Those who Can, Do; Those who Can’t, Teach.


Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach…

I have considered this statement for over a decade and it recently came up on one of those Facebook lists I love to frequent as someone asked me what I thought about the statement.

Generally speaking, I don’t think the flow arts instructor field is but an infant in terms of development. It would be very difficult to actually make a case one way or the other for or against the accuracy of it, at least with any sort of evidence to back it up.

Furthermore, I’m not sure I actually think the saying is really accurate. Every teacher I’ve ever had can do what they are teaching to some degree, usually a high degree, so I’m not sure the statement has much credence overall.

That said, I believe teaching, like performing, is an art. Teaching is not simply the act of demonstrating a move which, while important, is not always critical in the learning process. In fact, I would go so far as to say the opposite – a great instructor can actually teach someone how to do a move without even needing to demonstrate the move. I like to challenge myself with that objective with my advanced students just for fun.

Ultimately, distinguishing what happens with the physics of the move is about understanding where the objects are in space, relative to each other and the body and being able to describe how to (re-)create those movements in the body. Demonstration is but a piece of the equation.

I therefore think teaching is not a lack of ability to do poi, but rather an abundance of adeptness in being able to visually distinguish the trouble spot(s) in the move and linguistically communicate the correction(s) in a way that meets the student where the student is at.

There are several elements to be considered in that statement:

  • to be able to see the problem
  • to be able to understand how to fix it
  • to be able to communicate the solution
  • to be able to be understood by the student when communicating the solution (repeating these steps again and again until the student succeeds)

It may not be that, those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. Yet as I look around our very young field of teaching flow arts, I do know that it, like anything else, takes practice to master. A friend of mine got to watch someone else teaching poi and observed a few things that were done differently that I thought would be helpful to share with those who can do tech, and who can’t necessarily teach it:

  • Use friendly tools: if someone is new to poi, they are likely going to hit themselves. While PodPoi are great and fun to use, and they certainly are softer than many of the LED poi on the market, they do hurt if they hit you just the right way. Bean bags are more friendly for those who are averse to being hit by the poi so consider using a really soft tool that will hurt less when it impacts the student unexpectedly.
  • Start small: start with the basics, ideally with one hand. If students get the movements quickly, they will feel an immediate sense of success and gain confidence that will inspire them to move forward. In contrast, if you start with two hands and have to regress to one hand, students will be able to tell instantly they haven’t “gotten something” and will feel the opposite of success and confidence.
  • Have a plan: before you start teaching, have an idea of what you think you’re going to teach and a logical, step-by-step approach for teaching it. If you haven’t figured out a structure for teaching a student a move, here’s a basic outline to get you started:
    • drill less dominant hand: demonstrate and drill the pattern with the weak hand first
    • drill dominant hand: demonstrate and drill the pattern with the strong hand
    • drill less dominant hand: demonstrate and drill the pattern with the weak hand a second time, depending on how well the student did the first time
    • poi-lates drills: with many moves, helping the artist understand what to do with the body really helps. This includes the movements of the core muscles, shoulders, back, arms and feet. The poi-lates drills are about connecting with the center of movements, especially full body moves with extensions, so the student can understand the gross body movements that drive the execution of the pattern
    • poi-chi drills: as useful as the core drill movements are, sometimes it is most useful to drill just the hands, especially in the beginning. Where the poi-lates drills are about the gross movements that create the pattern, the poi-chi is about the hand movements and understanding how to execute the technique on a subtle level. Both of these are options and may not be necessary, and, it is useful to have these in your teaching arsenal to whip out when clients are confused.
    • Put it together: once the students know all the pieces — each hand individually, the body movements and the relationship of the hands to each other — try putting it all together with clear instructions and, ideally, an easy way to get into the move
    • Troubleshoot: as the coach on the outside looking in, this is where you get to guide the student and suggest practical adjustments and corrections to help them move forward in their mastery of the material. (This topic deserves an article of its own, so check back for that soon.)
    • Refine: this is where being the instructor counts and perhaps the most subtle aspect of instruction. Mastery is an never ending process. A coach offering these subtle distinctions can really assist an artist in taking their mastery to the next level. Simple corrections like where the hand should be, subtle angles of the fingers and hand, planes of the poi, pacing and more can really allow students to deepen their mastery in an inspiring and affirming way.

Written by Temple of Poi founder and visionary, GlitterGirl, who has been a full time flow arts coach and instructor since 2002. If you are looking for an amazing coaching to help you step up your skills as an instructor, student, performer or otherwise using personalized coaching with GlitterGirl, email her directly (GlitterGirl <at> TempleOfPoi <daught> com).

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