A number of years ago I was feeling very stressed. I had a lot of tension in my shoulders and neck. At my wife’s urging, I reluctantly agreed to try a yoga class. There was a beginning class just starting up in our town in Vermont. I went, and I was glad I did, partly because the teacher, Joanna Colwell, of Otter Creek Yoga, was so wonderful. At the time I was teaching an Introduction to TESOL methods class to undergraduates at Middlebury College. Joanna’s teaching of yoga in many ways exemplified what I wanted my young students to learn—I wished I could bring them all to yoga class.
What did she do that was so special? First, she made a safe place in which to learn. I was completely new to yoga and was feeling pretty anxious about it, just like many of our language learners are nervous about coming to English class. Joanna’s warmth made it clear that it would be OK to make mistakes without judgement.
Second, she “owned “the space in which the class took place. By “owned” I mean that she took the room, temporarily borrowed in a church basement, and made it fit her purposes as well as she could. She had carefully arranged the chairs and yoga props just as she wanted them. In the same way as classroom teachers, we need to feel confident that it is OK to move things around, or change the lighting, or the room temperature to make learning work better.
Third, Joanna started off simply. She knew we were beginners, so she set a pace that was slow enough for beginners to follow. She carefully walked us through the basics and did so in such a way that we felt successful. That gave us increased confidence that we were making progress. How might that work for you and your students?
Fourth, she made adjustments to meet the needs of individual learners. We had students in the class with a variety of ages and abilities. As a teacher, she made modifications to the tasks in order that everyone was sufficiently challenged, but not overwhelmed.
Finally, Joanna made things fun. When you’re stretching yourself in a way that may not be entirely familiar and comfortable, you can get a little tense. Joanna always reminded us to relax and smile, even as we were feeling a stretch that was causing a little discomfort. It’s OK, she was saying. It’s not a competition. Just do what works for you.
All of these behaviors on the part of teacher are easily transferred to the language classroom. Maybe you can think of someone outside of language teaching whom you’d like to emulate. Give it a try!