Authenticity And The Instructor

I’ve spent a lot of time working with different fitness instructors and pole instructors as a student in the last couple years. As I am transitioning to being an instructor myself, I have been challenging myself to identify the things that are most important to me in my professional development and who I want to be as an instructor. What struck me as important today was the concept of authenticity. 

I have recently taken on responsibility for supporting the development of aspiring dancers. In considering going down this path, I thought about what kind of teacher I want to be and what has been important to me as a student. Authenticity, I decided, is a cornerstone of what I want to be. Authenticity, as defined by Merriam-Webster: true to one’s own personality, spirit or character. There are a number of reasons why I consider this to be one of the single most important attributes an instructor can possess.

Authenticity creates role models. It gives your students something attainable to strive towards. Perfection isn’t realistic and, frankly, it can be demoralizing.  Owning your own struggles empowers the people you want to lead. It makes you approachable and less intimidating. It conveys the message that fitness is for everyone. Anyone can buy what you are selling. It’s not just for perfect lulu ensconced people with unimpeachable dietary compliance, endless energy and few other distractions.The most motivating people on my journey have been real women who have lives and responsibilities and are open about craving a burger every once and a while, waking up and not feeling like going to the gym or feeling discouraged about how impossibly long the journey appears.  I look at them and my goals feel achievable. It’s so nice to be able to talk to my instructor and get advice because they have actually been there and are willing to talk about it. It also means I’m more likely to take their words seriously.

Authenticity supports credibility. If someone is authentic, I am more likely to trust the instructions and advice that they give. Students are so intuitive. If you aren’t who you say you are, why should we believe what you say about fitness, science and safety? Why should we trust your credentials? If I’m not who I say I am, how can I expect anyone to trust me? Being authentic and giving honest feedback also promotes growth and development. As a student, if you always tell me I’m doing awesome and amazing, even when I feel like I’m not, I’m going to have a hard time measuring true success when it happens. I respect an instructor a hundred times more who will say “Wow, I bet that felt really awkward! Maybe try it on your other side. Readjust your grip. Think about your alignment. As you get stronger that will come more smoothly. It’s totally normal for that to feel weird, and it does get easier”. That kind of feedback builds trust and supports healthy relationships,

Authenticity allows you to build relationships with your students. Students want to connect with the real you.  Artificial sweeteners and personalities alike leave a bad taste in the mouth.A relationship built on a lie or a false image is not sustainable. In so many situations, the relationships motivate students to come back regularly, when they know a real person who cares about their success is waiting to teach them something. There is nothing more welcoming than walking into a room and finding someone who is genuine. Let’s be honest, awkward stuff is going to happen, it’s going to be hard work, and it’s easier to get through with someone who says “no judgement” and you can tell they really and truly mean it. This is particularly new for newbies, when the task at hand is intimidating or outside of their realm of experience. Being authentic creates space and safety for students to explore new experiences and themselves and builds a bond with you as the facilitator of those discoveries. It also inspires confidence.

Authenticity shows confidence in who you are, which in turn inspires confidence. Being someone you aren’t is awkward inside and is awkward for others to watch. Students want to see an instructor who is confident in what she is selling and who she is. Aerial arts can be so stigmatized by those with a hyper-sexualized view of pole and a narrow view of its applicability to fitness. As a pole instructor, I’m asking people to go somewhere that might be uncomfortable for them. When leading somewhere that might be uncomfortable, doing so confidently mitigates the awkward.  I think it’s also important to be authentic about our own encounters with people who “don’t get it”. It gives the students the tools they need to have those conversations with detractors and to discuss the things they are excited about with confidence and pride.

Technical skill, expertise, safety and competence are important, but outside of those things, what students want the most is the real you. I’m excited to have the opportunity to share the real me and my love of pole with new students and I’m thankful for the amazing role models of authenticity I have had the opportunity to observe. 

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