In recent years, one way in which I have learned much about my day-job teaching (training English language teachers) is through teaching in completely different areas. If I am attentive, the differences are enough to shake me out of my routines and to help me see from new vantage points, fresh angles of vision.
For example, I spent more than two years working mostly weekends at a group home for developmentally disabled adults. We “ran programs” designed to teach the residents basic life skills such as cooking and money management, as well as social interaction skills including appropriate expression of emotions. These programs amounted to individualized curricula for living life. Every activity— grilling chicken wings, making the bed, shopping at Dollar General—needed to be approached as a “lesson.” Each adult needed a differentiated “teaching approach.” Every learner was in control of their own learning, including how to respond to “teachers” (staff) and whether or how to engage with curriculum (programs). This is how genuine learning works—yet it is all too easy for me to forget this when I and my lesson plan are “running the show” from the front of a traditional classroom.
This different kind of teaching led me to see and reflect differently on what I do. One might compare it to looking through a camera lens. An ordinary view is transformed into a composition with a frame, focal point, and aesthetic quality, yet nothing external has changed. The camera lens “merely” prompts me to experience the same elements differently. I see more—variables I had not noticed before—and I can envision fresh choices and possibilities.
For another example, at one church I served as the Bible storyteller for the pre-kindergarten class. The children loved stories and gave me their rapt attention. Visual aids and props helped stimulate their imaginations. They appreciated special voices, suspense, and clear narrative resolutions, as well as opportunities to express their feelings through choral interaction. (“Did Jesus love Peter anyway?” “Yes, He did!”) On a good day, the kids would get so excited that they would jump up and call out questions and comments. If I managed to incorporate these into the flow of the story, they were thrilled. This, too, is how genuine learning works. Stories are memorable—participation in stories even more so. Working to make new content inviting to the whole person—body, mind, imagination, heart, soul—makes the teaching and learning process all the more rewarding and successful.
All this is not so much a technique for professional development as it is an orientation toward life. Teaching and learning are happening all around us. Tune in! Attentiveness or “mindfulness” (often linked with spirituality in the education literature) pays rich dividends. The Master Teacher showed such attentiveness to everyday life throughout His teaching and especially in His parables. The practice or discipline of attentiveness leads us to continually learn more in any and every way we can about language, people, the world around us, and ultimately, the One who created it all.