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Building Your Teachers’ Confidence: 5 Best Practices from Master Teacher Richard Smith

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Confidence starts with relationships, Richard Smith explains, and builds from the bonds we make with each other. The relationship between studio owner and teacher helps develop trust and positivity, just like the relationships between teacher and student. For your teachers to succeed, they need you to understand and believe in them so that they, in turn, can do the same in the classroom for their dancers.

Building confidence in teachers is something Richard Smith has been doing for decades. As the Owner and Executive Director of 360 Dance Festival and frequent master teacher around the country, Richard also worked as Artistic Director at Inaside Chicago Dance and was on faculty at The Gus Giordano Dance Center and the Joel Hall Dancers and Center. A career dance educator and “teacher’s teacher,” Richard says he believes studio owners can develop their teachers to be true champions of the studio—and it all starts with building their confidence. Here are the five best practices (on the following page) he says will make all the difference:

SHOW APPRECIATION—OFTEN.

“[Teachers] have to know that they matter to you; that they’re valued,” says Richard. “Learn their love language. Remind them that what they bring to the
organization cannot be brought by anyone else.” Coming from this place of appreciation, Richard says, is a way to celebrate “the unique things brought by each teacher to the students.” When people know they are valued, they’re more likely to work hard at their jobs and demonstrate loyalty to their employer.

COMMUNICATE CLEARLY

As the studio owner, “your vision and heart and mission not only need to be understood by your teachers, but translated by them,” Richard explains. Be kind but clear with what you want them to know. “They are the frontline of your studio and they have the most contact” with clients and thus, a lot of influence. Richard also advises studio owners to pay attention to the way each teacher learns best. “Communicate with each teacher the way that teacher needs to be communicated with,” he says, which means taking the time to ask what works best for them.

EXPECT PROFESSIONALISM

People will usually rise to what’s expected of them, so keep your standards high. “Don’t let [teachers] dress like the kids,” Richard shares as an example. “They need to look professional, like the authority figure they are.” Have a uniform or dress code and hold them to it. Their confidence grows because they are expected to look and behave like a professional, which in turn boosts the way they understand their role in the students’ lives. “It seems like a small thing but it’s not!”

OPEN A DIALOGUE ABOUT WHAT THEY NEED

Ask what roadmaps your teachers need, says Richard. Do they want more help with guiding their kids out of the pandemic? Advice about how to troubleshoot specific steps in class? Use their feedback to connect them to resources. “Maybe an in-studio retreat is what they need, with an agenda for certain objectives,” Richard suggests. “Invite a neutral voice to speak with them about their challenges, so they can get over those hurdles” and have an effective season.

ENCOURAGE THEM TO TRY NEW THINGS

Try a “mix and match” day, offers Richard. Have teachers switch things up and teach each others’ classes. “It’s a planned ‘messed up’ day. There will be some fear and maybe frustration, but [teachers] have to remember what it’s like to be uncomfortable.” Confidence comes from overcoming those challenges. With the right mindset, the experience will also promote fun and a strong rapport among students and teachers alike. Debrief with your staff afterward, says Richard, and ask them to share how it felt and what they would try differently next time.

Dance teacher relationships are like no other, with connections interlaced from the studio owner to the teacher to the students to the parents. The people inside your business are an investment and their confidence level is crucial. Cultivate your relationships with them and watch that investment multiply over and over again!

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