A smile can change the world …or something like that.
I don’t know about changing the world. I teach dance, after all. But what I do know, is that a smile can change your class. We all have heard how important smiling is. It makes you feel better. It makes people want to be around you. It makes life more pleasant. But, I am constantly amazed by the power that a smile truly has in the classroom.
I am very discipline-focused. I believe that it is imperative for students to know what is expected of them and what the rules of the classroom are. It is easy for me to get stuck in this and forget to smile. But every time I do, the students lose their attention span, and the class becomes torturous for them as well as me.
I remember one particular class last season. It was winter. It was raining. It was cold. This was my first class of the morning. It was a new school, so I was still trying to get the students to understand what was expected of them. I had one student who would continually disrupt the class. She would fall to make everyone else laugh. She would not stay on her spot. She would talk over the music. I was having to continually correct her, and she would ignore me! I was stern. I even had to put her in time out. Not only was she making the class difficult for me, she was preventing the other students from enjoying their time dancing. The worst part was that the director of the school happened to walk by when I was correcting the student. The director asked me if she needed to remove the student from the class.
And I had an epiphany!
Absolutely not, she did not need to remove the student from class. The student obviously needed this outlet to get her extra energy out and to bring enjoyment to her day. She was not ruining the class for everyone else. I was! It was me allowing her behavior to affect my own. We are adults. We are the teacher. We control the mood of the classroom; therefore, we control whether the students enjoy their time or not. Preschoolers are not aware of their emotions or actions, but we, as adults, absolutely are.
It is possible to give a child a skill, teach them discipline, and to have fun!
So the next week, when I returned to this class, I promised myself that no matter what, I would continue to smile. No matter what this child did, I kept smiling. I still held my discipline standards. I maintained the order in the class, but I did not allow my students to affect my emotions. And do you know what happened? She listened? She was not nearly as poorly behaved. She was not begging for attention because I was not bringing the mood of the class down with my frustration. She was having fun!
A student, who was potentially going to be pulled from the class, started listening. Her behavior continued to become better and better through the rest of the year. By recital, she knew everything that was expected of her. And her classroom teachers even told me that her behavior after dance was better than any other day. She got her ballet bun moment. Her parents were thrilled. And they have memories that will last a lifetime.
We are in charge of the mood of the classroom. Regardless of what is going on in our personal life or in the classroom, we can change everything. Even if it is the most rowdy, undisciplined class, we can change everything. Often all we need to do is to take a breath and smile.
I know! It’s hard! Maybe we have a headache. Maybe we didn’t sleep well the night before. I’ve definitely had days when all I wanted to do was to take the kids back to their classrooms. But, so what if we’re having a bad day? Our students will remember us better than we remember them. You may easily teach thousands of students during your career. How could you possibly remember all of their names? But, they will remember their first ballet teacher. How do you want to be remembered? Will your students remember loving dance or hating it?
When dancers return from your class, don’t you want them to be smiling and excited? Don’t you want their teachers to be able to tell that they want to go to dance class every week? Those teachers are your communication with parents.
Make her day better because she had dance that day. Make dance day be the day she looks forward to every week. Make her parents know your name because she says it all the time with love. If you make her day, you make her life. Every child should have the opportunity for their ballet bun moment. And the way we do that, is to smile.
So here are my tips for a smile-worthy dance class:
Use music that they enjoy. They are young. It is okay if they sing along. I try to use at least one song per class that the dancers have probably heard from somewhere else. They are always so excited to hear a song from a movie they love or that they have heard riding in the car with their parents.
Use music that you enjoy. You’re probably going to be listening to the same song over and over again. Boredom leads to frustration.
Breathe before ever giving a correction. Ask yourself, “Can I still smile while giving this correction?”
If you do have to correct a student, have a conversation with the student that got in trouble to make sure that they understand why. Kids are smart. They will understand. Actions do have consequences.
Make sure the students know what is expected of them. Go over the rules and expectations more than you think is necessary. Young children need to know the rules. It is only by creating a consistent learning environment that the students will know what is expected of them and then feel safe.
Smile! It truly does change everything, especially after reprimanding a student for breaking a rule. Bring the rest of the class together with a smile, move on, and bring the mood back up.
We are in charge of the mood of the class. Period. We are adults and we are the teacher. As long as you can keep a smile on your face, your students will enjoy their time with you. If they enjoy their time with you, they will go back to the classroom happy. The rest of their day, and their classroom teacher’s day, will be easier. Everyone will notice.
I believe that our job is to make sure that our students enjoy dance. We have the youngest dancers. We hold the future of dance in our hands. The dancers we are teaching are the ones that will change the industry in generations to come. That may seem crazy to think about, especially when teaching young, recreational classes, but that is where it all begins. We hold the key as to whether our dancers continue dancing or not. So in some ways, our smiles actually ARE changing the world.
*Dani Clark is an instructor at Studio Go, our sister company. Studio Go is an on-site dance studio committed to providing the best in on-site dance and movement throughout Atlanta, Athens, Charleston and Chattanooga. As a fun, upbeat, and positive company, we seek to enhance the lives of children and the schools in which we teach. We absolutely adore Ms. Dani, and she (as you can tell) is an incredible asset to our company’s overall vision. Thanks for sharing your dance insight with all of us, Dani!