What Are the Hands For in Teaching the AT?

What Are the Hands For in Teaching the AT?

In teaching the Alexander Technique, the hands are for communication. Effective communication using the hands means a flow of information in both directions: via the hands to the teacher about the pupil and via the hands to the pupil from the teacher.

Hands Can Convey Inhibition.

The hands can convey calm and quiet in a general way; skilled use of the hands is invaluable in helping the pupil to settle and feel safe. The more that the teacher has embodied a quality of deep, awake yet non-reactive quiet, i.e. Inhibition, the more the teacher’s hands can convey this and the more the pupil has the opportunity of recognizing that quality as a possibility for themselves. The hands convey the quality of the teacher’s lived “Inhibition’.

Roughly, the hands intervene between the pupil’s brain and muscles to quieten the habitual messages, i.e. to support Inhibition, which allows for the possibility of something else to happen, which is where ‘Direction’ might come in. More precisely, the hands talk to the pupil’s whole nervous system, including the brain, asking for ‘quiet’, which may then allow ‘Direction’ to be cultivated.

Hands Gather Information

1. The hands can inform the teacher of both the conditions and manner of use of the pupil – where the pupil may be holding or pulling themselves down or restricting their breathing.  I recall a particular lesson early in my AT life. My teacher, Tessa Cawdron’s, hands were touching my neck and head. She pointed out to me that I was stiffening my ankles. She was of course right, and I was stunned. It seemed very mysterious to me then, but is perfectly clear now. A well-trained teacher’s hands can instantly bring the teacher a wealth of information, including information about parts other than the ones the hands are touching. This is because of the relationships between all the parts: eg if the knees are locked, a pattern of adjustments that is entirely characteristic of locked knees is triggered, in order for the maintenance of balance. Thus, the pupil is not just locking the knees, but also tightening in their lower back, restricting their rib movement and creating a downward pull all the way up to the head, all linked back to the knees. It is an interdependent pattern.

2. The hands can tell the teacher if the pupil is daydreaming/drifting, or at the other extreme, overdoing, ie the hands can convey something about the quality of the pupil’s Inhibition and Direction.

3. If hands listen without an intention to ‘do’ anything, it may become clear in what order the pupil needs to unravel the mutually dependent elements of unnecessary holding, in order to interfere with their Primary Control less. 

4. Then ‘Direction’ can begin to have relevance. Effective Direction comes out of effective Inhibition. When the teacher’s hands can convey adequate ‘quiet’ and the pupil follows this cue, then something else starts to become available. This is direction: a coherent quality of aliveness, or springy elasticity.  ‘Direction’ as I believe FM may have meant it, needs to have an energetic flow to it, a fluency, which is malleable and definitely not stiff. It is an imaginative process which may involve something like visualization, and includes a dynamic ‘relationing’ in the body (sometimes called oppositions or antagonistic pulls), connecting (‘directing’) an energetic intent that includes an aspect of ‘body’, yet without attachment to ‘body’; inhabiting ‘body’ with detached intent and awakeness. All of this can be conveyed and supported with the hands.

5. Supporting functions of the hands include helping a pupil to learn to observe sensation in a detached way, i.e. without going ‘into’ it (‘feeling’), as well as helping with immediate feedback re too much ‘doing’ or not enough ‘current’ in the direction, i.e.  about the effectiveness of the pupil’s Inhibition and Direction. The hands can confirm to the teacher that the pupil is getting the desired message, or not: ‘no, not that, but this’. They can hint to the teacher what might usefully be conveyed to the pupil verbally to help clarify the pupil’s thinking/internal pictures/concepts to help the pupil towards more simplicity, integration, coherence or agency in their use.  

The hands can also clarify what is meant by the words used – helping to bring a precise meaning to words like ‘neck free’ or any other words or phrases that the teacher uses, thus helping the pupil to build their own conceptual framework upon which to hang their experiences. 

The ability of teachers to use their hands effectively is not in any way distinct from their overall use. The hands are an expression of the teacher’s ability to Inhibit and Direct; to generate a coordinated elasticity through themselves which is recognized as a well-ordered Primary Control. I don’t know if the same thing is meant when some refer to ‘co-ordinating’ themselves. In my limited experience, however, they usually don’t mean the same as I mean. How well hands work is entirely dependent upon what the hands are an extension of, and how well-coordinated that is. In other words, it’s the Use of Yourself, not the use of your hands! (“Why, Mr. Binkley, when I am teaching you, as I do now, I am able to convey to you what I want to convey, because as I touch you, and guide you with my hands in carrying out my instructions, I, myself, am going up! up! up!” FMA, quoted in G. Binkley, The Expanding Self, pg 51.)

