Today, I’m interviewing my friend, Michele Lisenbury Christensen. A coach, speaker and teacher of teachers, she makes me howl laughing and think very deeply about things that matter. In part one we talk about the absolute necessity of all forms of teaching, the fear that holds us back from sharing what we know, and the TeachNow course she developed along with Jen Louden. Part two posts tomorrow.
You began your teaching, coaching and speaking at the age of 23. What made you think that you had something wonderful to share at such an early age?
At that point? Sheer arrogance. A passion for sharing what I did know and for improving my own life and the lives of those around me was part of it, too. But I think that’s part of why so many young people accomplish so much: we don’t know we can’t, so we can! I felt ageless. I felt like there were things I was learning (and it often felt like remembering, when I learned some piece of wisdom that resonated so deeply with me that it felt like coming home) that others could really benefit from and that the message mattered far more than the wetness behind the messenger’s ears.
How did you get started teaching? And after so many years, why do you still do it?
I did tutoring and other peer-teaching kinds of things from middle school onward. One of my first “classes” was in college, when my boyfriend gave me a Tony Robbins book over Christmas and when I got back after break, I gave my sorority sisters a seminar on establishing rapport using all the neuro-linguistic programming techniques in that book. I was so excited by what I’d read, I turned around and taught it within a 2 weeks of hearing about it. That’s still my impulse, much of the time. But I’ve learned that my best teaching certainly comes from things I’ve actually brought into my life and into my body and learned the ups and downs of, rather than my latest “learning thrill.” That said, it’s my studentship that fuels my teaching and always will: Teaching is the best way for me to learn, evolve, and truly integrate these things I’m fascinated by. With others in the room, and an agreement that I will guide and support them, I get this whole other dimension of learning and challenge that can’t be had solely through being a student. That’s the bald truth: I teach for my own evolution. Of course, I also love making a difference for others, and the synergy of learning together and watching as new connections and insights are born. And I love building community and profound support and intimacy among groups. That’s why I teach.
In your experience, why do most people resist teaching? What’s holding them back from sharing with and affecting others?
One of the biggest hold-backs for people who would be good teachers and have something to teach is – ironically – their own integrity. They want so much to serve with what they know (or what they’re learning or what they’re curious about, which are just as important as what they know, by the way!) but they run smack dab into our cultural myth of The Expert and they don’t feel like they measure up just yet. So they go back and try to learn more, get better, bide their time…. They don’t teach ’cause there’s a gap between who they think they’d need to be and who they think they are as a teacher.
Many people wait forever on the “not good enough yet” side of the gap. Others puff up, put on some bravado, and attempt to put forth the image “I AM AN EXPERT” and on that basis assume the teacher’s role. I did that in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways in the first decade or more of my teaching. Thought I had to know it all, so I became a know-it-all. But that takes a ton of energy. Wastes it, really. And you aren’t really available for true connection with students when you’re all puffed up.
So gettin’ teachin’ with your heart intact and in a way that allows for what I think of as real teaching – with intimacy and vulnerability – requires the would-be teacher to learn to dive into the gap rather than struggling to close it. It feels raw and bewildering and not so very safe at first. But doesn’t that description kind of remind you of the best learning experiences, too? As teachers if we can live with our own not-knowing, uncertainty, doubt, and fear, we’re far better positioned to help students go somewhere meaningful with their learning. If we’re not, the best we can do is burp information and hope it’s somewhat engaging.
If you had to predict, what would you say is the future of online teaching?
(Let me start by saying I’m not talking about online education – university learning, or instruction of people under 18. I’m talking about adult learning. Self-styled teachers of everything from social media marketing to photography to meditation.)
The thrill of access to like-minded people all over the world, and the micro-nicheing and intimacy that have been possible as a result, have driven online teaching so far. In some ways, the thrill is wearing off as we get overloaded with information and saturated with this wealth of new inputs. New platforms like Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress have democratized website creation so people can build their own professional-caliber sites and add content with ease. And audio and video technology have advanced to where anybody can broadcast their face and voice and to some extent transmit their presence. This opening of the floodgates will result in a glut of “teaching” available online, and out of that glut, that thick rich stew of competition, I think all our standards will be raised. As students, we’ll all seek out the very best teachers and classes, even for free content, and pass over that which is not truly compelling.
For teachers, that’s good news and bad news, right? We’ll get new technologies that help us have a global reach with remarkable connection to our students. But we’ll also get that powerful market feedback if there’s something off about what we’re offering or how we’re offering it.
When teaching, does technique matter versus the relationships and connections you have? Is it enough to have just really good technique?
‘Course not! And I’m not even sure what good technique would BE, divorced from the connection with your students and yourself and the lineage of teachers, thinkers, and practitioners on whose shoulders you stand. Teaching is far more like weaving a web than hollering into a megaphone. That said, I suppose I can imagine someone who’s masterful at connecting with students but whose ability to craft an arc of learning and integration in a course is limited, and so that connection doesn’t really bear much fruit in terms of learning and transformation. That’s what I’m really interested in: transformational teaching. In TeachNow, we talk about four levels of teaching, when it’s really transformational: Information, Experience, Inspiration, and Transmission. All four levels are crucial, and each requires its own skill set. When I ask students, they can always recall teachers who were good at one but wouldn’t have known another of those levels if it bit ’em in the butt. So mastery requires being able to weave at least a bit of all four.
Part Two Tomorrow
Mark your calendar: On September 21, 2011, at 10 am Pacific/1pm Eastern/6pm UK time, Michele and Jen will teach a LIVE free 70 minute class called “The Teachers’ Path: Dissolving Obstacles to Teaching Effectively & Joyfully” and YOU are invited! No infomercial… this is a stand-alone class that will reveal where you are on The Teachers’ Path and show you precisely what challenges teachers face at that point on the path and how you can move to the next level NOW.
I will be attending. I am not an affiliate. But I am a fan, and I know this course. So plan on joining us.
CLASS CALL-IN DETAILS:
The class is at
10am Pacific/11 Mountain/noon Central/1pm Eastern/6pm UK
It’ll run for 75 minutes
Phone number: (country code 001) (712) 432-0075
Access Code: 736289#