by Julianna Hane
I’ll never forget accidentally feeding a whole tortilla chip to a toddler (I was only 7 years old at the time and didn’t know any better). Of course, the child choked. Luckily her mom was nearby and as trained nurse, she administered “back blows” to save her. After that frightening incident, the mother kindly said to her daughter, “take baby bites.” This lesson has stuck with me and still influences my teaching today.
I often see teachers shoving metaphorical tortilla chips into the beginner aerialist’s mouth by teaching way too many steps at once. The funny thing is, I used to teach this way, too. When I was a new teacher, I didn’t realize I was teaching too many steps until the students responded with blank stares, head scratches, etc.
Part of the challenge is that many of us teachers learned aerial arts in environments designed for advanced movers. While a gymnast, dancer, or other high level athlete can process high level sequencing and coordination, the typical recreational learner isn’t prepared for that. They need more incremental progressions leading up to what acrobats classify as “basic” skills.
According to web designer Susan Weinshenck, the human brain can only remember four steps at a time. It’s important to break skills down into small bites so more students from different backgrounds can find success.
If you are a Harry Potter fan, check out the classroom scenes from Sorcerer’s Stone (1st book/movie). Notice how the instructor gives a brief demo and explanation of a single skill. The students then practice that single skill under guidance of the teacher, who offers small corrections and reminders along the way.
An aerial class can run in the same fashion. The instructor models one skill at a time (with a maximum of 4 vital steps or details to remember in the first attempt), and then students practice that skill with teacher guidance. If there are more details to highlight in that skill, the teacher can layer it on during a second or third turn, or save it for another class day.
If you offer “free time,” games, sequence building, or explorations at the end of class, try incorporating the skills learned that day so students can review them more independently. Repetition is key to remembering skills over a longer period of time.
How do you know when a student is ready to move on to the next skill? See the next post on assessment to find out.
100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan Weinshenck
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
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.
by Julianna Hane
The art of cueing can be a tricky subject. At times it’s over-rated, and at other times overlooked. Cueing well requires multiple layers of understanding of not just the skills themselves, but also in noticing how students respond and adjusting your strategy as needed.
I’ve broken the verbal cueing process into 6 stages. (Physical cueing is also incredibly useful, and will be featured in another post). As you practice teach, notice which stage of the process gives you the most trouble. Each section below contains a description and suggestions for improvement. The stages of effective cueing are as follows:
Stage 1: Understand the goal.
Fully understand the body position or movement you are going for and why. What is the ultimate goal? This means knowing proper alignment and appropriate range of motion of each joint as it applies to aerial arts technique. Rather than memorizing arbitrary arm and leg positions, what actions or muscle activations in the body make each skill possible?
Stage 2: See what the student is actually doing.
Cues should always be given in a context rather than arbitrarily memorized. Use both your knowledge of the body and your observation skills to really see your student. To see accurately, do you understand basic alignment principles of the body? Do you know what muscle activations support various movements? Do you understand the difference between anatomical terms like hip flexion vs. hip extension and how they keep you connected to the apparatus?
Stage 3: Compare the goal to the current reality.
How does the student’s current expression of the skill differ from the goal? Analyze and draw conclusions. This will form a blueprint of your long-term goals for that student (which could be a few weeks, months, or years).
Stage 4: Choose what to focus on first.
Students who have restrictions and weaknesses (pretty much all human beings) will be able to make drastic changes in their bodies over time, but not in one class. Choose the most important goal or concept in order for that student to: 1) be safe, 2) experience a new sensation (i.e. muscle engagement) within the skill, and 3) get a little closer to the goal.
Stage 5: Try out different cues.
Select words, an image, a phrase, or a physical cue that might connect with that student. Start collecting cues by observing other teachers, taking classes, practice teaching, and developing a personal practice to help you describe what is happening in your own body. Notice how movement patterns reflect nature or other common things in our world (i.e. the spine articulating like a string of pearls).
Stage 6: Note which cue worked and which ones didn’t.
Observe the student’s response to your cue. Did the student get closer to the goal? Did they do the opposite of what you wanted? Students pour out a plethora of information if you simply observe how they react! Then, consider how to proceed. Try out other cues and see what happens. When in doubt, try a different route. When a cue wins, use it again!
Do you have other ways of breaking down the cueing process? Do you have specific requests to help you further develop your cueing? Leave us a message below!
The growth of a teacher is a fascinating process to witness. Having observed many teachers, I’ve noticed some common trends in the way teachers progress in their practice. For simplicity and the sake of this article, I have divided the growth process into 4 phases.