Teacher Training Third-Year Report

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

Canberra Alexander Teacher Training School

Heads of Training: Michael Stenning and Léonie John

Year Three Report (Terms 7,8, 9, of projected 9 terms)

October 2019 

SUMMARY

The Canberra Alexander Teacher Training School (CATTS) is a non-traditional Alexander Technique teacher training course that has a high level of structured content, a high teacher-student ratio with very experienced teachers, fewer than standard face-to-face hours, and a policy of structured off-premises formal practice. At the end of their ninth term (week 89 of training) the course’s AuSTAT moderator assessed the three students as being of a competent beginning-teacher standard.

BACKGROUND

For a full background and other prefatory material, this report should be read in conjunction with the first- and second-year reports.

In the second-year report we wrote:

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. 

Thus, there is no commonly recognised structure (notwithstanding the ATAS quantitative standards), content or methodology for the training of AT teachers.

  

TRAINEES

All three original trainees continued during the third year.

 

STRUCTURE

Evolution of the Canberra Alexander Teacher Training School structure – see earlier article in ITM, Journal of AuSTAT, Spring 2016 pgs 12 – 15, which noted the need to manage the “social intensity” arising out of working together with just two trainees (it became three) as a risk to be managed. Hence part of the rationale for the program structure: how to find a way of spending enough time together with the trainees on practical work (the 80% of training), yet not so much that the whole experience becomes unbearable and implodes. (Michael Shellshear, the then Chair of AuSTAT also noted that our proposal may help to address the issue of accessibility to training for people living outside of the two biggest Australian cities.)

We continued to meet for 3 terms per year, 10 weeks per term.  We continued to run 3 days per week, 2.5 hours each day, total 7.5 formal hours per week, with additional time as follows: in terms 7, 8, and 9, each trainee gave fully supervised lessons and gave or contributed to 12 fully supervised classes.

In each of terms 7 and 8, each trainee gave from seven to up to ten supervised lessons in term 7 and again in term 8 to someone new to the Technique (usually a friend or acquaintance), that is, each trainee gave up to 20 supervised lessons, split between two pupils over two terms. One or other of the trainers sat in. Notes were taken by the supervising trainer and discussed with the trainee either directly after the lesson or else in class with all of them during the days following. The supervising teacher would also sometimes intervene with suggestions as appropriate, or else act as a resource if the trainee got stuck in any way.

All three trainees attended some or all of two series of classes at the ANU School of Music: one series of six classes for pre-tertiary students was given by Michael in which the trainees were observers and gave turns; the second series of six classes for tertiary students was co-led by the trainees, with supervision and feedback from the directors as per the supervised practice lessons.

The students were still expected to complete and formally log a weekly minimum of six hours’ solo practice, approximating the time spent on a larger course when not directly having a turn or under direct supervision. The practice procedures were regularly revisited.

The trainees’ practical time thus amounted to a weekly total of 13 to14 hours, plus any reading or writing tasks. The teacher:student ratio during attendance times remained 2:3, which is more than 3 times the ATAS-preferred ratio of 1:5, always with highly experienced teachers. Students continued with their learning journals.

The ban on use of hands on members of the public/family/friends outside of class was lifted at the end of T6. We were satisfied that the detailed attention given by the trainees to their own use, as well as lots of closely supervised* hands-on training, had built a solid foundation from which they might start to use their hands. We also believed that by that stage they had a deep enough understanding and respect for what they were doing to see that it really isn’t as easy as it may look: while they knew that they had acquired some skills in the use of their hands, they nevertheless understood that they were still beginners.

In terms 7, 8, and 9, there was scope for each student to have logged 225 face-to-face class hours, 15 hours of supervised lessons, 24 hours of workshops and 180 formal practice hours, plus attendance at any trainer-given presentations. See table under ‘LOGGED ACTIVITIES’ below for actual totals.

