What we've learned in one year of atap

What we’ve learned in one year of ATAP

Our Affiliate Training and Assessment Programme (ATAP) teaches recreational dance teachers to provide learning that is process driven and relevant to the child, where both teachers and students value and enjoy dance education and training.

Ahead of applications opening for the next cohort of teachers to join us, our Head of Training & Access, Mark Annear, and Senior Teacher Training Manager, Karen Berry, sat down together to reflect on what we’ve learned from delivering this unique, holistic training so far, and look ahead to the future of the programme.

What were some of the different backgrounds of the teachers on the course? 

We had teachers who had a lot of different types of experience, some more, some less. We also had people from different countries; from across Europe and as far-reaching as Australia and Canada. Some teachers were already affiliated with other dance organisations such as RAD or ISTD and others weren’t. Some were working in their own schools and some were working for other teachers or organisations, some even in musical theatre schools. So many different experiences were brought to the programme. However, they all had a real passion for teaching and a desire to learn a new methodology.

What were some of the things that surprised you about the trainee teachers? Did they inspire you with their own ideas and approaches?

I think we were both surprised about how passionate they are. We knew they shared our ethos and values, but I’ve been surprised about how much of an impact this course, the intensive and the continued involvement, has made on their professional career and on their personal development. It gives us a great sense of obligation to make sure we deliver the best service we can.

And a lot of these recreational teachers are working on their own. That’s something else we didn’t appreciate beforehand: the need for community. Luckily, it developed really quickly, their bonds.

Also, it’s a new situation to find yourself in. They all came maybe a little apprehensive, but then very quickly realized that it was a safe learning environment and that they could speak freely. 

In terms of what inspired us; definitely how passionate they became, their willingness to take everything on board and explore this new approach, and that everybody brought their own individual strengths to the group.

What did they respond well to during the intensive training week? 

I think in particular they really enjoyed having the freedom to create their own classes or their own content in line with what the students needed. 

That isn’t what they had been used to, where they have a set syllabus and they have to deliver it to all students the same. This has been an ongoing theme throughout the continued professional development, how liberated they feel knowing that they can match their teaching to the children’s needs and be more effective.  

We maybe don’t appreciate that because it’s just what we do.

They also really responded well to both the strength and conditioning and the creative practice. They also said it was the first time they’d sat down and been taught how to teach because of the pedagogical content of the course.

Who is involved in the training?

We had our ATAP staff, guest teachers Liz Foster and David Pickering from The Royal Opera House to discuss the creative practice, and Niall MacSweeney from our healthcare team who delivered strength and conditioning training.

We also had some help from internationally renowned classical ballet teacher, Tania Fairburn for the first cohort and we had lots of help from our ambassadors who gave morning class (each day started with an hour’s ballet class).

I think having these people who were experts in their field was inspiring for the trainee teachers, and it’s also fresh and new to our team and guests, too. It was the first time that these people had come together to create a course, so the structure was exciting.  Everyone brought in a different aspect but all focused in collectively to the values and ethos, so it was underpinned in every area.

What are some of the key differences in practice between this and other training programmes? 

There are two main differences. We talk about dance pedagogy (which is unusual for short, intensive courses – unless they come to an Inspire course!) We link pedagogical topics with the ‘what’ to the teaching content.

We also use the Three-Strand Model, which is an approach to teaching dance developed be Jacqueline M. Smith-Autard. The three strands are:

Create (students create their own movement/dances)
Perform (acquiring physical skills such as technique, perform their own dance or another’s dance)
Appreciate (perceive and value the work of others – i.e. contextual studies)

What’s been the effect of the programme on the students of these teachers?

We’ve collected feedback in various ways and have lots of teachers reports and they all say the same; the children have enjoyed more of a targeted approach to their learning. Teachers are saying that there’s a renewed energy and motivation in class, and that’s probably because they’re feeling it and it rubs off on their students.

Children love to learn about ballet, and sometimes teachers can get so stuck in teaching them the steps that they don’t even put them together to make dances. The students don’t know where the dances come from.

Because appreciation, creative, and repertoire are part of the curriculum, then teachers can introduce it to them in a more formal way. What has surprised me is how much the children loved this part of learning; coming up with projects and mood boards.

People always say, ‘oh, children are far too young to do this’, but I don’t think they are. I think you can teach anything to any child as long as you target it in the right way. You don’t have to dumb things down for younger students.

We’ve got a very good evaluation programme set up by our consultant Linda Jasper—the senior statesperson and wise owl of dance education, particularly in this country. She has a wonderful overview of dance training in all its aspects, and also works on our Diploma of Dance Teaching. She is doing a fantastic job at evaluating right from the very beginning of the process.

What’s been the reaction from the dance industry? 

Dance teachers have been curious to find out more. We’ve had a few hundred sign up for our registered interest notice board, which is great.

On the dance education side, people at Chance to Dance or Royal Opera House have been so excited by it because it ties together the three-strand model and they’ve been very interested in how it’s not just teaching the steps of dancing, but helping children to understand it.

Other dance organisations have been generally very positive. Of course, we took the time to speak with them about it at the beginning and they all lent their support.

Have people had some misconceptions?

Yes, the main one is that some dance organisations feel that if they’re teaching ATAP they can’t teach any other dance organisation’s curriculum or syllabus, which is not true.

It’s totally up to the teacher whether they choose to just do ATAP, or use it within another system they have at their School.

What are your hopes for the next cohort? 

That they are as enthusiastic and willing to learn as the previous two. I don’t think we could have had better groups.

I hope they can bring that sense of curiosity, come prepared to put the student first, and develop their knowledge and understanding, and have an appreciation for ballet as much as dance ability. Bringing that to their own practice and reviving it will not only benefit the students, but will give them something, too. We always say, ‘you teach one pupil, you teach one pupil, you teach one teacher, you’re teaching hundreds of people.’

By targeting the teachers we’re making a huge impact on how dance is taught, not just in Britain, but around the world. And it might take a while to see, but we genuinely believe that we’re going to make a difference at the grassroots level to not just the product of what children can and students can achieve, but the process.

Because the process of learning is just as important as the product. I think this is also unique about the programme, it really does focus on that.

What are your plans for ATAP in the future? Over the next five or ten years?

In two years, we want to have set up international training, so not only deliver the in-person part of the training in the UK, but also worldwide.

It’ll be really great to see the development of the ATAP-affiliated teachers over five years. Perhaps they’ll become ATAP ambassadors in the future, helping us deliver and maintain the standards.

Over 10 years we’ll be starting to see the development of the students. It’ll be wonderful to see those students who started at level one and how they progress through all the levels and what they’ve taken from the programme, what they’ve learned and where they go with it.

At the moment it’s a trail blazing, ground-breaking programme, but hopefully in 10 years’ time, we will have seen the change in teaching and for the children, and it will just be the go-to dance organisation for students learning to dance.

With all we do, we never stand still. It will develop over time and in five years, in 10 years, we want a strong team and a strong structure and a legacy to take it forward beyond our time, for the programme and the School.

Find out more about ATAP and register your interest for the upcoming round of applications