Focus. Pay attention. Listen. Hold still! Sound familiar? If you teach children, these phrases will escape your mouth frequently. They are very direct phrases, and they all have one thing in common. They are all commands. The problem with commands is that they may be easily ignored. Children are so used to being told what to do that they have developed a great self-defense strategy against us commanding adults. They simply tune us out. They may be looking at us but after the third command, you'll start to notice that glazed-over look. You know, that one they get when they watch too much television. And what does that do to us? We end up raising our voices with an even stronger command, in order to get their attention somehow, right? But now, we feel frustrated and a little pissed off because all we wanted them to do was pay attention. Is that too much to ask? So how do you get a child to focus, pay attention, listen, and hold still without telling them to? When I give you that answer, I will be giving you my secret weapon on how I have kept thousands of children focused for many years in my classes. Ready?
ASK QUESTIONS. By simply asking a child a question, you have engaged him/her in conversation where they must now use meta-cognitive thinking in order to give you a logical answer. Example: "Johnny, sit down." Johnny continues to stand, ignoring the command as he stares at himself in the mirror. Now try: "Johnny, are we supposed to be standing or sitting down right now?" Johnny has to look at you, analyze what you have said, and then answer you because you have engaged him in conversation.
A child's mind is really not that complicated once you put yourself there. Children are actually very enlightened beings. They tend to stay aware of the present moment, and explore it to the max. Adults, on the other hand, tend to think more about the past or the future, whether reviewing regrets or plotting goals. A child could care less about what's happening next month; they want to be busy in the "now." The future is too complicated a concept.
Try teaching a class where you are conscious of what and how you say something. If a command starts to form on your lips, hold it back, think, and rephrase it into a question. You will be amazed at the results. It is a simple process that really works.
Combine this teaching strategy with the focus of my last article, MOTIVATE WITH PRAISE. These are powerful tools that will keep your students interested and fulfilled. But if it is as easy as I say it is, then why aren't more teachers using these methods?
A great teacher will learn from his/her students. If you pay attention to how children behave on the mat, you will see that they are usually reflecting the energy you create back to you. In general, I have found that most people tend to speak and think using negative dialog. Pay attention to how you phrase things throughout the day, outside of the dojo. If you tend to give commands in regular life, you are probably going to speak that way on the mat. If you tend to expect a lot from people, and forget to compliment the small things, you probably are forgetting to compliment your students as well.
Any teacher knows that the dojo is a special place of learning, a mini-universe so to speak. As a teacher, I have found that I teach what I need to learn. My children have been inspirational in guiding me through my life-skills; focus, patience, and respect, to name a few. I attract children because I listen to their thoughts and feelings, and so they in turn listen to me when I "ask questions."
A child's mind reminds us to be in the present - in this moment, and to have fun. So engage, ask questions, and motivate with praise. As with any art, if you hone the tools of your trade with your special talent, you will create a masterpiece.