An Enquiry into Teaching and Learning the Skills Needed to Become a Competent Alexander Technique Teacher

Canberra Alexander Teacher Training School Year One Report

August 2017



The Canberra Alexander Teacher Training School is a non-standard Alexander Technique Teacher Training that has a high level of structured content, a high teacher-student ratio, fewer than standard face-to-face hours, and a policy of structured off-premises formal practice. An AUSTAT moderator has assessed the three students as being of a competent end-of-first-year standard.



Enshrined in the Constitution of the various national Societies of Teachers of the AT, are a set of “numerical protocols” – “mandatory time-specific” conditions for the training of Alexander teachers. Dr Terry Fitzgerald notes in “The Future of Alexander Technique Education – Principles, Practices and Professionalism” (doctoral thesis 2007): “No academically viable research has ever been conducted into the value of … the way Alexander Technique teachers historically have been trained, i.e. the ‘numerical protocols’”. He also points out that these include no generally recognised qualitative assessment standards. Nor are there formal tests for competency; rather, qualification tends to rest more on turning up for the mandated number of hours.

Notwithstanding the prevalence of the “numerical protocols”, training formats do vary around the world. Variables include duration, teacher:student ratios, percentage of time/number of hours devoted to practical work, all of which have historical precedent. For example in the 1930’s, FMA’s own course involved two hours’ face-to-face time, five mornings per week. Ultimately the students started meeting and working together outside of class time. Thirty years later, Marjory Barlow’s course operated on a similar basis, with students meeting outside of formal class time (see Gounaris et al., 2000). Fitzgerald notes that when FMA contemplated starting his first teacher training, he was faced with “the paradox of using traditional didactic approaches to train teachers for a milieu which would be practical, organic and person-centred”. He also notes that while FMA adopted the idea of a three-year training, this may have had much to do the ideas then current about school-teacher training and FMA’s desire to be seen to be offering a training that was at least comparable. The 1600-hour requirement was brought in by STAT during the early 1960’s in response to a combination of British Home Office requirements for visas for overseas students and London County Council’s requirements for financial grants to students.

Having noted the inconsistencies in the results of the conventional forms of training, and after considering our own particular circumstances, we decided on a structure that we believed would work for our students, but which lay outside the norm. By following a format that involves rigorous content and structure, embracing student moderation, and extending this to include one of the architects of the material upon which our content is based, we wished to address the question “Can our training format produce competent teachers/teachers comparable in competence with those from more conventional trainings?”  

We began on 11 October 2016 with a trial term which gave all participants, including trainers, a chance to “dip their toes in” without obligation to continue.  All did continue. This also gave us a chance to implement any early tweaks to the structure. This document reports on the first year (three terms) of operation.



All three trainees have a background of regular Alexander lessons, for three years, five years and twenty years respectively, the last including a prior term of teacher training. Their average age is 41 years. They each have young children and are in paid employment. Time has been spent discussing the potential “growth material” – opportunities for applying the Alexander Technique – that  family life and paid work offer. All three have brought examples of such opportunities from their lives, and the success or otherwise in meeting such demands.



Our structure involves:

  • a three-year arc without attachment to a particular total number of hours completed;
  • face-to-face hours of six hours per week over three days in the first year, plus attendance as observers at workshops given by the trainers, always with a discussion/debrief afterwards;
  • students logging a minimum of six hours of formal practice-time away from school hours (thus practice over more days of the week and more responsibility thrown on to trainees and their own inner discipline). The practice time is spent on specified activities that have been thoroughly developed in school time and are traditional AT procedures or variations thereof. This is seen as comparable to the time spent in unstructured ways on a larger training course.
  • a ratio of two teachers to three students, thus lots of direct hands-on input;
  • students keeping their own learning journals, thus maintaining a reflective discipline.

We set a specific articulated goal for the end of the first year: the students should be able to work reliably on themselves, i.e. be able to reliably Inhibit and Direct both at school and in daily life. See the more detailed learning outcomes and measures below.


