Part 1 Of A 5 Part Series
Teachers are leaders in the classroom. Whether you’re a first year teacher or a veteran teacher with 20+ years in the trenches, you’re a leader. Students look up to you. Fellow teachers look up to you. Parents look up to you. How you carry yourself and lead your classroom is vital to the success of you as a teacher. Much like the dance captain of a dance team, the choices you make can make your team (students, parents, co-workers) chapions…or runners-up.
This past weekend I had the chance to attend my youngest daughter’s dance competition in Cedar Park, Texas. I’m not really a “dance guy”…I’m more of a “football-basketball-baseball kinda guy”, but I love my daughter and she’s really good at what she does…dancing. So, being the supportive father I am, I go, and sit, and watch, and sit, and watch. To be totally honest, there are many girls on my daughter’s dance team, but I only watch my own. Is that bad? She’s so good, and well…she’s mine.
Now if you’ve never been to a high school dance competition, I’ll give you a quick snapshot. Within the course of 12 hours, dancers from like 20 area schools dance. There…now you know what happens at a dance competition. OK…there’s a little more to it. These dancers dance as teams, as duets, as soloists, and even as trios. The dance styles include jazz, contemporary, pom, hip-hop, and even military style dancing. In all honesty, most of the dances are really good.
As I sat and watched all of the dances (and there were a lot y’all) I began to notice something. Those teams (like my daughter’s team…eh-hem) that did really well with their dances…were very disciplined, there was a feeling of unity within the teams, and they all had that one girl…that really loud girl…whose job it was to present the team to the judges.
Now, I’ve been watching dance competitions for 14 years, but it wasn’t until this past weekend that I noticed “The Captain” (or officer) who leads the teams out to the floor to perform their routine. These girls are the leaders of the teams and it is their job to get each team member to their respective positions before the music starts.
As I watched these dance Captains bring their respective teams to the dance floor, I began to notice a trend. The teams who had the loudest and most intentional Captains, who listened to the Captain’s count and were sharp in their march to the floor, and whose members focused on their location on the dance floor as it related to the Captain’s location (and took direction from the Captain when they were motioned to move ever so slightly) were the teams that danced really well and who, at the end of the day, won their divisions.
So, as an educator I began to examine how this type of leadership and activity might relate to my classroom. I started taking notes (yes I’m a nerd…get over it) and I even started asking dance directors and dancers why the Captain’s loud counting, attention to dancer location, and overall need to make all the members on the dance team enter (and leave) the dance floor in unison was so important. They all had the same answer (including my daughter): The Captain maintains discipline, unity and makes sure the teams are prepared to perform.
This was really eye-opening. Before Saturday, I had simply viewed the Captain as the bully of the group who liked to yell and could count really well. No so. They exist to make sure the team is ready to give their best. This was awesome…and it gave me a whole new view of the person who takes on the role of “Dance Captain.”
As teachers, we could learn a lot from these Dance Captains. The way they lead their dance teams is very similar to how we should lead our learning environment. So here are a few “take aways” from my Ah-Ha Moment this weekend:
Take Away #1: Leadership
The Dance Captain leads her team into battle, and then leads them off the battle field once they have completed their task at hand. OK…maybe the dance floor isn’t a battle field, but the grit and determination I saw on the face of these Captains led me to believe that they surly could lead a team into battle.
As teachers, we need to realize that at the end of the day, it’s not a Superintendent or Principal that is teaching the class, it is we teachers. We select few…we band of brothers and sisters. We have to be the leaders in the classroom. We have to be the ones who ready our students for learning and testing. My Principal is always asking us, “If Not You…Then Who?” We are the ones who have been tasked with making sure the students who enter our classrooms leave with more than they came with.
Like the Dance Captain, we need to utilize our position as leaders and encourage our “team” to not only do their best, but help them discover how to give their best.
Take Away #2: Unity
The Dance Captain makes sure that her team enters the dance floor as one single unit. Everyone is together in action and thought. No longer are there 12-30 dancers on the floor, but one team. The whole counting thing (1-3-5-7…1-2-3-4-5-6-7…and 1!) is how they get the team to become one. The Captain (and dance instructors) understand that a team of 20 working together to meet the same goal is a whole lot more productive than 20 different people trying to get to the same goal in 20 different ways.
As teachers, we need to make sure that ALL of our students are working together to meet the same goal. Sure, there needs to be differentiation, but that differentiation in some way mirrors what the class as a whole is attempting to learn/produce/perform. We need to encourage student strengths, but those strengths need to be working in unison with the strengths of others. Not independently, but together.
Unity is not just important for instructional goals, but also for collaborative goals. Small group activities that encourage project based learning need to be done in unison as well. We need to teach students how to work together in an effort to get the most out of structured group learning tasks.
Take Away #3: Preparedness
Finally, the Dance Captain makes sure the dance team is prepared. Once in position, she looks around to make sure all the dancers are in their correct spots. If a dancer is slightly off, then with a nod of the head or a subtle point of the finger, she repositions them to make sure that they are in place and ready to give the performance of a lifetime.
As teachers, we need to make sure our students are prepared, not just with needed resources like pencils and paper, but with the knowledge they need to perform well on any and all assessments.
In a perfect world students would come to class with 100 pencils and a ream of notebook paper. But we all know that ain’t gonna happen…not in this lifetime. So go ahead and have needed resources at the ready. IF you are a new first year teacher and you are reading this…YES…you will need to buy supplies yourself (in most cases). IF you are a veteran teacher…you know the drill.
With reference to preparing them to perform at their best levels in the area of knowledge acquisition, we need to make sure we are up to date on the latest curriculum AND we need to make sure we are trying new things. We don’t want an ineffective learning environment that is redundant and boring. Change it up. Spice it up!
So, now I challenge you to go out and be the Dance Captain you students need you to be. Make sure you are striving to create an environment that has you LEADING, encouraging UNITY, and fostering PREPAREDNESS.
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