Classroom Spotlight

DEPA values our teachers and are proud to honour their experience and knowledge.
Here, we introduce a DEPA NSW member and take a peek inside their studio/classroom to learn more about our community, and consider best-practice pedagogy.

Erin has two young daughters and lives in Byron Bay on the Far North Coast of NSW. She enjoys being active with her girls and enjoying all that her wonderful area has to offer including the beaches and amazing waterfalls that are scattered throughout the region. Erin has been involved in Dance for over thirty years as a performer, choreographer, high school teacher and university educator. She is very passionate about the crucial role that the arts play in the education of young people and encouraging our future teachers to embrace this.

Hi! I am: Erin Harrington

I teach at: St John’s College, Woodlawn and Southern Cross University

I’ve been here: 9 years as a Dance Teacher and the Dance department Co-ordinator.

I first began dancing: Age 3, at a studio near Newcastle.

I first began teaching: 10 years ago, at Brewarrina Central School

My favourite style to teach: Contemporary dance

The most special teaching memory of my career: Watching a student who had shared some very personal and difficult times with me and after a year of supporting her through this process she channelled her experience into a core composition piece. Watching that piece performed at our yearly HSC showcase reinforced the value of the arts for these students as an avenue for expression and exploration. This was a priceless teaching moment.

The most ridiculous thing that has ever happened in my classroom: They all seem to involve chairs! One was having a chair thrown across the room on my first day at Bre Central, which was obviously a valuable experience… as far as tweaking my classroom management… and was rather ridiculous. The other was after setting a composition task with a junior class. A group of boys decided to turn their chair into a bull and they all became matadors, exploring amazing ways of moving and using the chair to represent their idea. It was both brilliant and extremely entertaining, and perhaps just a little ridiculous!

The greatest teaching success I have enjoyed was: Building the Dance department at my current school to now be the biggest in our region. With other teachers who have joined me along the way, it has been a great achievement to be able to offer so many students the opportunity to dance. It is wonderful to see the excitement and joy in their eyes each day.

My proudest teaching moment was: Recently watching a piece created by one of my very first HSC Dance students (Sammy Larnach), who told me frequently as a student that “she couldn’t and doesn’t do composition”. She has since studied Dance/Education and returned to work with me at Woodlawn, and now embraces her amazing compositional abilities! When I watched a Senior Dance Ensemble piece she created this year I was blown away- I was so incredibly moved by her choreography (and the tears were flowing). Needless to say that was a very proud moment, because as teachers we have a responsibility to continuously encourage and allow for exploration no matter what excuses our students might come up with. We must continue to believe in them even when they don’t believe in themselves.

Pedagogically, I specialise in: Formative assessment. It is a very prominent element of my teaching to have constant “check ins” with my students so that I am aware of how each student is learning and progressing and can adapt my teaching and differentiate learning activities accordingly. This can be as simple as implementing an “exit ticket” system; “tell me something you’ve learned/discovered today before you leave the classroom” or having a “teams” mind map challenge at the start of the lesson to recap and refresh what we have learned previously in order to continue developing this prior knowledge.

One tip I’d give graduating dance teachers in their first year: To create an environment where students feel safe to explore their creativity and allow themselves to take risks choreographically. It is my belief that this is supported by nurturing relationships with your students and developing a respectful rapport.

A short learning experience, programming, administration or student-management trick which never fails: These are just general “class starter” ideas; when I have a larger class I have them learn their position in the roll so that we can start the class with them just calling out their name and the rest of the class is in silence and must concentrate to not miss their turn, as they say their name I can mark the roll and they are focused on what is happening and ready to start as soon as we are done, of course there is some sort of reward if they can do it seamlessly for a certain period of time. Another quick one is to teach a short warm up routine and establish this to be how every practical class begins. Students have a certain period of time to be changed and ready to learn, and when the music starts they need to be ready to go and join the rest of the class as they arrive. This also gives you a chance to assess who is in correct attire and mark the roll; if they miss the warm up then you could create consequences for that.

My favourite aspect of teaching in a school is: The great ways you can contribute to shaping young peoples’ lives and help them to discover their full potential both creatively and as individuals. I believe our role is also to allow students to explore the wonderful world that is out there, whether it is through Dance styles specifically or looking at various historical or cultural contexts, there is a lot to be discovered.