Episode 18 - The Art of Teaching


Rebecca Warfield, Independent yoga Instructor, University professor and a fellow podcast host. As an educator at a collegiate level Rebecca greatly values the ability to teach a subject as well as the ability to practice one. This philosophy extends from the classroom to the mat and Rebecca is here to talk about how important it is for instructors and studio owners to practice teaching as diligently as they practice the art that is being taught.

IG: @rebeccawarfieldyoga, @dharmadropspodcast

Website: https://www.rebeccawarfield.com/

Best way to reach her: rebecca@rebeccawarfield.com

Dan: fitDEGREE is more than just two guys with microphones. It is the studio management software you've been looking for. For more info reach out to me on our website at www.fitdegree.com, on Instagram at the handle fitdegree, or my email dan.berger that's B-E-R-G-E-R at fitdegree.com to get the conversation started. All right now on to the show.

Dan: Hello to all of our listeners in the fit family and welcome back to another episode of the fitDEGREE podcast. For all you deep thinkers out there, listen up because today's episode is sure to be thought-provoking. Our guest is Rebecca Warfield, independent yoga instructor, university professor, and a fellow podcast host. As an educator at a collegiate level, Rebecca greatly values the ability to teach a subject as well as the ability to practice one. This philosophy extends from the classroom to the mat and Rebecca's here to talk about important it is for instructors and studio owners to practice teaching as diligently as they practice the art that is being taught. Welcome to the show, Rebecca. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Rebecca: Hey. Thanks for having me.

Dan: So, I understand you are a podcast host as well?

Rebecca: I am. I host a podcast called Dharma Drops, it's D-H-A-R-M-A. Sometimes, the spelling can be a little tricky. It is a podcast that sort of explores a little bit about yoga, a little bit about life, and a little bit about whatever. But it's definitely rooted in yoga and often my experience as a teacher.

Dan: Now, I listened to an episode this morning.

Rebecca: Awesome.

Dan: And my absolute favorite thing about it was on and off the mat, the concepts remain. And not that everything has to be verbatim by the book, but that you take these concepts, things you learn and you're talking about real life with it. Is that something you strive to practice a lot with your practice of yoga?

Rebecca: Oh, absolutely. I often end my classes, my Hasina classes, with a moment of meditation where the practitioner can decide and reflect upon what it is they learned and then think about and consider ways in which they can apply that into their lives off the mat because really we only do the Hasina practice, I think if in my own life and experiences we only do the Hasina practice so we can live more fully off of our yoga mats. Because the teachings of yoga are really designed to live and practice yoga as a regular human being in the world, not a sweaty yogi on a sticky mat in some studio somewhere.

Dan: Absolutely, and you and I had talked about his previously, I couldn't agree more with you, that in some ways now yoga is just another form of group fitness and before people dedicated their lives to this. It was dedicated to balance and peace of mind and happiness, and that was brought about through the physical ... not just through the physical practice but from embodying these teachings on and off the mat. So, I'm so happy to hear that your philosophy extends that deeply as well.

Dan: So, Rebecca, what university do you teach at?

Rebecca: I teach at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. It's a coastal university here in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Dan: Oh, man those coastal schools. I'm so jealous to everyone who went to them. A bunch of my friends went to Coastal Carolina. They certainly weren't there for the academics but they loved the location.

Rebecca: Yeah, for sure. Being on the coast is really nice. It comes with some pitfalls though. The Hurricane Florence actually made landfall right here in Wilmington in September. So, the student experience at UNCW and the faculty and staff experience too has been a little unique in the last few months. But it's definitely ... that's not the norm so to say.

Nick: So at this school, you teach English?

Rebecca: I do.

Nick: What ages do you teach or what grades do you teach?

Rebecca: Well, normally in the most traditional setting I work with a lot of freshmen, sophomores. I mean I do work all the way up into the junior, senior level. But I work with mostly first and second-year students. So, if I meet them their first semester they're usually around 17, 18 years old, which is challenging for sure. But they go all the way up to 22 or so. But most recently I had been teaching online for the RN to BSN Program, which is an online program for Registered Nurses to achieve their Bachelors of Science in Nursing. These students tend to be in their 30s or so, with a lot of work experience. So, it's definitely a different student demographic and population to work with.

Nick: So, do you feel as effective as a teacher being online? I would imagine as a yoga teacher you know you like to be in person, see people in person. How does the online, how do you feel like you can impact the students?

