Personal Responsibility

For the past 14 months I’ve been blending academia and professional practice through a taught course at uni. Mostly I like the student discount, but I’ve also been like a pig-in-muck when it comes to the literature. Subsequently working on my curating and literature reviewing skills, and trying to live up to expectations of desirable masterliness.
Last Saturday was a full day of learning on site, in a classroom, with a group of 18 and a fantastic lecturer, who understands how not to lecture but to lead and enable learning. My brain aches at the end of a Saturday like this, but I love spending my time this way, in an adult learning environment, with good discussion, and brilliant people to learn with and from. It ignites and fills up my energies, like Covey’s ‘fire within’. What’s more, because I’m studying learning and people, it’s constantly a subjective and objective experience. I find myself critiquing not just the theories, models and content, but also the style in which the session is being delivered. The communication, the influencing, the language, the meanings, the lecturing, the responsiveness, the discussion, confidence, behaviours, dynamics, environment, the little things, the big things – what’s working what isn’t. As a result I discover theories to test.
Then something happened.
A guest lecturer arrived to talk about creativity in organisations, explaining that facilitating creativity requires boundaries and structure, and followed with some such activities. The group task was explained. In fact the task was over-explained and we were asked to repeat back what the instruction was which left me wondering why. Do you assume we can’t manage it? Teacher-pupil. Then off we went to do it, and returned to present to the others our demonstrable ‘creative problem solving’ skills and learning, fitting the brief and structure we’d be assigned.
But, one group got it wrong. They’d misunderstood the instruction resulting in a piece of work/learning ready to share, that was wrong. It was determined as wrong by: “so you didn’t do it. Would you like to tell the group about what happened here” …and I laughed whilst no one else did. The owner of that last statement had a facial expression that could go either way. Did I laugh because it was funny? Or because it was awkward? Or (on reflection) because surely that could only have been intended as light comedy? Suddenly I found myself in and watching the stuff I dislike about pedagogical attitudes that shroud pedagogical learning. Resultant humiliation. Born out of a lack of laughter, and awkwardness, and one person’s authoritative ability to make others look stupid when they fail to behave as desired or expected. In a collaborative learning session about creativity, the distance between them/us and lecturer grew, and the open space diminished. Or maybe that’s a complete mis-interpretation.
Whilst our reactions are just that: reactive, there are always different ways to react. No one can ‘make you feel’ stupid unless that’s what you already believe about yourself. Somewhere, in our personal iceberg of values, beliefs, attitudes, etc. As an automatic thought, in that situation, in that dynamic, in that environment, in that context, the scenario permitted you to default to ‘I’m stupid‘. My 3 course mates sat silently, looked down and across at each other, they didn’t laugh, they barely reacted and yet communicated so much. They didn’t stand up and say “we didn’t do that but we did this bit…” and share. They didn’t take a mutual position in communicating with the lecturer and own this interaction as 50% theirs (or 75%). The assumed position was that of less, smaller, and one of the 3 later privately explained she was “gutted that we got it wrong” and had a named person to blame. How did this happen? Emotion and learning definitely go together but like this, I’m not so sure.

Does this even matter? Maybe they’d learnt stuff and demonstrating this to everyone else didn’t matter. Have I spent this finger energy analysing something irrelevant?

It matters because it’s 2015 and we still have formal learning situations giving taught courses a bad reputation, contradicting the skills under development at masters level. This above scenario is neither mature or mutual. Criticality and reflexivity need nurturing and practicing to become fluent. Who’s responsibility it is to enable a learning relationship where these can thrive?

I’ve been in situations where the following have been exclaimed:
“teach me something then”
“I’ve been doing this for years I’m not sure what else I can learn”
“Oh you’re a hypnotist, hypnotise me then”
“Oh you’re a comedian, make me laugh then”
I’m not a hypnotist nor comedian but each demonstrate the point.
As Phil Wilcox writes here about the underlying meaning and connotation of language in questioning, I wonder what such statements communicate. Who’s responsibility is my experience? Who’s responsible for learning? When there’s talk of accountability, what is really being communicated?
Then there’s entrenched learnt behaviour within addiction “if you don’t do [demand] then I will have to [high risk behaviour]” and it’s thrown like a grenade which you auto-catch. The fear of personal responsibility and not knowing how to own it, because so many times it’s been taken away. Like the manager who hears your problem, takes it, and solves it. Like the advice-giver who knows “what you need to do”. Like the teacher who gives you the right answer because maybe you asked for it. You sat waiting for it, because it was quicker, it was easier. Job done.

There is room for something else.
Is there room for something else?

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