I had the opportunity to sit down with Chris Allen, the President of the Process Work Institute, and adjunct psychology professor at Portland State University for a wide-ranging discussion on learning, teaching, and how teachers use their power. Chris was interested in how teachers use power in the classroom, and what does, and doesn’t make students feel free to participate?
At the end is video with excerpts from our discussion. It’s about 8 minutes long, and not everything made it to the final cut, including some of Chris’ questions. Below are some of the main points we covered. There’s more to say, for sure. What would you add? What do you do that makes for great learning and participation?
- Make the game rules clear. It’s hard to participate if you don’t know what the expectations and norms are. Can you ask questions? Do you have to wait to the end, or can you interrupt? Are you expected to have some kind of prior knowledge? If we don’t explain the game rules, it favors insiders who know the ropes, and the newcomers are left to learn by trial and error. This creates insider and outsider dynamics, which can detract from the learning atmosphere.
- Name diversity and different at the beginning especially the diversity of cognitive styles. And differentiating levels of experience: experience with the topic, with group learning, with the method. Everyone is a beginner at something, and everyone is also a veteran. There is also a great deal of diversity when it comes to thinking, learning and processing information: introverted, social, linear, visual, verbal, intuitive styles. Addressing that at the beginning opens the door, allowing people to be present with their difference. And remember: you too, the teacher, have a style which may come out as an unconscious preference, as I discovered.
- Engage with questions, don’t just answer them. Questions aren’t always easy to understand, and sometimes teachers don’t understand what participants are asking. Engaging to get at the heart of the issue is sometimes needed. Participant watch very, very closely how teachers address questions, wondering if it’s safe to think aloud, to challenge, to bring in their own thinking. Addressing questions with an open, inquisitive mind values peoples thinking and encourages inquiry. But be careful not to put the person on the spot, or dig into their motivation or feelings without their permission. It’s hard enough to venture a question in a group, and it’s easy to feel frozen if put on the spot. It’s a delicate dance, so it’s important to read the atmosphere.
What else would you add?