Have you expanded your teaching beyond your usual repertoire over the past couple of years—maybe even more so during this time teaching online? Perhaps you’re even teaching group classes independently from a studio for the first time and now that you are no longer tied to the class title at that studio (where students expected a particular type of class) you’re doing your own thang.
Or, maybe you’ve been teaching something that looks very different from a typical yoga asana class for the past few years, because a while back you realized what you were teaching wasn’t working for you (or your students) anymore.
Either way, it’s likely that when you’re beginning to teaching movement that is relatively new, it’s going to be helpful to both you and your students to show them the movement while cueing verbally (instead of just cueing it verbally.) But many of us were taught that demoing our classes is an inferior way to teach—that we should be totally able to rely on verbal cues to lead a class.
Now, I’m all for clear, precise language when it comes to movement, but I also realize that there are a ton of ways that verbal cueing is not the be-all, end-all of effective teaching. Depending on what you teach, where and how you teach (live online, pre-recorded, in-person, group or privates), and the particular needs of your students, you’ll likely need to draw on many different ways of communicating to get your point across. That is part of the skill-building of teaching, which like many things doesn’t have a one-and-done methodology.
Our new online platforms have made us confront our beliefs around demoing as a teaching tool with particular intensity. If you’ve been taught to only verbally cue our classes, then the transition to online may have been challenging as suddenly everyone started looking at you—and only you—to keep the class going. But like with many things about this transition, there is a bright side to this situation.
Here are 4 ways that you’d want to demo in your classes—no matter the format!
You’ve got new moves
Whether you started with yoga asana, Pilates, kettlebells, or something else, your online classes might have become something other than where you began—or a new combination of things! Even within a specific modality, teaching is always a journey, and you’ll likely find yourself “experimenting” with some new kind of movement, transition, or language in your classes.
Demoing your explorations can be a useful tool if this is what you’re offering to students. If it’s new to you, it’s likely going to be new for them, too, so we need a common frame of reference! Your moves won’t be in a book, or something they learned in teacher training; and the names you make up for yourself (“roly poly bear”) won’t translate to someone who’s not you. But if you demo while explaining these moves, you’ll be able to translate your own experience in language more effectively. Add a visual to that, and your students have a great set of instructions to follow along!
Demoing is practicing your craft
On the note of translating your experience, teaching something new as you feel your way through it models your own practice to your students. This is important, at least to me, in terms of what I consider to be part of my “teaching.” Being a student of what you teach right there in front of your students is teaching too.
I guess we have to discuss what teaching is and isn’t to continue this conversation, (and who is the teacher when we learn?).
Verbal cues are limited
Although there can be constraints around video/visuals online, there are just as many ways that verbal cues don’t translate through the airwaves. Some students just need a visual input for their learning style. Other reasons that language doesn’t always work include: Hearing loss, not being proficient in your native language, visual learners, being uncomfortable when being “watched” while they practice, and making it more comfortable to “co-practice” with the teacher. Including demos will ultimately make your classes more inclusive and accessible. Students may also be practicing in a particularly noisy or distracting environment with family members, pets, neighbors, and this might make it more important to have the visual input along with the verbal.
Which begs the question: If a teacher who teaches mostly just verbally attracts students who prefer that style, but a teacher who mostly demos attracts students who prefer that style, is it possible both are effectively teaching, only differently, and as a result attracting different learners?
If demoing is performance, teaching definitely is, too.
Some assert that demoing is akin to performance (and therefore not teaching). This binary claim assumes that performance doesn’t teach anything and that demoing has no value outside of performance. But there absolutely is a connection. And if you aren’t interested in that connection, you might be ignoring some key aspects of teaching—like how you use your voice, how you stage your demonstrations to show specific parts of the movement, the power of story-telling, humor, and engaging a large group of people in a collective experience.
There’s also an assumption that demoing is all about how you look, or the aesthetics of the alignment, which negates the interoceptive element of practice or process that gets you into the shape. Again, this is binary thinking that assumes what something looks like on the outside and what it feels like on the inside are mutually exclusive—which they’re not. It also assumes that a teacher cannot be both showing the basic shape and inviting students to explore what the pose feels like in their body—and you can.
So, with that, if you teach novel movement in your classes, do you demo a lot or do you mostly cue verbally?
What tradeoff are you making by teaching the way you do, and why are you willing to make it?