Spirit At Work -- Inspirational Teaching

Dec. 21, 2004
Learning happens when a true connection is made between student and teacher.

The bad news about an economic downturn is: The first thing that gets cut is the training budget. The good news about a recession is: The first thing that gets cut is the training budget. Microsoft may have revolutionized the world, but PowerPoint presentations have drugged more people than all the sleeping pills in history. Training is for dogs. It conjures up images of talking heads with flip charts, pie charts, and no heart. We all yearn to learn and grow with a guide who has deep integrity and authenticity. Since knowledge becomes obsolete faster than it can be taught, it is odd that we should believe that content is more important than character. It is not what we say that makes a difference and changes the world, or even how we say it, but why we say it and who we are while we are saying it. Great learning and transformation take place when the teacher within engages the student within. Great teaching also comes sometimes from silence -- the rest between the notes. This tradition is common in contemplative religious orders and in Eastern philosophies. St. Francis of Assisi said, "Always preach the gospel; and where necessary, use words." In my view, great teachers:

  • See themselves as mentors, spiritual guides, inspirers, enquirers, partners, equals, students -- and never "do training."
  • Succeed in leaving their egos outside the room. They are less concerned with how they will be perceived and whether students will be impressed with their smarts, whether they will be liked and respected, than they are with connecting -- soul to soul, sharing their genuine passion to serve.
  • Have no need to be right, to control or to create a student/teacher hierarchy based on power and authority. In fact, they do everything they can to create a community based on truth and love.
  • Do not form preconceived impressions of students based on personality profiles, third-hand reports, or hearsay; nor on their sartorial elegance (or lack of it); nor on their squeaky voices, endless monologues, or apparent boredom.
  • Listen two-thirds of the time and speak the remaining third. They read the energy of each participant and interact and address both the stated and unstated needs of each of them.
  • Embody what they are teaching. If they teach punctuality, they arrive on time. If they teach truth-telling they don't play with the truth.
  • Don't settle for dreary meeting rooms in airport strip hotels with plastic plants and no fresh air, but instead create sacred spaces -- soul spaces -- that nourish the creative spirit and thus tilt the odds in favor of generating a magical teaching and learning experience.
  • Are brave, take risks, lay their principles and reputations on the line, and experiment with cutting-edge ideas and thoughts that excite and inspire -- and, as a result, often make sizeable mistakes from which they learn.
  • Don't use teaching formulas.
  • Are comfortable with ambiguity and paradox, creating the necessary structure while being willing to scrap agendas and "wing it" if a better process appears. Great teachers also have a sense of self, yet become one with their audience; prepare well, acquiring and practicing great mastery while speaking from the heart; know how to think and feel; adhere to their own agenda while also respecting that of their students; are able to be academic and real, theoretical and pragmatic; have many of the answers but are equally engaged in asking the right questions; and serve the needs of the student and the integrity of the academic material. In his book The Courage to Teach (1997, Jossey-Bass Inc.) Parker J. Palmer says, "Technique is what teachers use until the real teacher arrives, and we need to find as many ways as possible to help that teacher show up. But if we want to develop the identity and integrity that good teaching requires, we must do something alien to academic culture: We must talk to each other about our inner lives -- risky stuff in a profession that fears the personal and seeks safety in the technical, the distant, the abstract." The guide is inside. It is from deep inside us that we inspire others. Lance Secretan is an advisor to leaders, a public speaker, and a recipient of the International Caring Award. Author of nine books, including Inspirational Leadership: Destiny, Calling and Cause (1999, Macmillan Canada).
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