Learning, experience, living. These all go hand in hand for me and to be honest, I crave and thrive on them all. Last week I had the privilege of teaching an intensive module that takes the form of an international trip. (this was the fifth trip of its kind, and the first one was written up by the participants as an ebook) It was a select and dedicated group and everything about the trip is in the hands of the students. The most pleasurable aspect of the class is that the idea of my being the teacher is given up. Instead we adopt a scenario where we are all colleagues – Howard Rheingold coined the term Peeragogy, others call it co-learning, it certainly has to do with connectivism, could be called experiential learning, but I might go as far as to call it a way of living. For me it is how I work and I spend much of my ‘normal’ teaching time working to get students to realise they are learners but they are also teachers. We are all somewhere on that path.
As a part of this module, we formed a musical group, and as with any small group or working party, there are different roles to play, individual needs, and aspects of the working relationship that require degrees of support and/or freedom. We had not worked intensely together before preparation for this trip, and there were elements of musical learning where the students and I were challenged, but there were also the other aspects of travel and working together that tested and taught us so much.
I enjoy pushing myself, physically, mentally, musically – daring to be authentic as opposed to somehow conforming to someone else’s expectation or limits. That freedom to expand and explore is not always something facilitated in a typical day-to-day workplace, not because of any weakness of the place, but because of the nature of routine and familiarity. It can be difficult to see any situation for its potential when it is right in front of you. Sometimes removing the ordinary, the habit, and the associations that go with our usual people and places gives a freedom and makes it that much easier to grant ourselves permission to learn through living.
Someone asked me to describe what it is that I do, and I thought (in an esoteric way):
On both a small and large scale I enable and facilitate people to go beyond boundaries.
I think I can
Taking a step out to do something new, can be daunting for anyone. That step can be a small thing or something mind-blowingly large. One of the first things I dared to do last week was play on the rings at the beach. Sounds silly, right? I had walked past those rings several times over the years and never touched them. -sure I wanted to have a go, but something kept me back. Giving yourself permission to take that risk (even if it doesn’t seem like a risk to someone else) and feeling safe in making that effort to have a go makes all the difference.
It was a typical demonstration of the self-efficacy theory that I’ve both studied and written about for years. Having the ability to do something is not enough to make you do it. That self-belief that you can is everything. The people around me, their acceptance of me as person, learner, part of a team – meant that even if I failed, it would be ok. I didn’t fail, and the sense of accomplishment of having gone back and forth across those rings was tangible.
It reminded and taught me the value of allowing myself to believe and daring to act on it.
The walls are not real
As a teacher, musician, and person I find the biggest deterrent to both belief and action is me. Of course whatever boundaries I perceive are real to me, but they are seldom things that cannot be overcome with time and persistence. Usually they stem from something I have seen or heard – either something I’ve witnessed or experienced, and then it stuck. In my mind I may have decided ‘I can’t do this because of that‘. We watch and learn, but whether about body image, gender expectations, career prospects, social expectations, or whatever – others do not have a right to define us. Rightly or wrongly I’m sticking firmly to the idea that we can create our own paths. Sometimes the walls around us come down slowly, brick by brick, over time, but it can be done.
My voice is valid
Metaphorically and literally each of us has a voice; we have thoughts, words, and perhaps express this through music, poetry, or art. The expression that we are capable of contributing to conversations, to others’ lives, can have impacts far beyond anything we may know – from a simple smile to some profound statement. How often do we keep to ourselves? Different cultures encourage various levels of interaction and communication and each will feel comfortable with our own levels of discourse and engagement. That said, there is always room for personal growth and development and this might be in unexpected ways.
One thing I have learned is that I cannot do it alone. Bizarrely, I’ve gained great freedom by making that a part of my practice (not just knowing, but believing and realising – like making it a reality). When I allow myself to be a true learner, I am vulnerable. Connection, support, feedback, someone else on the path too – Learners need teachers, learners fail a lot, but then they get up again. Having a hand, an encouraging glance, or even just the expectation that of course you’re going to join back in with whatever it is – makes all the difference. I am grateful to the three people who came with me for this past week and to the friends we worked with, for trusting me and for letting me trust them as we explored, experienced, and lived.
Learning out loud. Living your learning. Going beyond boundaries.
Yes please, I’ll have some more of that any day.