Use creative dissociation to warm up participants and start a new social scene.
I’m always looking for ideas to inspire my classes, and I’m usually pretty brave about what I’ll try. I search for new music, novel ways to use the studio space and unique cuing methods. I also look for interesting and different ways to get students absorbed in their 1-hour class experience. An approach I call “The Coffee Klatch” works wonders in cultivating a group dynamic. The concept is simple: just get them talking!
In my Friday morning cycling class, I encourage students to talk to each other during the 10-minute warm-up. It’s amazing how this has transformed the group. Participants now know each other, and their kids have play dates! Now, any time a student needs to miss class, I get an e-mail in advance letting me know. Everyone wants to hold his or her spot, and retention has almost doubled. It has become a “group thing,” and no one wants to miss the drama!
The Coffee Klatch began as a mistake, of course; the best ideas usually do. One day the stereo wasn’t working, and participants were already seated on their bikes. Off the top of my head I threw out a celebrity gossip question to buy time. Of course, everyone had an opinion, and so it began. The next week, I started planning for it. I flipped through the tabloids for 2 days, cut out a few pictures and developed a list of questions that would lead our conversation through a full 10-minute warm-up. I carefully stayed away from sticky topics such as politics and religion, steering us instead toward good entertainment news. I was amazed at how the group dynamics shifted, and I noticed that even the quiet students who chose not to participate were smiling.
The Coffee Klatch uses dissociation, a technique used by sports psychologists to help athletes move their thoughts away from mundane training tasks. An example of dissociating is listening to music when you run. By encouraging students to talk through the warm-up (dissociating), you help them forget about the 40–50 minutes of “work” coming up and settle into a fun experience (while they sweat a little!).
It’s your responsibility, however, to guide students physically while they are “caught up” in the warm-up conversation. Quick tips—such as, “You’ll now notice that your breathing has gotten deeper. . . . If not, please add resistance to your bike”—will remind your class to stay on task. The Coffee Klatch is a very suitable time to use the talk test or the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion (“Hey, everyone—talking should be a little bit more labored now; you’re almost at the 10-minute mark, and we’re about to get to work”). The Coffee Klatch is also a perfect opportunity for you to be off the bike walking around, meeting new students and learning the names of those regulars you don’t know yet. You can also offer hands-on posture corrections and assist with bike adjustments.
Remember that you’re responsible for moderating the conversation, pulling it back to the topic at hand and making sure the “kids” all play nicely! Getting them talking will keep you inspired, help you to know your students and keep your classroom full. Participants will never be late to class again—they won’t want to miss a second of drama in your Coffee Klatch!