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You Got the Job... What's Next?

Once you secure a job as a K-12 dance teacher, there are several areas that you will want to focus on:

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While these are crucial aspects of the K-12 dance teacher’s job, they can feel overwhelming to new dance educators. However, it is important to remember that there are many avenues of support available.
Sonia, a white woman with blonde hair, wearing red lip stick and a red suit coat, smiling standing against a bright yellow back round.

Sonia Kellermann (pictured left), Dance Teacher at Franklin High School, a public high school in Oregon, advises new dance teachers to take advantage of the resources available to them. “Get a master teaching mentor immediately. Most districts offer them. Get help with technology services, such as grading platforms. Get connected with your union, and your evaluating administrator. Establish a team of parents to help, especially with your dance productions.”

No matter what resources your school may offer, know that the K-12 dance education community is thriving, vibrant, and welcoming. “Reach out, there are others out there doing this - you might feel all on your own, but you are not,” says Jessy Kronenberg, Dance Teacher at El Cerrito High School in California. “A little effort can help build a sense of community that will help you get through the beginning.”

Monica, a black woman with curly dark hair, smiling wearing a black tshirt and standing against a red brick wall.

NDEO is proud to help build community in the dance education field. One way that we do this in the K-12 sector is through our mentorship program. If you are a new teacher with less than five years of experience, you can apply to participate in the mentorship program as a mentee. “The NDEO Mentorship Program was a great benefit for the start of my K-12 teaching career,” says Monica Noble (pictured right), Dance Teacher at North Springs High School, a magnet school in Georgia. “I was a new educator right before the start of the pandemic, and I felt so lost and helpless in this new career field. Joining the mentorship program was a wonderful way for me to meet people within the NDEO organization and make some real connections as well. My mentors were helpful when I needed them and I’m just very grateful for that program.”

Curriculum and lesson planning

If the school is already using a dance curriculum, you will want to familiarize yourself with it and be prepared to implement it in your classes. If the school does not have a dance curriculum in place, you will need to create your own. A well-structured curriculum that aligns with educational standards can foster students' growth in dance skills and knowledge. Heather Almanza, Dance Teacher, Mission Hills High School in California, notes that the National Core Arts Standards in Dance will be helpful in your curriculum design. “Look at the National Core Arts Standards for what you should center your curriculum around. Determine clear learning objectives that clearly state what you want students to be able to do, and create your lesson plans accordingly.”

Amber, a white woman with short dark brown hair, wearing a patterned purple shirt and smiling in a school hallway.

You can also reach out to other dance educators via NDEO’s K-12 Forum with questions or seeking advice on the curriculum planning process. “Use NDEO and seasoned teachers to help you,” says Amber Corriston (pictured left), Director of Dance at Harrisonburg High School, a public high school in Virginia. “I was the first dance teacher in my district, so when I was hired, I had standards that guided my teaching, but no curriculum. Attending NDEO events was helpful because I met other K-12 dance educators.”

Mary Anne Herding, Dance Department Chair and Dance Educator at Xavier College Preparatory, a private high school in Arizona, reminds dance educators that their own experience can be an invaluable tool when it comes to curriculum development. “Reflect on the experiences you have had and the classes that impacted you, and use all of that to develop a meaningful effective curriculum. Be brave and make your vision of a program you desire to see come alive, happen.”

Once your curriculum is in place, you can create engaging lesson plans that cater to diverse learning styles and abilities, incorporating techniques, styles, and cultural perspectives. “Dance teachers understand that students have a different way of learning,” says Gerri Barreras, Performing Arts Chair and Dance Director, Gulliver Preparatory High School in Florida. “Accessing those innate skills in teaching will help you develop your curriculum and lesson plans.”

It is important to know your school’s guidelines and expectations regarding lesson planning. Herding notes that “Lesson planning and assessment can vary depending on requirements of each school as far as design.” What is the required format for lesson plans at your school? How often do they need to be submitted? While the formalities around lesson planning can feel overwhelming, Herding advises that dance teachers not to overcomplicate things. “The basis for good lesson planning and assessment is always the same as far as what you want students to get out of the lesson, how are you going to achieve that (through what activities and methodology) and how will you assess it with the intent of students being challenged and feeling successful,” she says.

a group of young students taking a ballroom dance class in their school gym

Having a solid lesson plan in place for each class will help you stay organized and ensure that your students are progressing. But, it’s important to be responsive to the needs of the students in front of you. “Making a lesson plan is very important, yet I encountered many situations in which I had to "improvise" my lesson plan because of the condition of the students,” says Kaoru Ikeda, dance teacher in a private school in New York. “Be flexible so you can improvise based on the lesson plan so that you, and the students, can still achieve the goal.”

