Today I would like to share with you something I learned this term. It has contributed to my own understanding of teaching and learning. In sharing this with you I hope to bring some closure to the initial question I asked regarding being “drawn in” with my earlier song examples. If you recall, I shared a couple of songs — one written for adults (One Voice by the Wailin’ Jennys), and the other written and performed for children (The Chicken Medley by Sharron, Lois, & Bram). I did say in lecture one that I would come back to these song examples. And I am now. But something happened during the term, and what I had initially intended to talk about changed. This is my story.
My initial intention was to discuss how we might consider the importance of drawing others into the content of what we want to share. But I see things a bit differently now, or at least I have broadened my thinking on this.
In October I spent 10 days in the hospital with my wife who had severe non-COVID pneumonia complications. She had fluid build-up around, and in, her lungs that had to be drained. Unfortunately, because of the length of time it took to get a hospital bed, the fluid had congealed requiring a five-day process of injecting medication to break down the congealed fluid so that it could be drained out of a tube inserted into her back.
During those 10 days, I saw many day shift nurses, night shift nurses, pulmonary technicians, and several different doctors and specialists interact with my wife. I saw them interact with her during times of intense pain, drug-induced stupors, emergency situations, and recovery.
Now, you might be wondering what any of this has to do with the songs I shared in week one. Here is the connection as I now understand it.
Every nurse and doctor was kind, well trained, competent, and caring. But as I sat there as the helpless observer during those days, something stood out to me. Some doctors and nurses seemed to exhibit extraordinary mindfulness — an intensive caring connection with an exceptional capacity for uninterrupted listening. I don’t really have the vocabulary to explain the experience very well, but it is akin to seeing someone to shut everything else out and be completely focused on the patient.
I think we have all had the experience of having a conversation with someone when they were not really present with us. While we are talking they seem to be distracted or thinking about something else — not really connected to us.
The experience of connectedness that I am talking about was extremely noticeable in the hospital. One example that stood out to me was when my wife’s cognitive processing speed was very slow because of the medication she was taking. It could take 15 seconds to answer a question. The nurse would ask something like, “Where are you right now Charlene?” And then patiently listen, waiting for a response. One second, two seconds, ten seconds. Completely engaged, eye contact, present, patient.
Now, while every care provider was highly skilled and caring, from my observations there seemed to be observable differences in the level of engagement different caregivers exhibited.
This is the point at which I changed how I was thinking about my song example. You see, I had intended to use the song example to show how we must draw others into our educational content in much the same way as one can be drawn into a song. But perhaps even more important is having the ability to allow one’s self to be drawn into another person’s experience. In terms of the song example, this is a shift placing importance on one’s ability to be drawn into the song. Rather than thinking of how we can draw students into our content, we shift this to ask how can we best allow ourselves to be drawn into the student experience.
Perhaps, like many of the care workers demonstrated, it is important to have the ability to allow one’s self to enter into the patient’s (or student’s in our case) experience. Of course, we do touch on this in our pedagogical methods — wait time is an example. But our pedagogical methods, even with tactics such as wait time or motivation, are still trying to draw the student into our content. When we question, we listen for the ‘right’ answers, not listening intently to the answers the student gives so that we can ‘experience’ the answer and thus experience what the student experiences. But in our typical teaching environments, there is little time for reverence as we rush toward the future.
Thich Nhat Hanh says: “Drink your tea slowly and reverently as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves — slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” There is much that is striking to me in this statement that not only speaks to the many wonderful care providers we encountered, but that might also inform our own teaching practices.
Time is one. Allowing one’s self to slow down. Allowing one’s self to live in the moment. This could be added to the andragogical methodology as well as our understanding of good pedagogy.
Reverence is the second, and from my experiences, perhaps the most touching. Reverence means a feeling of profound respect for something or someone. When you are with a loved one in a hospital, one thing you hope for is that the level of care reflects some level of reverence.
Perhaps it is easier as teachers working with adults to listen intently to what the adult desires. But having the ability to “enter in” to what the student has to say, or to slow down enough to be truly mindful, or even reverent, is, if not easy, then one of the possibilities to which we might aspire. This, too, could be added to the andragogical methodology as well as our understanding of good pedagogy.
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves — slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” This is one of the lessons I learned this term as I reflect on andragogy. I want to treat that which I learn reverently and to proceed slowly, and to treat each moment of learning as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves, without rushing toward the future. Furthermore, I hope I can treat my students in the same way.
I don’t find rushing toward the future very enjoyable. And I am no longer fooled by the idea that we must cram content or place time constraints on our learning. Our biological bodies are designed to learn effortlessly and in our own time — consider how well children learn their language. It would be inconceivable of thinking that a child should have to think, “I have to learn 15 verbs and 30 nouns by Friday.” Children drink their tea (so to speak) slowly and reverently as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves — slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.
Hopefully, you were able to experience a bit of this, at least to some extent, as you explored your “learning in progress project” (or whatever we are calling it now). Unfortunately, we have been taught through many years of schooling that learning isn’t of value unless we can articulate objectives, standards, grades, time lines, efficiency, etc., etc. And yet, as I think about it, as I sat in the hospital, I hoped that the caregivers would have the compassion to treat my wife with some level of reverence, and in the moments they were with her, would treat that moment as if it were the axis on which the whole earth revolves. Maybe there is something in this that speaks to the possibility of our teaching interactions with others.
I look forward to hearing what you did as your final ‘work in progress’ (or whatever we are calling it). I know many of you are still wanting some sort of guidelines. We have been taught to expect those. But for this time, please just allow yourself to realize that you learned what you learned, and that won’t change regardless of the guidelines you receive now. And I have already promised to treat your learning reverently. This leaves us in a good place.
All the best,