Rebecca: Well, actually I really love teaching online because it gives a chance to be creative. We do miss that dynamic where things move back and forth, you know in the regular traditional seated classroom, but online things can get really creative and I have the opportunity to offer more because I'm not bound to these four walls of the classroom and then ... or by the 50 or 75-minute class structure. So, I can offer videos and audio lecture and readings and infographic and all sorts of interesting creative conversations and questions to really engage the classroom, or excuse me to engage the students.

Nick: That's a great way to approach it. I never took an online class. So, I was always curious as to how effective they are.

Dan: I took an online class and I was very mistaken about what I thought it was.

Rebecca: They are a lot of work.

Dan: I thought an online class was here's what you need to get done, here's the end of the semester, that's how it works. I didn't know there was meeting times and this and that. So, I emailed the guy like, I checked in like a week before the end of the semester. I was going to bang it all out. I had people that were going to help me. And he goes, "You haven't shown up all semester. Like I just didn't think you were ..." So, what he actually had me do was over a winter course go to an in-person class that I wasn't registered for. He told me to pretend I was in the class.

Rebecca: What?

Dan: Yeah. And then just tell him, take the test, and just tell him what I got in that class. And he would get the test and that's what he would give me for the course.

Rebecca: This has got to be against the law.

Dan: Oh, 100% certain it was. I went to this class, and I was like, I remember at one point trying to like renegotiate the terms of the test with this professor, and I had the rest of the class rallying behind me, and she didn't realize I wasn't actually even in her class.

Rebecca: Holy Moly.

Dan: And the guy just kept my grade, kept it as incomplete until I finished the winter course and gave me whatever grade I got in that class.

Rebecca: Now I'm totally paranoid that this is going to happen to me on the instructor end.

Nick: Yeah.

Rebecca: I did have someone ... I teach PED 101 Yoga too. So, it's sort of the Phys Ed credit that you have to have to graduate.

Dan: Oh, cool.

Rebecca: And I teach a yoga portion which is really cool. I have had on more than one occasion people sneak into my classes that aren't registered.

Dan: Just to take yoga?

Rebecca: So, they can get free yoga, yeah.

Nick: That's pretty fun. So, do you just teach at just the college or do you teach at local studios or a combination of both?

Rebecca: I teach at a local studio too, called Longwave Yoga here in North Carolina, where I also received my 200 and my 300-hour certification. So, I teach regular Vinyasa classes, and I'm really excited starting actually March 8th, I will be co-facilitating a yoga teacher training, 200-hour there too.

Nick: Oh, that's cool.

Rebecca: Yeah. I'm excited about that.

Nick: So, is that your first one teaching the 200-hour training?

Rebecca: Yeah. I've mentored twice. So, I did part of like the track through the studio to head into the senior teaching faculty position and so I had to mentor for two seasons the 200-hour teacher training. So, I've actually done now, a 200-hour training three times. I've done my own and then I had to sit through two more to move into the senior teaching [inaudible 00:08:05] too.

Nick: That makes a lot of sense. I can only imagine it makes you that much more effective of a yoga teacher to be actually be teaching the 200-hour course, teaching the 300-hour course. I mean just staying ingrained in it. I can only imagine how many yoga teachers, especially on the more fitness aspect side, take that 200-hour teaching, treat it as personal training cert and just kind of walk away from it.

Rebecca: Absolutely. Yeah, for sure. Yeah, it's been a really good experience. It was pretty tiring. I mean that's basically, it's six months of my time that I had to like redo 200-hour teacher training but I'm definitely a better teacher for it. And I don't know, there's something about that discipline, as yogis, I'm sure yogis can relate to this that like staying committed to it and sticking with it, obviously, it's fruitful at the end.

Dan: So, tell us what's the meat of this, the core concept, the pillar of why you believe it's so important to practice teaching in the same way that we practice the art, and additionally what do you believe that is the biggest result or the biggest, the greatest effect that that's going to have?

Rebecca: Yeah, of course so, I guess we'll just kind of start with my own experience. When I entered into yoga teacher training I wasn't really sure if I wanted to be a yoga teacher and I discovered very quickly that I did. But I'd already been teaching at that point for, I guess it had been eight years. Seven or eight years at the university level. I found that I was learning a lot of information and my teachers are amazing and they facilitated just incredibly. But as I was taking more workshops and doing more continuing education what I was discovering is that there's all these really incredible yogis out there who knew so much about the body and anatomy and the teachings, but they have no idea how to teach. You know?

Nick: Yeah. It happens to a lot of smart people for sure.

