Know Better, Do Better: Empowered by YPAD

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“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Maya Angelou’s famous quote opens the training course curriculum for Youth Protection Advocates In Dance® (YPAD™), which seeks to raise the professional standard of the dance education industry by providing safety and wellness information to staff and volunteers working in dance studios and organizations around the world.

With a no-shame, no-blame approach, YPAD™ presses a simple refrain: Continue to learn. Know better, do better. Repeat. In the youth-focused, unregulated industry of dance education, YPAD™ advocates for children and families through its program of self-regulation grounded in safety and wellness.

“YPAD™ is the most complete program I have found addressing issues we face in a dance environment, and it is supported by the best sources of subject-matter expertise,” says YPAD™ Advisory Panel member Jill Williams, owner and director of Leap Studios in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. “YPAD™ training has the quality and quantity of content needed to create an empathetic framework for staff and students. As dance educators, we must use best practices in all facets of how we deliver our services—mental, physical, and social—that do no harm.”

Many of those best practices are covered in a YPAD™ education which discusses, for example, the importance of running a background check before finalizing a new hire. This step, often neglected, ensures that studio owners are doing their due diligence in hiring and staffing decisions. YPAD™ training covers both the why and the how-to of background checks. Other topics include abuse awareness and prevention, safety and emergency preparation, injury prevention and response, social media safety, developmentally appropriate artistry, body image, bullying, and healthy conflict resolution.

In an ever-changing industry where many studio owners “go it alone,” the YPAD™ organization with its mission of “Keeping kids happy, healthy, and safe in dance” can be an important partner for educators and organizations seeking to know better and do better.

Here are five reasons why you should consider YPAD™ training for yourself and/or your staff:

Consistent standards

Through YPAD’s studio certification option (a program temporarily on pause due to high demand) studio owners can “get your team on the same page,” says Tiffany Prout-Leitao, YPAD™ Advisory Panel member and owner of Center Stage Dance Academy in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where staffers are YPAD™ certified. Instead of allowing each teacher to decide what is or isn’t appropriate, YPAD™ presents standards for topics such as age-appropriate artistry, studio culture, or safety based on research and evidence. Certified staffers will not only know these standards, but will understand why each standard is in place.

“YPAD certification gets your team speaking the same language and gives them the tools in their toolbox to not only handle problems when they come up, but to recognize things before they become issues,” Tiffany says.

Documented emergency plans

Emergencies happen, and when they do, it helps to have a plan. Studio owners who create, document, and communicate a studio’s emergency plan empower their staffers to face those situations with calm efficiency.

This past summer, facing a severe thunderstorm with possible tornados and an absent owner, Katie Terrell, front desk manager at The Pointe School of Dance in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (and the writer’s sister-in-law), enacted the studio’s emergency plan. Students were immediately ushered to the designated safe spot to wait out the storm, and information on what was happening within the studio was quickly communicated to parents.

“Our protocols are clear: when an emergency weather alert happens, our safe space is the hallway,” Katie says. Because the plan was clear and known by everyone in the building, the teachers and Katie were an efficient team: parents of all present dancers were called and assured that everyone was safe; the team also encouraged parents to wait until the storm passed before they came to pick up their children.

“Instead of calling our studio director to ask what to do, we knew what to do and could focus on keeping our students safe and calm and communicating with their families,” Katie says.

Framework for challenging conversations

Of YPAD™’s educational course modules, several discuss how to deal with precarious topics such as peer conflicts, bullying situations, or a student’s disclosure of abuse or other confidential information. Dance teachers are trusted adults and role models for their students, and with a framework for action, educators can communicate calmly and confidently in these emotional situations.

At Leap Studios, Jill believes her staff effectively manages conflict situations because of their YPAD™ training, which they undertake every other year to refresh their initial learning. 

“I also believe it has given us the opportunity to prevent conflict, because we are aware of what behaviors and actions can trigger that, and can mitigate it in our procedures and day-to-day activities,” she says. “Students feel safe to voice their concerns and reflect on how they can best contribute to a solution because they are assured that their instructors and studio staff are supportive, trustworthy advocates who will help them resolve any issue.”

An endorsement to share with your community

Just as studios tout teachers’ attendance at continuing education workshops or summer courses because it shows a commitment to educational quality, YPAD™ trained studios should work to educate parents, studio supporters, and the greater community about what YPAD™ means and the benefits it holds.

“Most people do not know that dance is an unregulated industry,” Tiffany says. “Our parents love to share on local Facebook groups and on their social media how their home studio is taking extra steps to ensure that their dancers are in an environment that puts their dancer before the dance.”

Resources for continued development and connection

 YPAD™ trained educators can continue to learn through resources and support efforts: monthly Connection Chats, quarterly Topical Teachings, or one-on-one calls with a YPAD™ Certified Coach. New resources are added regularly. Studio leaders who are new to YPAD™ are encouraged to explore what training looks like for their studios, and how to incorporate a YPAD™ education into their daily operations. Safety and wellness are no longer peripheral topics; they are essential to the well-being of dance students across the globe.

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