There is a belief that when you are a lecturer, teacher, scholar, sage, or counselor and you are in front of a class or working one-on-one with someone that you know something, that you might be imparting knowledge. Baaaaaaaaahahahaha…. Yea I know, I know, cray-cray right? In reality, I think perhaps if you are good at what you do as a teacher maybe there is a little of that going on, but I know that if you are great at teaching you are doing something else entirely. You are creating a space, a safe space to pose questions and invite discussion, ideas, movement, laughter and listening. You are also creating a space where people can practice skills, like critical thinking, being self-reflective, and playing with thoughts and ideas. You are teaching a man to fish if you are teaching anything.
I am not great at this scholarly gig yet. I work very hard to get to “okay and good with a glimpse of great.” When I teach it is a combination of show and tell and stand-up comedy if I am on point, all of which can be very good or very bad depending on my listening skills in any given moment. Those listening skills are hampered by my expectations of how I want the class to go, caffeine intake, bloating, the looping lyrics of the last track on my iPod jamming up my brain which is currently… Hozier and Lake Street Dive thank you, a bad choice in underwear, a weird smell …is that me or the room? Etcetera, you get the idea. I have to be there to be there.
This is a dance if done well: there is rhythm, trust, movement and passion. Make no mistake, it is artful. I have an outline and curriculum to cover but how that rolls out depends on the class as well as me. The exercises we do, stories I tell and how fast and far we go are parts of that partnership. I am the Sherpa, true, but in order to do a good job I need to be deft and responsive, to motivate, to provoke, to guide, and most importantly to stop talking. That one is a killer. I get to yammering and it is like nana at the Hometown Buffet cake bar after one too many snickerdoodles. Someone needs to shut me up, and typically that someone is in my head yelling, “Take a breath you cotton-headed ninny muggin and zip it!” Then I do and I remember to listen and something wonderful happens: I learn. Yea, crazy huh? I learn about the people across from me, patience and kindness, vulnerability and shame. I learn about strength, I hear a potpourri of points of view, inventive ideas, thought processes. I learn about desserts called dirt, prejudices and peccadillos. I learn how much I don’t know.
When I listen, I learn; I get to a type of knowing. Then I ask pointed questions to deepen my understanding or seek clarity and it helps those talking understand what they know on a deeper level. When we stop, pause and lean in to listen with our whole selves to what is being said, or not said, it is magical. Observing body language, hearing the tone, pitch, pace of the breath and yes even the words is transforming for both parties. I am a talker, I am good at oration, and I babble, debate, yammer, and pontificate, but I need to work on listening deeper, more often and always to those in need, which as I write that, it dawns on my tiny doll-sized brain that that is all of us isn’t it? We are all in need of being listened to, understood and heard. So for all of you out there I am letting you know that I don’t know and I don’t know who knows, but I am listening.