Learning about Teaching at Sarah Kennedy Ballet

Kindergarteners, middle schoolers, high schoolers, and college students are different animals. They live in different environments and even have very different brains. To do a great job, teachers need to take account of these differences. That said, I also believe there are many universal truths about teaching. That’s why I follow as many K-12 folks as higher-ed folks on Twitter.

Last year, when my girls were ages 2 and 5, I took them to the world’s greatest ballet class at Sarah Kennedy’s Ballet for Young People. You might think teaching ballet is all about having kids alternately copy what the teacher does, and pretend to be giraffes or monkeys or snakes. There’s a some of this in Sarah’s class, but it’s just a tiny part of her repertoire. Every time we went to the studio I would learn something or be reminded of something I could apply in my own undergraduate economics classes at Yale.

These are just a few of the lessons I learned:

  1. Teach the same thing in different ways and contexts: In any kind of dance, it’s critical to keep track of the rhythm. Most people do this by counting. Sarah taught her kids to count in time with the music while sitting with no music, sitting with music, and dancing with music.

  2. Be creative: Sarah would often encourage kids to make up their own dance moves to match a mood or a specific piece of music.

  3. Have kids teach each other: Once they were comfortable with their own short dance, she would have them teach their moves to the kid next to them. Explaining something gives the teacher a deeper level of understanding.

  4. Be kind: Little kids love to just blurt out inappropriate things at inappropriate times. They can be distracted by almost anything. My college students are exactly the same. Sarah never got angry or even visibly frustrated. She would always gently redirect the kids back to what they were doing.

  5. Don’t be afraid to try teach hard stuff: I was amazed at the things she could teach 2 year-olds and 3 year-olds. It didn’t always work, but you never know unless you try.

  6. Bring in little bits of inspirational media: Sarah would read stories about dancing and play very short videos of professional dancers. This gave the kids a vision for where they were going.

My whole family is already looking forward to learning more in Sarah’s class this fall.