Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Keeping it About the Students

If you read my top 10 things I've learned about being a group instructor post last week, you might remember #6:
You can sometimes get sucked into the world of instructors - the clothes, trainings, meet-ups, conferences - but you always remember that at the end of the day, it's about our students' health journeys.

This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately... maybe because I recently attended the Zumba Home Office Connection event and just signed up for the convention in August (yay!). I love being part of a community of fitness instructors, so I'm certainly NOT saying that we shouldn't have get-togethers or be friends with each other.

What I AM saying is that... we can easily slip into a pattern of spending our time shopping for instructor shirts, talking about the latest training DVDs, networking to get more classes... all the things that are part of being an instructor but also take time and attention away from our students. How can we be sure to strike a balance?

Of course, it would be hard NOT to get wrapped up in the
excitement at something like a fitness concert just for instructors!
Look at the energy in this room!

I think it's important to be aware of some common pitfalls; these are the ones I've witnessed (or, admittedly, fallen into myself!).

Pitfall #1, Taking too many specialty trainings too quickly: It's fun to try new classes, and it can exhilarating to get a new license or certification. But, if you have limited time, getting trained in Zumba, Aqua, Piloxing, Pound, Step, AND Bokwa can make it tough to refine your skills and plan your choreo in any one of these formats, let alone in all of them. As you rack up the credentials, your students may not be getting the great classes that you're capable of offering when you focus.

Pitfall #2, Putting on a show: Teaching with over-the-top hair and make-up and dancing like Beyoncé can feel really good, but it's an easy way to make students feel like you're there for yourself (even if you're not). I'm not suggesting you shouldn't wear eyeliner and lip gloss if that's your style, but you know what I mean, right? A related complaint: staring at yourself in the mirror while teaching. Some people do this out of habit or to avoid awkward eye contact, but it can come off as being self-absorbed to students.

Showing up to class looking like this may intimidate your students...

Pitfall #3, Perpetuating a clique culture: The instructor clothes, complicated acronyms, pseudocelebrity presenters - our favorite fitness formats have a lot going on that only insiders know about. And that's great, when you're among other insiders. But I think it's our job to make sure students don't feel like they're missing out or being marginalized. They love our formats and brands as much as we do, if not more! I've heard people say things like, "Oh, I'm JUST a student," and I think they should be able to own their status more - without them, we wouldn't have anyone to teach!

Pitfall #4, Using conferences just for networking and selfies: Yes, you should network and take selfies to your heart's content. But, if that's all we're doing at a conference, we're missing the point. We should take our continuing education seriously and return to our classes with new ideas, tips, and energy. Our students deserve it!

How do you keep a balance between the world of instructors and a focus on your students?


  1. I love this post, especially since I just started taking group classes and I've seen some of this. For newbies, it makes the experience kind of intimidating. It's hard, because I have a hard time striking the balance between what is stuff I don't know but should, and an instructor trying to impress us with his or her lingo.

  2. I recently started teaching at a small fitness studio that has no mirrors. At first I hated it, but I've grown to appreciate the fact that all of my focus really does need to be on the students taking my class. It's helped me focus on them and work on refining my skills as an instructor :)

  3. No question that this is all about the students :) Beto said it best somewhere that THEY, the students, are the stars in this. They come out in all sorts of weather to take part in this wonderful world of dance fitness. They may be loyal to an instructor but really the bottom line is about their own fitness journey and we have to help them to achieve their goals.

    Regarding putting on a "show", I do agree that you don't have to be Beyonce or Usher to entertain the crowd. Yet, there is that fine line. You do want to get the students all pumped up and excited and in some ways you have to "entertain" but you don't want to be all "ego" about it either. You want the students to feel comfortable with you, your routine and make them feel that they are accomplishing something. For me, you have to psyche them up. And if I get a bit goofy at times, that's cool :) I'm just as into this as they are!

    If I stare at a mirror I do look at everyone in the process, I'll turn around to make sure everyone is okay but at the same time I want for them to concentrate on doing the moves as best as they can.

    Zumba lingo? I don't even go there. What do they know about ZIN, ZES, ZOO, ZAP, TAPPAN ZEE, lol. I always refer to someone else teaching as a fellow instructor. If they want to go into the deeper "waters" of Zumba, then they can take the Basic 1 course. :)

    As long as the students are getting something out of this and they keep going, TO ANY CLASS...not just your own, then that's the bottom line

    1. I totally agree, Tony, you can entertain without being egotistical. You definitely want to be a fun instructor, that's what keeps people coming back! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Nice article Jennifer.

    This is the challenge for every instructor. It's not enough for students to have fun-- to pull in new members and keep old members you have to devote yourself completely to Zumba and the choreography, makeup, Zumbawear, and self-promotion. Zumba is a Party and people think the "loudest party" must be the best one.

    Zumba is still relatively young in Japan and the startup costs are high compared to the States. So the instructors really have to embrace the Zumba lifestyle and promote themselves, especially on social media. Instructors often attend dinner and parties with their students for both business and pleasure.

    What do you think of this?
    Zumbasamuri aka Ray Marrero

    1. Really interesting, Ray. It sounds like in Japan the instructors are still creating the brand - makes sense that they might need to focus more on the "other" stuff to develop a Zumba-going culture. Thanks for commenting!