Setting up egalitarian learning

When I look back at all my peak experiences as a teacher or trainer, in every instance I was a learner. I already knew the subject matter I was helping others understand. But I didn't know which way I could design the instructional experiences that would work the best. I didn't know how well any particular approach would function until I tried it. I also didn't know what other approaches would come to mind after I tried out the alternatives I had already generated.

I also wondered about the individuals learning from me. I saw them as users of what I was offering that would face challenges applying the ideas/methods in different contexts. I didn't know how familiar they were with related topics or how prepared they felt to implement what we were exploring together.

I shared all this up front at the beginning of those courses. I explained how much I had to learn and what I didn't know yet. I set myself up as an exemplar of "life long learning". I showed them how it's possible to love learning and live one's own questions passionately. I made it more accessible to find one's intrinsic motivation for learning that eludes most students amidst required courses and objective grading pressures.

In my view, this created some virtuous cycles. The more they learned from me, the more I would learn from them. The more confident and powerful they acted, the more I would do the same. As with any virtuous cycle, it was energizing to feed off each others' successes and realizations.

I also see this as leveling the playing field or looking eye to eye while seated at a table. I reduced the power distance between us and got off my high horse. The removal of the usual superiority/ inferiority dynamics nurtured lots more take away value and mutual respect for all of us.  I set up egalitarian learning where each of us could make valuable mistakes and learn from each others' example. We were all in the same boat sharing our experiences of life long learning. Our love of learning could be felt in the room.

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