Today I had what seems like an unbelievable interaction because it’s so far from what we create here at Temple of Poi, I was harshly awakened to a reality I find very sad: there are actually flow instructors out there who are scamming students. A colleague shared a story about how ze was paying for instruction that was never really delivered and instead, the so-called teacher took the money while taking advantage of my colleague.
We all start out at a place of ignorance and none of us knows what we don’t know until we do now. Thus, it may be difficult to discern how effective an instructor will be when you barely know anything about the subject matter for which you seek instruction. After hearing my colleague’s story, I was inspired to provide a resource to help ensure this doesn’t happen to others. This article is intended to assist you in feeling empowered to demand the quality education you deserve by understanding how to determine the commitment, experience and quality of the instructor. While this article is for your benefit, it also benefits every quality instructor out there including the fantastic staff at Temple of Poi. When instructors are scamming students and that becomes a perspective members of the community have about what “professional instruction” means, it diminishes the reputation of hard-working instructors who deliver high quality services. Here’s some food for thought.
- Do they have a website? In 2015, with the ease of access for anyone who can get on the Internet to create their own website, I think those who don’t bother to take the time to write out a clear statement about the material being taught on an independent website have far less credibility than those who only have a Facebook or Instagram page or even a YouTube channel. I can appreciate that people may not want to spend the time investing in this professional resource, and, that is a reflection on their investment in themselves.
- Do they have a clear statement of the curriculum for the course for which you’re paying money? This only applies when you’re taking group classes because individual instruction is designed to be just that and as such, a web site can’t quite cover every possibility since it is responsive in the moment to the needs of the client. However, it will be easier to determine if someone can provide quality private instruction based on the clarity with which they present the marketing material for group classes. If you can’t write about what you will be teaching, there’s a good chance that you lack the language skills necessary to teach it effectively.
- Do they have a clear teaching philosophy? This is the underlying drive with which they approach their teaching practice as well as guidelines for students. On a professional website, will be listed somewhere to help students understand the type of environment in which they will be learning. Newer instructors may not have developed a philosophy and looking for this information may help you discern how much the instructor has developed their own practice as a facilitator. Not having an explicit philosophy doesn’t mean that they can’t teach effectively although the instructor having an explicit understanding of their philosophy certainly will help you understand where they’re coming from in their approach. This can help you determine if the environment suits your learning style.
- Do they have references? When I started Temple of Poi, services like Yelp were not widely accepted. Back then, I had a one or more client testimonials on just about every webpage. I learned quickly that students signed up because of what other students had said. In 2015, you can easily get clients to write a review that will appear publicly on a third party site where you have no control over the content, like Yelp. As a result, there is little excuse for an established instructor, at least in the US where Yelp is used, to not have some sort of reference available for future clients publicly available online.
- Do they have online videos? Again, in 2015, it seems highly unlikely he that a professional instructor in the flow community doesn’t have any videos online. While you cannot discern the quality of instruction from a performance video, you certainly can appreciate some aspect of the depth and breadth of knowledge the artist has based on what you see. This is true about flow videos and instructional videos. Personally, I think there’s every reason to provide preview videos for move-based classes since that’s so easy to create with devices we carry around in our pocket every day. When instructors don’t take the time to create these materials, for me, that indicates less commitment to the teaching practice. That wouldn’t disqualify an instructor immediately but in a long list of criteria you’re using to assess the quality of instruction you may receive, this can go a long way in discerning the dedication of your potential coach. In addition to preview videos, there’s little reason in this day and age to not offer a free instructional video or two online to give clients a taste of your work. Again, this may not disqualify them but it does provide some data points for evaluation.
