It’s way too easy as an educator, especially after so many years, to fall into the trap of thinking, “I know all there is to know about ___________.” (Fill in the blank.) But when we do that we’re in grave danger of letting our own thoughts, ideas and ways of teaching on any given subject to become locked up – untouchable and beyond reproach. We also run the risk of having a curriculum for our classes that is stale, outdated and less than engaging.
If we want to be educators worthy of the honor that is teaching, we need to to be learners, too. Always on the quest to learn more, learn better and learn from our students we are called to teach.
In my role as a Childbirth Educator for a large 5-hospital health care system, we’ve always been encouraged to ask for feedback from our students at the end of a series of classes, using the sometimes dreaded “Evaluation Form.” Because of my class schedule, that means that I get evaluated about 24 times a year by my students. I know some educators who’d prefer to avoid these repeated evaluations if they could, but personally, I love them! They help me see clearly where my teaching is effective – and also, where I’m missing the mark. After close to 2 decades of being an educator, I’m happy that I hit the target more often than not. But why is it that all the glowing, positive feedback sits with you for just a minute, while the even slightly negative never leaves your memory?
In my first year as an Educator, one couple wrote in the area for Feedback for the Instructor, “Remember that we’re not all blank slates. Many of us come into these classes with a lot of reading and education under our belts.” Ouch! That feedback stung and I can still quote it verbatim 16+ years later. On that particular day, I quickly put this evaluation away and didn’t look at it again for a couple of weeks.
“Not all blank slates,” I read again. And now with a little more distance and perspective, the words no longer stung, they were encouragement from my students on how I could become a better educator. From that moment on, I found myself asking students for information and input, encouraging them toward self-discovery, rather than telling them all that I knew in an effort to “educate” them.
It was a simple sentence that forever changed not only how I taught my classes, but how I looked at my students. I lowered my self down off of that self-created pedestal of “I know and you don’t” and realized with humility how much my students teach me in every single class and series. And it’s not just about things related to birth: what they think and feel as pregnant women, what is most important to them as expectant fathers, how to encourage them to become closer as a couple, but also how they best learn as individuals, how to engage them and keep them engaged throughout a 2 1/2 hour class. Some of this remains similar from class to class, but I’ve also received some intuitive and game-changing feedback over the years.
The more I listen and learn from my students, the better educator I am, period.
When I taught that first series, I’d never given birth before. I was actually younger than many of the students themselves. I’d read a lot, gone to some great trainings and conferences, I’d observed many other excellent educators in preparation of teaching my own classes and I knew an awful lot.
But I needed that one couple to teach me something very important: I didn’t know everything. And I’m grateful that their words echo in my memory all these years later. If I want to pursue excellence in my field, I need to continue to be not only a teacher, but a student as well. I need to be always learning, always eager to gain new perspective and insight, always seeking to be educated by others – especially by my students.
This has and continues to be one of my greatest lessons in learning.
What is one of your greatest lessons in learning or teaching?