What a loaded question. In all things. Right? From our hair products to our relationships, and everything in between, we walk through life with expectations needing to be fulfilled. In my personal life I have found conflicts arise when expectations are not clearly stated because it causes confusion. It brings strain to the situation. It results in everyone feeling unheard and dismissed. Typically, it ends in a mess.
I was recently being interviewed for a ballet teaching position and was presented with the question, “What do you expect from 3-5 year olds within ballet class?”. I considered it for a moment. Which way did I want to answer? It was an enormously broad question. No specification regarding technique or certain elements of ballet class. It was simply “what do you expect?”. Based on the information I had about the school, I chose to go with my expectations concerning their personal responsibility as students within ballet class and how I choose to go about helping them meet those expectations. I have no idea if my answer was what they were looking for, but I did land the job; so I suppose it was adequate. However, the interview highlighted to me how many facets there are to expectations when it comes to teaching ballet.
Due to the vast number of items occurring within any given ballet class, it can help to break things down into more manageable sizes. Below are three categories I have chosen to hone in on when approaching expectations as a ballet teacher. No doubt there are more, but this has proven to be a good starting place for me. Obviously, answers depend on ages, levels, class dynamics (and sometimes studio policies), but it is important that we clearly communicate our expectations to our students (and often times, their parents) to ensure everyone is on the same page and moving forward together.
- Self Regulation—How do you expect your students to enter/exit the room? Handle themselves between exercises? Move from one place in the studio to another? Ask questions? Give feedback? Deal with other students? Manage injuries/sickness/other such situations? Can they bring a water bottle into the studio? What about wearing warm ups? What is your expectation concerning arriving late?
- Technique—How do you expect your students to apply themselves in learning and implementing your technical corrections? Will you allow discussions concerning other methods? Do you expect all students to approach all steps in one unified way or will you allow for differing approaches depending on the individual’s strengths/weaknesses/preferences/etc? Is technique your main focus or are you opening the class time up to a more recreational feel?
- Artistry—Do you expect artistry to develop? If so, what is your role within that expectation vs the role of your students? Will you allow an open dialogue concerning this issue within class or do you prefer it to be kept for conversations outside of class time? How much individuality do you encourage within your ballet class?
A Lesson Learned the Hard Way
Once upon a time I walked into a dance school. It was brand new to me. I had never met the students and had only briefly spoken to the owner on the phone. She needed someone in a hurry to take over a class for the remainder of the year. I was recommended to her and she hired me directly over the phone to begin teaching immediately. Being a confident ballet teacher I had no issue with any of this and was certain I could carry this class through to their performance with success.
I was missing a piece to the puzzle, however. The largest piece of all. The students. I had somehow failed to even give the humans I was meant to teach much thought (I was very young). I went in with all my excellent expectations in place and the result was a disaster. The students disliked me from the start and had zero motivation to work for me or engage in anything I was attempting to give them. My efforts to reach them were in vain because I was starting from the wrong place. I was starting with me and all the passion I had for ballet when I needed to begin with them and how they felt about ballet.
How to Set Expectations
What I learned through that very rough year is that you cannot teach people who do not want to learn; but you can listen to them, observe them, and gain an understanding of what they are willing to take from you. That is where you start. That is the beginning.
Of course, we all want to be able to march straight into a ballet studio and teach a perfectly structured class with students who are there to soak up every single word we utter. But, as we all know, that is not reality all the time. Do we sell out and simply give fun combinations and praise these kids for nothing? Easy enough paycheck, but it will shred a ballet teacher’s soul to bits. No, we step up our game and we look at these people in front of us and allow them to show us who they are. From there we set our expectations a little higher than they may prefer, but at a place we all know can be achieved. Once they know we believe in them, they will believe in themselves, and we will have risen a tiny bit higher on the expectations ladder allowing us to pull the class up further still.
A slow steady climb upward, but so worth the effort and patience because the result is kids who come away with a sense of pride and ownership in their work. They had a voice in their dance education and they were pushed just enough by their teacher to expand their boundaries and comfort zones. This is teaching. This is helping kids understand expectations and develop their own framework for future endeavors. This is setting students up for success. And that is what expectations are all about.