The Sacred Ten

I sat crossed-legged on the studio floor, relaxed posture and a gentle smile on my face, as the students trickled into the room looking at me curiously. “Good morning everyone, come and join me in a circle when you’re ready.” The girls joined me in a circle and I proceeded to introduce myself as their relief teacher for the coming weeks. “I would like to start off by going around the circle and introducing yourself. However, we are going to do this a bit differently this time. I would like you to introduce yourself with your name, your favourite hobby other than dancing, and then I would like you to introduce the partner to your left and describe one of their strengths… What do you admire about them?”

I have always been a huge believer that the first ten minutes of a class with new students is always the most important, and is a time frame I have come to call “the sacred ten”. It only takes a student a couple of minutes to form their opinion of you. This first impression tends to inform how they are going to engage with you and with the content of the lesson, and sometimes for many lessons to follow. This sacred ten minutes is a highly impressionable space, and can allow students to recognise what you value, and identify how they are going to respond within that value system. The students in this class all knew each other well, so I began this particular lesson by encouraging the girls to identify a strength they knew to be true of someone else. This not only set a positive tone to the class but it also inexplicitly informed the girls that I valued community, inclusiveness, and encouragement.

Information that is conveyed inexplicity within a classroom, has been coined by researchers as the “hidden curriculum”*. I am in no way seeking to devalue the importance of class content, however I do believe that sometimes, in the long run, students will learn more from the hidden curriculum than they do from the academic curriculum. It is the influence of the hidden curriculum that means a student forever carries the memory of how they felt within a class, rather than the content they learnt. This, I believe, is the biggest responsibility, and biggest privilege a teacher carries.

In the first community dance workshop I ever held (the one I mentioned in my introduction), I began by stating “this is a safe space where you can be exactly who you want to be, this is a space where we value each other and work together to achieve a common goal.” In this context I was more explicit with my words, as I wanted to lay the foundations for a group of students that had very little knowledge of each other, and of community dance in general. My intent however, was that students would read even deeper into these words (hidden curriculum) that it didn’t matter to me who they were, what they had done, or where they had come from. I soon learnt that by being intentional about how I set up the space within “the sacred ten,” meant I had the opportunity to embody the values of Jesus within my teaching, within my hidden curriculum. It was within this space, away from all the labels and restrictions my students had acquired in their lifetime, that they could be whoever they wanted to be, and it was my desire that what would emerge from that would be….the best version of themselves.

By Hannah Darkins
Dance Educator, Creative Youth Development Advocate

*Stinson, S. (2001). Choreographing a Life: Reflections on Curriculum Design, Consciousness, and Possibility. Journal of Dance Education, 1(1), 26-33.