Starting something new is awkward. Especially when it comes to classes, skills, or even just a new location, there’s always an adjustment period. You don’t know where anything is. You don’t see any familiar faces. You don’t get the inside jokes.
As rough as it is to start a new class as a student, it can be hard for teachers to know what to do with a new student. Sure, you know to give them a general idea of what to expect. Maybe you even introduce them to a few people. But what then?
What you need to know
As teachers, a lot of times it’s difficult to spend extra time with new students. There’s always so much going on to prepare for a class. From setting up the room, writing out instructions, and greeting existing students, there’s a ton pulling at your attention.
To simplify, there are really only three things you need to know about your new student:
- Their name
- Their experience level
- Any adaptations they may need
It’s easy enough to just focus on telling them how the class will work or introducing them to other students. But in order to facilitate your work throughout the class, it helps to know what to expect from your newbie.
Making it work
One of the skills I picked up from yoga classes, above all else, was greeting every single student. Even if you don’t remember everyone’s name right away, it helps them to feel more comfortable and seen. It also opens the door for conversation.
As new students enter a class, walk over to them to introduce yourself. If you’re super busy with set-up, try motioning them for you to follow you for a moment. In those few moments, you can ask for more information about their experience level, injuries, and let them know where they can put their things. It’s disorienting entering a new studio or class – everyone needs pointers.
It can also help to have some welcome material around the space, as well. Clear markers for where items like shoes, bags, and phones should be stored allows students to ease into the flow of the room with grace. Clear markers for bathrooms, what’s on deck for the workout, and any rules for the gym means that a newcomer won’t feel unfairly attacked or judged if they mess something up because they didn’t know.
A little extra effort ahead of time can make all the difference.
I personally think “ice breakers” where you go around in a circle saying something unique about yourself are a form of hell on Earth. But. There is a lot of significance in asking students to introduce themselves to each other. One Crossfit box I visited said that, after our warm-up, I had to name everyone. If someone didn’t tell me their name, then that person had to do ten burpees. It was a cute idea, and effective.
It can also help to team people up. While I’m equally not a fan of partner workouts, it can be nice to point students to each other for help. “Erica, you can follow along with Tim/Jamie/Ashley.” It helps give a point of contact between two students who might not typically talk, without forcing them into a conversation. It opens a window for connection.
Building a community
There’s a lot for coaches to keep on their minds in a single class. Temperature. Lighting. Music. Movements. Corrections/cues. Offering props and alternative movements. Remembering, quite simply, what comes next.
Taking a few moments at the beginning of class to get basic information about new students helps prepare you for later in class. Relying on introductions and the assistance of other students helps bolster support for newcomers. Checking-in at the end of class reinforces all of these ideas.
Technique and clear guidance are probably the two most important responsibilities of a coach or teacher. Safety is, of course, the bottom-line.
But what makes people come back to a class is how they felt. Part of that has to do with how they felt physically. The other part has to do with how welcome they felt.
If the awkwardness of a first-class felt insurmountable or if a student felt unwelcome, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to muster up the desire to try again.
Rather than seeing all of this as separate from your job to teach the class, it’s part and parcel of allowing you to coach effectively by knowing your students better and making them feel welcome enough to return. And down the line, that new student may just become a new workout buddy for the latest recruit.