On two days each week the daily timetable included 80 to 100 minutes practical work, and on the third day 45 to 60 minutes, with both teachers taking the lead simultaneously or in turn. The amount of practical work was reduced in the final term as the time available was used for dealing with teaching questions and other discussions about professional practice.

*See Carolyn Nicholls’ book Notes on the Work of Dilys Carrington. This is a great training primer. It also comments on the importance of accurate, precise and carefully given trainer feedback, as well as the importance of discouraging trainee feedback, particularly in the early stages of the process of learning to use the hands in the characteristically elastic way we aspire to.

 

PROCESS

We continued to stick to basics while continuously raising the bar. We progressively challenged the trainees to respond to higher levels of demand on themselves as teachers with maintenance of their ‘elastic’ use of themselves (as an athlete might train to maintain their form through a gruelling event or a musician to play more sensitively, higher, faster, etc.)

We continued to follow an explicit daily plan, with daily turns, hands-on activities, and directed activities with various themes and discussion. We encouraged the trainees to learn through frequent careful feedback to develop the ability to deal with a steady increase in demand: attending to more inputs, i.e. cultivating balanced attention to self and environment including the pupil; continually refining/honing skills; and always asking them for the most they were capable of. At any given point, the bar was being raised.

Daily and weekly rhythms continued. As a modus operandi, once it became apparent that the trainee could attain the new development of a skill, we would increase the challenge. Detours from the day’s plan became a little freer as the year wore on, an acknowledgement that practical skills were becoming reliable and that simultaneously other elements of teaching or running a teaching practice were becoming increasingly relevant. While there were digressions related to practical skills and other questions that arose, we took care not to be unduly side-tracked and to still cover each day’s content.

All activities were recorded in the trainer’s log. Because of the high teacher:student ratio, feedback and instruction to trainees was always highly individualised, with plenty of opportunities for repetition. General points and principles would emerge from this.

 

CONTENT

The third year’s content had two broad themes:

  • Developing hands-on skills: Further refining skills of responding to demand (i.e. hand-contact conveying in either direction weight, pressure, contact, movement and potentially other elements of the ‘conversation’ between teacher and pupil) with release and expansion – tone, rib freedom, overall elasticity, ground contact, i.e. lengthening and widening via Inhibition and Direction.
  • Continuing to refine language to effectively communicate verbally as necessary – being able to explain clearly and articulately the what, why and how of what you want to convey, including what you want of your pupil at any given point in a lesson.

 

It was expected that trainees:

  • demonstrate continued application of all the 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 and Alexander Technique literature.

 

  • demonstrate continued application of all Year-2 Learning Outcomes:
    • ability to continue working on self while hands are on another person
    • some ability to perceive with hands
    • an ability to give a table-turn
    • a basic level of skill in working in the chair.

The learning outcomes and assessment criteria for T9 are outlined in the following table.

End of Term 9 Learning Outcomes

Assessment Criteria

The Trainee will:

The Trainee can:

1. Demonstrate ability to communicate practice and theory of the Alexander Technique to a new pupil

1.1 Assess the needs of a new pupil, and respond appropriately.

1.2 Explain Alexander concepts in a digestible form.

1.3 Deliver an appropriate first lesson, using verbal information as well as manual guidance, and/or other teaching aids as appropriate.

 

2. Demonstrate the ability to match practical and verbal information to pupil’s needs.

2.1 Use his/her own hands to monitor the pupil’s learning process.

2.2 Use other means, eg verbal, to check on pupil’s understanding of concepts.

2.3 Modify their teaching strategy if necessary

3. Demonstrate the ability to give a

series of Alexander Technique lessons/classes

3.1 Use his/her hands with appropriate skill

3.2 Give a table turn and chair work appropriately to the pupil’s learning needs

3.3 Explain why he/she is working the way he/she is at any given point. This may involve reiterations of concepts and principles. 

3.4 Adapt a lesson to a pupil’s needs as needed.

3.5 teach ‘traditional procedures’ if appropriate; work with pupil in an activity, eg playing a musical instrument, doing yoga etc

 

It should be emphasised that the above table (and corresponding tables in earlier reports) should be viewed as a retrospective look at the outcomes of the year’s process-oriented work. The trainees never saw these tables and we, the trainers, were attending to the day-by-day process. They do not represent goals to be achieved. This table simply shows the outcomes of our process-oriented approach. It is a nod to the current enthusiasm for a distilled, tabulated expression of a much more organic, yet rigorous, process-oriented evolution. In fact, the ‘Learning Outcomes’ and ‘Assessment Criteria’ tables were written at the end of each year, when we could look back and see what we had done.

