How to Be the Instructor Every Supervisor Wants

by Christy Stevenson on Aug 27, 2008

Try these five tips to connect with the corner office.

As a group fitness instructor, you seek out innovative choreography, purchase motivating music and put on your biggest smile in an effort to keep people coming back for more. While relating to participants may seem most pertinent, don’t neglect the critical connection with your group fitness director. Since this individual is typically the one who hires and fires, determines the class schedule and decides what equipment to purchase, it’s important to establish a positive and productive relationship with him or her. Establishing a good rapport with your program manager can lead to many benefits—a possible raise, better scheduling slots, more toys and, of course, less stress and more happiness!

Despite the obvious need to be in good graces with “the boss,” many instructors simply do not know how to maintain a positive relationship with a superior. Perhaps in this modern age of technology, we have lost basic, instinctual human connection skills. Do you lack relationship common sense? Below are five ways to foster a stronger, more respectful affiliation with your manager.

Join the Complaint-Free Campaign

How often do you approach your supervisor with a list of what you don’t have, what you don’t like and what you can’t do? As a group fitness supervisor, I know exactly which instructors will hit me up with a mile-long complaint list every time I open an e-mail from them. While their complaints may be valid, I’m already in “roll-my-eyes, here-we-go-again” mode. Rather than genuinely assessing the complaint, I am likely to offer my generic response (“thanks for sharing”) because I know another complaint will hit me next week.

If you really want your voice heard and an honest, genuine complaint addressed, try offering productive solutions. If you’re complaining about another instructor teaching into your class time, suggest placing a buffer of 10 minutes between classes. If you’re complaining that the stability balls are always deflated, suggest keeping an electric pump readily available or offer to come in 1 day a week to pump them yourself for extra pay. Let your supervisor know you are willing to alleviate the problem. When she sees that you are consistently part of the solution, she will be more likely to respect and respond to any complaint (see the sidebar “Complaint or Minor Nuisance?” for more suggestions).

Above all, don’t grumble to participants. If patrons see that you are dissatisfied with the facility, why should they pay to be members? If attendees complain to you about another instructor, lack of equipment or some other issue, kindly empathize without joining in. Suggest an appropriate way for them to communicate their desires to management. Offer to be helpful in any way you can without insulting your facility or supervisor. In the end, both your supervisor and the attendees will be drawn to you because of your positive attitude—an attribute that will bring you more desirable results than any amount of complaining ever could.

Be Flexible

Like other instructors, you might have a second job, children and a plethora of additional commitments. However, the more willing you are to rearrange your schedule in an effort to be available for last-minute emergencies, the more your supervisor will come to recognize and appreciate your reliability. This is especially important for newer instructors. Not only does subbing give you valuable experience, but it also proves to your manager that you are dependable and willing to go the extra mile.

When I first began teaching, I volunteered to take on any class my supervisor asked me to, even if it was considered undesirable. For years I taught two back-to-back Saturday morning classes, as well as a Sunday morning class. This meant sacrificing some weekend getaways so that I could teach as consistently as possible. In the end, these classes thrived because of that consistency. My supervisor noticed the increases in class size, as well as my willingness to teach formats no other instructor wanted, and I received a larger pay increase than others. She also wrote me a raving reference letter that could have won a literary award when my husband’s job moved us out of state.

As a supervisor I see too many new instructors who are not willing to be flexible. They have very little experience, yet they want the most coveted teaching times. They are unwilling to teach anything that might be slightly inconvenient. If you truly want to earn respect from your supervisor, prove your willingness to be flexible. Your manager will quickly recognize you as a dependable instructor and give you first dibs on class openings as they become available.

Accept Feedback Graciously

In many facilities, the group fitness director conducts a yearly evaluation of each instructor. This review may be formal (she watches your every move and takes notes), or it may be casual (she participates in class and provides a few comments privately afterward). Members might even fill out evaluation sheets. All these types of assessment are a great way for you to improve your teaching skills if you can accept the feedback and use it to better yourself. Try not to be overly sensitive by taking constructive criticism personally.

As a novice teacher, I felt incredibly intimidated by the yearly formal evaluation my supervisor conducted. She was tactful but to the point—she did not tiptoe around my feelings. She even corrected me in front of my own class! Typically sensitive, I could easily have gotten hurt and offended, rejected her comments or even disregarded her advice, assuming that I knew better than she did. But I recognized and accepted that I was still young in the industry, it was okay not to be perfect and I should learn from my supervisor, whose experience far exceeded my own. I took her feedback as graciously as possible and applied it to my teaching.

Be as open as possible to suggestions and corrections, especially if the feedback is critical to participants’ safety (music tempo, form cues, alignment corrections, etc.). If your supervisor does give you feedback that you question, look to current sources in the industry—preferably professional journals or websites—to find the safest, most correct and most up-to-date information. With ever-changing industry trends, it could be that your supervisor is relying on old information. If this turns out to be true, respectfully share what you’ve found and ask your boss how he would like you to move forward.

Be Professional

An instructor’s job entails much more than just teaching. You have multiple duties and expectations, including starting class on time, arranging subs in advance, attending staff meetings, recording attendance, keeping the group fitness space clean and tidy, keeping your certifications current and maintaining a neat (albeit sweaty) personal appearance.

In addition, many group fitness directors value staff who are proficient in many classes/training formats. By pursuing multiple certifications, you expand your resumé and make yourself more flexible and dependable. You also equip yourself to step in and teach a variety of classes. While extending your education might seem costly, there are some affordable opportunities, and many facilities will help financially—especially if you pursue a certification for a format that management wants to offer.

Facilities vary in their policies and job requirements, but almost every supervisor values consistent attendance. You must show up to teach at your scheduled class time, or get a sub. Most supervisors will allow one or two very rare slip-ups, but there are no excuses for multiple no-shows. If you are frequently late, not only can you expect a poor review but you will likely not get a positive reference for the next facility you try to work at, so show up on time!

Be a Team Player

Backbiting and speaking negatively about upper management, fellow employees or patrons is one of the worst things an instructor can do. Competition among instructors arises too often in our industry. Sometimes members make comparisons and recommend certain instructors over others; other times instructors themselves overanalyze each other’s class numbers. Do not insult another instructor in order to build up your own ego and attendance numbers. Support your fellow instructors by promoting their classes, defending their unique teaching styles (which some patrons enjoy) and ending your own class on time. Avoid gossip, cattiness and pettiness. Patrons respect and admire you more when they sense the camaraderie you have with other instructors. They will recognize that you are confident, nonthreatened and caring. As a result, your numbers will increase.

Show the utmost concern and respect to participants and other facility patrons. They are there to improve the quality of their lives and, for many, it is a difficult step to get to class. If participants know they will be missed, they are more inclined to stay motivated. Maintain a positive atmosphere and connect with people so they feel more like a family instead of a group of sweaty, scantily dressed strangers. As a group fitness instructor, you are bringing people together with the common goal of getting or staying fit. This is also the goal of your supervisor and facility and, in this sense, you truly are a team.

It’s Common Sense

Even the best instructor can improve in at least one of these five areas. Assess your own strengths and weaknesses and decide which area needs the most attention. By following these five cardinal rules, you’re sure to win the respect of your supervisor and enjoy a deeper level of success in the fitness industry!

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 5, Issue 9

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© 2008 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Christy Stevenson

Christy Stevenson IDEA Author/Presenter

Christy Stevenson, FiTOUR ProTrainer and author of Get on the Ball—A Swiss Ball Workout (, has been teaching group fitness classes for over a decade, and has certified with ...