For Alexander Teachers: Foundations of effective teaching

by Brooke Lieb

Training teachers and offering post graduate lessons and classes has been one of my passions during my 30 year career as an Alexander teacher. It has informed my studies, how I interpret Alexander’s writings, and is the area I focus my continued learning and development.

One consistent standard I see across all approaches to training is to emphasize that the teacher’s application of Alexander principles to the act of teaching is the foundation of teaching. Before working hands on with another, a level of self-organization is vital.

One analogy I use is that of a lifeguard. The first rule of being a lifeguard: Don’t drown with a drowning victim. Save yourself first.

I don’t mean to imply that teaching an Alexander lesson carries any significant risk of life to teacher or student. And, among teacher trainers, there is a fairly consistent recognition that the teacher’s use of herself and effectively applying the same skills being taught as the vehicle for teaching is the foundation of effective teaching.

  • On a practical level, here are some of the ways that value plays out in my teaching, as I use the very same methodology I am teaching:

  • Recognize the stimulus in the moment (a question from the student, placing my hands on her shoulders or head, moving her arm)

  • Pause to prevent or relieve any stiffening in my head/neck/spine and throughout my system

  • Continue to reduce that stiffening while I attend to the activity of the moment (speaking, guiding my student’s movement, helping my student refrain from moving without stiffening, lifting and bending my student’s leg while she is on the table; guiding her as she observes and changes her breathing pattern) .

  • Use the same methodology as I assess the outcome of the previous moment and select what comes next.

  • Outside of teaching, apply this methodology to my daily tasks to maintain and improve the skills I use when teaching.

Preparatory Learning

One of the prerequisites to apply to the Teacher Certification Program at The American Center for the Alexander Technique was a minimum of 26 lessons. The expectation and hope was that people entering the program would already be somewhat versed in self-regulation and slowing down, and have a level of stamina and postural support to spend three+ hours per day immersed in applying Alexander’s methodology.

Much of ACAT’s first year curriculum was structured to have first year students receive many turns, continue to build their stamina and postural support and have a chance to preview the skills and sequences they would eventually learn and practice further along in the course. This gave them a chance to slow down, watch, practice calming themselves and acclimate to the flavor and tempo of Alexander teaching skills.

Benchmarks during training

There are many signposts of the progress during training.

One benchmark I monitor is the how hard the student is trying to “get it right”. Alexander used a term called end-gaining, which refers to a degree of habit and automaticity in carrying out an activity. This would include a low level of awareness and analysis of how some task is being accomplished. As a counterpoint to end-gaining, he used the phrase means-whereby, meaning a higher level of observation, planning and efficiency with reduced stress on mind and body. This benchmark plays out in a very individual way, but there is an observable shift in each student. I am waiting for the student to abandon end-gaining and become genuinely engaged and curious about how to apply Alexander skills to action. For some, this happens more easily, for others, end-gaining can be exhausting. Inevitably, each student progresses on this continuum and embraces means-whereby more of the time.

Another benchmark I track is alertness. I watch the student’s eyes. I watch how well they are tracking discussions, activities, transitions, and the general flow of events in the classroom. I also listen to how they articulate about their experiences in turns, and how they speak during discussions.

These observations, along with others, give me information on the relative progress of the student as she progresses through the training course. They are by-products of returning to the foundation of teaching: apply Alexander’s skills to yourself as your first step in the teaching process.

(This post originally appeared on

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N. BROOKE LIEB, Director of Teacher Certification since 2008, received her certification from ACAT in 1989, joined the faculty in 1992. Brooke has presented to 100s of people at numerous conferences, has taught at C. W. Post College, St. Rose College, Kutztown University, Pace University, The Actors Institute, The National Theatre Conservatory at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Dennison University, and Wagner College; and has made presentations for the Hospital for Special Surgery, the Scoliosis Foundation, and the Arthritis Foundation; Mercy College and Touro College, Departments of Physical Therapy; and Northern Westchester Hospital. Brooke maintains a teaching practice in NYC, specializing in working with people dealing with pain, back injuries and scoliosis; and performing artists.