I love teaching and I spend a lot of time doing it and thinking about doing it better. I am in a unique position at this moment that I am teaching quite a bit, but have also gone back to school and so am in the position of student on most days, as well. I have learned so much in the years between college and now, but all in my own rhythm and pace, approaching each goal the way that comes naturally to me and not thinking much of it. Now, I’m put in a course where someone else dictates the style of learning and how they would like to present information, and I am graded accordingly. I have been trying to take note of how I go about each assignment and not simply notice the grade at the end.
I am really trying to figure out how I learn and the backdrop of a traditionally structured program is the perfect juxtaposition between how I’ve been structuring my learning outside of school. I am really interested in figuring out where I don’t learn like this traditional system is asking me to, because I think this might help me figure out where most people are struggling with ME as a teacher. Being a student in a formal educational program after many years away offers me a new perspective on who I am as a learner, and the side effect to that is I am really seeing where how I learn effects how I teach—for better or for worse!
It seems to me that our education system is structured for us to learn in a particular way. We are given many small skills and tasks to accomplish and then it is assumed that we will understand the concept once we have mastered each part of the whole. I teach exactly the opposite. I teach concepts and philosophies, with small skills thrown in there to help someone start out, and then expect someone to fill in the application.
What I am noticing about being a student within coursework that does the opposite of my teaching style, and gives us little pieces of the puzzle along the way in hopes of forming a philosophy at the end, is that I suck at that. I am able to get As not because the course work is structured to how my brain learns, but because I reorganize the materials as I go. It comes naturally to me, so I am positive this is how I’ve gotten through school so successfully for so long, but never realized I was doing it. But now that I am examining it from the lens of a teacher, I am fairly certain the instructors would be appalled at how I am getting the assignment completed and surprised that they graded the finished product well.
I am noticing that I rarely read things in a linear fashion. Even when reading a prompt or an article, I tend to go through it in almost a circular fashion, pulling out what I see to be important and disregarding what isn’t. Sometimes I make notes, sometimes I don’t. Then, if I feel like the details are important to my life or my assignment, I go back and fill in the individual parts that make up this whole concept that I have already sorted out. Then when I go to write something, I write with a conceptual thread and then fill in the things that support me conceptually, or that I think the teacher would want to check off for an A.
Clearly, though, the readings and the prompts given are meant to be read linearly, because they are very step based and provide little clues along the way. I know for a fact I can’t learn that way. I tried to follow a very simply recipe the other day, with pictures and everything, and I was almost in tears at the end of it. Give me the same ingredients and an idea about what to make with them and it would so much better! When my husband intervened (he could tell that both dinner and my mental state were going south) and looked at what I was doing his question was “did you even read the recipe? Where are you in the steps?” Honestly, I had no idea. That’s what made the lightbulb go off for me, I had skimmed for the concept and now was trying to fill in the blanks. And since I have some talents, but cooking is NOT one of them…well, it got ugly.
So the way I learn is already suited for a sort of horsemanship that requires flexibility and no concrete tasks or goals. Not for more traditional horsemanship, which is why I have found my niche here. But this is where as a teacher I struggle, because most people expect the other sort of learning, either because that is what comes more naturally to them genetically, or simply because thats the structure we have all grown up accustomed to so regardless of predisposition we have LEARNED to be good at it. Because of this, horsemanship has been structured around how people learn, and horses are taught small tasks piece by piece without any consideration to the bigger picture.
The point of this blog is both a mea culpa and to provide inspiration. The mea culpa belongs to the part of me that is really challenging myself to investigate how exactly I learn and why that may shine through in problematic ways to my clients. I understand it is difficult when I am teaching exactly the opposite of how we are all trained to think, because how coursework in other areas is presented does not come naturally to me and I have had to find my way through it. I will do my best to help you bridge that gap in our own way. However, I hope you read this and are inspired by the idea of trying to grasp something conceptually and then apply it YOUR WAY is exciting to you! I am not grading you! And neither are your horses. We just want everyone to feel better.
If I can give you a suggestion through my own experience growing myself as a horsewoman, I would suggest that every time you are doing something and you feel stuck, step back and think about the bigger picture and philosophical goal. Define that for yourself. Ask yourself if you and your horse both are clear on this at each given moment. Last weekend I asked a number of people “what am I teaching you to do?” The answer isn’t a technical one and I wasn’t asking for the literal description of the task at hand. It is a personal question. For most, when they looked through a broad lens, it had something to do with partnership, relationship and their horse feeling good. Then I said “okay, now relax, and go do that.” It doesn’t matter how.