What do you want to teach? What message do you want to share with the world?
Do you ever feel like you just aren’t sure how to start teaching? Or how to take your teaching to the next level?
A couple years ago, I signed up for a course co-created by Jen Louden & Michele Lisenbury Christensen, two very gifted coaches and teachers.
The course was called TEACH NOW. Although I had never thought much about teaching, I was beginning to teach more in my work, and I wanted to do it well. I was intrigued by Jen and Michele’s notion that we teach not only when we are standing at the head of the class, but when we write, when we lead, when we manage a team.
I loved their TEACH NOW course and learned a lot I use everyday. Their course starts up again in a few weeks.
Here, they share some of their wisdom about teaching.
Tara: You have a very broad definition of teaching – one that I love. What is it?
Michele: Teaching is the openhearted creation of a container for the sharing of ideas, experiences, or community, for the purpose of participants’ unfoldment.
Tara: That’s certainly not what was going on in most of the education I got growing up! But I love that definition.
Michele: Yes, that means that teaching includes your Playing Big program, Tara, or it might mean a 1:1 coaching session or a graduate-level academic lecture, or a horseback-riding lesson. It might be in the way you write a blog post or even a tweet.
We’re here to wake each other up, and – maybe more importantly – wake up ourselves, in the process.
Jen: Teaching is creating a space for new possibilities to appear. You may, as a teacher, have some very strong ideas what you hope those possibilities will be but a skillful teacher tries to stay out of the picture and create conditions for insights to arise for each person.
Tara: One of the things I love about you both is that you are both very vulnerable and real as teachers – you weren’t putting on a performance – pretending to be perfect or pretending to know it all.
Jen: It probably took me 17 years to let who I was be enough. For so long, I focused on what I didn’t know instead of what I did know. I compared myself to people with academic backgrounds or researched based teaching. My self-trust often sputtered, making it difficult to develop my teaching past a certain level.
Once I began to claim what I’m good at and my life experience, it became far easier to say “I don’t know” or to be a total goofball and not feel shamed. Not feel less than. Not try to be everything to everybody. That last one has been huge for me.
It’s been a process of deciding to love myself, to decide not buy the story that because I didn’t know it all, because I wasn’t perfect, that meant I wasn’t allowed to teach.
For emerging teachers, one of the most important thing we talk about in TeachNow is allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable without conflating that with losing your power. It’s holding the tension of both that helps you take your seat as a teacher.
Michele: We need to know, when we’re first stepping into teaching what we know, that we don’t have to “know it all” or “feel confident” (I put those in quotes because I think they’re both frequently cliches and even fictions) to teach or to teach well. Stepping forward with uncertainty, humility, and curiosity makes us great models for our students.
Tara: Why did you decide to create and lead the TeachNow course?
Jen: For years, we’ve supported one another when we had those “dark days” as teachers, and we’ve both supported newer teachers and coaches in our coaching and retreats.
The kicker was at the end of our annual Brain Trust retreat in 2010. One of our members – who we all look up to as a longtime, well-regarded teacher – had been struggling during the retreat with claiming his full capacity as a teacher.
I looked at him with incredulity and said, “Really? You don’t see yourself as master teacher???”
It made me realize how hard teaching is for most of us.
Later, I heard this come out my mouth, “I want to create support for people who want to teach.” And thus TeachNow was born.
Tara: What are some actionable tips you’d give emerging teachers ready to play big?
1. Know what you know and relax about what you don’t. Design your course to your strengths and unapologetically refer people to other sources.
2. Identify your lineage: Who has influenced you (as teachers OR anti-heroes, personally or indirectly)? Lean into those influences and ask what they’d do when you’re stuck.
3. Less is more in every class. Give them one idea, 2 points about it, then give them an experience to help them LIVE it. There’s always another class for your unused brilliant ideas.
4. Make your own recovery part of your plan for every class. Block out time roughly equal to the class/speaking time (more if the audience is bigger) to re-collect yourself. And do that before you read the feedback.