Form and Formlessness

Over a cup of coffee, my friend Elsie Spittle and I sometimes have conversations about form and formlessness. We spend time together in the moment, allowing life to express itself in whatever way it comes. We go all over the map and in those verbal wanderings there are nuggets of truth that evoke deep and meaningful "aha's."  

We had one of those exchanges recently, and it reminded me of a life lesson hidden away in the recesses of my mind. The recollection led to a great belly laugh at how insecure thinking led me astray and how my students' courage brought me back into synchronicity with my 3 Principles understanding.

Years ago I was asked (cajoled, guilted, talked into) instructing an Adolescent Psychology course at the university where I was teaching. A professor had suddenly quit and they were stuck.  "What the heck did I know about Adolescent Psychology?" I thought. So, being totally insecure about it I got into my head and spent a day for every two hour lesson creating form. After all, the text book knew, I didn't!  Boring, uninspiring but "correct" theory was being taught!

After about the third lesson, the students revolted and said "this isn't what we want. We want something real and applicable." I was humiliated, ready to quit, ego crushed, and I came home and licked my wounds. Poor me.

The next week I went back with one little sticky note  with the topics I hoped to cover written down. No form, no notes, no PowerPoint, no big plan, no hours of prep, just trust.  The first time was scary but that soon changed.  I sat on the edge of the table at the front of the classroom and began with "so...what happened when you were out in the schools this week?"  The student teachers had the most amazing stories and insights about their teaching and offered up the fertile ground to introduce the topics I was meant to cover if they fit, and amazingly, they always did.  It was all inside out, built on beautiful insight, wisdom and true knowledge or "felt meaning" from their guts. That was the big and abiding lesson for new teachers...trust your inner instincts and you won't go wrong, and I was modelling it for them. Authentic, honest, teaching scaffolded on their prior knowledge.  The power of those lessons was palpable as we grew in depth of understanding together. The engagement of the learners was evident, they were hooked and the feeling of the group energy for learning was totally in evidence.

So...why did I highlight the words above? Those were the guide words for how to develop a good lesson plan.  Students had to tell how they would create that in the classroom for every lesson taught and it was being modelled for them in each of our classes.  I could never have sat down and written up such amazing engagement strategies as those that came from the student's mouths. This was remarkable and they were getting lessons in real-time that showed them that trust and deep listening can go a long way in creating the best lessons.

This is not a "fly by the seat of your pants" exercise - that can lead to a Lord of the Flies classroom environment. A Plan B is never a bad idea and having a toolkit in one's back pocket is sound teaching practice.  But, far and above, the best lessons happen when the teacher is ready to take that leap of faith and follow the mystery of the tableau that is laid out before them.  It is what makes a good teacher a gifted educator.