to not fix what isn’t broken. The problem with that is: stagnation. I believe I heard recently on one of the podcasts that I listen to: “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” Call us dramatic if you want to, but I’d bet that for most of us creatives, not moving or making causes us to feel like there’s a piece of us that isn’t really living. (#createordie)

Since we artists, educators, and creators have the intention to always be growing, learning, and making, we have to allow our students to do the same. We have to let them discover the joy that comes from ideating, making, and re-making.

So, let’s get uncomfortable. Sometimes, this can be as simple as adding a song to your class that fits within your lesson plan, theme, or unit, but that might not give you the desire to move in a way that is comfortable for you. It could be as simple as slowing down or speeding up the tempo to a piece, changing the direction of a movement, or releasing some control during a portion of class and passing the ownership of the learning completely to your students.

When you allow yourself to be uncomfortable and force yourself to create in an unfamiliar space, you are modeling successfully working through unfamiliar experiences to your students. You are encouraging problem-solving. You are demonstrating new ways to compose dance using various movement elements. You might even simultaneously challenge and empower your students to trust their skills, in movement and in life, even when the unexpected occurs. And, in the process, you might remind yourself that you have the power to do the same.

Cheers to the discomfort! Let’s keep creating.