Best Practices for community classes – personal experience

pencil-and-paperI’ve taught a few free community classes in different settings and have tried to generalize about what has seemed to work well. Obviously many factors vary from site to site, and some may be impossible to control. Please feel free to share your own experience and thoughts on this topic!
1. Independence of set up: The yoga class happens very independently in the library. There is a security guard but the space we use is open/unlocked, it’s the same space each time, and under normal circumstances, I don’t need to check in with anyone. It can be useful to have a single staff contact, but if the person isn’t there regularly, and I need to interact with someone, it can be time consuming to communicate with a different person each time as the new person often doesn’t have all the info the contact person does (for instance, if people come to the front desk 20 minutes late, please let them know it’s important to warm up with the group rather than telling them it’s fine to join in). I don’t think this necessarily reflects on the individual contact person, but the nature of the set up – it’s more ideal to have a set up where less interaction is required.
2. Mats & blocks: I carry the mats and block and store them in my car. Access to yoga blocks is tremendously helpful.  I don’t love this set up as it’s a hassle to literally carry them all in, it often requires multiple trips, and if I ever want to use my car for normal purposes like transporting something big or giving more than one person a lift, I have to take all this stuff out and then put it back in before the next class. But in the other location where I leave the mats on the premises, it’s time consuming both for me and staff to find the person with the key to unlock them, and the mats (granted they are mixed in with mats the facility owns) have been used outside of the class by people wearing shoes dirty enough to leave caked dirt on them. This will lead to extra wear and tear on the mats, and require more thorough cleaning than I can realistically provide in order to offer students decently clean yoga mats.

3. Consistency: Few cancellations by the library. I rarely (though occasionally) cancel the classes myself. Cancelling gets tedious because I need/want to contact students to ensure they know in advance, and it likely affects attendance because people can’t just count on the class being on. Pairing up with another teacher can be helpful in many circumstances, particularly if both teachers are able to attend some classes, learn the other’s teaching style (and likely share it), but I do think part of the reason people return to my classes is that they have an idea of what they will be like. A class that is simply handed off to a different teacher each week would likely not have that similarity week to week.
4. Attendance: An RSVP system has not been helpful. I would never want this to be required, at least, not in any yoga service class I’ve come across, because plenty of people who could benefit from free yoga may not have regular email or internet access. If people coming to the class did regularly RSVP, each time they intended to come, the idea is that if no one RSVP’d, you’d know no one was going to come and could stay home … but plenty of people attended regularly and never RSVP’d, or only RSVP’d the first time. And of course, people’s plans may change. Ultimately having a big enough group of regular students will lead to classes that have at least a handful of students each time, even if the students are different week to week. The library class has been going on for nearly 18 months, and there are students who come to several classes, take a long break, and come back – people’s schedules do change and it’s realistic to consider that as a reason for lack of attendance rather than people simply not liking the class.
5. Student diversity: People of a similar age range and ability level is helpful too. Obviously this is not something a teacher or organization can control much of the time, aside from noting that a class is only for adults or only for children.  I always try to teach to the “midline” of the group, and offer enough option that at least one seems suitable for each person. However a mixed group with several people who are physically active and one or two elderly people would overall probably be less satisfied with the class (and perhaps less likely to return) than a class with moderately active people who are around the same age.
Individual differences probably matter too – I have tried to set up other library classes and happening upon a senior/in charge staff member who is supportive of a yoga class is important. And of course even with a staff member who is supportive, I realize that most non-profit staff will have many other demands on their time and simply cannot set aside their main responsibilities to help set up a yoga class.
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