Thursday, January 5, 2017

Positive Teaching

[Original Article Written Nov 2015]
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to observe another martial arts school's youth class, ages 5-13 years old.  I was appalled by what I saw. Let me explain.

As many of you have heard me say, it is more important to find a good instructor over the style of martial arts.  I tell this to a student anytime they move and have to look for a new martial arts school.  And this fact was very true for the class I was observing.  The school had a very popular franchise name with a great reputation, but what is on the outside doesn't always make the inside.  Here is what I observed and what makes Flying Tigers different and special.

At Flying Tiger Self Defense our certified instructors go through a rigorous training process that lasts at a minimum 2 years and 100+ hours. The training they receive consists of 5 levels, where the instructor must apprentice and learn from a certified instructor, learn and practice teaching skills in actual classes, and then they are evaluated on their teaching skills. Depending on the age of the student instructor it can take several years to earn one's Red Jacket and become a certified instructor. Our students are not required to become teachers to earn their black belts because not everyone has the patience and desire to teach. And our belief is, that just because you are a black belt, that does not certify you or give you the skills to teach. But for those who do want to teach at our school, they learn interpersonal skills that will last a lifetime and will transfer to an endless number of jobs and careers.

So what did this instructor do so wrong? To start with, within the first 10 minutes of class the instructor yelled at his own children no less than 10 times. His unprofessionalism was so bad, it sent chills down my spine and made me want to run to the door. As he "instructed" the class, he stood in the front of the room barking orders. Never once did he get on the student's level and help them. Remember, he was teaching kids, not adults.  And worst of all, his instructions to the kids consisted of, "No, don't do that. Don't move like that. That's stupid. No one would ever do that," and "No, no, no, no, no."  As an instructor that tries to avoid all negative verbiage while teaching, this was like hearing swear words explode out of his month. I couldn't believe parents were paying over $125/month for this class so that their children could be yelled at for an hour non-stop.  I wouldn't pay $10/month to put my child in this class.

So, how is our teaching philosophy different? First of all, our level one instructors learn and must demonstrate how to teach using positive phraseology.  This means the instructor says, "Johney, great kick.  Now just keep your hands up," instead of saying, "Johney, stop dropping your hands when you kick. You'll get hit in the face.  Stop being so stupid."  Second, we tell our instructors to treat, "no," like it's a swear word.  Why? Yes there is a time and place for the word "no," but it isn't in a learning environment.  It is a great word for safety, "Johney! No, you will burn your hand." So instead of telling our students, "No, that's wrong. Don't do that," we teach our new instructors, to tell the student what they are doing right and explain how they can make it better.  "Johney, I can tell you are working hard to learn this technique.  Now, to make it better try putting your thumb here. Great, nice job."

On the drive home from the class, my husband asked me how I would have handled the misbehaving kids in the class. I explained that kids will behave in whatever fashion gets them attention. This means that if the kids who are misbehaving are getting attention, then Johney is also going to misbehave so he can get attention. Instead, we teach our instructors to ignore the misbehaving kid and praise the behaving kid. "Johney, you are doing a great job staying on your spot today.  Nice job.  High-five."  Now Timmy who has been goofing around sees Johney getting attention and wants a high-five too, so Timmy starts to behave and stand on his spot.  So then what do we do?  Give Timmy a high-five.  This makes the environment more positive and hence more fun for all.

Now, these are just three teaching techniques we use in our classes.  There is a long list of other teaching skills we use and teach our instructors.  All-in-all this experience made me grateful for the instructors I had, who taught and certified me to teach positively.

-Sifu S
Nov 2015

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