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Behind the Curtain

Developing a Personal Pedagogy
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Posted: 2018-04-02T21:22:00Z

From time to time, NDEO will be featuring guest blog posts, written by our members about their experiences in the field of dance education. We continue this series with an entry from David Alexander, BS, MEd, retired Education Advisor to Boston Ballet’s Outreach programs, currently serving as Director of NDEO’s Membership Engagement Advisory Committee. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please email Shannon Dooling-Cain at

Guest Post: Developing a Personal Pedagogy? Questions for a Personal Training

By David Alexander, BS, MEd

“Defining who you are today begins with first reflecting on what you had as experiences, who you encountered, and who you were back then.”

A wise, close friend shared that adage one day and I believed her. A well defined, persona sense of what it is that informs your teaching personality or style today is critical to being able to shape the continued development of that personal pedagogy, regardless of what you teach. Finding words which represent thoughts, ideas, and experiences is as close as one can get to making them concrete. Once they’ve been decided on and articulated, like wooden blocks in a child’s block structure, they become concrete enough to be summoned, manipulated, shared, discussed, and reformatted over time. The outcome of this effort can be a refreshed, evolved, and ever-developing philosophy of teaching.

I have always loved to teach. This love may have been the result of someone in my adolescent life recognizing and telling me, “David, You’d be a terrific teacher.” I believed him and never stopped working on and examining my development as a teacher. One of the ways I work on my development as a teacher is to regularly question how I developed to become the teacher I’ve become, using this history to guide my developing pedagogy.

Knowing my interest in studying dance pedagogy, my ballet teacher friend Sarah once asked me to describe how I approach teaching anything. I was not surprised she asked. We often had hefty conversations about all kinds of things. So, I thought about how to describe it for a moment then answered “I’m a carpenter...... sort of!” To help her understand where I was coming from in answering that way, I began by sharing some of the early experiences that helped shape and inform my carpenter like teaching style.

I enjoy building things. Like most carpenters I have a plan in mind and an image of the outcome. I also know how I want to get to my outcome image. It will be informed very much by what I have to work with at the moment, and there’s a bit of making it up as we go along. In reality I see my teacher self as more of a “carpenter assisting” a community-like gathering of individual learners, reflectively dialoguing with each other about content of interest to all of them. When enabling learning (my real definition for teaching) to happen, it feels more like helping learning to happen than making learning happen. As an advisor to teachers, I do think about teaching as an observable act like dance that can be described and processed as a way to understand it and help perfect it in others.

Considering and answering the following questions may help you find the words for being able to describe your personal pedagogy. The answers emerge from and represent your past learning and teaching experiences as well as your present day thinking about teaching and learning. Think of the answers as exemplary of where you are now in your development as a teacher today........ “points of departure”, necessary to identify in order to recognize where you have come from and the next steps in your pedagogical evolution and professional development over time.  There’s probably more questions here than you want to answer your first time through them. The first time through them, choose just those questions you have answers for. Consider the rest as answers occur to you.

  • How do you define the word pedagogy? What is a pedagogy similar to in everyday life?

  • How would you describe your present pedagogical style? Recall that I said “carpenter...sort of”. Don’t get too long winded about describing your style right now.

  • How do you define learning?

  • How would you explain learning comes about for you personally? Chances are, whatever you have to say about that probably influences your teaching today. In other words, if you feel it’s good for you, you will believe it’s also good for others.

  • Are there examples of this observable in your teaching style today? What are they?

  • What do you think the relationship between pedagogy and your sense of how learning occurs might be? In other words, what are your ideas on how one learns anything? Describe in writing. Believe me, there is a strong relationship. See if you can define it.

  • What were the qualities or attributes of your most favorite teachers?

  • What about them made them your favorite teachers?

  • Of those qualities or attributes, which do you recognize today in your own teaching? These qualities or attributes will inform your current teaching pedagogy and style today.

  • What qualities or attributes, can you recognize, and in what ways do they inform you?

  • Describe a successful personal learning experience.

  • What were the qualities of the experience you think made the learning successful?

  • Of those qualities listed which ones might we notice in your teaching today?

  • Do you have old adages you use to describe your sense of the process of learning anything? Adages such as, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” or “Let your last failure inform your next success!” or “An ounce of effort is worth a pound of cure!”

  • Do you have any stories from your recent teaching of your use of these adages that reveal and match the qualities or attributes of your personal pedagogy?

  • Moving beyond your own personal experiences with teachers, teaching, and learning experiences, are there teaching or learning practices, (Montessori, Open Education), theorists (Piaget, Dewey), or theories (Learn by Doing, Drill & Practice) you are attracted to?  What are they, and what makes them attractive?

  • Of what you have written and described so far, what can be used to inform and describe your personal pedagogy right now?

  • Try writing and describing your personal pedagogy to a friend.

It’s my hope that the information and details you have generated by considering these questions can be used by you to begin and continue the development of your personal pedagogy.

David Alexander, BS, MEd, recently retired as Education Advisor to Boston Ballet’s Outreach programs, but continues as Chairman of the Boston Ballet Volunteer Association’s Education and Community Initiatives committee. Before coming to Boston Ballet, David was a Project Associate at the National Institute on Out-Of-School Time, Centers for Women, at Wellesley College in Wellesley, MA. His work there was greatly informed by his 20+ years as Lecturer and supervisor of Student Teachers, and Director of the Curriculum Resource Laboratory at Tufts University, Department of Child Study in Medford, MA. His dance teaching experiences at Boston Ballet include assisting Adaptive Dance classes for children with Down Syndrome, plus the ballet’s CITYDANCE program for 3rd graders in the Boston Public Schools. His on-stage experiences include dancing as Clara’s father in many Walnut Hill School productions of Nutcracker. Boston Ballet productions included numerous supernumerary roles and one season as Mother Ginger. David has most recently been appointed Director of the National Dance Education Organization’s (NDEO) Membership Engagement Advisory Committee. This committee’s task is to advise NDEO on ways to meaningfully engage NDEO members in suggesting and establishing the resources that can be used to bring dance to all.
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