 

Content Detail

Hands-on Groups

Hands-on groups began much as in the previous two years, always extending skills. The HoGs tended progressively into specific, practical hands-on skills, e.g. taking a head on the table, adjusting book heights, work in the saddle, walking, and different ways of getting people on and off the table, i.e. ‘real’ procedures as opposed to practice procedures. Throughout, we kept coming back to the basic AT skills, fostered through Directed Activity-style content. Thus any procedure could be viewed both as a generic ‘etude’ as well as a potentially specific skill.

A further significant extension was that during the final part of the school morning, each trainee would work on one or other of the trainers and receive direct feedback, or work on each other with close supervision and feedback.

Directed Activities 

For directed activities we continued to use John Nicholl’s unpublished list, developmental sources (e.g. Dart). and others resources as per previous reports.

Whilst the DAs still continued in the form of previous years’ DAs, (i.e. making a demand of some sort and building skills to maintain Inhibition and Direction in the face of the demand), often the content became more interchangeable with the HoG activities. A continuing theme throughout the third year was the incorporation of activities reflecting human developmental processes, particularly those based on or derived from Dart.

Pedagogy, Discussion and Questions

We dealt with various teaching challenges: e.g. how to get a pupil to not stiffen their neck; the relation this bears to other changing  indicators, e.g. freedom or otherwise in breathing or in legs; how to break a goal down to achievable steps; not fixing eyes; working with people with different types of use, e.g. someone who is excessively stiff, someone who is excessively floppy, etc.; and lots about words: which to use, what the words need to convey, developing a vocabulary of useful words, what words/ideas to avoid, how to say exactly what you mean, and the timing of words. Particularly in T7 and T8, time was spent on specific types of words and ideas that communicate accurately. These ideas were further refined in T9.

Discussions were invariably illustrated with pedagogical examples from our own experience. They also involved all aspects of establishing and running a teaching practice.

Demonstrations of first lessons:

During terms 7 and 8, I gave four demonstrations of first lessons – two to women aged around 40, and two to men in their 70s. The trainees said they found this very useful. There was always lots of discussion after about: how I found each pupil; why I did and said something in relation to what I could feel with my hands; and how questions were answered. 

Supervised lessons

In hands-on groups during T5 and T6, a requirement from time to time was for the trainees to verbalise their directions as they were working on each other or on us. This verbalisation constituted practice at extending the breadth of their attention: being clear in their thinking about what they were intending/directing for themselves and articulating this while simultaneously using their hands. This provided a step towards working on beginner pupils, where information needed to be provided verbally as well as with the hands.

A new element in T7 was the supervised lesson. The purpose of supervision was to support the trainees. The trainee was addressed, while remembering that their pupil was also present. One or other of the trainers was always present. Initially, trainer intervention was sometimes needed or useful and discussions were held as if the pupil were absent. By the end of T7, all trainees had gained confidence and fluency in dealing with the complexity of communicating with a real pupil and some logical flow to the lesson.

The supervised lessons continued, each trainee with a new pupil during T8. The supervising teacher would take notes and either hold a short debrief immediately after the supervised lesson, and/or in class with appropriate discussion of the questions or issues raised.

On a few occasions a practice pupil came in to class – this was an opportunity for all to work on each others’ pupils, with discussion. There was also the opportunity for working on practical activities with the pupil, e.g. walking, computer work.

First-lesson plan, one-off workshop plan, series of six workshop plans

Each trainee was required to write a detailed plan for a first lesson, a plan for a one-off, self-contained group workshop, and a plan for a series of six group workshops. The first-lesson plan was able to be trialled in the supervised lessons; and the group presentations were able to be trialled during the group workshops held at the ANU School of Music during T9.

Games

Each trainee had the opportunity to lead and teach learning games (with a view to running classes), both in class with their peers and during SoM workshops.

Presentations

As mentioned earlier under STRUCTURE, external events included a series of six classes for pre-tertiary students at the ANU School of Music. This was followed by a further series of six classes for tertiary students. Both series were introductory.

