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

Canberra Alexander Teacher Training School – Michael Stenning and Léonie John

Year Two Report (Terms 4, 5, 6, of projected 9 terms)

July 2018



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



See 1st year report for full background and other prefatory material.

We note the wide range of training variables over the time that Alexander Teacher trainings have existed, e.g. trainer to trainee ratio, hours of attendance, days per week. We also note that there is no commonly accepted “curriculum”, notwithstanding that there is some commonality between courses. There seems to be a minimum of sharing of content between courses. We note also that the background of trainers varies.

We want to answer the question, “Can our training format produce competent teachers/teachers comparable in competence with those from traditional/more conventional trainings?”

We keep a daily record daily of all structure and all content, with a view to being able to comment on what we did and how it worked in relation to the goal of producing competent beginning teachers.

There is discussion in the Alexander world about standards, assessment, and competency in the training of teachers. We are interested in the process of training and in being able to contribute to these discussions. As a result, we (and maybe the AT community) will learn from them.



All three continue, enthusiastically.



We meet for 3 terms per year, 10 weeks per term. By the end of the first 3 terms, we felt that more face-to-face time would be desirable. We have continued to run 3 days per week, and increased attendance to 2.5 hours each day, total 7.5 formal hours per week. Additional attendance at workshops/presentations is expected, as well as at an extra “directed activities” excursion. The students are still expected to complete a weekly minimum of 6 hours’ solo formal logged practice, approximating the time spent on a larger course when not directly having a turn or under direct supervision. This amounts to a weekly total of 13–14 hours, plus any reading or writing tasks. The ratio remains 2 trainers to 3 trainees. Both regular teachers have over 30 years of actual teaching experience (that is, earning a living from teaching, as opposed to having been qualified for this period). Visiting teachers are also similarly experienced. Students continue with their learning journals. The students have been asked to not use their hands on family members or friends outside of class just yet, on the basis that they are still building the nuanced skills of putting their hands on and that it would, at this early stage, be too easy to fall into and unconsciously practise poor hands-on habits.

We have consciously cultivated daily and weekly rhythms. encouraging learning through a regular increase in demand, for example, from more or less static placing of hands, to following a moving person, to guiding a person into movement. Once the first task can be adequately managed, we increase the demand, as it becomes apparent that the trainee can attain the new development of the skill. Each day has an explicit plan that allows for relevant detours deemed worthwhile, both practical and dealing with questions that arise, while taking care not to be unduly side-tracked. All is recorded in the trainer log.

In these three terms, students each should have logged 225 face-to-face hours and 180 formal practice hours, plus attendance at 3 presentations and an external DA (rockclimbing).

On 2 days each week the daily timetable includes total 90 to 100 mins practical, with both teachers simultaneously or taking the lead in turn:

  • each student having one 15-minute turn (occasional absences permit for longer and more expansive, exploratory turns for those present),
  • 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 discussion
  • a 25 to 30-minute further directed activity.


On the third day the timetable includes a total of 65 to 75 mins practical each, with both teachers simultaneously or taking direction in turn:

  • each student having one 15-minute turn (occasional absences permit for longer and more expansive, exploratory turns),
  • a 25 to 30-minute hands-on session, as a group of two or three students,
  • a weekly book group around 45 mins.
  • a further 25 to 30 minutes DA or hands-on session.



Having spent the first year on inhibition and direction – learning to put their hands on while “leaving themselves alone” – the broad goal for the end of the second year (term 6) was that the students extend this to the stimulus not only of touching another person, but also that of initiating movement, e.g. into or out of the chair, taking a shoulder or a leg on the table, etc. The details, outlined in the rubric below, have been achieved. Thus, by the end of term 6 they should be able to give each other a reasonable table turn and the beginnings of working in the chair. Competence in working on the table or in the chair are not just goals in themselves, but represent a foundation in practical application. Having competence in these activities lays a foundation for creativity in teaching and being able to apply general principles to any situation.


End of Term 6 Learning Outcomes

Assessment Criteria

The student will:

The student demonstrates the ability to:

1. Demonstrate continued application to all Year-1 Learning Outcomes:

•       improvement in own use

•       understanding of how to work on oneself

•       deepen their understanding of Inhibition and Direction

•       appropriate knowledge of Anatomy and Physiology

•       Alexander Technique literature

See End of Term 3 rubric

2. Demonstrate ability to continue working on self with hands on other person

2.1. Apply Inhibition and Direction in approaching the other person, awareness of space between self and other and aroundboth

2.2. Continue Inhibition and Direction as hands come on and awareness of space between and around

2.3. Continue once hands are on, and refine contact and communications via hands, in both directions*, awareness of space between and around

2.4. Use “monkey” and “lunge” and variations thereof appropriately as they put hands on.

3. Demonstrate ability to perceive with hands

3.1. Accurately report what they can feel with their hands of the other person, e.g. “going up” or “going down”, balance, freedom of movement, breathing, etc.*