- Are they willing to create a clear agreement? With respect to group classes, a clear understanding of how long and what will be taught at what location should be publicly available with the registration information to all potential and registered students. This constitutes an agreement for services and without one, as a student, you have little to rely upon to prove they did or did not give you what you paid for. This gets a little trickier with private instruction because if the relationship is new, the instructor may not know enough about where you’re at and what you want to be able to provide a clear agreement. That said, the registration process should include some amount of agreement on how you will arrive at the curriculum being taught in that session. The instructor should be able to provide a plan of attack they will execute with you even if it only addresses the first portion of the lesson and relies upon data only available through the live session to create the remaining material.
- Can they eat humble pie? While I endeavor to be as effective with as many people as possible, it’s also clear to me that not all instructors are appropriate for all students. IMO, a professional instructor should be able to embrace this with humility and confidence. Humility drapes well on an instructor and assists in the learning process. If your teacher is a braggart, that can wear on the classroom situation and be somewhat offputting. In contrast, instructors who operate as fellow journeyman who are also students are, in my opinion, more in touch with the truth of the infinite practice of life, including flow arts studies. Instructors who can’t admit they are also in process may not truly appreciate the process you are also in and thus, may not be able to meet you effectively since they have not acquired that lesson for themselves let alone have the ability to instill it in someone else.
- Are they effective oral communicators? If you haven’t gotten a satisfactory amount of data from the Internet-based material provided, a live conversation can assist you in discerning the communication skills of the instructor. And, even if they are excellent communicators, that does not mean that their oral communication style will work effectively for you. They’re voice tone, pace, language choices, presence and style may not resonate with you. This may or may not be an important criteria but certainly is one you can evaluate with a quick phone call interviewing the instructor.
- Who are their competitors? Even if you have a local school, and your town is a small town, there is likely to be some amount of competitive marketplace in your area because if you’re looking, it’s likely that other people are looking as well. Check around and see what their local competition has going on and compare them side-by-side so you can evaluate with more efficacy the quality of services being offered. Even if there isn’t another local instructor, there are learning centers around the country you can use as a gauge when comparing services. While the prices may not be appropriate for your region, this can help you in the absence of other data points.
- Does the instructor offer a free consultation? In my experience, no matter how effective my marketing materials are, nothing can replace the in person interaction. The best way for a student to get a feel for how I show up as an instructor is to consult with them and show them what I do. I’m willing to give just about everyone a short, free, consult, either live on the phone or in person, to help clarify any questions they may have and, if necessary, assess their skills. I wonder, when instructors aren’t willing to do that, what they are trying to hide.
- Do they present themselves professionally? While it’s true that a large portion of the flow arts community attends festivals, appreciates alternative culture, participates in progressive movements and/or may be considered modern day hippies, that is not an excuse to lack professionalism in how they present themselves as instructors. My colleague indicated that their so called instructor engaged in rampant, irresponsible illicit drug use in a way that diminished the credibility of the instructor.
- When in doubt, interview the instructor. Through conversation you should be able to determine the answers to the aforementioned questions even if they are not available on the website. Because I would be reticent to consider working with instructors who don’t have websites and other marketing collateral, I encourage rigorously questioning the instructor to get a feel for their competence and ability to work with you and answer your questions.
- Does it feel like a value for value exchange? In the end, you may not be certain if the instructor is right for you until you have gotten into the classroom with them and experience them first hand. At the end of the session you can truly assess the answer to this query. For you, did the exchange feel like you were getting fair value for the dollars that you paid? This of course is relative to your own financial position, the economics of the area in which you live, the current lifestyle choices, and other factors that are relative and subjective to your unique experience but in the end, this is the criteria I would use to discern if I should or should not continue to pay the instructor after already making an investment.
Need some quality education? Contact GlitterGirl directly or subscribe to our newsletter for mailbox delivery of this and other articles written by Temple of Poi founder and visionary, GlitterGirl, who has been a full time flow arts coach and instructor since 2002. If you seek business training or guidance associated with creating a safe performance, obtaining a permit in San Francisco or other personalized coaching, contact GlitterGirl directly for a free consultation (GlitterGirl <that pretty little ‘at’ symbol> TempleOfPoi <daaaaaaaught> com).