Attendance at retreat in Victoria

One trainee attended the SoFMAS AT retreat in Victoria. Exposure to other teachers and trainees offered different perspectives on the Alexander work generally as well as on CATTS training.

Anatomy

References were regularly made to various anatomy texts, normally in the context of illuminating a question that had arisen, or a teaching point, e.g. about hand contact/directions; breathing; how weight is carried through the skeleton etc.

Reading/Internet           

In addition to the expectation that trainees would increase their familiarity with Alexander’s books, reading included books by Nicholls/Carey, Ruth Rootberg, and Carey/Barlow, de Alcantara, Langford, and Walsh (re Peggy Williams). All the trainees joined various Facebook AT groups, generally in the latter part of their training. They also reported finding the internet more relevant towards the latter part of training. Use was, for example, made of Rickover podcasts. Trainees reported that in their own time they had read further, including books by Jane Heirich and Patrick MacDonald.

Written work:

Written work included lesson and class plans, a short article about Inhibition and Direction, and reflections on each term’s work. The trainers gave feedback on the written components of curriculum.

Visiting teachers/moderation

Apart from the occasional visit from teachers, over the year we had week-long visits from senior teachers Merran Poplar, Ann Shoebridge and Jenny Thirtle, all of whom unofficially moderated the trainees. Merran is a STAT moderator, and Ann an AuSTAT moderator, while Jenny is a long-time TC co-director, albeit without moderator status. John Nicholls worked with the three students together, offering a further overview of their progress. Penelope Carr, the school’s AuSTAT moderator, made her third-year moderation visit during T9.

Their comments gave us the confidence that we and the trainees were on track.

General Public Visits – music/yoga/tai chi pupils

We had several pupil visitors in the interest of the trainees getting experience of working with a wider range of people, and also of seeing demonstrations of us working with them on particular activities. These visitors included the trainers’ existing pupils, trainees’ current practice pupils, and two people who wanted to look at their activity of interest (yoga) but had not had any AT lessons previously. Other activities included playing the violin, flute, piano, and drum kit, singing, and Tai Chi. These visits gave rise to many questions and discussions.

All trainees had the opportunity of working on all visitors in the chair and/or on the table. I demonstrated working on visitors with their particular area of interest and invited the trainees to participate by putting a hand on to notice particular things relevant in that moment or to draw something to the pupil’s attention.

People-watching

Some time was spent watching people at a distance, discussing what we saw, mimicking, and answering the question: ‘What do you have to do to yourself to move like that?’

 

LOGGED ACTIVITIES

Sample log (see previous reports)

Third Year Logged Time – terms 7, 8, 9

Student symbol

Face-to-face training

Logged formal practice (incl hols)

Total

E

194.95

171.05

366

J

234.35

156.25

390.6

B

212 + PLs

177.35

389.35 + 13 private lessons

 

Three-year totals

Student symbol

Face-to-face training

Logged formal practice (incl hols)

Total

E

592:20

747:55

1,340.25

J

657.6

519.25

1,176.85

B

525.8

521.05

1,046.85 + 22 private lessons

 

 

TRAINERS

‘Of all the factors affecting training probably the most important is the skill, experience, integrity, and thoughtfulness of the trainers.’ John Nicholls in email to MS 

In the two previous reports we have not commented on ourselves as the trainers. At this point, we believe it may be useful to do so.

Our own trainings with Jeanne and Aksel Haahr were completed in 1984 (LJ) and 1985 (MS) and followed the traditional timetable of four hours per day (including a break), five days per week. We are satisfied that it was a good training. It was a developed version of a 1960’s Walter Carrington training. The training had structure and gave us a very solid grounding in a particular way of working. Our initial lessons were (LJ) with Jeanne and Aksel (both trained by Carrington in the 1960s) and (MS) with Tessa Cawdron and Inge Henderson (trained by Marjory Barlow). The Haahr’s training course included regular teaching from Tony Spawforth, Anne Battye and Jean Clark. Subsequently, as qualified teachers, we were exposed to further iterations of the Carrington lineage, as well as to other lineages, including Marj Barstow’s. We variously took lessons and attended workshops with Walter and Dilys Carrington, Kri Ackers, John Nicholls, Lyn Nicholls, Marj Barstow, Nili Bassan and other Macdonald-trained teachers, Anne Battye and both Wilfred and Marjory Barlow. With all of these teachers, emphases varied, but there were no tricks or gimmicks; all these teachers just kept coming back over and over to the basic building blocks of Alexandrian Inhibition and Direction. There was no need to repackage or rename or reconfigure – just repeated deepening application, encouragement to making a life habit of applying Inhibition and Direction to the quotidian as well as to more unusual or demanding situations. For more than 30 years prior to commencing our own training program, we conducted our private teaching practice, and raised two children.