4. Demonstrate an ability to give a table-turn

4.1. Sustain/renew their Inhibition and Direction throughout the time needed to give a turn.

4.2. Follow a logical sequence of procedures.

5. Demonstrate a basic level of skill in working in the chair

5.1. Guide standing/sitting

5.2. Carry out other procedures, e.g. taking shoulders or arms, rocking from hips


* Developing the skill of sensing something of the other person is a skill to which we have consciously not explicitly referred. We believe its development is a predictable outcome of the way that we have approached the building of hands-on skills. The same way of putting hands on enables information to flow in both directions, simultaneously. This could be described, in summary, as involving learning to stay “with” oneself, leaving the self quiet and well-co-ordinated, while being alive not only to one’s own space, but also to the shared space and to the general environment. This means learning to be interested, yet nonreactive to self and to environment, receptive to both self and environment, i.e. a balance between attention in and attention out.

Hands-on-Groups also continued the piece-by-piece building of AT teaching skills such as physically handling a person with sensitivity as well as respecting their space whilst in close proximity; building a repertoire of specific movements for self (the “teacher”) which can be infinitely adapted, i.e. variations on monkey and lunge; building a repertoire of “procedures” to use when teaching; allowing for variations in height and size differences between “teacher” and “student; allowing for hand size (eg big hand on a small person), recognizing that with time and attention, hands become less stiff and more mobile, and how to deal with relative stiffness in the meanwhile. Other learning points include: nature and quality of attention; attention to space in context of working in close proximity with someone; introduction to saddle work. Other more specific learning opportunities arose to do with hand contact, wrists, heels of hands, palms, arms, feet, legs, and depth of torso, and how these need to relate to one another, within the general context of basic directions.

From 1st year report: ‘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…). 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” [or lunge]”. This of course needs to be practised! Part of the background to all hands-on work is the idea that we need to be able to respond to a demand with a general elastic expansion, because this is the source of effective communication with the hands.

Directed Activities continued as part of the daily diet. Inspiration comes from John Nicholls’ (unpublished) list; Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen; Dart; Jane Heirich; early movement patterns; and D.N.S. – with our own variations and accents on all of above and all informed by Alexander principles and practice. These included DA’s on voice/breathing as well as a range of common movements, including walking, crawling, bending , twisting, arm movements, lifting etc. Explicit consideration was given to what to take from DA’s, while always looking for questions rather than answers.

Attendance at Presentations: Students observed me give presentations to singers/singing teachers, physiotherapists and osteopaths. The students were encouraged to engage and respond to questions. There was always a debrief discussion afterwards about what happened, what was said and why etc. These also afforded opportunities for observation of the people involved, their motivations, their use, their responses etc. Attendance at the Pain Australia AGM afforded another sort of opportunity for exposure to a milieu with which we interact and to engage with ideas about how AT teaching might interface with a target market.

Attendance at Victorian retreat: Two of the trainees attended the SoFMaS retreat and were exposed to other students and to the work of various teachers, including the featured teacher, Caren Bayer. During these days, the third trainee, who was unable to attend the retreat, enjoyed constructive one-on-one school time.

Questions: Group discussion has regularly evolved out of reading the literature, (e.g. on the meaning and implications of “unreliable sensory appreciation”) and out of practical sessions (e.g. how to deal with the challenge of getting adequate hand contact when hands are stiff). Care has been taken that the discussions remain on track and relevant and that the focus should remain practical, while still answering the questions arising. Questions have also been answered by the frequent recourse to examples of particular pupils from the trainers’ long teaching experience.

Pedagogy has been discussed at every opportunity (during hands-on sessions, book or other discussions, presentation debriefs or when a trainer’s new pupil has presented a particular set of circumstances or challenges that could be used as a teaching/learning example, etc). Questions have been discussed including what information to deliver, when and particularly how, while juggling the needs and particulars of individual pupils or individuals within a group. Any opportunities to highlight teaching/learning points or methodology have been used. 

Anatomy: has included further study of vocal and thoracic structures and physiology, as well as those of pelvis and legs. There were two lectures from anatomy lecturer Glenn Jones (from CIT), one on fascia, the other on rib-cage connections.

Reading in class included parts of Goddard Binkley, CCCI, Dart article “Anatomist’s Tribute”, transcribed talks by Walter Carrington, and material from Elizabeth Langford and John Nicholls.

Written work: included pieces on sensory appreciation, a self-assessment, logs, reflections on each term’s learning and lesson plans.

Videos: old footage of FM Alexander with commentary by Walter C, Channel 4 TV “A Way of Being”, “Head Leads, Body Follows”, TV program about Marj Barstow.

Visiting teachers: Penelope Carr (the AUSTAT moderator), Janet Davies, Terry Fitzgerald, and Matthias Erdrich.

One general public visit.



Elements which we regard as important include: rhythm to the structure; cleaving to the patient, diligent, resolute attention to building the means; the ability to inhibit and direct and keep it all going in response to a demand; attention to responding to demand with elastic expansion.

