Turning a stressful situation into a learning experience

As I run a very large dance and theatre school, with a staff team of 20, I often find, to my frustration, that I deal with disciplinary issues, either staff or pupil related, taking up a lot of my time and emotional energy. It effects my work as, primarily, a teacher of classical ballet. I say ‘primarily’ as that is what I see myself as – not as a manager/proprietor of a business. I struggle with the balance between the two, and the hectic schedule of running a business usually wins! I notice I internalise these problems, and, as a result, I am sure they inhibit my creativity and artistry in teaching, as I will often go straight from a tense meeting into a class.

A recent concern I have had to raise with a member of staff has, this morning, become enmeshed with me trying to fully understand what I should ACTUALLY be doing, right now, for this MA, getting the school uniform ready for the week ahead, housework, and constant phone calls from family members! I ended in tears convinced that I was wasting my time trying to do an MA!

Two cups of coffee, one cup of tea and a peanut butter sandwich later, and I have written the ‘issue’ in my journal, read up on  “Strategies for enhancing learning from everyday experience” (Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning: Moon ), and “The Four Levels of Action and Reflection” (Productive Reflection at Work: Boud, Cressey, Docherty).

My initial off-loading into my journal helped me release some of the tension onto paper. I questioned my own handling of the situation, and asked myself why I struggle with confronting staff with disciplinary procedures. I decided to re-write the series of events using the terms ‘teacher’ and ‘pupil’, rather than names. This was immensely helpful, as the issue became objective.

I then wanted to turn it into a learning experience and so trawled through my books looking for supportive literature – hence the strategies and levels mentioned above! I now feel that a) by objectifying the teacher and pupil, I can see the situation much clearer and  b) by reading, and applying these strategies, I have been able to create a plan of action.

I have learned that I can get stressed, and magnificate, difficult staff situations I have to deal with at work, and allow them to consume me. An emotionally exhausting occurence. Although I still have feelings of anxiety, I will carry out my plan of action, and then review and reflect on it.

I also realise I need a far more detailed set of rules/directives to fall back on when confronted with staff issues, on behaviour that is acceptable and not acceptable in the workplace. I shall find a time to make all staff aware of these, and make every effort to implement them when required, and utilise the Four Levels of Action and Reflection (Boud, Cressey, Doherty). I will also look at Schon’s ‘reflection-in-action’, to revise any procedures that ‘surprises’ might warrant. I will also look at ‘analytical diagnosis’ (Olsen and Rasmussen) of the situation.


7 thoughts on “Turning a stressful situation into a learning experience

  1. Hello Cathy, It’s Mary Grigg here! I’m on Module three and I really enjoyed reading your honest and interesting blog. I loved the way you talked through your process to objectify things as it resonates with me I have found it challenging in work situations in the past and I work alone!! more with parents and pupils really and finding staff when I have moved location to the Midlands..as all my contacts are down south..It’s really tough when you run your own dance school and I found it made me sad that the teaching seemed to be shadowed by admin and all the varied jobs that come when you are principal of a dance school. All I can say is the one thing when things got a bit blocked for me as I moved house just before Module 2, a fellow mapper said to me was just keep reading through it. The hardest thing is its something so personal this journey and it really changes your life and thinking. Well it has for me..I really know it won’t stop too. Its opened up a whole world I didn’t feel part of before and I want to know more and use it within my pedagogy and life! A few students on this course have had babies during it too and I can’t believe it! One thing is all of us on the course have made the leap to further our understanding of our interest in Dance Pedagogy. I look forward to chatting at Skype


    1. Thank you for replying to my blog. One of my negative feelings this morning was ‘who would want to read my blog anyway?’, so I was really surprised to see someone had!
      I started the school on my own, but as it grew I took on part time staff. I now have over 450 pupils and, as well as dance, we offer drama, singing lessons, music lessons, and I teach all units of DDI and DDE. So as well as teaching staff, I have 6 receptionists/admin staff. I also have a dance wear shop.
      I really notice that when I am in the studio for longer periods I am happier! I had some of our very old show videos put onto dvds yesterday, and started watching them (they go back 25 years).I thought I was going to cringe – but the opposite happened. My little ballet dancers were lovely – their technique was possibly better than it is today – the children seemed more careful. That could of course be a reflection on children and young people today. I tend to mainly teach the senior ballets, so I have decided to swap classes around and teach some of the lower grades again. It was also a lovely trip down memory lane! Like you, I am very excited about starting this MA, even if I am a bit overwhelmed. It’s really good to hear from someone who has got through this first stage. Thank you x


