Teaching Tips

Ask the Experts: How Do I Get My K–12 Students to Focus?

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Q: I need advice on proper classroom management for dancers in K–12—I can't get them to focus.

A: Classroom management in a K–12 setting is no different than in a studio. No matter where you teach, I recommend using a positive-reinforcement approach first. As a general rule, what you pay attention to is what you get. When a student acts out, it's generally done in order to gain attention. Rather than giving attention to them for inappropriate behavior, call out other students who are exhibiting the positive behaviors you desire. Name the good actions, and all of your students will quickly learn what it takes to be noticed.


Of course, there are many instances when you must react quickly to unwanted behavior, especially if it puts another student in harm either emotionally or physically. With the younger students, I address their behavior by removing them from the group and having them sit out to take a breather. The timer in this "time-out" is a set number of breaths. This turns it into a moment of mindfulness and settles the student as they count their breaths. After I've had to discipline a student with sitting out, I watch for them to shift their behavior. I take advantage of the chance to use positive reinforcement right away and compliment them on the improvements they have made.

In a school setting, you have the option of "going nuclear," i.e., sending students to the principal. I don't like to do this, but sometimes the threat of it is enough to steer a student away from the edge. To keep things fun and positive, I have invented multiple dance games that connect to my curriculum. The students look forward to this treat at the end of the class, and I can use that as leverage instead.

Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

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Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

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Claire, McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet

Former Houston Ballet dancer Chun Wai Chan has always been destined for New York City Ballet.

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Mary Mallaney/USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, courtesy Osato

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In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

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