End of Term 3 Learning Outcomes

Assessment Criteria

The student will:

The student demonstrates the ability to:

1. Demonstrate an improvement in own use

1.1 understand their own conditions of use

1.2 understand their own manner of use

and the difference between 1.1 and 1.2

2. Demonstrate an understanding of how to work on oneself

2.1 use relevant traditional procedures both under guidance and alone

2.2 translate this knowledge into how they approach day-to-day living

3. Demonstrate an understanding of Inhibition and Direction

3.1 explain the concepts verbally and in writing

3.2 apply the concepts in practice

4. Demonstrate appropriate knowledge of Anatomy and Physiology

4.1 understand anatomical language

4.2 use anatomical language appropriately in talking about AT concepts

5. Demonstrate knowledge of specified Alexander Technique literature

5.1 make connections between written Alexander information eg Use of the Self and their own experiences

5.2 put the AT into broader contexts


In theory each student should have logged 175 face-to-face hours and 180 formal practice hours, plus attendance at various workshops.

The daily timetable has included:

  • each student having one 15 to 20-minute turn (we started with 20 minutes each and reduced it to 15-minute turns in week 7),
  • a 25 to 30-minute hands-on session, as a group of two or three students,
  • a 25 to 30-minute “directed activity” (DA) or “game” designed to illuminate or further develop some aspect of inhibition and direction,
  • a short daily lecture and a weekly book group.

Thus, each student received about 65 minutes daily of direct one-to-one attention in the form of turns with each of the trainers. One trainer gives two turns, the other trainer gives one turn, which allows a turn-length period for each  trainee also to do semi-supine, or HoBoC or some other directed self-work. The hands-on groups and directed activities are guided by each trainer and sometimes both trainers are involved. First-term lectures included basic AT concepts such as inhibition; direction; non-doing; Alexander’s directions, etc. Second-term lectures included discussion of how we develop our habits of use; influences on our use; and application of AT to meeting unfamiliar situations. Most third-term lectures focused on basic anatomy.

The books read, discussed and written about in the first year were F. Pierce Jones’ Freedom to Change and F.M. Alexander’s The Use of The Self. Other material read and discussed has included lectures by Ron Murdoch and Walter Carrington.

The daily timetable has been generally adhered to, yet with the flexibility to run with questions that arose and were deemed worth following at the expense of skipping something else, usually the 15-minute lecture. This 15-minute period was also sometimes devoted to discussion and elaboration of formal practice-time. The daily turns were never skipped and remained absolutely steady; there was a small amount of give and take time-wise and a degree of overlap in content between the hands-on groups and the directed activities, which both remained a consistent part of each day. Each week usually had a particular theme, e.g. the meaning of “back widening”; deepening understanding of how the use of legs relates to “primary control”; how “back widening” and the use of the legs relate to the use of the hands; etc.

The students keep a daily “learning journal” and the trainers keep a log of each day’s activities. Students log their off-premises formal practice. Each term students submit a short summary of reflections on their learning as well as other written pieces related to what has been read.


CONTENT – “The Daily Scales”

The content of the hands-on groups has been based on Carolyn Nicholls’ 1986 Notes Towards a Method For Training Alexander Teachers: an Observation of Dilys Carrington and its 2005 update, and John Nicholls’ amendments and comments. 

The Directed Activities are based on John Nicholls’ development of Walter Carrington’s “games”.



The basic premise of our approach is that the ability of teachers to use their hands is not in any way distinct from their overall use. Thus the principal business of the school is to teach the trainees how to work on their own Use, which includes the ability to Inhibit and Direct.

Logged activities/procedures were built up gradually over the year, and regularly revisited. For example, in the first week the only activity was semi-supine. However, each day’s hands-on group and directed activity brought a further activity, or development and refinement, the intention being to provide a solid practical underpinning to the understanding of Inhibition and Direction in relation to working on oneself, as well as a repertoire of ways of working on oneself.

