Small RE programs, pt. 4

Read the whole series.

We began this morning with a sample lesson taught by one of the participants. I acted as the observer during this lesson — that is, I did not participate, but sat off to one side observing and taking notes.

The lesson began with a story about forgiveness, and quickly took the participants to a fairly deep emotional level. It was fascinating to be the observer. I listened to what the teacher and the participants were saying, but more than anything I observed body language and facial expressions. When you sit back and watch all the participants — when you are not a participant-observer — you get a very different perspective on teaching.

The lesson was brilliantly taught by Lynn, assisted by Kate. But what really struck me while I was observing this lesson was how much I can learn about teaching from observing someone else teach. Lynn is a skilled and gifted teacher, but she teaches differently than do I — she emphasizes different things, she has a different bag of teaching tricks, etc. By sitting there and observing how she teaches, and by trying to articulate that in writing, I was forced to think more deeply about teaching. What are my assumptions about how one should teach? What things did Lynn do that I simply don’t do, i.e., what are my blind spots as a teacher? How is her philosophy of teaching reflected in her teaching praxis, and how does her philosophy differ from my own? All these questions were in the back of my head as I was observing.

One of the points that I have been trying to make in this workshop is the importance of having your teaching observed by others, so you can get good feedback about what you do as a teacher. But I hadn’t thought about the other side of observing another teacher — sometimes you learn more about teaching by observing another teacher, than you do by being observed by another teacher. I will have to bring this up in class tomorrow.

Once again, we all wrote up our observations and evaluations of this teaching episode, and then shared our observations out loud. Once again, this led to a rich conversation about teaching. I kept bringing the conversation back to outcomes — what outcome was Lynn’s lesson working towards? I contended that her lesson was working towards the outcome of “having fun.” The lesson wasn’t fun in the conventional sense. Participants were personally moved by it, they were taken to a deep emotional place, and while that wasn’t fun necessarily, it was the kind of lesson that makes people want to come back to church again and again.

Mary argued that the lesson could have been working towards the religious skill of providing pastoral care to others in the church. I agreed that it could have been, but that Lynn did not frame the lesson in that way. I also said that it’s hard to judge a single lesson, because single lessons are most often a part of a curriculum unit; so if, for example, Lynn had taught some basic skills in pastoral listening in the previous lesson, this lesson could have been a chance for participants to practice those skills by listening deeply to one another talking about forgiveness. But as a single lesson, I felt it was working towards the outcome of “having fun,” where “having fun” is broadly interpreted as providing a richly satisfying experience that makes participants want to come back again and again.

After a break, we came back together to talk about the volunteer management cycle. (I’ve written at some length about the volunteer management cycle in this blog post.) This is a pretty straightforward concept, and we only spent about 15 minutes talking about it.

Nate, the minister of the week, arrived at 11:00 at the invitation of some of the participants. We sang the two songs we had been working on (Nate joined us in singing), and Nate suggested we could sing the “Mother Earth Grace” at dinner tonight, and we could sing the other song as an opening at morning chapel tomorrow. Thus, our workshop is actually living out the principles we have been talking about: we have been learning a religious skill (singing), and we are going to assess our learning through a public performance of our competence (by singing before a meal, and singing at a chapel service).

We closed with our usual closing circle.

We did sing “Mother Earth Grace” at dinner tonight, and it went very well.