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Good teachers do homework, too: Teaching Journals

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It’s back to school time, so it seemed a timely opportunity to look at our lesson plans, class structure, studio/class environment, and the like. First up: teaching journals!

If you are just getting started teaching, or even if you have been teaching a while but want to get your weekly and session format a little more solidified and consistent, may I suggest you start a teaching journal.

Where to begin…

When I began, mine was simply sheets of printer paper on which I had typed up:

~ session start date, and night in session (say “Class 2/6”)
~ a simple warm-up series in the order I wanted to do them
~ moves/concepts I hoped to teach that night
~ some songs I wanted to use in each part of the lesson (back when it was on CD’s, knowing the album and track number of the songs that were a good pace for the concepts I was teaching helped keep the class running smoothly–no fiddling and digging for the right pace music).

Underneath this or on the back I left a big blank space for writing notes and journaling. I put these lesson plan sheets along with my class sign-in sheets into a simple peechee type folder and put it in my dance bag along with my CD’s, water bottle, and pen.

At class, I kept the sheet near the CD player for reference, and checked off each thing as it got covered, and jotted any side-notes as they came to mind. At the end of every class when I got home, I sat down right away while the class was still fresh in my mind and used the large blank space underneath/on the back to journal briefly about how things went–how many students came that night, what the vibe was like, how I felt I did teaching certain concepts and how students responded, questions students asked that I didn’t know the answer to and promised to look up, analogies I came up with in the moment that I thought were successful in conveying the concept and wanted to remember to use again…

At the end of each session, after reviewing the notes and making any tweaks or changes to my lesson plans for the coming session, I would put the previous sheets into an archive folder along with the sign-in sheets for business record-keeping and future reference, and then print out the freshly updated ones and start again.

I found this simple system a great way to fine-tune my teaching in the short-term, and a great way to look back and see how my teaching evolved over a longer period. If you have a mentor you are working with, you can share details of these journals with them, which will help shape questions you may have for improvement and give them more detailed information on how best to guide you to the next steps in your teaching growth.

If you are of a crafty persuasion, you could three-hole punch the pages and put them into a binder you decorate with imagery that inspires you and your dance life–magazine cutouts, painted designs, postcards or pics of your favorite teachers and troupes, etc. Make one for each year of your teaching. You could also go one step further and include scrapbook-type pages with praise and thank you letters and cards from students, pictures from classes and workshops, etc. to chronicle all the steps and memories made on your path to being a better teacher.

I highly recommend dance journals for students as well, but that is a topic for another day methinks!

Follow Shay:

Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

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