Each subsequent week continued (continues) to refine the basic directed activities. For example, in the first weeks, a basic hands-on development practice consisted of standing close to the table, going into a monkey, and putting hands on the table. This was always under very close hands-on guidance by the teachers, who gave immediate feedback, with a clear iteration of the directions to be borne in mind, and the reasons for this. The teachers were clear about the quality of Inhibition and Direction required and the need to keep each iteration of the procedure flowing. The student had to juggle going into the monkey (freeing the neck, leading with the head, letting the back continue to lengthen and widen, keeping their length, releasing joints, maintaining an open relationship with the ground, and going around and around all of the above) and then add in moving their hands to the table: not letting the hand/limb dominate the overall head/trunk/legs relationship; not gripping in shoulders or arms; not grasping with hands; maintaining length through to hands from back/legs, etc. All the above starts the development of: a good working position; a good back; a constructive relationship between the torso and all four limbs; and integrating breathing as a part of “primary control”, as well as developing the capacity to direct and sustain direction. After this there was opening hands; releasing wrists etc, as well as the skill of juggling all these elements and keeping the whole process light and alive. Each week brought a further variation or refinement of these elements. While the activity has to be performed as a whole activity, the precise directions, examples of which are given above, were built up gradually, adding and making explicit one element at a time, before moving on to the next, yet keeping the whole in view – “all together, one after another”, with the basic neck/head/back/knees directions as an on-going background.

Immediate feedback and support from the teachers are key elements of our approach. These need to be carried out with the greatest sensitivity, both in how feedback is given, and in the teachers’ skill in perceiving the smallest changes in the trainee and their moment-to-moment use of themselves: how they set themselves up/approach the activity, how they carry out the activity, all including the scope and quality of their attention . This process was repeated and gradually refined and developed, with more directions being brought to bear (initially focusing on the neck, length and release of legs, gradually refining these and adding explicit reference to back widening, gradually bringing out its relevance to freeing the neck and interconnectedness to legs, arms, hands, breathing etc).

FMA referred to “monkey” as a position of mechanical advantage. Our understanding of the meaning of this is that “monkey” puts a demand on the student’s ability to keep all of the necessary directions going (as well as developing a good working “position” and a strong back, as noted above). When they do that successfully, an overall gravity-related elasticity can be achieved in a way that is clearer than from any other position. Hence practically all the hands-on-groups and directed activities involve some version of “monkey”.



As noted above, the aim is to practise developing Inhibition and Direction, and the ability to sustain these over increasing periods of time. At the beginning of first year, the trainees were only able to inhibit and direct for a minute or two. By the end of first year, they were able to maintain a clearly recognizable quality of inhibition and direction for many minutes continuously and this was starting to become apparent in their use of their hands.

There is an emphasis always on understanding why they are doing whatever they are doing. There is little point in simply doing things by rote, empty of real content. For example, why do we usually do semi-supine in the usual position? What can we learn from a variation, e.g. semi-supine with hands outstretched to side or above head palm-up? Why do the directed activities sessions build up the understanding of what is required in each activity, why are they required, and how do they relate to “ordinary life”, to other activities, and to the business of being an Alexander Teacher? The learning so far demonstrated by the students appears to justify this approach.

It should be restated that many times during the year we reiterated and developed the particulars of formal practice and the necessity for diligence, that it would make a difference to them, and that we would be able to tell if they had not been practising! Listed below are examples of the logged activities.

  • Semi-supine, (hands/arms in various positions, not always on abdomen)

– Add whispered ah’s

  • Monkey

– Add whispered ah’s

  • Lunge

– Add whispered ah’s

  • Hands on Back of Chair (with variations eg “pulling” back rail apart, pushing forward to lift back legs of chair off floor – always keeping in mind the “why”)

– Add whispered ah’s

  • Rocking, Crawling, Walking

– Add whispered ah’s

  • Working against wall – releasing ankles, variations on vertical monkey, up onto toes
  • Add whispered ah’s
  • All of the above with multiple variants


The following is a sample extract from a student’s log:




15 min monkey; 10 min crawling to walking backwards; 15 min s-s









15 min monkey; 20 min arms up, bend over, whispered ahs, HOBC; 5 min crawling to walking backwards









15 min monkey ; 10 min arms up, bend over, whispered ahs, HOBC; 15 min s-s; 15 min spreading out hands