We are focused on deepening the basics and learning to extend from a solid foundation.

An example of working patiently, “sticking to principle”, is revealed in the quality and depth of trainees’ unsought physical changes emerging from consistent, steady application of inhibition and direction. These include changes in breathing, lop-sidedness, freeing legs; as well as the deepening of appreciation of the process and its application.



The school requires continuation of the practice of logging a minimum of 6 hours per week of formal practice time, based on established Directed Activities.

The point of the formal (logged) practice time is to build on face-to-face school time to develop the ability to respond to demand with expansion, particularly with respect to using the hands when teaching.

This means using inhibition (not going down the rabbit holes of compression/pulling down) and direction (consciously cultivating the directions for elastic expansion), particularly in relation to using the hands.

Bringing attentiveness (inhibition and direction) to everyday activities is valuable, yet it is not what we intend by formal practice. General attentiveness to good use in living, e.g. loading dishwasher etc, is expected as a given.

Acquiring AT teaching skills is more specialised.

Note that all of the above are assessed qualitatively, not quantitatively.

A basic list of the core DA’s is available on request.

Sample log



END OF YEAR 2 OUTCOMES (logged time in terms 4, 5, 6)

Student symbol

Face-to-face training

Logged formal practice (incl hols)








185.5 (+ winter hols)







“Outsourcing” and Trust

Our policy of “outsourcing” logged formal practice time is being affirmed in three ways:

  1. The obligation to carry through personal practice appears to vitalize time away from school. This is confirmed not only through the steady perceptible change we can see in all the students, but also through their feedback. Their verbalized experience tells us that their practice time is not a dry, empty form, but that they are actually engaging with the process, as evidenced by their coming back to us with questions, comments, observations, arising out of the lived experience of what has become a practice. We see the process is a vitalizing one.
  2. Trainees on any Alexander teacher training course do not ultimately know what they are signing up for – they are buying something unknown. The trainees have no lived comparison with any other training, e.g. a more traditional numbers-based AT training. What they know, the “ground” for their training, is the tone and expectations set by the trainers. Our expectations are being met.


  1. As trainers, we assume our students are independent, thinking adults who want to be at school. Trusting the trainees to diligently carry through their practice is understood by us to be an enabling process. It is not for our benefit but for theirs. The expectation of self-responsibility and the trust this requires from the start, clarifies to trainees that this training is different from just turning up. They understand that they are being continuously evaluated from the start on these terms; therefore, they are accountable. Once the parameters are defined and as they are progressively refined, (and implicitly checked weekly in our continuous face-to-face time), our experience is that there is no down side to the practice of off-premises logged formal practice.

Of course, it should be the expectation of any trainee anywhere that they will be applying the AT in their life in general. The process of formal DA practice time brings more conscious focus to any application and as noted above, acquiring AT teaching skills is more specialised still.



Our AuSTAT Moderator, Penelope Carr, spent 2 days at school at the end of the sixth term. Her comments, made following her moderation visit, indicated that all students are up to a standard expected at the end of the second year. She worked with each student individually twice, as well as all together and used the ASM 2013 Moderator checklist as her benchmark. As expected from a moderator, Penelope noted and gave individual feedback on each student’s own individual particulars/weaknesses/areas to work on. Penelope noted that all were able to take on board and immediately implement her often subtle suggestions effectively, an ability most likely born out of the “solid and consistent foundation” they have built through their and our patient adherence to basics.

E and J had a shared lesson with John Nicholls half-way through their 5th term. He was happy with how they were going, noting only the need to speed up in their hands-on work – which is more or less to be expected at the theoretical halfway point of training. In our personal experience of development as teachers, we have found that the requisite speed comes out of the process of attending to the “means-whereby” and we trust that this will be true for our trainees.


A practical goal of this training is for the student to learn to understand and embody process as a means to being able to convey inhibition and direction with their hands.

By the end of the 6th term, it has become very clear that the first year’s patient, diligent and resolute attention to building the means have paid off. This building process from two experienced teachers who have put a great deal of thought and attention into process (means) has continued through a high level of one-on-one attention to detail. The emphasis remains practical. Questions, theory and discussion have always been addressed but not been allowed to dominate school time. As a general principle, we consider that much theory and understanding comes out of the dedicated application of the practical: “Be patient, stick to principle and it will all open up like a great cauliflower!” (AR Alexander).

Anticipating Terms 7, 8 and 9: The next three terms will continue to include constant attention to the basics (working on self). Our attitude is that everything else depends on the basics. Thus, there will be a refinement and deepening of the skills acquired so far, while looking more at interactions with pupils, including groups.

Hours will effectively increase from next term with the trainees giving supervised practice lessons outside of school time. They are now at a point where they have a solid foundation of basic practical and other skills with which to start practise-teaching family and friends. The ban on using hands with family or friends outside of contact hours is lifted as of the end of Term 6.

Michael Stenning

October 2018