By Dana Auriemma
I took my first aerobics class 14 years ago and since then, I’ve had more fitness instructors than I can remember. And I’ve seen some very un-classy behavior that ranged from annoying to no-way-I’m-going-to- return-for-this. But on the flip side, I’ve also had a few incredible instructors. Instructors that were great not just for what they taught, but how they taught. They taught in a way that made my entire experience with them amazing. They truly taught with class.
So let’s talk about what it really means to teach with class.
1. The basics should be a no-brainer.
Be at the studio before your clients arrive and pleasant to get close to! (Be clean, covered, groomed and smelling fresh.) Plan what you want to work on with your clients that day and arrange all equipment and props as best you can prior to starting. And always, always start and end on time. This is Teaching 101 but many instructors still fail to do these things consistently.
2. Be awesome with your attitude.
You should look happy, calm and focused. Leave your personal stories, your moods and your issues at home. Clients pay for time that is about them, not you. Be generous with your smiles and laughter and make it clear that you love your job. Under no circumstances should you talk about what’s going on with other instructors, clients, the owner or private studio business. This makes the studio and you look bad.
3. Check-in before diving in.
Check on how your client or class is physically and mentally feeling every day. See what they might be in the mood for in terms of exercises as well as teaching style. If they are craving a big physical challenge then pull out some extra energy and motivating skills. If they’ve had a horrible day and look like they need a hug, dial into your soothing voice and offer extra support and compliments during the session. Take time to see what your clients need most and be prepared to deliver it.
4. Aim for the sweet spot with corrections and critiques.
Studios and instructors vary greatly when it comes to how much they correct and critique. Ideally, there is a sweet spot but the tough truth is that it varies by client…and it even changes for each client over time. Some clients have a more difficult time hearing comments about their body and being told what is ‘wrong’ or needs to be ‘fixed.’ Other clients enjoy it and embrace it in a positive manner. And sometimes, a client who once embraced corrections and critiques is now less tolerant or vice versa. The best approach is to overall aim for balance but also get to know your clients and read their reactions to determine if you should dial it up or tone it down each time you work with them. Be ready to quickly swap a correction for a compliment or the other way around.
5. Watch your language.
I’ve heard teachers say things that sometimes make me cringe. It’s a slippery slope as instructors develop close relationships with their clients and discussions about the body can get a little personal. It’s easy to let the language get too casual. But don’t. Have pride in your education and your profession. Speak as clearly, professionally and intelligently as you can and use language that earns you the respect of everyone around you.
6. Be confident when you’re hands-on.
Teachers provide hands-on help for their clients in many different ways. Whether it’s guiding them into a position or helping them find and fire a specific muscle. This aspect of teaching should of course be explained during the very first session so expectations are set. But to help clients feel totally comfortable with hands-on help, teachers need to touch with confidence. This means knowing exactly what and how you are using your hands to guide them and applying the right amount of pressure (not too much, but not too little). If you’re not yet confident with this part of teaching, reach out for help from your fellow instructors or find a workshop to strengthen this skill.
7. Have the memory of an elephant…or take good notes!
To show clients they are important and always teach the best session you can, remember the previous one! Nothing feels more cold or impersonal to the client than having to remind their instructor that they have an injury or what they worked on the week before. So if you are teaching a lot of clients and it becomes too much to remember, start taking notes. Scheduling software programs like MindBody® have built-in note capabilities or just use notebooks and folders. Take 2 minutes after each session or the end of the day to jot down highlights of what you worked on and any special issues. Glance at it when the client comes in next and you’ll be good to go!
I’d love to hear from you! What does it mean to you to teach with class?