Rebecca: Yeah. And so they come into the room and they have these great ideas to share but they sort of get lost because they don't have a method or what we like to say in education, "A pedagogy," which is sort of the way in which you teach. So, that's pretty much how I ended up in this position where I wanted to work more with yoga teachers. Sure, to help them develop more as yogis but maybe more importantly to develop as teachers of yoga.

Dan: Right.

Rebecca: I took a workshop many years ago with Leslie Kaminoff. He had this one line that's really stuck out in my head since then, is that, "Everyone can be a yoga instructor. But not everyone can be a yoga teacher." Because an instructor is one who's just like, "Inhale. Reach your arms high. Exhale, forward fold." But a teacher is one who can take all that information and really ... and when I say manipulate I don't mean with that negative connotation, but manipulate it in a way that can really be embodied for each individual practitioner.

Dan: That's an interesting point. Do you find with your online training, I know you mentioned earlier you love how creative it lets you be, most people it's seen as a restriction, you see it as you know it opens things up. Do you feel that with online you can give more resources or materials? So, something may stick with the ADD people that need it to be super simple and something they stick with the numbers and fax people that need more ... Do you find this allows you to give out more information and you know throw enough stuff a wall somethings going to stick for every body.

Rebecca: Yes, and I do believe in sitting down with your teacher and having that traditional discourse and dialogue. I think there's great value to that. But I often find, based upon my own learning style, that you know you go to these weekend workshops and after hour six I can't hear a word. I mean I know that it's probably in the back of my brain somewhere, but I just can't remember. So, I offer online courses for yoga teachers for varying things, you know learning how to refine cueing, understanding the role of educational philosophy and teaching yoga, and all sorts of different things.

Rebecca: But what I like to do is break down each topic into modules. And this is really important for anyone who wants to teach anything online or maybe even not online is how can we breakdown these sections of information. So, if I have a video I try not to make it any more than 15 minutes, and so that way people who are visual, they can watch the video. But then I download that as audios so people who are distracted, I gesture a lot when I talk, so people who are distracted by that, who need to listen, they can listen to it. But then I also offer text-only infographics. And then I offer exercises for practice based upon that material so that way if they're visual they can see it. If they learn through audio, they can hear it. If they learn through kinesthetic learning like by doing they have some exercises to do to put in place. And that's some of the things that I think are missing sometimes in yoga workshops or yoga teacher trainings because we're just sitting around listening.

Dan: No, I think just everything you said just getting slightly distracted but just as an educator that's phenomenal because I learned by doing and not by like, "Hey, Dan go figure it out," because I'll be lazy. If I'm forced, "No, no, no, you're not leaving until this is done," if I'm forced to figure something out then I go, "All right, how am I doing this?" And that made learning a lot of things very difficult for me. And hearing a lot of instructors and educators, "Well, this is the way I'm teaching it." And hearing you go to these lengths for your students, if you learn like this you can do this, if you learn like that you can do that, that sounds phenomenal. So, just first and foremost hats off to you there.

Rebecca: Hey, thanks.

Dan: Yeah. I wish more people taught like that.

Nick: Yeah, for just at least recognizing what's going on. Because I feel like a lot of professors especially in college are just like, "Why don't you understand?" It's like your not catering towards me. You're just catering towards how maybe you want to learn or like you're just throwing information out there but you're not putting it in a format for me to absorb it.

Rebecca: Sure and I think that's what's nice about teaching yoga versus maybe professors who were required to research is that yoga teachers or academic teachers who aren't on the like a research track they're there because they believe in learning. And they believe in the process of learning and that is definitely-

Nick: They're probably practicing it at some ... practicing their profession too.

Rebecca: Yes.

Nick: Like an adjunct is working and teaching.

Rebecca: Absolutely. And that's really important too in terms of teaching yoga and refining your own personal pedagogy or your teaching philosophy. If it's not just enough to teach it, you have to do it too, for sure.

Dan: So, for those people that don't know what pedagogy means can you explain that word because you've used it like twice now.

Rebecca: Sure, sure. Pedagogy, some people say pedagogy, and the formal definition is the method and practice of teaching especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept. I think an easy way to think about that is how do you teach? So, if you develop your own personal pedagogy it sort of lays out the formula or the format of what you believe in as a teacher and how you will reach students as a teacher.

Nick: That is very interesting. I like that a lot. We've talked about on this podcast as well, investing in your teachers, investing in your instructors, teaching them how to teach and then also finding your own way to attract the people that you want. So, I guess that would be their pedagogy. Your instructors shouldn't make everyone happy. It's just not going to happen. So, that you know who are they going to attract based on this new word we just learned today.

