Using Intentions: A Powerful Tool for Teachers and Students

The definition of intentions is determining to act a certain way, having a mental plan, creating an aim or purpose.

Intentions are different from goals in subtle ways. Goals have a clear end product or aim with specified steps to get you from point A to point B. If you want to master a pirouette you first need to be able to balance on one leg in good alignment, have the strength of the calf muscles to be in relevé, to understand spotting, and so on. There are clearly defined steps to mastering a pirouette.

Intentions are a bit different – it’s setting an aim or purpose and then not being quite sure how it is going to play out of happen. It’s being clear with what you want – and then working from where you are without judgement. It often comes from the heart rather than from the head. There is less ‘failing’ with intentions – where there is often much failing with goals.

Before teaching I like to set intentions for my teaching. This may be as simple as being calm and compassionate towards all my students to setting an intention to be connect everything we do that day to the breath. My intentions change depending on how I am that day, but the majority of my intentions are always focused towards being the best teacher that I can be in order to inspire and support my students in becoming the best dancers (and humans) that they can be.

To create an intention I start with declaring what it I want from that class time. Some people write it down, I just give myself a few quiet moments before teaching to verbalize as clearly as possible to myself what my aim or purpose will be. It’s very helpful to be able to state your intention in 10 words or less.

Then I envision how I will feel during and especially after class if I successfully fulfilled my intention. It is really important to set the emotional tone before stepping into the classroom.

The most important step of all is to take a few minutes after class or at the end of the day to ponder how successful I was with my intention – what worked well and what I could do better next time.

Teaching your students to set intentions is as powerful for them as it is for your own teaching. Sometimes I will begin class by asking my students to set an intention and to say it out loud. These intentions can range from ‘I want to notice how I am using my feet’ to ‘staying present instead of thinking about how tired I am.’

Halfway through class have them take a brief moment to acknowledge (to themselves) how they are doing with their intention. Did they forget they had an intention? (That often happens) What have they learned about their intention so far and do they have any suggestions for the second half of the class?

Then…the most important step is to leave enough time at the end of the class for them to quickly and briefly state out loud to the rest of the class what their learning was, what worked, what didn’t, and how they would approach it next time.

It may seem that will take too much time in class, but once the students have the process down it really doesn’t take much time. It is essential that we begin to train our dancers in reflection or metacognition practices. If you have a very large class you could ask a certain number of the students to share and then ask other ones at the next class.

You will be training your dancers (and yourself) to move efficiently and more quickly towards success. The more common pattern for dancers (and teachers) who don’t take the time to reflect is that they keep making the same mistakes over and over again and begin to hardwire an inefficient pattern into their brain and bodies.

Try it… and please share in the comments below your feedback and experiences with using intentions!

To your success,

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

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