Applying What We Know About Human Beings in Our Teaching and Leading

I've been thinking a lot lately about how we can most effectively teach the information we have in the RC Communities and thereby train powerful leaders. I am thinking about how we can promote active modes of learning and allow for adequate discharge as people try to learn. It seems to me there are some broad principles we can rely on when designing ways of sharing our information and training leaders. What follows is a list of some principles I have learned from teaching RC over the last decade and then some examples of how I have tried to apply these principles.

1) Trust Human Intelligence. The main principle I have learned about teaching is one which is firmly based in RC theory. We must trust the intelligence of people. If people are given an opportunity to think and discharge, they will figure things out for themselves better than if they are told things from experts and not allowed to discharge. This requires, though, that we set up teaching and learning environments in which people get lots of chances to actively engage in trying things out for themselves. I have found that having people read material aloud, then write down what they have learned, and then talk about it works better than hearing it from me. Even if my understanding and explanation of theory is more refined and richer than theirs at the moment, they still understand and retain more when they do it themselves. Passive learning doesn't seem to work very well.

2) Share Responsibility and Use All the Resources Available. It seems to work well to use the human resources available in the class. In any given learning environment there is usually a range of brilliant perspectives which we can utilize for the whole group if we set up our teaching so that we are not the sole source of information. Instead of having the whole group sitting passively for long periods of time, all focused on one thing (often the teacher or leader), we can give people the opportunity to learn about things that are interesting to them and the choice of how best to learn these things. This will happen better if we think in advance about who will be there, what particular skills and insights they will probably be able to add to the environment, and how best to give them the support and opportunity to do this.

3) Use Flexible Approaches in Sharing Information. Another thing that seems to work is providing people with a variety of modes of learning and teaching. Some people have more free attention around reading, while others learn better from listening. Some people do better with visual aids, and others learn better by physically working through things. It seems to work well when we are able to break out of our mono-modal ways of presenting theory and doing demonstrations. In some areas of RC we are already doing this successfully. I'm thinking in particular of the way counseling happens at family workshops, women and physical power workshops, and, most recently, at John Fehringer's (RC International Liberation Reference Person for Visual Artists) hands-on workshops on art and creativity.

4) Be Fully Human. Some time ago I read an article by Russ Vernon-Jones in which he wrote that one of the most important things teachers can do for their students is to offer themselves as human beings. This is more important than working harder or trying to do more for our students. It is not our knowledge or skills in a particular discipline that makes us most valuable. Rather, it is our ability to set up human environments in which people can make real human contact and set free their natural curiosity and intelligence. In RC we have been especially good at this aspect of teaching when we share with our students our own struggles for re-emergence. Instead of seeing our role primarily as "the expert" who needs to provide "the answers," we can present ourselves as co-learners, curious explorers, and people open to new ideas, thus modeling this for others and encouraging their confidence in their own ability to think.

What might teaching and leading look like using these principles? Here are some things I have tried that have seemed to work.

At a recent meeting of my fundamentals class I asked the students to read at home several articles dealing with contradictions and counseling directions. What I found in the next class was that about half of the people had not read any of it at all and only a few had read all of the articles. Rather than simply "lecturing" on the material, I paired people up to read particular articles out loud to each other. I also gave them large sheets of butcher paper and felt-tip markers and asked them each to write up one or two points from the article they were reading that struck them as interesting. Finally, I instructed them to take time to discharge on whatever feelings came up, either about the content of the readings or about the process of reading or writing. Thirty minutes later, we posted the paper around the room and heard reports from each pair about the reading. Sometimes I would step in with a point of clarification, and once or twice I counseled people on the substance of the topics as the occasion presented itself. At the end of each counseling demonstration, I had people do mini-sessions and then we had a discussion about what they had learned from the counseling, both about the content and about the process of counseling.

