How Noticing Your Students Outside Class Can Make a Profound Difference

Canoeing is one of the first physical activities I remember being captured by. I love the water, and there was something powerful and graceful about navigating a craft with a simple flat piece of wood through the chaotic eddies and currents of a river or inlet. This interest may never have taken hold if it hadn’t been for an early scout leader of mine, Gordon. He noticed my interest one morning when I was fiddling with a moored canoe when I shouldn’t have been. Instead of scolding me and getting me back on task, he invited me to take one of the canoes out and he coached me from the shore.

There are many such moments in our lives where we reveal that we care, whether that is through our interest or our frustration. When a peer or mentor sees this moment and instead of turning away, turns in, it can meaningfully move us toward learning, resiliency, and a sense of truly belonging.

Delivering a class is only a small part of what we can do as teachers to help our students excel in their arts and as people. A large part of what we do happens outside of classes or around the edges. Being aware of these moments where we can give a little bit more, where we can turn in instead of turning away, is where we truly build great students and peers.

Whether you’re a teacher, a facilitator, or a supportive peer, look for these types of moments to turn in:

Moment: Frustration. Turn in with Empathy.

We all experience frustration when we’re trying to learn a new skill. Taking a moment to let someone know that you have also struggled in your learning, and still do, can help them know they are not unusual or alone on the difficult parts of the journey.

Moment: Interest. Turn in with Passion.

When someone shows a genuine interest in something, spare a few minutes to add a little fuel to their fire. This is a great opportunity to give them a small challenge, show them something a bit extra, or give them something new to practice at home. Be mindful to not overdo it. Remember it’s their interest you want to stoke—be sure not to smother them with your own exuberance.

Moment: Intrigue. Turn in with Sharing.

New students are often intrigued with where this art goes down the road. There are tons of sexy moves that you don’t get to learn in the beginning but often have a hunger to try out. A good teacher supports this interest and doesn’t withhold knowledge. I don’t believe there should be any secret techniques. I’ll share “advanced” techniques with new students and then advise them on the fundamentals that they best need to develop to truly do well in their practice now.

Moment: Despair. Turn in with Presence.

If a student is going down a psychological hole, you can’t chase in after them. Inform them that you’re there, available, and that you have met with problems in your training, too. Let them know you’re close and give them the space to seek you out. We honour our students by offering them support but allowing them to be in charge of their own journey.

Beyond the help that you can potentially give to others, noticing is the first part of expanding your own awareness and increasing your overall impact as a teacher and as a human being.