Do You Let Yourself Be the Student?

Ministry leaders and dance teachers, when was the last time you let yourself be the student?

How often do you take the place of the student?

How often do you have to learn someone else’s choreography?

Team members, do you ever feel like you can’t keep up, don’t learn fast enough?

Do you ever fear disappointing your teacher/leader?

Something so valuable happens when we step into a role we don’t normally have. In this post, I share an experience from this past week when I experienced this role reversal, how it affected me, and how such a role reversal can help us be better teachers, leaders and students, if we’ll let it.

This past week, I had the privilege of serving as choreographer and teacher for a church here in Southern California. They asked me to choreograph a dance for their Christmas outreach and, because the church is located over an hour away from my home, we set a goal for me to teach the entire dance in one day.

Later that week, I started rehearsals for a Christmas outreach that is being directed by a friend of mine. I get to be a dancer in a local production of Michael Card’s The Promise. (If you’re in the Los Angeles area, come see us, and share about it with your friends who don’t know Jesus. Tickets are available here.)

On Saturday, the team I worked with did amazing. By God’s grace, they learned the choreography for an entire three-minute song in a five hour rehearsal. (In another post, I’ll share strategies for keeping choreography simple while still keeping it interesting, when you limited time to prepare with your team and/or have less experienced dancers.) I was so proud of the kids and so grateful for what they accomplished.

Even so, there were times when they weren’t moving as I envisioned, parts where I really wanted them to refine their movements. We worked on as many as we could when together, and I left them with a couple of video clips to study.

On Wednesday, I went to rehearsal to learn my part in The Promise. For these dances, I am learning a dance I did not choreograph. It’s a privilege to simply go and learn. Even so, taking the place of a student caused me to reflect on how I teach and gave me a new appreciation for my students.

Even as we warmed up at rehearsal, I felt nervous. What if she (the choreographer) is disappointed in me? What if she thought I’m a better than I am? What if I can’t do what everyone else can do? What if she realizes I’m not a real dancer! (Can you relate to those self doubts?)

As we learned the routine, I started to relax and have fun. But I still felt so vulnerable. There were parts where I didn’t get just what she was asking us to do, where even after doing it three times, I was still making mistakes. I wanted to say, I know I’m not that good, but I’ll go home and practice. I’m not good at learning choreography. (Fortunately, I had just reread a post from the past, “Are you capable,” which talks about how we talk to and about ourselves, which the Lord used to warn me about self-condemnation)

The choreographer was amazingly gracious. She kept saying, You ladies are beautiful. That looks beautiful. That is amazing for just learning it. I needed that encouragement. I wanted her to be happy with our work.

When these thoughts came up, I thought about the team of five I worked with on Saturday. I wondered how many times they felt vulnerable, afraid of disappointing me. I was aware that, when learning new choreography, you first just focus on figuring out where your feet and arms are supposed to be. You have to figure out that before you can focus on the fine tuning of your technique. I had a great appreciation for how much my students had learned. And I was so glad that, for the most part, by the grace of God, I encouraged them far far more than I had corrected them.

Sometimes, when I’m teaching, whether it’s dance, math or french, I can feel frustrated when students aren’t getting it fast enough. I rarely show it overtly, but it’s in my heart. And there’s always an overflow from our heart into our tone, if not our words and actions. Being in the place of a student reminded me that learning takes time, patience and practice. A person doesn’t need to be corrected on everything they are doing wrong at the outset. Often, we just need time to work out what’s new. Of course, correction is an important part of instruction, but a vulnerable learner can only handle correction in small doses and balanced with large doses of encouragement and patient instruction.

I feel so very blessed to have both of these experiences and to have had them in the same week. I share them with you to encourage you. If you are a teacher, I encourage you to look for opportunities to take the place of a student. Learn someone else’s choreography. It will expand your own and give you empathy and wisdom for those whom you teach.

If you are a student, be patient with yourself. It takes so  much courage to learn something new. Just because you don’t get it the first time doesn’t mean you won’t get it. Breath, practice, enjoy, and practice more at home.

What are some lessons you have learned about teaching others?

What have you learned from being a student?

Please join the discussion. Share in the comment section. I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for allowing me to be part of your life.


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