Gina Spears, Dance Educator at Portage Park Elementary, a public elementary school in Illinois, offers a unique approach to lesson planning that can be especially helpful for new K-12 dance teachers: “Consider teaching basic standards-based concepts to ALL students and differentiate across your grade levels. For example, teach a lesson on body shapes to every class, but the way you teach it to kindergarten will be different than how you teach it to third grade and eighth grade. Once you teach the building blocks and have gotten to know your students, try different dance styles with each grade to see how the students respond. Keep a journal your first year so you can look back and see where their interests lie. This will help you outline a potential curriculum for year two.”

Classroom Management and Student Engagement

Implementing effective classroom management strategies can help K-12 dance educators maintain a positive and focused learning environment. It is critical to implement creative and interactive teaching methods to keep students engaged and motivated, ensuring they actively participate in lessons and performances. Lisa Peluso, Dance Teacher at Morris County Vocational School District, a vocational high school in New Jersey, advises that new teachers will benefit from setting expectations early in the year. “Establishing clear routines in the beginning is essential,” she notes, “because it is very hard to implement new procedures or rules past September!”

Selfie of Tabatha, a black woman with dark hair up in a pony tail, she is wearing a white top and standing against a white wall.

This can be even more important for students who are new to dance, as many might be in the K-12 setting. “Invest the first month of school introducing and reinforcing classroom etiquette,” advises Michelle Dunn, Dance Educator at Centennial High School, a public high school in Nevada. “Most students have never taken a dance class before and they will not know etiquette. If you invest the time at the beginning, it will make the rest of the year go so much smoother.”

Communication can be key when it comes to classroom management, as Tabatha Robinson (pictured left), Performing Arts Department Chair at Lick-Wilmerding High School, a private high school in California notes: “Communicate your expectations for class work, homework, and performances clearly so they know the level they are expected to achieve. Be able to explain why the norms are in place and why it creates a safe and equitable environment for your students.”

Know that many new teachers might struggle with classroom management initially, but that doesn’t mean it will always be the case. Angela Criscimagna, Dance Director at Great Oak High School, a public high school in California, shares her story of how she improved her classroom management skills, “I've seen an improvement in my classroom management over the years, and I attribute this to making my expectations clear, being fair and consistent with students who push the boundaries, and providing an atmosphere where students are able to make mistakes and support each other.”

Relationship Building

One of the most overlooked but vital aspects to a successful dance education career in K-12 education is relationship building. As a dance teacher, you will have to focus on building strong relationships with your students and the community, including families, administrators, the student body, and the broader community outside of the school. “Relationship building is key to having a healthy, successful and vibrant program,” says Carmel Gabriel, Dance Director at La Quinta High School, a public high school in California. “When you have authentic relationships with students, colleagues, administration and parents they will support you and your program.”

Cultivate strong relationships with students

Headshot of Niki, a white woman with black hair, standing and smiling against a white brick wall wearing a black turtle neck.

Your first priority as a K-12 educator should be to form strong, healthy relationships with your students. Open communication, trust, and respect will support students' learning and development. It is difficult for students to learn in an environment where they do not feel comfortable, heard, understood, or trusted. As Niki Thuman (pictured right), Teacher at L'Anse Creuse Public School, a public high school in Michigan puts it, “Making relationships with students builds your program and keeps your classroom manageable because the students actually enjoy your class. Happy students makes for a happy classroom.” These relationships take time and work to develop, but they will help make your job as an educator easier and more fulfilling. “Be authentic with students,” advises Rhonda Chan, Teacher, Yerba Buena High School, a public high school in California. “Your main priority is to establish a safe environment so that, on their terms, they will want to learn, perform, and take risks.”

Good student-teacher relationships will not only help create a safe environment for your classes, it can help keep students engaged in their education. “My best advice for class management and student engagement is to set clear expectations with your students while you are building the relationships with them,” says Gina Statile, Dance Educator at Garfield Public Schools, teaching in public middle and high school in New Jersey.

