Five big lessons learned along the way
1. How do you feel when you walk out the door?
I’ve always valued the axiom that people don’t remember what you do or say – they remember how you made them feel. Think about your favorite teacher – what do you remember most from that class? The course content? Or is it the passion, inspiration, affirmation, compassion, kindness and care that he or she offered? For the most part, process is way more important than content in teaching and learning.
2. Transformational learning is about inspiring change, not transmitting information (no matter how “essential”).
Another axiom: “To teach well we need not say all we know, only what is useful for the pupil to hear”. In other words, no course or continuing professional education workshop is ever long enough for all of the didactic content that we regard as essential. Here’s my most important learning objective, no matter what the content:
At the end of this course the learner will…
Be so energized and inspired by the importance and relevance of this topic that he or she will continue to access knowledge and skills development long after the session has ended.
3. It’s not my decision.
Learning is 100% volitional. So is change. No matter how urgently I believe that I know what is best, that’s not really the point. Each individual is the expert on his or her life, including the learning goals and activities that may guide growth and development.
4. Change is a process, not an event – and so is learning.
Teaching and learning are really about change. By definition, seeing things from a new perspective involves a fundamental shift in standpoint or beliefs. Sometimes a (brief) interaction and connection doesn’t yield any appreciable indication that I have successfully “taught” anything. Then ten years later I randomly see a former student at the airport and am privileged to hear an inspiring story of transformation – initiated by something that I said or did. We plant seeds and only rarely witness the harvest.
5. We’re all protagonists (and want to be treated as such).
No matter how ubiquitous the student concerns, complaints, issues, grade appeals, special requests – each of us is at the centre of our own lives. Individual experience is at once singular and universal: all people are “like all others, some others, and no others” (to paraphrase Murray and Kluckhohn, 1953). It’s about listening (on our part) and – more important – feeling heard (on the other person’s part). Which brings us right back to Point #1.
So…although these are my top five, as Joni Mitchell famously said:
“People will tell you where they’ve gone, they’ll tell you where to go, but till you get there yourself you never really know.”