  2. Thank you for writing a great blog post. I just realised I learned something by reading it. I have struggled a bit trying to write a reflective journal, and although I have written many events in it and the thoughts around it, your describing how you did yours gave me some new ideas.

    I am a Module 1 and only after two weeks of studying I have notice changes in myself. I have always strived to learn more, and always thought that the only way to learn is to attend a course, getting taught by a teacher or getting feedback. I have tried to find courses to broaden my knowledge where I live (Oslo, Norway), but it is not so easy. There are not many courses, and most of them are not what I seek. Although I work for quite a big dance studio (appr 1000 pupils) and weekly take classes with other professionals I have felt quite isolated in the role I play as a teacher. This because the teachers I meet and interact with in everyday life in a very little degree reflect upon the actual teaching perspective of a class. I have tried to start conversations about this on some occasions, but have not been very successful. Through reading blog post I have realised that sharing thoughts here or reading other peoples blog might be the thing for me, and that I actually can learn a lot by reading what other people think and feel, reflect upon how this relates to me, and then again transfer this to how I can improve my teaching.

    I also look forward to next Skype session, I truly wish we had more of them. I learned a lot, but used some time getting use to the format of how it was conducted and need to get over the shyness of speaking English (as this is not my first-language)

    ps: Cecchettinorge is not my MAPP blog, this is: http://mariaranden.blogspot.no


    1. I’m pleased and a little surprised that you found my blog useful! I am new to all this, and have struggled with what to actually write in a blog. I just went with the flow this morning, and it seems to have done me good. You are right, sharing these thoughts on here will be useful, and will help us feel less isolated. I too wish there were more skypes, but I think that is because I feel like I am flailing about a bit at the moment!I had a lovely response from Mary too, who is doing her Module 3. There’s hope for us yet!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Cathie!

    I as well am just starting Module 1. Being alone over here in Canada and having missed the last Skype I have been feeling very out of the loop and removed from this whole MAPP world. Your Blog and each of the responses above are wonderful! Reading them have made me feel connected even though I do not know any of you! Knowing that we are all going through this journey together and battling the same obstacles and doubts along the way is so reassuring! I as well am the director of a dance school (with my mother) and teach 3-4 days a week. It has been such a struggle getting back into school or even at times remembering that I am in school! I think think is because we do not go to class or have a physical presence. This weekend I have decided that I need to start carrying around my journal with me, writing everything I can in it, staying on top of these blogs, and getting in to some more readings. It is just so difficult with the pressures of work! So I feel your pain Cathie and know the struggle! But knowing that this course will enhance our ability to do our jobs makes it worth while! And having others go before us who can share their journey with us is also a blessing!!!

    I look forward to our November Skype so that I can finally feel connected with you all!


  4. Hi Cathie, I have only just got started on this as I was away for two weeks and enjoyed reading your blog here. I had my own school in Canada for 7 years before having to sell it to come to Dubai for hubby’s work and like how you are using your reading to help you solve some immediate problems. Staff can be your greatest support or biggest pain I know. Having had to let a few go through different problems including alcoholism, angry partners and one taking students to start up her own school, through to mentoring and keeping wonderful senior dancers who have moved into successful teaching careers. Parents too can become such a challenge or support – it’s funny how wherever I teach the same characters re-appear! (though different people of course!) I did a course on dealing with difficult people which helped me become more assertive with disciplinary actions and read biographies on successful CEO’s – Warren Buffet was one!


    1. Hi Louise
      It’s always good to hear other teachers have the same problems! I will definitely look for some courses like that and read some biographies. Looking forward to the skype on Sunday.


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