Phase I: Beginning
Where they are:
The brand new teacher may format classes a bit randomly at first. Warm-ups might not connect to the goal for the day, and there may not even be a theme. A teacher who is new to either the material or the process of teaching may hesitate to be an authority figure, or they may try to teach things they really don’t understand in an effort to impress. They gradually become aware that becoming a strong teacher is a long process. It involves observing, assisting, practicing on one’s own, cueing colleagues through sequences, studying each skill in-depth, and teaching a ton.
How to move forward:
A teacher in this phase needs structure. They should take and observe more classes, and pay attention to how other teachers structure the learning experience, cue, and respond to students’ needs. It’s important to realize that teaching is a completely different skill set from having a large aerial vocabulary. Teaching involves understanding the body, mind, and heart.
Phase II: Emerging
Where they are:
This teacher may have been teaching for a short while, and is still getting the hang of things in terms of goals and theming. They may have a clear beginning, middle and end in their classes, but feel like they are only one step ahead of their students. Sometimes, stepping into the role of authority figure results in dogmatism (this way is the only right way). An emerging teacher might expect students to perform all skills in exactly the same way, and not understand why their small batch of cues don’t work for everyone. They might also expect every student to learn in the same way. This teacher’s cues are usually based on personal experience of each skill, but they may not necessarily see each student as a unique body/being just yet.
How to move forward:
A teacher in phase II needs to observe many, many different bodies moving in the air. Even people-watching at malls and airports can be enlightening. It’s important to recognize that different bodies require different alignment, cueing, and so forth. Learn to treat each student as a unique individual not just in their movement, but also in their mental processing and emotional landscape (while still maintaining clear boundaries). This teacher should search for new ways to teaching old stuff. Studying anatomy, kinesiology, and even educational psychology can also help. Finally, collecting images and cues from other knowledgable instructors will support this teacher’s ability to work with diverse movers and learners.
Phase III: Expanding
Where they are:
This teacher has likely been teaching movement for an extended period of time. They modify and adjust class content based on the unique bodies and minds in the room. They can easily focus on proper alignment because of their knowledge of the body and their ability to move around the room while cueing and spotting. It’s possible that this teacher is getting bored or burnt out because they have a consistent routine, and they don’t know how to grow from here.
How to move forward:
A teacher in phase III could explore new teaching methods that are outside of their norm (i.e. using global methods, puzzles, etc. instead of always teaching linearly). They might benefit from a deeper study of anatomy, kinesiology, developmental movement, and other movement practices to carry new information back into the aerial studio. Learning to cross-pollinate aerial classes with other movement forms can provide a breath of fresh air if classes are becoming stale. Advancing one’s technique and vocabulary as far as possible is a great goal, but studying the theory behind aerial work may be even more powerful because it leads to invention. And if the teacher understands how skills are invented, then that process can be taught to students also. Then every class will bring out something new and unique.
Phase IV: Innovating
Where they are:
This teacher is evolving the form through experimentation with various teaching methods and the invention of skills. They carefully weigh the benefits and drawbacks of different movement training systems, and make appropriate choices based on their findings. This teacher focuses on efficient movement patterning (working smarter, not harder) by emphasizing proper alignment, movement phrasing, initiation and follow-through. They appropriately challenge their students, but also encourage rest when it is needed.
How to move forward:
If the phase IV teacher has become caught up in training elite level aerialists, they should remember what it’s like to be a beginner. This teacher could find ways of viewing the most basic skills in a completely different (or deeper) way for a change in perspective. Or, this teacher might finally pursue the pet project they’ve always wanted to but never had time before. Studying another movement form or enlisting a teacher for oneself can also be powerful at this stage. Most importantly, this teacher must remember why they teach in order to sustain their career.
By Born to Fly™ Master Teacher Julianna Hane
I recently had the great pleasure of training a group of Pilates and fitness coaches in the basics of aerial yoga. What an amazing group of women! All were excellent teachers, intelligent about movement and anatomy, and open to trying something new. After going around the circle and hearing everyone's backgrounds, I got really excited to facilitate this group of accomplished instructors.
On Saturday morning, I began with an extensive training on rigging so each instructor would be able to confidently set up, take down, inspect, and maintain their equipment. Once the hammocks were rigged, we focused on cueing aerial yoga postures for proper alignment. This portion of the training is quite extensive and took the bulk of the weekend to complete.
The instructors also developed their own sequences, participated in a group practice that modeled teaching methods, and discussed the marketing side of aerial yoga. My goal for the course was to prepare teachers to lead a gentle flow yoga class for diverse populations, and I feel confident that this group will do an outstanding job!
The instructors not only spoke about how much they learned over the weekend, but also mentioned how much better their backs felt after decompressing the spine through inversions. I am grateful and honored to have worked with such a versatile and generous group of women. I feel their work truly makes the world a better place.
Our authors include our Master Teacher Trainers as well as Born to Fly™ Certified Teachers.