Rebecca: So, what's nice about teaching yoga versus something like teaching English is that I do get to sort of revise and create my pedagogy in the way I want to, to attract the students that I want and that the ... students who want to come to my classes. So, it's that two-way street. Whereas, if I go into English 101 those students are there because they have to. You know, they got into that class because it's the only one that's open and they need it to graduate. So, it's for me developing my teaching philosophy as a yoga teacher has been much more pleasurable if you will. Because it's not about like how do I convince 18-year olds to enjoy this class and learn from it? It's how can I really authentically teach yoga and bring the teachings of yoga into my classes for the students who want to be there?

Dan: I mean I imagine you must love teaching English or else you wouldn't have done it for 11 years.

Rebecca: I do.

Dan: But I've got to imagine that something about teaching yoga that's also as a hobby I feel like is too loose of a word. But do you understand what I mean when I say ... you know it's not-

Rebecca: Absolutely.

Dan: It's not your day job. I mean for you it's somewhat is. But there's got to be some extra fun and some extra passion in there that you know it's almost like a project sometimes. It's not like you're necessarily being reviewed by the head of the English Department to see if you're doing it well, it's am I enjoying it and how do I teach my students better, and where can I improve, and I'm having fun with this.

Rebecca: Yeah, and I think where that comes in, which is something I experience basically from day one of teaching yoga is that the effects of teaching yoga for students are immediate. They feel better when they leave that class. Sometimes they don't know why. They don't have the language to put with it and they will if they keep practicing, but they just know they feel better. When I go into English classes they do learn, but they do learn, but it's actually long-term. When we're talking about a craft or a skill like writing it is a very very long-term experience and they don't really see the benefits of it sometimes until many, many years later. Then they have no idea where they learned it, who taught it or why, they just know that somewhere they learned something. So, that's what I really love about yoga. But also for me as an educator, I feel that teaching yoga has informed how I teach English as much as how much teaching English has informed my yoga career too.

Dan: Absolutely. So, do you place, this is just a personal thing, do you place heavy emphasis ... you mentioned when students may leave your class they feel better, but they may not know how or why or how to put it into words. Is that something you focus on in your yoga teachings is here's how we take this, how we verbalize our feelings, how we can attribute what we're feeling to a certain thing, put it into words?

Rebecca: Yes. Going back to pedagogy, part of my pedagogy that I take very seriously is assessment and reflection. So, in more traditional education settings teachers should ... I say should very loosely, but hopefully, give some incremental assessment meaning, you have these points along the way where you stop, you assess what's happening, and you reflect. And I actually end all of my classes, especially lately, with a few moments to really reflect upon the practice. So, say we were in class for an hour, to consider the last 60 minutes, and I kind of use the same language all the time, not to live in the past but to learn from it. Then what does this mean for us and our bodies right now and what does this mean for us in our lives moving forward? Because I can say all the things. I can give all the teachings. I can use all of the educational methods and pedagogical practices that are available in the universe, but the work is up to them. Giving students that opportunity to access and reflect, that's key to the learning experience.

Dan: And that's not an easy skill to learn. Self-reflection with honesty and without ego or bias. You know we see things through a filtered lens, how we want to see them. We make assumptions. We see things through how the information is stored in our brain, not necessarily through how it happens.

Rebecca: Right.

Dan: So, it's got to be very interesting. Do you see your students progressing and learning how to become better at reflection and introspection and seeing truth and honesty as opposed to maybe certain biases they may create?

Rebecca: I think sometimes that's hard to tell because the yoga practice is very personal for many and introspective. And so, I don't know if they always talk about it. But what I do know is they continue to practice.

Dan: There you go.

Rebecca: I think that if they come back, it's working. Whatever it is they're learning is working. We probably all know that sometimes the learning process in yoga is pretty darn painful. But they're still coming back. So, my hope is that they are sort of learning how to be more critically reflective without ego or chatter of the mind.

Dan: Interesting. I like it. I like it a lot.

Nick: I like how you take that moment too. Like most of the yoga classes I've been to is more along the lines of you go through the practice, you do a savasana, you relax, you head out. There's never a moment where it's like during the savasana or before the savasana, I want you to really reflect on what you felt, how you feel. Because that, like we just talked about, that's really also the first steps towards emotional intelligence is just recognizing the emotion to feel.

Rebecca: Right.

