Values Sort


what guides you?


It’s time for a values sort.  This is a common exercise and that is part of why I'm including it: to remind you to use common, effective exercises in your teaching. You don't always need the most inventive thing you can imagine (save that for your choreographic research).  Today we’ll do a values sort specifically focused on your dance teaching values. You can do this 500 times in your life, this is just one instance. 

Your underlying values affect all aspects of your teaching. And your values will inform your actions: the choices you make when teaching. Think of it this way, what you think is important is what you look for in your students. If you don’t know what you value, your students will likely be confused. They'll feel like there are all these secret rules that they've never been privy to.  You may not realize you are drawn to some students because their movement patterns mimic your own or you might demean a student who values something different from you, without realizing that difference isn't a right--wrong continuum. 

In other words, sometimes we embody our values so much but don't articulate them, that we think they just are Right & Good. In a future post we’ll talk about implicit bias and not norming ourselves but this week we’ll dig into ourselves. We'll unpack why you might hold some values, eventually--but first you need to know what they are to get there. By knowing what matters to you, knowing why, and considering how others might feel--you are able to create a classroom that is values-driven and transparent. 


What do you care the most about in your teaching? In your dancing? And in your relationship to dance? 

Now wait, if you read last week, you know that this blog is all about adapting your teaching to different populations. Yes! There will be variation in emphasis with different populations. Think of the values this exercise as an overall, cumulative look at your teaching. If you value Fun with preschoolers and Seriousness with teenagers, then neither of those are your most central or top 5 values. They'll be in the middle, adaptable space for you.  Likewise if you value Comportment when you teach Ballet and Virtuosity when you teach West African class, keep looking until you find a value that transcends both those styles, perhaps Story-telling crosses all your disciplines. 

In addition, you might start thinking about all the things that are important to you in a dance class--specific skills or movement principles and components. Press pause on the elements of your class. I promise we'll get to these. For today, think about your overall values.

We won’t just work in a linear manner so I recommend that you write these on index cards or download and cut out our version and literally sort them in space. 

Disclaimer, these values reflect my values and what I see other teachers value. I did reach out to my brain trust on Facebook, but this isn't a comprehensive list. Of course if you see something missing, you can add yours. However, I encourage you not to totally create your own list, because part of the learning is to compare how you sorted to your classmates or teaching cohort.  You'll get to define your values for yourself, so you also may also grab the closest one to your value and add to it. 

dance values 

  1. Clarity

  2. Drive

  3. Rhythm

  4. Connection

  5. Resilience

  6. Line/Linearity

  7. Dynamics

  8. Expression

  9. Tradition

  10. Risk-taking

  11. Relationship to Gravity/Weight Studies

  12. Individuality

  13. Story-telling

  14. Uniformity

  15. Directionality

  16. Affect/Expression

  17. Freedom

  18. Bio-mechanics/kinesiology

  19. Choice-making

  20. Musicality

  21. Flow

  22. Polycentrism

  23. Intellect

  24. Challenge

  25. Time

  26. Virtuosity

  27. Memory

  28. Joy/Exhilaration

  29. Curves/Curvilinearity

  30. Mores

  31. Cultural heritage

  32. Space

  33. Challenging experiences

  34. Carriage/Comportment

  35. Seriousness

  36. Problem-solving

  37. Honoring the form

  38. Fun/Enjoyment

  39. Core support

  40. Shape

  41. Community

  42. Images

  43. Creativity

  44. Iterative learning cycles

  45. Body awareness

  46. Movement invention

  47. Momentum

  48. Dynamic range

  49. Communication

  50. Emotional support

  51. Self-control

  52. Morals

  53. Spiritual experiences

  54. Ecology

  55. Natural movement

  56. Athleticism

  57. Commitment  

method one-array

Step 1: Spread the cards out on a table or the floor and make sets of concentric circles that goes from most important in the center, to less important on the periphery. You can also make a second pile that includes values you reject—or if you think they are all important to some extent, you may use all. Take some time, arranging and re-arranging. If groupings emerge, place those nearer in space to one another. Once you are happy with the field, make visual spaces to create concentric  circles with at least, a center circle, a middle circle, and an outer circle. And, if you chose, a reject pile--but don't worry, we'll use those too. 

Then, take a picture. 

method two-line-up

Now reshuffle your cards and sort them into an order from what you value the absolute most to those you reject or value the least.  This can be hard so just notice where the ranking process gets difficult. 

As in the array, if you see logical groupings for yourself, you can combine or connect values. 

So for instance, if Time, Rhythm, and Musicality are numbers 3, 4, and 5, you could  combine these into one item, Time/Rhythm/Musicality and perhaps it would be your #1 (or maybe not).  

Now, write down your top 5 and last 5.


Look at these two ways of arranging your values and pick the one that best aligns with your thinking practice. Using that one (or both), complete the following tasks:

1) Define each value in your top 5 or center circle. Write a sentence or a sentence fragment, not a paragraph. 

2) Now, with your last 5/outer circle/or rejects--define what those mean to you. 

3) Ohhh, it's getting fun now. Next you take both these sets and write about their counterpoint/balance/polarity/dichotomy in a positive frame.  So, first you need to let go of right/wrong and instead go both/and.  For instance, if your top value is Emotional Support, you wouldn't make the counterpoint Emotional Abuse (or Physical Abuse). First look at how you defined Emotional Support, maybe it's a space where students feel comfortable sharing what's going on in their lives and you focus on the whole person. Maybe for you the counterpoint would be a space where students "leave everything at the door" and the class just focuses on formal dance vocabulary. So name that, is it Formalism or Physical Focus, or Uniformity?Come up with something that makes sense to you.  When you do this exercise regarding your last 5/outer circle/rejected values, you also might discover one that you want to put into your center circle--or you might not. Either is fine. The point is to find a deeper understanding of your values and to experience different perspectives.

3) Journal about how an observer would SEE your central values in your class. How do those values undergird the exercises you teach, the types of things you correct or emphasize, and your teaching tone and style?  This can be a paragraph or two with lots of movement and experiential description. While we created our values in general, for this exercise imagine observing a specific class and go ahead and imagine watching You teaching.  

4) Now, journal about how a participant would EXPERIENCE your values in your class.  What does it feel like to embody these values? How do they describe the class to their friends? What do they think they are learning from the class? What do they post on social media after class?

5) Lastly, take the values from your last 5/outer circle/rejected values and look at the balancing position of your top 5/center circle. Imagine a student for whom these are the most important values.  That student is required to take your class—what might you do in a class to honor her values and needs?  Write a list of ideas of how you could address these student needs, by expanding, not compromising your values. 

Phew, that's a lot of work. Save it to look back on over this year as a reference. 

special thanks today for some fellow values brainstormers: Ai Fujii Nelson/Ririe Woodbury Dance Company, Ashley Mott, Betsy Miller, Margot Electra Steinberg, Alana Hardison, Christina Providence/Providence Method, CoCo Loupe, & Peggy Hackney.

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