In developing the lesson plans for Sex and Shame, Spirit and Power, there were two different processes that I felt the need to take into account. The first was the trajectory of the teaching model described above and the second was the relationships among risk, pride and shame. According to Nathanson (2003), healthy pride is what people experience after having responded successfully to a challenge. The more investment one has and the larger the risk, the more one will experience healthy pride after success or shame after failure. Creating a structure that would support each of these parallel sequences was the process of developing a “pedagogical content knowledge.” (Shulman, 1987)
The class met for three hours each week for a total of thirteen weeks. On a semester-long scale, the first class session was devoted to explaining the phases of objectives, warm-up and needs assessment. The next five weeks focused on the presentation of Affect Theory and the consequences of shame, as described above. The following two weeks focused on the presentation of embodiment skills and PNDC and the ninth week acted as a recap of the information covered previously. Finally, the last four weeks blended practice and assessment, as learners presented their final projects. My original goal was to use the final week as a recap which would provide closure for the learners and give me the opportunity to ask them to describe what they had learned. However, through conversations with the learners, the class discussions through my readings of their journals, I recognized that the scope of the information that we had covered in the first eight weeks was broad enough that a recap earlier in the semester would be a more effective way to provide support for their learning. In addition, the project presentations took four weeks instead of three, primarily because three learners had missed their scheduled presentation time due to illness. Consequently, I chose to sacrifice the recap on the final day in order to give them the chance to present their projects.
I believe that flexibility is an important ingredient in good teaching, although I sometimes find it quite disappointing. In this sense, disappointment is a mild form of a shame-based emotion. Since I had a strong investment in following my model of adult education, letting go of it in order to be responsive to the learners triggered both an attack self reaction (“Is there something wrong with my model? Did I make a mistake?”) and an attack other reaction (“Why can’t they just do what I want?”) Recognizing that I am just as prone to these feelings as anyone else, and that these emotions needed to be supported without letting them take over was one way in which I was able to authentically move through the same processes that I wanted to ask the learners to experience. It also reminded me that I needed to be mindful of the ways in which my shame reactions could affect the class, as well as my research.
Within each section of the course, each day also followed the same trajectory and often subtopics within a class session followed the pattern. After a brief check-in, I reviewed the objectives for the day and provided a handout with the day’s agenda that also had the objectives at the top. The warm-up and needs assessment were generally grounded in the preparatory reading that I had assigned the previous week, followed by a presentation. The presentations varied in style, from didactic lectures to facilitated brainstorms and discussions to group exercises. The practice and assessment phases sometimes took place in the class as part of the discussions, and were sometimes assigned as homework. When practices were assigned, the journal questions asked learners to reflect on their observations and experiences in order to demonstrate how they applied the theories and information. In addition, the opening of the next class was generally used to discuss the homework assignment and link it to the next topic; thus, it acted as a recap. A more detailed description of each week’s class is below.
Another balance that I needed to find was how much I could reasonably predict and plan for, and how much I could develop as the semester progressed. For example, I wanted to have both the course reader and the syllabus prepared and available on the first day of the semester, which required that the broad outlines of the course and the topics for each session needed to be planned. However, I also wanted to retain enough flexibility in both the articles and the syllabus that I could respond to the learners’ needs as the semester progressed. I decided that if the syllabus was rigidly designed in terms of the Phase 1 needs assessment, I would risk reducing the relevance of the course to these particular individuals since they were not participants in the Phase 1 interviews. In order to maintain this versatility, I chose to not plan the details of a class session until after the one just previous to it. In fact, I usually did not prepare for a session until after I had journaled my reactions and responses to the previous one, read the journals submitted by the learners and taken some time for reflection. This is a practice that several of my teachers suggested, although I was not able to find any literature on this technique. Examples of how this affected the progression of the semester are described below.
Throughout the semester, the building of community within the classroom encouraged the learners to gradually increase the level of their disclosure and risk-taking. As the teacher, I considered it to be my responsibility to model risk-taking through self-disclosure. However, I also needed to avoid turning the class into an opportunity for my issues and concerns to become paramount. This is comparable to the balance between modeling authenticity and getting out of the way that the Phase 1 interviewees described. There were different techniques that I used to find my point of equilibrium as it shifted from week to week and moment to moment. The first was to make as explicit as I could when I was speaking from personal experience, as compared to describing information found in the literature. Secondly, I made the process of the class as transparent as possible. For example, by stating when I was not understanding what was being said and asking for clarification, or by telling the class that I felt pulled by two possible directions for discussion or process and asking for input, I stepped out of the traditional “teacher knows best” role and unveiled my thoughts and emotions. Thirdly, when necessary, I acknowledged my own shortcomings, apologized and talked about how I would work to avoid repeating my mistakes. In all of these processes, I was supported by dynamics within the SKSM community and culture. Within the UU world in general and at SKSM in particular, there is a strong foundation for building connection and working with challenging issues and differences. The same topic taught within a different context might need to be taught differently in response to the norms and expectations of the people in that setting. The Phase 1 research helped me use appropriate language, but I believe that different language that was motivated by the same hopes would have also been well-received, and that a shared language that was not used authentically would not have been effective.
