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Q&A With 2010 National Convention Speaker Paula Jilanis

As an educator, you probably already know that classroom management can be challenging. As part of this year’s Teachers Track, Paula Jilanis will lead the session “The Yin and Yang of Classroom Management.”  In advance of her session, Paula answered some questions about classroom management and techniques you can employ right now to get the most out of your students.

What are some of the major changes you have seen in students over the last five years? Ten years?
One change I have seen over the past five years is the age of students entering massage programs. Where I work, there are more students entering programs immediately out of high school opposed to people wanting to make career changes. Also, when I first started working in massage schools, students were entering because they felt somehow drawn to the profession. Today, some students appear to be somewhat removed from a philosophy of working in a client-centered environment. On the flipside of that, I have some students who are much more interested and involved in the holistic aspects of massage therapy. In my experience, students are understanding at a younger age the importance of what it means to truly be present and that their genuine and authentic presence can be beneficial to clients.

What are some of the main challenges that massage therapy teachers currently face in balancing their classrooms?
For some of us, I think the challenge is teaching while we are still in the process of learning to teach. If we want to keep massage progressing and advancing, we must require schools to employ qualified teachers.

We also need to know what baggage we bring to the classroom. Sometimes, when we attempt to balance different personalities, we end up giving one student special treatment—either positive or negative—when that's not our intention. This can be detrimental to the group. It is really important for us as instructors to have mentors, faculty support and the support of the administration to ensure we are clear and fair in classroom.

Why do you believe it is important for teachers to allow for exploration and expression by their students?
I believe that in the classroom there are times when anyone present can become the teacher. When students are in an environment where they feel safe exploring and expressing their thoughts, then there is a lot of opportunity for positive growth and change. There certainly could be students that know more than I do about a given topic!

And the importance of maintaining classroom boundaries is really the instructor’s responsibility. We set the example for students. We must create a safe container for the students to do the exploring and the expressing—when classroom boundaries are not maintained, the classroom environment can become contaminated.

What are some of the techniques that teachers can implement right now in order to bring better balance to their classrooms?

  • Come to class early and be prepared. When we are truly present and prepared, we are setting that same example for our students to also be on time and ready to work.
  • Bring to the classroom a willingness to set and hold boundaries. We help create the container that students operate in for learning. If the container is not safe, it’s a big challenge for the students. The boundaries students acquire in the classroom will carry over into their work as massage therapists.
  • Finally, and most importantly, we can bring an awareness of ourselves. In his book  Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer speaks of teaching as being an inner journey to a teacher’s heart. We must be aware of what we bring to the classroom in addition to our academic knowledge of a subject. Compassion and presence make a great deal of difference in creating an optimal learning environment.
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