15 min monkey ; 20 min arms up, bend over, whispered ahs, HOBC; 30 min s-s; 15 min spreading out hands; 10  min crawling to walking backwards









15 min monkey ; 20 min arms up, bend over, whispered ahs, HOBC; 15 min s-s









45 min monkey; 15 min stretching









10 min arms up, whispered ahs, bend over; 10 min crawling to walking backwards, 45 min walk; 10 min s-s; 15 min spreading out hands








The logged activities are necessarily noted in a sort of shorthand. Each of the above activities would require several paragraphs to adequately describe all of what is involved.  Each day’s logged activities are spread over the whole day and the time noted might represent a running total, eg “15 min monkey” would involve several much shorter monkeys! 



Student symbol

Face-to-face training

Logged formal practice



171.5 hours

228.25 hours

399.75 hours


181.5 (attended all possible external workshops)




124.33 (including 6 extra Private Lessons)



The above table does not include time spent on reading and writing tasks.

Our observation of all three trainees is that they have worked on themselves diligently. They have been regular in attendance (B less so due to paid work demands and this is of some concern) and have been attentive and interested while at school. They have applied themselves to the discipline of formal practice  away from school. They have all clearly undergone physical changes reflective of the above. They are becoming more articulate about the Alexander Technique.  All are able to sustain an entirely satisfactory “monkey” and generate a recognizable coherent Alexander direction through their hands. A key aim for terms 4 to 6 is for these qualities to become more sustainable, reliable (without teacher supervision) and stronger.

We see that the students are clearly learning; they are developing their understanding of how to work on themselves, refining their understanding of Alexander’s concepts both practically and theoretically, and becoming more articulate. They also continue to enjoy the training process. B’s paid work is periodically affecting attendance and ability to carry through formal practice. It is apparent to us that the lower number of face-to-face hours has had an effect. However, it is interesting to note that the AUSTAT Moderator still found B to be at a satisfactory level.



Our AuSTAT Moderator, Penelope Carr, made an informal visit during the first term and therefore had an idea of where each student was starting from (notwithstanding the years of private lessons they each had had prior to starting formal training). Her moderator’s report, made following her moderation visit at the end of third term, indicated that all students are definitely up to a standard expected at the end of the first year. She worked with each student individually as well as together and used the ASM 2013 Moderator checklist as her benchmark. As expected from a moderator, Penelope noted each student’s own individual particulars/weaknesses/areas to work on. In terms of the ability to inhibit, direct and to communicate, all students were considered to be at a level that was at least satisfactory. Their use of their hands was considered ahead of many students at a similar stage of training.

Penelope Carr commented on the apparent effectiveness of our model of “outsourcing” the time that would be spent in unstructured ways on a larger training course. She commented on the extra self-reliance and discipline that this demanded; as students think critically about their use of themselves outside of school, it becomes part of their daily life.  

John Nicholls, author of the program of Directed Activities we use, gave a shared double lesson to J and E early in term 2 (March 2017). He also offered insights about particular elements of their use of themselves and how to work on these.



We are using a carefully and logically structured progression designed to convey the skills of Inhibition and Direction and their reliable application. At the end of the first year of training, one student logged exactly the timetabled hours, one logged fewer and one logged more. The students showed willingness to genuinely work on themselves in a disciplined manner (exactly what is required of an Alexander Technique teacher and what we expected of them from day 1.) Based on the AUSTAT Moderator feedback, trainees are at a level of attainment/development commensurate with end-of-first-year trainees on a more conventionally structured training program. Thus the CATTS program appears to be effectively achieving its aims.

It should be noted that all teachers so far involved in CATTS (trainers and moderator, plus John Nicholls) are very experienced, having been teaching for in excess of thirty years.

While the AuSTAT Moderator found the trainees to have achieved a standard expected by the end of the first year of training using the structure detailed above, we have felt that more face-to-face time would allow us to usefully deepen some of the content. Therefore from Term 4 we are operating 7.5 hours per week face-to face, plus the required off-premises, logged formal practice, plus attendance at any external presentations or workshops given by the trainers.


I realize that some of the statements above may generate questions. I am happy to answer them.