Changes in training in the last three or four decades:

We have taught on other training courses since qualifying as teachers. From our experience over the years, we suggest that some AT teacher-trainers today are more articulate about the work than was generally the case in the 1970s. We were exposed to an example of someone being more articulate about the Alexander Technique when we met John Nicholls in the later 1980s. It made learning and developing as teachers much easier, and we have continued to work on and develop our own skills of clear communication. We believe that pupils and trainees learn more effectively if teachers are able to explain key concepts in articulate and coherent ways, offering words (concepts) which may provide a clear hook on which to hang the pupil’s or trainee’s experience (percepts). The trainer’s job is not only to provide the trainee with depth of practical understanding of Inhibition and Direction but importantly also to explain them.

Further background:

Music – We both studied music to tertiary level. Starting an instrument as a child helps to inculcate the idea of a daily discipline. The expectation is of an incremental improvement, probably imperceptible from one day to the next, yet realising that over longer periods things like quality of sound, accuracy, rhythm, musicality etc. are improving. The idea is implicit that one aims for more refinement every time one plays, always using the basic skills or building blocks to extend oneself a little further.

Physical activity – After about 10 years of teaching we both became formally interested in endurance sports and found that the same means-oriented approach was not only effective but also deeply satisfying. This meant patiently following a training plan, which was not always what one wanted to do or felt like; nevertheless, sticking to the steps produced strength and fitness and helped develop the requisite endurance. With technical sporting skills, it was also a matter of attending to means, using lots of variety in repeated drills each of which constituted a sort of game: as one played the game and attended to the means, one’s technical skills inevitably improved.

It is clear that there is nothing inherent about music performance or sports training that necessarily leads to deepening one’s appreciation of a means-orientated approach. However, our way of working, whether in music or sport or anything else, is means-oriented, borne of our AT practice.

The above-mentioned activities reinforce the idea of the importance of Inhibition and Direction as a means to using oneself well, and of the value of educational structures with logical content. We believe we have an understanding of the process needed to build deep skills.  We have incorporated this into the structure and content of our training course.

 

DISCUSSION

When considering the innovative nature of our training course before we began it, we asked ourselves the question:

“Can our training format produce not only competent teachers but also teachers comparable in competence with those from traditional/more conventional trainings?”

As we certify our first cohort, we now ask: 1) Are our graduates competent? and 2) How do they compare with graduates from elsewhere?

We believe the answers to both questions are positive. A possible caveat relates to how these outcomes link to possible future cohorts: Would a different group of trainees have turned out as well?

The comments of our various moderators and other experienced visiting teachers indicate that our trainees received a thorough education.

Of course, each visiting teacher was able to offer helpful ideas or suggestions of ways of improving particular things. Repeated feedback was that the trainees were always able to immediately make the recommended adjustments, with the sought-for outcomes. Resting on the solid basis of our training structure and content, the trainees showed an ability to successfully maintain what they had already learnt, e.g. not lose an effective, elastic ‘monkey’ (which we regard as an absolute basic skill), while adding whatever else was asked of them.

The progress through the three years was much as we had hoped for. By the end of the first year the trainees showed an ability to effectively work on themselves. At the end of the second year they had the skill to give a recognisable turn, meaning that they could use their hands to offer a clear stimulus for a ‘pupil’ to inhibit and direct. By the end of the third year they were able to not only give a clear stimulus for Inhibition and Direction but also to respond appropriately to the needs of a pupil, that is, they were able to use their hands to perceive with some accuracy, and also to respond verbally in a useful way. Their own use of themselves (personal skills of Inhibition and Direction), knowledge of the theory, and skill in communicating were at a level where we were entirely confident of their competence as beginning teachers. 