It is important to remember the diversity of students who come to dance through public education. Some will have extensive dance backgrounds, including training at a studio. Others will be familiar with various dance styles though their families and heritage, but may not have any experience in a dance class. Some may have no dance experience at all, and may even find the prospect of dance class intimidating and overwhelming. Kristin Blatzheim, Dance Teacher at ISD 196, a public high school in Minnesota, reminds new dance teachers, “Not everyone in your class is going to love dance as much as you so try to find the thing they love about dance and let them do that! Meet kids where they are at, even if it is not where you want them to be every time.”

Black and white image of Kathleen, a white woman with highlighted hair leaning against a white fence outdoors

Meeting students where they are at is one great way to build strong and healthy relationships. You can also consider getting to know your students, team-building, boundary setting, student-centered activities, consent practices, project-based learning as a part of the relationship-building process. “To increase student engagement, I make sure to use project-based learning whether it is done in a small group or individually. Choice boards are also great for student engagement as you can control what you want them to do but they actually have a choice in their learning,” recommends Kathleen Dominiak Treasure (pictured left), Dance Director at Hammond Arts and Performance Academy, a public high school in Indiana. “I have had to give up a traditional dance class occasionally to let students guide their own learning, but that keeps them engaged more.”

Sarah Roney, Performing Arts Department Chair and Teaching Fellows Coordinator at Holton- Arms School, a combined grades private school in Washington, D.C., also recommends student feedback as a way to foster better relationships with her students. “I frequently collect student feedback on the content, teaching methods, and teacher delivery so I can better meet student needs and have their interests in mind.”

While relationship building practices may feel “unproductive” to dance teachers who are used to focusing on technique, it is invaluable for fostering good relationships, impacting students, and ultimately growing your dance program. Amber Corriston, Director of Dance at Harrisonburg High School, a public high school in Virginia, cautions new dance educators: “Know that you'll spend a lot of time chatting with students about life and that you'll do a lot of work outside of your hours so that you have the time at work to form relationships.” but it’s worth it, she says, “If the students trust you, they are willing to put themselves out there and try new things!”

Cultivate strong relationships with the community

Students performing a Vietnamese fan dance with red dresses and blue fans

Building relationships with students is obviously an important part of being an educator. However, there are many other parties who can provide integral support for your dance programs. As a dance teacher in the K-12 setting, you will want to form strong relationships with students’ families, administrators, the student body, and the wider community. It is important to collaborate with colleagues, garner the support of counselors and administrators, involve parents and caregivers in their children's education, and make connections with local businesses, government officials, dance studios or companies. These relationships are an essential way that you can advocate for the value of your dance program, garnering the support, funding, and resources you’ll need to successfully grow your program.

For example, “Adequate funding can sometimes be the result of good clear communication with administration,” according to Mary Anne Herding, Dance Department Chair and Dance Educator at Xavier College Preparatory, a private high school in Arizona. “I share our successes with them often so that they see the value of our program - building those relationships is valuable, especially when you need to request additional support.” Forming strong partnerships with parents can also help you secure the resources and funding that you need. Deborah Toteda, Dance Teacher/Director at Harrison High School, a public high school in New York, highlights the importance of connecting with your students’ families, informally and through formal organizations: “I reach out to the Parent Teacher Association and Education Foundation groups in Harrison to ask for things like make up, additional costume needs that the district doesn't cover, sets, and props. Parents often advocate for me since I've built a relationship with several over the years through my parent group.”

To build a supportive community outside of your students consider the following:

  1. Promoting the purpose, goals, and nature of dance in education and in your program to anyone who will listen.
  2. Advocating for safety protocols and school facilities for dance education.
  3. Highlighting the difference between dance and physical education, as well as the differences in specifications between dance and other arts disciplines.
  4. Getting involved outside of your studio / classroom with other teachers in the school and with programs or initiatives in the school district and broader community.
  5. Creating connections between your dance program and those outside of the school in local dance studios, arts organizations, colleges and universities.
  6. Identifying other dance offerings within the district that supports pathways through various grade levels and feeder programs.
  7. Finding support for dance events, fundraisers, and performances

Photo Credits (in order of appearance): Headshot courtesy of Sonia Kellermann, headshot of Monica Noble by John Nalls, headshot of Amber Corriston by Bob Adamek, Rikki Ziegelman, BALLROOM BASIX USA, INC.®, headshot of Tabatha Robinson by Melvin Robinson, headshot of Kathleen Dominiak Treasure by Josh Innes, Santa Barbara High School Dancers by Calmphotographs, Ross Barrett Photography

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