Teaching Tips

Your Studio Culture—Hiring New Teachers

JP Tenuta with Monika Knickrehm in a Level 6 class at The Academy of Movement and Music. Photo by Mike Dutka, courtesy of The AMM

The culture of your dance studio should be a major consideration when it comes to hiring new instructors. After all, teaching experience isn't the only thing that matters! You'll also want to make sure an interviewee fits with your overall philosophy when it comes to interacting with students (and parents!) and teaching dance. Here are some great tips that can help you find the right match.

Define your studio culture—It pays to spend a little time nailing down your studio culture specifically, if you haven't already. Each place has its own focus and atmosphere. Being able to articulate your unique mission helps when it comes to hiring. Natalie Molter is the owner at Noble Dance, a ballet-focused studio in Kalispell, Montana, and she has spelled out her vision for how things should run very simply and clearly. "Our culture is hard work and sweat will pay off, so stick with it no matter what you are doing! Life lessons," she says, adding, "There is little drama or politics within our space."

From a casual, recreational, community-based feel to pre-professional track programs, it's smart to know exactly what you are trying to cultivate so that you can hire people who mesh with your ideas and ideals. Take a little time to write it all out so you have a solid grasp of what you're looking for in a teacher's philosophy when you interview them.

Develop interview questions—based on whatever you decide your studio atmosphere should be, formulate a set of questions that will help you target your culture, and see if the teacher you are interviewing is a good fit. Molter tests the waters by asking questions that help her see if a potential teacher has done their homework on the studio, and has an understanding of what sets them apart. For example, she asked the last instructor she hired, "Why do you want to work here and not at the other studios in the area?" Other questions that may be useful include asking the person about why they want to teach dance, or how they view your studio.

Listen/observe carefully—this includes watching for behavior that matches your philosophy—as well as keeping an ear out for warning signs that it might not be a great match. "I like to watch how the prospective teachers engage with families in our crowded waiting room," says Molter. As she watches from afar, she can observe how the person interacts and see if it matches her belief that instructors should serve as a role model for students. "You can tell a good bit about a person as they engage with our group," she explains.

Consider hiring from within—Stephanie Clemens is the founder, studio owner and director of The Academy of Movement and Music in Oak Park, Illinois, and she has had success with hiring teachers who have previous training at her school. "My 'good fits' have been with the Academy for years/decades," she says. This makes for an easy relationship, since those who have attended the school are already steeped in her studio's culture and instinctively understand the overall training/teaching philosophy.

Training your own instructors allows you to supervise and direct the process, as well as help new teachers develop. Clemens explains, "We have a program of teacher training, using advanced students as demonstrators and assistants." She adds, "Those with a real interest in teaching are mentored and supervised as they teach parts of class."

Utilize a trial period—even with a careful interview, a trial period can be a good way to see if you and the instructor work well together in practice. Clemens often uses possible new instructors as substitutes first, asking other teachers or accompanists for feedback on how they did rather than watching the class herself. She will also ask older students how they liked a substitute, to get a feel for their ability to engage in the classroom. "Sometimes a person who subs ends up with a contract, and sometimes they really just don't seem to be a fit," she says.

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