A Reminder from the Universe

Why is it that when things go bad in the classroom, it usually becomes the best thing that could have happened?  Let me explain… I tend to spend a great deal of time refining and tweaking my lectures. My wife reminds me, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but I’m driven at times to constantly modify, change and deliver my classroom presentations in hopes of making it more interesting, not only for my students but for myself as well.  As I was preparing to start my Counseling Skills class (which is an ITV class), a mysterious force in the universe seem to have other plans for the day.  It started with the ITV connection between the Verde classroom and the Prescott classroom coming on, but the sound was not working from the classroom in Prescott.  OK, I’ve dealt with this before and after getting assistance from the IT staff we had it up and running, but I was beginning to sense, after the 10 min delay in getting started, my students were feeling frustrated with the delay.  I then pulled up my revised power point “The Importance of Identifying our Clients Values” and just when I was about to begin, the large projection screens began to flicker. When I had the camera in the instructor mode, it worked great, but when connected to the computer, you need a dose of Dramamine if you were to continue viewing it.  At this point I directed the camera back to me and announced to my students, “it appears that the universe is directing me to forget the planned power point lecture, so let’s do something different, let’s just talk about the importance of values not only with our clients but within the helping profession as well”. I then directed the students to put away any writing utensils and close their books. As I began discussing the importance of values in the counseling relationship, I remembered activities I used to do when early in my career as a therapist facilitating groups. These activities were based on values clarification exercises and were activity/experiential activities.  As we began doing these exercises, it began to generate a great deal of discussion and enthusiasm in both the Verde and Prescott classrooms.

As the hour progressed, students that never uttered a word since the start of the semester began to dominate the conversations and the energy in both classrooms was amazing.  I found myself facilitating discussions that were both exciting and pertinent to the subject at hand. You could feel the interest and enthusiasm. When the class came to an end, several students commented on what an interesting and fun class we just had.  I had to agree, I was a great class.

Needless to say, I will always look for better ways to teach, but the lesson I was reminded of was the need for facilitation and active learning.   Remember all those good things we were taught about effective teaching styles? One came to mind was the work of Lev Vygotsky who said that the role of a teacher is to facilitate and guide students, not to direct and mold.

So I continue to review my lectures and modify them, but instead of adding on to what I already have, I’m learning to make them shorter, more to the point and allow time for more interaction with students, allowing them to direct the conversations and share their ideas.  In this process, I am learning to redefine my role as teacher and sometimes learning to trust what the universe is teaching me as well.

What music taught me about teaching

As summer came to an end and although I had taught two summer classes, I was still feeling the need to regroup, refresh, and rethink about getting my Fall classes in order. What can I do differently to make the classes more interesting, not only for the students but for myself?   As educators, we should always be looking for ways to improve our teaching. Repetition could sometimes be the death of us.  Years ago, entering my teens I began studying music. Played in school bands, and eventually began playing in a jazz quartet, which continued into my adult years.  Learning music, I found was very similar in learning to teach. In the classroom, finding our rhythm is crucial. It’s the pulse of the class that we as educators must tap into.  Like in music, the rhythm in our classrooms defines its moods and climates. We are the conductors of orchestras of students, both big and small, helping to keep pace with their learning and understanding. As in music, rhythm and tempo are important for us to remember in our delivering new information to students. Let’s not forget that as teachers, it’s important to slow down and make sure our students are still with us in a lesson.

Our voice is the link between our students and their auditory learning.  In our voice, we hope to convey a sense of strength, confidence, and warmth. As in music, our tone, pitch and volume play an important part in this. This may be the notion of finding your own voice.  Like in music, melody and rhythm are only successful when one compliments the other.  Finding our voice in the classroom occurs when our students are in sync with the lesson and we find ourselves in the flow of the class.  I know this is easier said than done, but the practice of finding our rhythm and voice in our classrooms seems essential for our own personal development. Teaching should be fun, inspiring, creative, and, melodic. Yes, I said melodic, like a tune with words, rhythm, and melody that all come together we can make our teaching experience into a great song. You know the kind of tune that gets us right in the heart, that place of our passion, teaching.

An old musician friend once said to me:  “You know we practice not only to play better, but we practice so when we sound better, we actually feel better about ourselves… now that’s important.”

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IMG_0294Perhaps it’s not a question of what we teach, but rather what we learn from our teaching.  Teaching has taught me great lessons, not only about my students, but about myself. I’m always amazed what occurs in the classroom, for it’s the students who allow me to think in ways that sometimes even surprise myself,  like taking a journey and having some idea as to what direction I may be travelling, but really unsure of the final destination.  This has become the excitement for me, the sharing of the journey and the discovery of the destination. So, I have become a traveler with a book bag slung over my shoulder and the knowledge that when that journey comes to an end and class is over, I will have discovered a new land that challenges what I thought I knew but also begs me to know more.  Do we teach what we need to learn? I hope so.  If we stop learning, what’s left? So to my students; may our journeys together bring us closer in our understanding of ourselves and our fellow travelers.