The following is a first person narrative of the development of the course outline, my experiences teaching each of the class sessions and my observations of how the class evolved. My intention in providing such a detailed account is to illustrate several points. The first is to show how I applied my model of adult learning to design and implement the syllabus. The second is to demonstrate that this was a non-linear process; planning, assessment, revision and implementation of my lesson plans was a recursive practice that was constantly in flux. I also want to show how my values and biases were present throughout the entire semester, and that by making them as transparent as I could, I was able to work with them rather than denying their existence. This had the effect of helping me move into my authenticity and reduced the systematic error that often creeps into teaching when bias is not made explicit (Scriven, 1998). Lastly, I want to offer my experiences as an example for other educators. Since the circumstances in each moment of teaching are unique, one of the challenges that I faced was that what made my practices effective was constantly changing. My hope is not that other teachers will mimic my actions, but rather that they will see ways in which they can develop their own resources, just as I did. By describing my choices at each step of the process, this account takes the theory and makes it personal, both to provide data and to serve as an example for other educators. As a participant in a social action and as a teacher, my primary instrument is myself; this narrative serves as a report on the development of my instrument.
As described above, the objectives for the semester were:
By the end of this class, learners will be able to:
These learning goals flowed organically from the Grounded Theory analysis described above. The first goal relates to the bottom third of the flowchart, the second goal connects to the skills described in the middle of the chart, and the third is linked to the top section. During this process, I was aware that it was possible that I was forcing the data into the model and the objectives, rather than letting the objectives emerge from the data. However, I returned to the data repeatedly in order to look for ways in which I was projecting patterns that I’d hoped to find, rather than uncovering the patterns that were present. This cycle of inductive and deductive analysis is at the heart of Grounded Theory (Corbin, 1986). For a more detailed description of this process, see Analysis of the Flowchart- Using the Flowchart to Develop Course Objectives.
The goals of the first class session were to create a space of inclusion, safety and motivation, and to provide an overview of the semester. As part of the research project, I also needed to describe my work and recruit participants. After introducing myself, I had the learners introduce themselves to each other in pairs and as part of the large group. In the group introductions, I asked them to describe what prompted them to take this course and how it fit within their program. I discovered that out of the sixteen learners, twelve were SKSM learners and four were learners from other schools within the Graduate Theological Union (GTU). Since the course was offered through SKSM, I informed the learners that for some topics, we would be focusing on the UU community and the needs of UU ministers and that at the same time, most of the class would be relevant for many faiths.
In order to begin to provide relevance and support motivation, I provided the learners with the Flowchart and discussed how it was developed and how it connected with the objectives, which were on the first page of the reader. I had two reasons for sharing this research. First, since I made it clear that I am not a UU minister, I wanted to provide as much personal credibility as possible. I decided that offering them this representation would demonstrate that I understood their professional needs. Secondly, I wanted to help generate learner motivation by making the links between their professional needs and the syllabus explicit. Teachers working with other groups and/or topics might have different rationales for explaining their course objectives, but the underlying purpose of offering credibility and supporting motivation can be applied to many settings.
As part of creating safety and inclusion, I also discussed how shame is a challenging topic, that I expected all of us, including myself, to feel it during the semester. Among the SKSM community norms is the understanding that developing covenants (also known as groundrules in other settings) would protect and support everyone in the room. I tapped into this awareness by discussing the covenants in terms of emotional safety and asked the learners to think about them in terms of their personal experiences with shame. We then developed a list of covenants that would become our group norms for the semester.
Finally, I described my research project and asked for participants. In order to maximize confidentiality, I gave everyone in the class an envelope with the Informed Consent form and the Sexuality Opinion Survey. I asked all of the learners to return the envelope, either with the form and survey filled out, or with the second line of the consent form signed, signifying that they chose not to participate in the research project. After answering learner questions about the project, the course, the reader and other administrative details, we discussed the journal assignment for the week and ended the session.
As a general needs assessment for the semester, this session provided valuable information. The learners were clearly comfortable asking questions and making suggestions. These are ways in which adults in general tend to learn (Knowles et al., 1998), but the ways in which this group of people communicated was also indicative of patterns that I observed during the Phase 1 interviews. The learners frequently spoke from their personal experiences and used first-person language rather than making generalizations. On an institutional level, SKSM tries to create a setting in which people can speak from the heart and be received by others; this helps to create a climate of sharing and disclosure, which was clearly in evidence. Many of the learners also disclosed ways in which shame has been an issue for them and their desire to deepen their understanding of it on a personal level as well as on a professional level. This was a definite indication that the course was relevant on multiple levels.
This session also helped me begin to assess the learners’ experiences and understandings of shame. Some of the learners were former therapists, some had been exploring shame through workshops and personal exploration, some were Catholic and described living in shame-filled families, and some were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered and talked about their internalized shame. Many of the learners had some language for talking about shame, and some did not. Seeing the diversity of experience among the learners both helped me design the lesson plans and challenged me to be as inclusive as possible. Without this needs assessment, my plans might not have been as relevant for as many learners.
