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Show a Little Class

Directors and instructors can learn to meet in the middle when deciding who gets to teach what.

Group exercise directors face a variety of challenges and are often forced to make tough decisions. Case in point: choosing which instructor gets to teach a particular class. Many instructors do not have a clear understanding of the director’s decision-making process, and their confusion may lead to hurt feelings, animosity and tension among the team. This article will look at both the director’s train of thought when issuing teaching opportunities and the instructor’s point of view regarding the process of obtaining more classes. By considering both viewpoints, the team is more likely to function optimally.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Program directors are like sports coaches. They must keep their eyes and ears open and know each individual on the team. Coaches do not select a player because he or she demands or expects the opportunity. Instead, they first ask questions. Which player takes the time to enhance his skills through practice and study? Who supports the team in a positive way? Who has the ability to see beyond her own success? Who is working to earn a spot and doesn’t expect one?

When an instructor approaches me and says she wants to add a class or teach a new format, I answer, “Show me; don’t tell me.” It may seem cold, but the instructor must understand that a manager has multiple team members to consider. The team must be balanced, and as a director, I achieve balance with a variety of instructors as diverse as the clientele they teach. I am also in the constant process of growing the team with enthusiastic, fresh faces.

Program directors, like coaches, look at many factors before choosing candidates to lead particular classes. It’s not wise to dole out classes based on tenure alone. Nor should classes necessarily be given to the most popular instructor or the “squeakiest wheel.” The following examples highlight key aspects of the decision-making process, from both an instructor’s and a director’s viewpoints, and give a middle-ground option for each scenario.

Ability and Experience

Director’s View. The manager looks for a self-motivated individual who embodies the movement skills required for the class. An example would be a person who has previous experience teaching the format, or related movement; for instance, a former dancer who seeks to teach a dance-fitness class. His experience will help him be more natural and authentic in his presentation. The director may also look at that individual’s experience in leading other fitness classes.

Instructor’s View. The instructor may believe that his ability to follow a class and perform all the movements beautifully as a participant is the “red carpet” that leads to teaching the class. Performing and teaching are two different animals. What’s more, teaching experience, while helpful, is not always the determining factor when awarding a class. Just because someone is great at coaching and cuing a Pilates class doesn’t mean those teaching traits transfer well to a kickboxing class.

Let’s Meet in the Middle. Directors must identify and characterize each team member’s strengths and weaknesses and continue to communicate with individuals who express interest in pursuing other classes. It’s important to look and listen to instructors. It’s okay to choose the dancer who owns the dance floor on Friday nights to teach that dance-fitness class, but he must obtain proper training that complies with fitness industry safety guidelines. He must also show that he has the ability to cue and break down moves for participants.


Director’s View. For many reasons, directors require instructors to obtain (and maintain) certifications to teach specific class formats. Certification programs provide essential information for teaching a safe group fitness class. If an instructor wants to teach a specific format, should she not take the initiative to obtain proper training? Part of a director’s job is also to protect the club from liability issues that could stem from an instructor’s lack of professional training.

Instructor’s View. An instructor may feel as though it is not economically favorable to put out money for specific training, education or certification if she is not guaranteed a class once the training is complete. On the other hand, some instructors feel that holding a certification is equivalent to holding “the golden ticket” and use that as leverage to push for more classes.

Let’s Meet in the Middle. An instructor who pursues training on her own shows willingness to learn and advance. This is a career investment that no one can take away. Learning the ins and outs of several formats helps strengthen an instructor’s ability to teach and increases her value where she works. Directors identify and appreciate this initiative. However, certifications and education should not be used as means to petition for advancement. Although training should be a requirement, a director must determine how it is being used and presented before awarding a class.


The Director’s View. A director is more likely to award a class to an instructor who teaches or works exclusively for one facility. An employee’s loyalty to the program and members is important. It also ties directly into one’s availability. Instructors who teach at multiple locations are not always available to teach at certain times.

The Instructor’s View. Instructors may need to teach at more than one facility if they wish to teach more than a couple of classes per week. Most instructors also have other jobs or responsibilities that limit their availability. Instructors may feel that directors can simply put a class on the schedule where there is space, or they might expect a director to make special exceptions for them because they have a “following.”

Let’s Meet in the Middle. Instructors who teach at multiple locations essentially handcuff directors. Trying to manage a group exercise schedule is challenging enough. If a manager accommodates one instructor’s schedule, he must be prepared to do this for everyone. An instructor shouldn’t expect a manager to make exceptions if she, the instructor, is the one with limited availability. Continuing to communicate her availability is important.

Desire, Attitude and Approach

Director’s View. A director is looking not only for a candidate who has the qualifications to teach but for someone with the right attitude—a team player who supports the program, the club and other team members while displaying a positive attitude. In many instances, directors look for this quality before considering skills and certifications.

The Instructor’s View. Instructors who have invested time in teaching or have built a following may feel as though they have dibs on certain classes. After all, they are a proven entity!

Let’s Meet in the Middle. When someone makes a demand, it often erects a wall. This goes both ways. A director is much better off making recommendations rather than issuing ultimatums. An instructor is more likely to be heard when she approaches her director with poise and tact. Directors need to respect staff and listen to different perspectives. Instructors must continually display a positive attitude when addressing concerns and complaints—and should do so through the proper channels. Instructors must also respect the talents of other teammates and be understanding of the many challenges directors face daily.

I joined the ranks of management and became a director after years of being an enthusiastic instructor. As an instructor, it was always my goal to teach more classes. I found out through experience that directors were more likely to award classes to those who had not only the skills but also the professionalism to handle them.

So You Want This Class?

When awarding a class, try applying techniques similar to those you use when hiring a new instructor. Take time to personally select prospective instructors, and interview and audition all candidates. Here are questions you might ask:

  • Why do you want to teach this class?
  • What have you done to prepare for teaching this class?
  • Why do you think you are the best candidate for this class?
  • What experience do you have in teaching this type of class?
  • What certifications or trainings pertaining to this particular class format have you completed?

You might also consider the following:

  • Does the instructor’s personality and teaching style fit the format?
  • Can the instructor perform all the movements safely?
  • How well does the instructor connect with clients?
  • What is this instructor’s current performance rating?
  • Is this employee a positive team member who supports others as well as the mission of the club?

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