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What makes a skilled pole instructor?

Would it surprise you to know that in pole dance we have no answer to this?

Many certifications take approximately 1-2 weekends, some self-study and practice hours to achieve. They teach you some step-by-step instructions for teaching basic skills, how to warm-up and cool down, maybe how to spot, and possibly how to teach someone the right way to look sexy. (Though there are definitely some that go beyond this or encourage individual aesthetic expression, this is generally the standard).

I've seen quite a bit of chatter recently about the importance of knowing some basic anatomy and physiology and maybe some basic principles of biomechanics to keep people physically safe.

What has been almost completely left out of the conversation is the importance of psychosocial, creative, and pedagogical knowledge, which I would argue may be more important than physiology based on the folks I've taught in the past.

It’s important to have knowledge of things like:

  1. helping participants navigate negative self-talk,

  2. class management to veer conversations away from traditional fitness/diet culture conversations,

  3. how to engage people with different learning styles and physical abilities,

  4. how to make a comfortable space for people with neurally and culturally diverse backgrounds,

  5. how to support individuals to discover their personal movement style/voice…

Yes, technique and skill is an important foundation to have and is really important, especially when it comes to people developing their personal style.

But I encourage you to honestly consider the WHY of your participants.

Is the reason they are taking classes to be able to do the most challenging routine with the straightest knees and most pointed toes? Some will, and that's cool. I love supporting these folks primarily through performance prep programs. (It’s also nice to check if these folks have this goal because they are excited to expand and challenge their skills or if they are doing it for an external goal, like validation/meeting expectations and “standards,” but that’s up to you if you have the desire, skills and space as a teacher to have that conversation.)

The majority of people I've taught are looking primarily for a social experience that allows them to feel good about themselves - empowered even, as many of the studios I’ve worked for have promised in their marketing.

Yes, the physical aspect is important, but often, it's the medium for development in other areas, not the end goal.

Participants are looking to have their inner strength reflected in their developing outer strength. To connect with others who may have different perspectives than their typical acquaintances. To gain confidence by overcoming challenges. To have fun! To feel alive! To love themselves again, or for the first time.

These are really important, sometimes unspoken or even not-completely-conscious goals that people have. Often not-completely-conscious because they’ve been marketed to all their lives that when you workout you will “get more fit” and then have better relationships, be happier, love yourself, love your life, etc, etc… All things that CAN be great benefits of fitness, but don’t happen automatically without careful construction of classes by instructors or environments by studio owners.

If you are an instructor, coach, or studio owner, or a developer of instructor trainer material, I encourage you to strongly consider:

  1. What do your participants truly desire from your classes?

  2. What have you (or the studio you work at) promised will result from participation in your classes (, empowerment, self-love, etc.)?

  3. How effectively does your teaching or studio address the above?

If you realize that you don’t have a teaching strategy that can effectively produce the results you promise, or if you have never even thought about a teaching strategy, I highly recommend developing theory of change for your studio/classes. It’s a great way to test yourself as an instructor to see what might be missing and to fill in the blanks so you can really see your participants thrive!

If you’re thinking…”seriously, Mel…I’m a part-time instructor who (while very effective at what I do) only teaches a few hours a week so I can share my passion with others around my already very busy schedule…how am I supposed to take the time for this too? You know I won't even be compensated for this...” I hear you! The fitness industry thrives financially off of “hobby instructors” especially in group fitness. Ask your studio, head instructor, or other boss to support you in this. If they take the time to develop a theory of change for the overall studio, it will take a lot of the burden off of you, but it would still be extremely valuable to you and your participants to take the time to tailor it specifically to you and your classes.

I truly believe that fitness instructors play a really important role in helping people thrive in life! I think if you have taken the time to read this, there is a good chance that you are already doing an incredible job! And I think it is our collective responsibility as fitness professionals who recognize the power and impact of what we do, to be conscious of WHY and HOW exactly our best intentions are being actualized through our teachings.

Let’s commit together to conscious teaching so that we can see the ripple of love we’re creating in our classes spread throughout our communities…and maybe eventually the world!

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