I originally wrote this post in 2014 for the blog of tlanetwork.org, the website of the Transformative Language Arts Network. It seems appropriate to re-post as I am preparing a graduate course on Expressive Writing in the classroom for Castleton University’s Center for Schools. Although in this situation I will be technically a lecturer/teacher/professor rather than a facilitator and I will be imparting more information than I would in a workshop, I will still apply the methods I know best and which have proven to be helpful to participants.
“I am not here to teach you anything.”
Expressions of confusion flicker across the faces of those circled around me. Wasn’t the very reason they signed up for this workshop to learn something?
I continue: “I am here to show you how you can learn from yourself.”
Smiles break out and the workshop begins.
While this is not intended to be an op-ed on the benefits of teaching critical thinking, how I facilitate is how I believe children should be taught: Teach them to learn for themselves. And this is how I approach my workshops. I give guidance, I provide prompts, and then I sit back and witness my “students” learning from and for themselves (and from the words of others in the room) — not to impress me, the “teacher.”
How does this work with TLA? Galileo Galilei said, “You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.” Transformative Language Arts, or any form of self-expression which facilitates healing change within a person, is, by its very nature, a way to tap into something within: a wisdom, a knowledge, a gnosis that we may not immediately know on a conscious level. It is only when we can know why we do the things we do or feel the way we do, that we can truly learn about ourselves. And when we know we can grow. I could talk until I was blue in the face about the benefits of writing, but until they try it themselves and see that it works, that they have the ability to discover their own truth, I have taught nothing.
While many people want to learn definitive tools, to come away from the class with a bulleted list of techniques or goals accomplished, it is the job of a facilitator to show them why it works. By all means, give them the list to take home (so they can continue self-teaching after the workshop), but it is only by doing it will they truly understand the how and why.
Yes, you may be the “expert” and you do have much information to impart. Indeed, I sometimes get so excited by everything factoid and bit of research I have learned that I want to share it all. But it doesn’t help be a talking head.
Jim Henson wrote: “[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” If you are a facilitator, I would assume (hope!) you have done the work yourself. You know the ups and downs of writing on your own road to self-discovery and healing. This knowledge, this self-awareness will show more than you could ever tell.
Yes, give them the tools, the safe space, the opportunity, but then get out of the way. The best teachers instruct by asking questions. When you provide the opportunity for your “students” to ask themselves the deepest questions they may have ever faced, you are giving them a great gift: How to learn from themselves.