Letting Learners Lead: Guest post by Leslie Robinson
Adult Educator Leslie Robinson shares a pinnacle lesson in awareness that transformed her teaching approach from being the “Sage-on the- stage” to the “Guide-on-the side”. Full bio at bottom of post.
Most of my life has been spent in classrooms both teaching and learning. But then one day, at the top of my career, I had a class filled with every resistant behavior known to teachers. They arrived late, disrupted each other, interrupted me, argued, disagreed, refused to engage, grandstanded, and finally, mutinied.
My task was to teach an advanced technical topic required for national certification. If the students didn’t pass this challenging unit they would fail their national exams and have to choose a different career. They were terrified. The angst in the room was palpable.
I tried every inspirational and disciplinary technique I had, but nothing worked. I felt I was failing them and failing myself as a teacher.
Then I remembered something I learned from adult educator, Stephen Brookfield: when all else fails, ‘chat’. So, in a radical act of desperation, I stepped away from the lecture podium and decided to chat with THEM.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
Bit by bit their stories came out: The handsome guy shared his romantic conquests and the potato chip munching girl told us about being kicked out of the house the night before. The retired military officer talked about how he was trying to reach his fiancé in Vietnam to get their wedding certificate but the monsoons had washed out the roads. An hour passed and I was getting worried that we’d run out of teaching time. Another hour passed with more stories of a relationship ending and how to pay rent that month. I continued to listen. Another half hour passed, and then it happened:
They stopped talking!
They got annoyed with me and told me I had to teach them! In that moment, I remembered Jerold Apps saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”.
I quickly shared the first two steps in their ten-step technical process and they left for the day.
Over the next few days, each time we met, they provided me with updates on the dramas in their lives. I went along with them, despite my increasing fear of not covering the content. I was trusting something larger than myself. I began trusting them and more importantly, trusting myself as a custodian of the teaching and learning process.
Half way through the third day, as they were completing their daily update, a student asked a specific technical question. That question and my resulting answer changed everything. The question was a real question future clients would be asking them. I lied. I told him I didn’t know the answer. And then the magic really happened.
Using the techniques I had just taught them, the students started seeking solutions. The questioner solved the problem first and called out “yes”! A student called out another problem and they all dived in to solve it. They continued calling out problems and collectively solving them. Their eyes were sparkling. They were focused, determined, supportive, and challenging each other to push their own limits.
I watched my previously highly resistant class now fully engaged. There was nothing for me to do but let them go. So I sat back and drank coffee. They taught themselves this technical topic and finished the class early!
They were empowered, self directed, highly engaged, bringing their own experience, knowledge and skills into solving problems that were relevant to their career choice. They performed extremely well on their national exams and many are still in their chosen career decades later.
The big surprise was my own lesson in awareness. By helping them dissolve the resistance, set a problem, master techniques, and letting them learn, this most challenging class helped me shift from being the content expert, the ‘sage-on the- stage’, to being a more facilitative, ‘guide-on-the side’ creating space for students to self direct and own their own learning.
The impact of my lesson in awareness ripples out into my parenting, my leadership, the way I do business and is now the heartbeat of my facilitation practice, “Teaching teachers to teach”.
Leslie Robinson is a trainer and coach in Calgary, Alberta Canada.
Leslie helps experts become great teachers. She taught her first class of Training in Power Level 1, in 2001. “The continual personal transformation, healing, and manifestations available from Training in Power classes has catapulted my relationships, careers, and joy for life. Oh, and, my daughter tells me my eyes have changed from dark green to sparkling blue since I started Training!” Combining the ‘power tools’ of Training in Power with her Masters degree in Adult Education, Leslie pioneers the practical application of quantum physics and the acceleration of profound learning and exponential consciousness. Her students and coaching clients describe her classes as provocative, experiential, inspirational, and fun!
Leslie’s Five Minute Facilitator is an exciting platform for content experts to learn how to teach in fast, effective small group coaching sessions. Her Advanced Facilitation Certificate program takes facilitation training beyond skills traditionally found within the corporate and academic classroom into the emerging field of Vibrational Facilitation. Her clients include The Navy, BC Public Service Agency, Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council, Elections BC, and Health Canada.
Leslie has authored 15 books and teaches Training in Power Levels 1 and 2 in Calgary and Victoria.