Nick: I was actually listening to a podcast, Joe Rogan had Sam Harris on and he's a neuroscientist. When I was listening he said that his wife is working with kids to do ... to work on their emotional intelligence. And so, you're thinking, I don't know, maybe first couple of years of high school or something. He said, no, six and seven years old and they're just teaching them to be like, "Okay, you just did this action. What did you feel?" Like that's it. Not why did you do it? Just what did you feel? And they're like, "Anger. Sadness. Frustration. Happiness." And it's like, good. That's the first step. And now I think if we do that at a younger age, you know yoga isn't coming out of left field when you're an adult because how many of these people have never practiced this self-reflection before. Have never listened to their emotions or anything like that. And now you're challenging them at 25, 30, 40 years old to do this now.

Rebecca: God, and it sucks too when you have to sit down and face that wall truth sometimes. It can suck. But actually, that's my ... I don't want to call it my method, but just that practice of reflection at the end of class, that's really rooted in pretty traditional education. In a traditional classroom setting whether it's online or face to face, you would offer your students in the beginning, "Hey, here's what we're going to do today." And you know with politics involved now it's all these like Student Learning Outcomes and 1.2 and all that rigmarole. Yeah, but whatever.

Nick: That, yeah. The incentives. Yeah, the incentives have good intentions but ...

Rebecca: Right, so, you sort of tell them like, "Hey, here's where we're headed." Which I think a lot of yoga teachers do in the beginning of class with the dharma talk or like, "Hey we're going to work on this today."

Nick: Sure, set the intention, yeah.

Rebecca: Right? But then at the end, in a traditional classroom setting, you have a moment for Q and A, where you say, "Okay, what did we learn today?" Where you do a little review because that gives you some baseline for the next class. And that sort of what happens too. So, if you sit down at the end of your practice and you're like, "Oh, I actually learned that I get ..." and this is from personal experience, "... infuriated during arm balances," right? Then suddenly you can go into your next practice a little more aware of that and with some sense like, "Okay, I know this happens, now what am I going to do about it?"

Nick: Yes. That honestly was my trick to public speaking.

Rebecca: Yes.

Nick: Because when we started the company I had to ... I wasn't a public speaking expert by any means, and I had to speak in front of investors either in a small office or I had to speak in front of 100, 200 people at a time, and people would be like, "Wow, you did so great." And I'd be like, honestly, the biggest trick is knowing that you're going to have sweaty palms, your hair's probably going to get a little hot, your breathes are going to start to shorten, and just being ready for it. Just being like this is what happens. But guess what? Nothings going to change the fact that I still have to be up there and talk.

Rebecca: Yep, and learning how to work through it. The yoga practice teaches us, "Okay, so I get really pissed when I can't come into arm balances. So, now I'm going to breathe. And stop acting a fool about it.

Nick: Yeah, I'm probably not going to get any better. Yeah. Yeah. Probably not going to get any better if I stay angry.

Rebecca: That's for sure.

Nick: And that's how I feel in the gym because my form of yoga will be mostly in the gym and that's how I feel with a lot of that stuff is the more technical things get, I'm just like there's no reason to be angry. You can be aggressive and purposeful with your movement but like there's no reason to get frustrated and angry.

Rebecca: Sure. Yep, for sure.

Dan: So, if someone wants to keep the conversation going with you. Learn more about your podcast, your online yoga teachings, anything like that, what's the best way for them to get in touch with you and reach out to you?

Rebecca: Yeah. So, the easiest to way to find more information is at rebeccawarfield.com. That houses everything, links to my podcasts and then links to my online courses that are designed for yoga teachers. And not only are taking those courses great because you get to learn more about teaching, but they also sort of are framed in some in traditional teaching methods. So, as a yoga teacher, you can learn more about how to teach that way.

Dan: Great.

Rebecca: You know sort of model your own courses with them. So, you can head on over to rebeccawarfield.com. But also I'm on Instagram. My handle is at rebeccawarfieldyoga and I update almost daily. Well, honestly multiple times throughout the day. Sometimes I [inaudible 00:25:26] how much I'm on my phone on Instagram. But you can also find me there and direct questions can be sent right to Rebecca at rebeccawarfield.com.

Dan: Awesome. We will have all that information on our website. Thank you so much for joining us today, Rebecca, and we hope to talk to you soon.

Rebecca: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Dan: So if you like this episode, be sure to go and leave us a review. Your feedback helps us make better episodes every week. If you're a studio fitness owner who wants to streamline processes with a studio management software that's actually affordable, checkout fitDEGREE. Go and find us at fitdegree.com. That's F-I-T-D-E-G-R-E-E dot com to talk with a team member today. We'll see you back here next week, same day, same time for another podcast episode featuring amazing studio fitness owners. See you later everyone.

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