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The Thinking Teacher's Body: Review by Korina Biggs.

AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
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Article Text: 
This is a book that is primarily for school and college teachers, trainee teachers and those involved in their training and development and as such would be a useful and inspirational workbook. It also contains many helpful explorations that could benefit others involved in presenting and public speaking. It is borne out of a wealth of experience that Harriet has as a lecturer in an English Department at the University of Vienna running courses in communication skills for trainee teachers, and as an Alexander Technique teacher. Her passion to help teachers both on a basic level of their own well-being and to expand their skills further comes across. The tone is indeed very positive and I welcomed the book beginning with a quote by Kurt Vonnegut that starts 'Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can...'

The case that the book sets out is very persuasive highlighting the amount of time that teachers take off sick - particularly with vocal problems, and emphasizing how effective teaching is largely about communication with the whole self which is an embodied skill that can be developed and improved.

The contents of the first half of the book is explicitly based on the principles of the Alexander Technique and is clear enough in theory and in detailing the practical explorations to probably be of some benefit to readers who are not able to access lessons. Part one is entitled 'Looking After Yourself in the Classroom' and has chapters on your physical, vocal and emotional well-being. I was familiar (as I think most Alexander teachers would be) with most of the explorations apart from the ones included in the chapter on emotional well-being that described ways of 'learning to be your own coach'.

Part two is entitled 'Making More of Yourself' with chapters on developing your speaking, listening, and performing skills. Here Harriet places a lot of emphasis on how to become aware of our habits, describing practical strategies that enable a return to 'neutral' in order then to be able to choose to communicate more effectively and appropriately. I welcomed her reminders that our verbal and non-verbal habits as well as our ways of listening are so much a product of our culture and context - in fact it felt like she could write a book solely on how to learn or teach foreign languages from an all-encompassing psychophysical approach. I also appreciated the chapter on listening skills as she includes the work of Alfred Tomatis.

It is primarily a workbook and as I explored some of the procedures I found that I reacted well to some of the language, for example 'imagine that your head is swimming away from your heels and your heels are swimming away from your head', and not so well to others, for example she uses the phrase to 'center yourself' and 'centered' sitting and standing, which for me and I assume for others has a variety of associations. However one of her points is that language is context dependent and actually what is important is the process of developing self-awareness of one's reactions.

Although the emphasis is on improving one's vocal communication skills she does encourage explorations that involve movement which for me on the whole were welcome and fun to do. However I was rather reticent about the planning and practicing of gestures as I feel that it can lead to a stagey and contrived way of communicating. There could be more explorations that encourage a freedom and confidence in moving expressively that then leads to spontaneous and natural gestures.

Part three brings in 'Wider Classroom Implications' which challenges common teaching modes. She addresses the traditional concepts of the theory/practice divide, encourages more value given to time and process, and the worth of investigating our ideas around what is to 'make a mistake', or to 'concentrate'. The final chapter brings the book full circle back to the Alexander Technique and she encourages finding a teacher.

It is a book that will be of great value to the teaching profession and I hope that it finds its way in there supported by actual Alexander Technique teaching. I also found that I enjoyed trying out the explorations myself that were unfamiliar to me and I've added them to my toolbox of activities that I can play with in both group and individual teaching situations.

Copyright © 2015 Korina Biggs ( Reproduced with permission.

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