On another occasion, I was leading a day-long workshop for men of color. I wanted to focus on internalized male oppression, but I found that there was still much that I needed to know about how male oppression affected various racial and cultural groups. What was the content of the distress recordings for a particular group of men, and how were they similar to and different from each other? I also wanted any presentation of theory to be relevant to what they were thinking about. So, after briefly presenting an outline of the general concept of internalized male oppression, I asked the men to pair up and discharge on the question of how their particular racial, ethnic, or cultural identity combined with the general male oppression in society to make it harder for them to build close relationships with other men. In particular, I asked them to complete the phrase: "As a ______ man, I can't get close to other _____ men because . . . ." I also asked them to write up their completed phrase on butcher paper. After thirty minutes we went around the room and heard reports from the pairs. Again I occasionally added points of clarification, then counseled a couple of the men in front of the whole group, then had mini-sessions and discussion.

In one of my "naturalized" RC leaders' classes I have asked the students to take responsibility for teaching theory by making weekly literature reports. At a recent class, one of the students did a wonderful presentation on the topic of chronic distress by first explaining what she understood about an article and then saying what she didn't understand and asking for comments about several passages that were less clear to her. What ensued was an engaging discussion about the ideas which led to more questions and then more discussion. I jumped in to add some points of clarification, but often the students figured out for themselves what made sense. I concluded the class with a demonstration dealing with questions generated by the discussion. This was followed by a mini-session and comments about what they had learned.

Before a recent meeting of my fundamentals class on the topic of learning and educational change, I asked the class to read several articles on the topic and then to come prepared to teach the class. On the evening of the class, I began by putting them into groups of three to discuss what they would like to get across about the topic and how they would like to design the class for the evening. We then went around and heard from each person one thing that he or she would do to set up the class for the evening. I noted to them that only one of the groups of three had chosen to take time to discharge while they were discussing what they wanted to do. I then instructed them to have mini-sessions on the same question, after which we did another round of suggestions in the whole group. This round was more focused, and the students were more clear.

Many of them wanted to see counseling demonstrations about early learning experiences, and they wanted to do the counseling themselves, so I decided to carry out a "coached counseling" demonstration. I asked for a volunteer who then chose a counselor. I gave the counselor a few minutes of attention in front of the group, and then she was off and running. In the course of the demonstration, I stopped her several times to ask her to identify the distress she saw and to get her thoughts about possible contradictions. I also asked the class to share their thoughts about this, and I checked in with the client and gave some suggestions of my own for the counselor to try. Then the counselor tried the directions that seemed most promising. The power of the group's collective intelligence was amazing. The directions they came up with were effective, and the client discharged well. At one point in the demonstration, the client's chronic distress of despair began asserting itself more vigorously and I gave the counselor stronger encouragement to continue the contradiction with more persistence. At the end of the demonstration, the class had a mini-session and then discussed what they had learned both about the content of learning distresses and the process of counseling. Not only did the client get a good session on distress about learning, but the counselor had a successful experience of thinking about and counseling someone in front of the class. The class also gained because they were actively involved in the process - from designing what they were going to do in class to the implementation of the counseling demonstration.

What worked in these examples:

(1) people were able to discharge about the process of reading, writing, and thinking for themselves;

(2) they got to participate in the building of theory and use their own minds to articulate it;

(3) they got to see themselves and each other as active participants in the process of learning and teaching;

(4) they engaged in reading, writing, listening, speaking, and discharging;

(5) they could visually see what was being presented at the same time that they were hearing it;

(6) demonstrations arose out of questions and concerns that they themselves raised;

(7) I got to participate in the process of learning with them and didn't have to be the expert with the "right" answer.

I would love to hear other successful experiences of how we can more flexibly design all of our RC workshops, classes, and support groups in order to reach a broader segment of the population even more effectively than we do now. If we consistently apply what we know about human intelligence and curiosity, I think we might find that workshops and classes begin to look different from the way they do currently.

Nicky Gonzalez Yuen
Oakland, California, USA

Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07