As mentioned earlier, the weekly time commitment, including face-to-face and private logged practice, was designed to be in the order of 13.5 hours for 30 weeks per year. Two of the trainees managed this quite closely, but the third’s competing demands saw lower totals. This trainee had private lessons extra to school time (lumped into face-to-face totals in Years 1 and 2) and this addressed the missed time, as judged by comparison across the three.

The theoretical figure of 13.5 hours multiplied by the number of weeks equals 1,215 hours overall. Adding a notional 100 hours for supervision, presentations, residential, etc. makes a total of 1,315 hours, which is 82% of the traditional 1600 hours. Adding the time spent on reading and writing tasks outside of school hours easily brings the total up to somewhere around 1,600 hours.

If we were to take on another cohort of trainees, we would consider making days or terms longer, depending on the makeup of that group.

The traditional process whereby a Head of Training is the final arbiter of readiness to teach may no longer be considered adequate for an ‘arm’s length’ assessment. I have noted elsewhere that for real rigour, external independent validation is important. We dealt with the need for validation through multiple moderation visits from a range of moderators and senior teachers.

 

MODERATION

During their final year, the trainees worked with and/or were moderated by five senior teachers. Here is a chronological selection of what our moderators said during the final year (note that there were also comments about what still needed attention):

Merran Poplar (STAT moderator), mid-T7

“X seems well on track to becoming a skilful teacher”

“Y…good understanding of Alexander principles…will certainly have much to offer … students.”

“Z …great things ahead.”

 

John Nicholls (former HoT, now international teacher trainer), beginning of T8

“I’m happy to write that the three trainees from Canberra are…on a par with trainees… from … courses … at the higher end of the quality spectrum…”

I think Michael and Léonie have done a very good job with this training…” 

 

Ann Shoebridge (AuSTAT moderator), T8

All trainees exhibited clear directed use of their whole selves in activity and while teaching, appropriate to or better than the standard normally expected of trainees at the point of becoming qualified AT teachers.”

“…the… graduating teachers demonstrate an understanding and practice of AT principles equal to or better than graduate teachers from other AuSTAT accredited courses…”

 

Jenny Thirtle (AuSTAT Co-Director of Training), end of T8

“…will be able to continue to grow and develop.”

“…will continue to grow as a new teacher.”

  

Penelope Carr (AuSTAT moderator), end of T9

“All the trainees show so much … understanding of the Technique it is a credit to their trainers that they feel ready to go out and teach”

“X…will be a great asset to the Alexander community…I was impressed with the clarity X has in communicating the Technique. Well done trainers!”

“…enthusiasm and clarity…Y will make an excellent teacher” 

 

CONCLUSIONS

The overall title of this project is, ‘An Enquiry into Teaching and Learning the Skills Needed to Become a Competent Alexander Technique Teacher’.

Teaching: Our carefully staged learning progressions, created with great attention to precision and clarity, using a variety of hands-on teaching, including traditional procedures and Directed Activities as well as more theoretical information, gave us a clear route to follow. Judging by the outcome, this has been effective.

Learning: The learning framework, referred to above, appears to have been an effective route for the trainees to learn the requisite skills.

Competence: We believe that our trainees are competent to teach the AT. Additionally, they have an attitude of ongoing enquiry and open-ended improvement. Visiting experts have indicated that the training has been at least as effective as other trainings, and in some cases more effective (see under MODERATION above).

Any teacher training course’s overall tone and effectiveness is characteristic of its Heads of Training and other teaching staff. Accordingly, if any other Head of Training were to replicate our daily program, it is unlikely that they would necessarily replicate our results. We also note that many of the activities, procedures and structures mentioned in this report are not unique to CATTS. However, we document them here along with the CATTS outcomes: they point to the usefulness and effectiveness of a clear, disciplined structure based on rigorous content.

 

Michael Stenning

October 2019

 

Teacher Training Second-Year Report

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

 

SUMMARY

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.

 

BACKGROUND

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.

 

TRAINEES

All three continue, enthusiastically.

 

STRUCTURE

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.

 

CONTENT

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.

 

PROCESS

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.

 

LOGGED ACTIVITIES

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)

Total

E

225.25

223

448.25

J

241.75

185.5 (+ winter hols)

427.25

B

189.5

180

369.5

 

“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.

 

MODERATION

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.

CONCLUSIONS

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