When I first wrote about teaching and tae kwon do, over two years ago, I was just about to head back to the classroom after a sabbatical, and open to rethinking my teaching in a number of ways. So when I distilled five teaching principles out of my tae kwon do classes, I focused especially on my role as teacher, as someone — like my tae kwon do instructor — who was up front in the classroom, leading the way.
What I missed is that he's also a participant. These past two weeks I've been both facilitating and participating in a series of faculty development workshops, and — as always when I watch other teachers at work — I'm learning new things again. This time I brought them back into the tae kwon do studio.
One thing we're focusing on in our workshops is writing, and working with folks who focus on writing every day has been a revelation. It's not so much that they tell me anything I hadn't heard before — it's that we do it. And they do it. These workshops have been entirely participatory, with the facilitators doing every exercise they ask the participants to do. Now, when I'm facilitating, I'm participating, too. And I'm learning a lot.
When I went back to tae kwon do class after Friday's workshop, I noticed that our instructor was sweating just as hard as we were during the drills. Of course he was—he was doing them, too! As he led us in stretching, ran us through some kicking, punching, and blocking drills, and paired us up for sparring, he was a full participant—as he almost always is. It had been right in front of me, but I hadn't really seen it.
So I have another principle to add to my earlier list of five. To reprise, here they are (but follow the link above if you want the full explanation):
First, encourage and praise.
Second, both expect and deserve respect.
Third, break it down.
Fourth, tolerate -- or even encourage -- a little creative chaos.
Fifth, rituals actually do matter.
And, finally — be a part of it. Taking part in the classroom activity — discussion, writing, group work, whatever it is — signals that it is important to me. It also puts me in the position of the student. In our workshops, we've been doing a good bit of free-writing, for example. Writing along with the students gives me a chance to work out an idea, or to follow a lead down a blind alley — to have the same kind of writing experience as my students are having, in other words. When I see my tae kwon do instructor sweating, I know he's working hard, and I work harder to keep up.
A big part of teaching, it seems to me, is developing community, and participating in a shared activity is one of the best ways I know to do that. It's not, of course, the only way. My eleventh grade writing teacher managed to teach me a good bit about writing by walking out of the room to have a cigarette while I bent over my desks to write to the prompt she'd left the class with, for example. Still, I wish I'd seen her write with us even once. (I wish, too, that she'd smoked fewer cigarettes — if she had, she might still be alive and I could ask her what she meant about Jane Austen all those many years ago — but that's a separate issue.) I do leave class on occasion while students work in groups, and I still see a value in letting them work things out on their own occasionally, so I won't give that up. But my first take-away from my summer of faculty development is that, as a faculty person, I'm always developing — right along with my students.