Sunday, September 02, 2007

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Getting their attention ...

As a professional instructor, a part of my mind is always ‘ON’. I can be flyfishing on a remote river in the back-country of New Zealand and still a part of my thinking is allocated to musing over teaching and training strategies. The majority of the students that come to training each night though, are not professionals, they may be enthusiastic about martial arts training but they have other stuff going on their lives and the martial arts is simply not their top priority. As professional trainers, we need to acknowledge that this is the case, and not be overly surprised when the student comes onto the mat and his or her mind is elsewhere. Instructors need to be mindful that it can often be difficult for the student to ‘flip a switch’ in their head and become fully engaged in the learning process. I can have a broken bone, a piece of cartilage busted off and floating around in the joint, a dislocated finger, whatever – but when I tie on that belt and step onto that mat, I am almost always – 100% engaged in the teaching process; however, the student is very rarely, 100% engaged in the learning process – we never know what kind of day they have had, and most of the time, we have no idea of what else is going on in their lives – so getting them ‘on board’ with the high state of arousal that is necessary for optimal learning can be challenging.
Students tend to move toward a certain level of rapport with the instructor – so if the instructor walks onto with low-energy and apathy, the students will almost certainly follow suit. So rule one is simple – be enthusiastic and energetic, be animated – in most cases it will be contagious. Rule two – demand that the students be involved. When asking a question – expect and demand they answer it. I test them on what we have been doing, throughout the class – a quick question here and there testing their understanding of what we have done and why we have done it, does wonders. Have them answer the questions – if only to emphasize that you are doing this for their benefit. I want the students to take ownership of the knowledge I am presenting to them – and I want them to prove to me that they have done so. Ideally, I want each student to behave and interact as if there were just the two of us on the mat. I do not like students playing an anonymous role at the back of the class. Rule three, and I must say that I am often guilty of letting this one slip myself; if possible, make contact, both physically and verbally with each and every student present. This can be a challenge, especially if the class has large numbers – but it really makes a difference if their s some real and personal contact between the student and the instructor in each session. I see too many instructors standing out the front of the class and never moving from their ‘special spot’ – forget that, start moving, get in their and pat a few backs. This is martial arts instruction, not lecturing!
The teacher-instructor dynamic is a two-way relationship. Keeping this in mind, males for a more productive class and a more enjoyable and fertile learning atmosphere.
Great training,
JBW 2007

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