CCK08: The Role of the Teacher

Alright, so I’m in my Saturday morning yoga class and, doubtless due to the CCK08 influence, my mind wanders to noticing the structure of the class and the role played by my yoga teacher.  This is a class of, roughly, 25 adults, who come together for a 75-minute class once a week.  This instructor (Cheryl) is in her early 50’s – a very experienced yoga teacher – with a regular and devoted following.  

For those of you who’ve never been in a yoga class, here’s how it works.  You arrive on time (it is a serious etiquette breach to enter a class already in progress), put your yoga mat down on a spot on the floor, and then the instructor leads you through a series of movements (poses) designed to give you a full work out that, if you work hard, will lead to better body alignment, greater overall health, relaxation, and a scad of other benefits (both physical and spiritual).  

Yoga classes vary widely – different practices and traditions – but they also vary with the personality of the instructor. I like Cheryl very much.  She’s efficient, clear, and no nonsense.  Some instructors are ridiculously hard – asking students to contort their bodies into these impossible poses way beyond the level of the possible.  Others are way too easy and lax, taking forever to work through the simplest of things. And, to my supreme annoyance, some instructors give you little mini lectures at the beginning – about their auras or their diet or their mantras (whatever…) – which is waaay more information than I need on Saturday morning.

So, today, I paid more attention to my instructor – what did she say and do to make the class flow so logically and expertly from beginning to end?  What is it, exactly, about this class (and about her) that works so well?

So here’s what I noticed. I was very taken by the instructor’s precisely decriptive language.  Some of the yoga poses are quite difficult, requiring steady concentration and continual adjustment to make them work for you.  I became aware of the way that Cheryl’s descriptions really helped me hone in on a mental picture of what I was supposed to be doing.  For instance, in a lunge pose she described how my back leg should work like the rear leg of an easel, supporting the front and taking all of the weight.  That image worked for me – and my lunge improved.  

Later she described how we could use the centerline of our mat to adjust the centerline of our body and how to fous on a distant object in order to achieve a more comfortable balance.  She used a number of useful analogies during the class – think of your breath as a colored fog, use your thigh muscles like a lever, let your head hang down like a rag doll.  Each analogy, each verbal description moved the physical along a path closer to her goals for us.

Yes, I can do yoga on my own.  I can read about it in books, get online and study photos and videos of the poses, I could even join a yoga social network to deepend my practice.  All of that will work for me but I can also see the extraordinary value of the teacher.  She had a plan for that class this morning, she lead us through it briskly and efficiently, she guided me when I slipped off target, she clarified with her words when something was muddy, she answered questions as they came up, and she sent all of us off, right on time, in a better place than we’d been when we started.

How satisfying.



Filed under CCKO8

6 responses to “CCK08: The Role of the Teacher

  1. Robin

    I was fascinated by the drawing. Did you do that? It fascinated me because it shows what may be the first…okay not the first… signs of my obsession with Connectivism. I immediately saw the body as a network diagram. My only comfort is that if you drew it you are as obsessed with Connectivism as I am. 🙂

  2. jennymackness

    Hi Robin – your post has got me thinking. Presumably in your yoga classes you don’t have any choice about what you do – you all do what you are told? It must all be very didactic – very unlike the approach adopted for this connectivism course. I’m now wondering to what extent this connectivism course is didactic – if at all. How do we decide how much choice or instruction our students are going to need?

  3. rheyden

    Interesting, Jenny…..Yes, my yoga class is unlike our connectivism course in some ways, like it in others. For instance, everyone is there at the appointed hour and there is no lurking (!) – full participation is required. However, it’s not didactic. While the teacher is guiding us through these required poses, the ultimate instance of the pose is up to the individual yogi. There is no “right” and “wrong” – only what works for you. (now, here’s where I get really interested in the role of the teacher…) So the teacher is (much like George and Stephen) giving us a sandbox to work in (determining the size/shape/content of the sandbox) but what we do in it, specifically, is up to us. Also like George and Stephen, she provides guidance, descriptions, clarifications to steer our thinking. But most unlike CCK08, the other yogis in the room are nowhere near as helpful as you (and our other sojourners) in helping me figure it all out.

  4. rheyden

    Hi Ariel – No, unfortunately, I didn’t render that drawing. Cool though, isn’t it? I just searched Google images (on yoga asanas) and found it. But I can tell you that as soon as I saw it, I knew it was the perfect image for that post. I love the idea of the body as a network diagram (nicely done, Ariel). And yoga completely supports that notion – tug here and you feel the response there; what you do with your head, has impact on your feet; what you learn from your torso, you can pass along to your hips.

  5. jim2

    I like the comment about the network diagram and the analogy of yoga to connectivism – I have to admit I didn’t see either at first! The fact that these new perspectives now exist for all of us is proof of the effectiveness of connectivism.

    I just took a seminar on story-telling as an educational tool. One of the premises was that a descriptive analogy is a short form of story-telling. I really connected with my co-learners much like you seem to connect with that yoga instructor. I wonder if descriptive language allows a deeper understanding and therefore a stronger connection to be created or if its just a preferred learning style that we share.

  6. rheyden

    Nicely put, Jim. And I like the way you summed it up. We know that in our more intimate relationships (parent/child, spouse, etc.) deeper understandings lead to deeper connections so it makes sense to me that the same would be true between teachers and learners. Probably doesn’t hurt that it’s a preferred learning style too…

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