With so many 200 hour registered yoga teachers (RYT) in the US (and dare I say, globally) it may seem like everyone and their sister, brother, mother, cousin and neighbor is also a qualified ‘teacher’. But what makes a teacher ‘good’? What makes a stellar teacher?
To me, an excellent teacher completes plenty of training as well as demonstrating evidence of personal experience – meaning, they have a well established personal practice, and they’ve been around the block in regard to hands on, contact hours of true teaching experience. Yet training and personal practice can, at times, be rote memorization and become mechanical or uninspired – or even dangerously unchecked when driven by one’s ego or insta-famous ambitions, or lacking depth of understanding and context gained from time tested experience.
Competency with entry level training standards is a definite starting point. Excellence takes time, experience and craft.
Sound pedagogy, or teaching principles and methods, set apart highly qualified, inspired and sought after teachers. They understand that the teacher-student relationship is sacred and follow a student-centered model to facilitate learning and growth.
When we first become trained, we learn what to do and perhaps how. As we embark on teaching as a lifelong career path, we return again and again to ourselves, and through this self study we begin to identify our own personal values and, for better or worse, our biases. We begin to ask why we teach. Who we can best serve. And what is our unique gift to give?
It’s our inner work then to clarify how we want to show up as teachers, and upon which values will we stake our claim when faced with an ethical question, or developing lessons for clients and groups of students. Our values drive every decision.
Although I could write for days on this subject, today I’ll share my favorite characteristics of what makes a teacher outstanding.
Top 3 Qualities of a Stellar Teacher
“the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices”
Great teachers know they cannot feel what you feel, and trust that their job is to facilitate your growing skill and independence. They give explicit permission to customize your practice. Asking questions and open dialogue doesn’t threaten them. In fact, they will welcome discussion and different viewpoints, and enjoy seeing you make different choices that suit your needs. Although there are other societal and structural considerations to this concept of agency, we as teachers need to be aware of how we establish our role, the dynamics in the room during group classes and more to ensure students feel able and willing to exercise this right.
2) Inquiry over Instruction
Inquiry-based teaching means that an opportunity is presented, and you get to move through an experience and see what happens. It’s open ended and leaves space for exploration and personal study. Although some basic instructions are needed (we’re going to lay down on our mat and do _____) in a group class, we must be careful as teachers not to tell people what to feel or how it should feel. Even standard cues like alignment of your feet in standing lunges, like Warrior 2, need to be allowed to vary for the individual, as their structure is unique. A stellar teacher knows how to weave themes and language in a way that invites you into your unique, embodied experience where true learning and change can transpire.
3) Warmth and Authenticity
This one can be challenging to describe, yet we all immediately feel the difference when we are in the presence of someone that has done their own ‘work’ and can show up with absolute loving presence. They know who they are, they radiate comfort in their own skin and confidence in their words, and they make us feel safe. Bottom line, if you’ve tried a teacher or even if you’ve studied with someone for years from habit or lineage – if you don’t feel seen, loved, and respected, it may be time to find a new teacher.
What do you think makes a teacher really excellent?
Teachers, I invite you to click through and get your free resource kit here. It will guide you toward greater clarity in your teaching mission, help you identify your guiding core values and develop stellar sequences with more technical savvy and soulful themes.
Work through the questions and reply to me as you develop your own teaching philosophy, sequences, and define your values that will guide your teacher-student relationships from here forward.
I offer this today in service to the larger global yoga community, in hopes that these practices can remain potent, safe and ethical for all – thank you for being here and allowing me to be in dialogue with you.
I’d love to hear how today’s lesson resonates for you.