by Julianna Hane
“Discipline” is a tough word for some to swallow in this day and age, but it is absolutely crucial to a safe and fun aerial practice. As the instructor, it is your responsibility to set the tone for safety and to enforce rules appropriately.
Discipline is generally related to working with kids, but it also applies to adults (as those of you who teach adults know!). The goal of discipline is to create a safe, respectful space in which to explore, create, and learn. Discipline done well actually creates more freedom, because it allows all students access to quality instruction, support from one another, and ample time on the apparatus.
Why is discipline necessary?
During their development, children move through multiple stages of rebellion, or healthy separation from their parent(s). The terrible twos and the teenage years are the prime times of separation. Rebellion statements include, “No,” “I don’t have to,” and “Why don’t you make me?” as the child test their boundaries. The child is finding out if the parent means what they say, and if there are real consequences to their actions.
Even though children are rebelling to get their way, what they secretly crave are healthy boundaries enforced by a loving parent or teacher. Boundaries actually make people feel safe and cared for. In Bringing Up Bebe, an American mother describes the task of raising her child in France while learning about the French concept of parenting. French parents believe that discipline frees children from their own inner tyrant (the ego or selfish one). Discipline teaches children that true pleasure in life cannot be experienced without learning how to wait. What a contrast to American society’s focus on instant gratification!
How does discipline apply in the aerial world?
Success in the aerial arts requires patience, consistency, and perseverance. Our classes are a great opportunity to teach these character traits, which give students access to vast potential in the art form (and in life). Getting a solid straddle inversion takes a lot of time and hard work, and so it should - it requires a great deal of strength, coordination, and body awareness to accomplish. This hard work establishes a solid foundation for students to progress safely into learning their first drop.
How can instructors enforce boundaries consistently?
First, share behavior expectations with the students by posting studio rules on the wall and reviewing them on Day 1 of a session. Eliminate any arbitrary or unnecessary rules, and keep the list relatively short and easy to remember.
Once rules are established, decide what to do when a student breaks the rules. This list is known as a Progressive Discipline Plan, and it outlines consequences for poor choices. You may need multiple plans for different populations (see below).
The plan progresses from light to strong consequences. For example, in a kids class, the first time a child breaks a rule, simply remind them of the rule. If they break the rule a 2nd time, you decide whether to stand near them and remind again (if they truly forgot), or have them sit out a turn (if they were being defiant). If there are too many or too few steps in the plan (or deviations in application) students may call the teacher out and begin to lose respect for them.
Consistency is key, hence the need for a solid plan:
Progressive Discipline Plan for Kids
Progressive Discipline Plan for Adults
The number of times you repeat each level depends on your studio’s goals as well as the population you work with:
How do I know if I am using the discipline plan effectively?
Have a more experienced instructor observe you teaching and get their feedback. You may also ask your instructors or studio manager to help establish specific discipline plans per population served. Perhaps the staff could observe each other testing out different plans, noting what works and what does not. Then modify accordingly.
How can I discuss discipline issues effectively with parents?
For larger classes or multiple classes, you may wish to document disciplinary actions in a daily log. Note the date, child’s name, class, situation/portion of class, and action taken, which can then be a solid piece of evidence to use when talking to parents. If you present a clear log of events to parents, you are able to speak in facts rather than with emotions.
During a conference with a parent, show them that you are on their side and that your goal is safety and enjoyment for all. Preventing defensive reactions through positive language can usually generate a productive conversation. The goal is to let parents know their is a problem and to decide on next actions, both for the instructor to use in class and the parent to use at home. You might also ask the parent for suggestions on how they’d like to move forward.
In spite of your best efforts, the parent may still become upset. Remember that safety and respect in your class/studio is of prime importance, and you could be held responsible if a student gets injured. Some parents may still be pushing boundaries themselves or may not instill much discipline at home. Others may be dealing with divorce, losing a job, etc. and the child might be acting out as a result. Use compassion here, but stay on task regarding expectations for behavior at the studio and take the necessary steps to remedy the situation.
How can I discuss discipline issues with adult students?
If you need to have a private conversation with an adult student who repeatedly dismisses your directions and authority in class, it’s a chance to figure out whether or not they are the right fit for your studio. In that private conversation, remind the student that safety is your top priority.
If they want to advance more quickly than the class, you could put them in a different class or enroll in private lessons. If they disagree with your teaching methods (and you have carefully reflected on your methods and have positive feedback from most of your students), the student should consider training at a different studio. If there is a personality clash between you and the student, perhaps they could try a different instructor.
In any case, the goal of this conversation is to settle the matter. There is no reason an adult should continually disrespect an instructor in the recreational environment when they have choices about where they take class. You also have choices about what behavior you’re willing to tolerate in your class/studio. When in doubt, document each contact with the student in a log so you have evidence to present to a supervisor for advice or intervention.
For more student scenarios and suggestions for next actions, see The Aerial Teacher's Handbook.
In spite of the challenges of discipline, your other students may thank you for it. While a disciplinary action might upset one student, it can actually improve the experience of the rest of the class because boundaries and safety were protected and prioritized. When you see a positive response and renewed sense of trust from the rest of your students, you’ll see that it’s worth it.
Have you experienced a disciplinary problem in your class that you’re not quite sure how to solve? Let us know! We’re happy to answer you privately if you submit your request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our authors include our Master Teacher Trainers as well as Born to Fly™ Certified Teachers.