In the second class session, we began to explore Affect Theory in order to use it as the foundation for the semester. As a warm-up, we reviewed the covenants that we had developed and that I provided as a handout, and discussed some small changes to them. I then reviewed the objectives for the day, which were:
By the end of the session, learners will be able to:
After watching the relevant section of the DVD, we spent some time discussing their questions. I gave them a handout listing the key terms and concepts from Affect Theory in order to give them a more easily-read outline, which also helped them see patterns among the themes. The large group discussion flowed fairly smoothly, although the topic of shame was clearly challenging for some learners, which I observed primarily through body language, facial cues, and depersonalized language such as describing personal experiences in the third person. This is common in my experience, since the discussion of shame can trigger the feeling of shame. One way that I helped to address this was to bring up the oscillation between shame and the positive affects, and how they serve to create a homeostatic balance in response to changing situations.
Since I wanted to provide opportunities for personal experience as well as intellectual exploration, I had the learners form dyads for an exercise. Each learner had five minutes to talk with their partner about one of the following topics:
Because listening to shame can be challenging, listeners often tend to guide speakers into safer channels. In order to reduce this tendency, I asked the listeners to focus on staying present and connected with their partner without giving signs of active listening (head nodding, asking questions, saying “uh-huh”). My hope was that the speakers would be able to follow the stream of their experience in more authentic ways than if they were responding to their listeners. After five minutes, the learners switched roles. This exercise was designed to focus on Gardner’s intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences. When the dyads returned to the large group for discussion, we talked about how some people felt the urge to rescue the speaker from their shame by giving support, and others wanted to redirect the speaker into areas that were less challenging to hear. When the learners asked me why I requested that they not provide the non-verbal feedback that we generally do, I explained my motivations, which led to a deeper discussion of the challenges they felt in staying present to shame. During this process, I noticed that many learners were speaking in ways that looked defensive to me, so I had them spend a few minutes talking with their partner so that they could connect emotionally and develop some closure on their experiences. Afterwards, most of the learners described feeling more settled and grounded, which led into a brief discussion of Kaufman’s description of shame as a severing of the interpersonal bridge, which was a topic for the next week.
During both the discussion of Affect Theory and the exercise, I was assessing the learners’ abilities to use the language of the theory. They were consistently striving to use the vocabulary and concepts, even when it was challenging to do so, and I was satisfied that the first objective had been met by the learners. The second objective was more challenging to assess in this setting, which may be indicative of my attempting to cover too much in one session. However, I was able to use this assessment constructively and return to this concept later in the semester. In addition, I felt that the learners understood that my goal was to help them understand how shame works in general so that they could apply their knowledge to whatever situation they were working in, rather than giving them setting-specific rules that would be more difficult to generalize. By explaining this during the recap, I offered the learners another perspective on their experiences and reiterated my understanding of the ways in which we can learn from shame.
The journal assignment this week was designed to help the learners integrate the theory into their lives by asking them to reflect on three experiences of shame. I asked them to first describe the situation and then describe how it felt; this format helps learners to focus on their experiences and provides an opportunity to develop a metacognitive understanding of their internal processes (Moon, 1999). Both this journal assignment and the class session supported the development of Gardner’s intrapersonal intelligence by increasing the learners’ metacognitive skills and by helping them develop their personal language of emotional experience.
Before planning this session, I discovered one challenge with using journals. The time lag between asking a question or assigning a topic for the journals and being able to respond to the replies in the classroom was at least two weeks. Because of this delay, I began to find that the journals were more useful in offering me a general sense of the learners’ successes and challenges than providing specific information that was relevant in the moment; by the time I found out about concerns that I wanted to address, the opportunity was sometimes past. While I was occasionally able to return to a previous topic in the class and link it to the current one, I found that I was more often forced to set it aside or talk with a learner privately. Thus, the journals were an excellent tool for demonstrating my and the learners’ successes and areas for improvement, and offered ways in which I might improve my practices in the future, but were less helpful when I tried to integrate those improvements into this semester.
This class session began the process of taking the intrapersonal mechanisms that had been discussed the week before and exploring how they manifest in interpersonal interactions. The objectives for this week were:
By the end of the session, learners will:
The preparatory reading covered Nathanson’s (1992) Compass of Shame, Kaufman’s (1996) Interpersonal Bridge and Alber’s (1995) exploration of the ways in which patterns of shame influence religious communities.
Since this was the third class session, I decided that the need for a warm-up to build connection was greatly reduced; after the check-ins I began by returning to some hanging questions from the previous session. While this recap may not have been situated for maximum effectiveness in relation to the previous week, I decided that it linked the sessions and provided continuity that might not have been clear for all of the learners. For the needs assessment, I had the learners brainstorm characteristics of each pole of the Compass of Shame and wrote them on a flipchart. The lists that were generated demonstrated a clear understanding of the model, as well as some specific questions that some people had; by helping me focus on the questions rather than discussing topics that the group comprehended, this was a very successful assessment. It also helped some visual learners, two of whom commented on how much it enabled them to see patterns once they had been written on the flipchart. As a result, I told them I would type the flipchart up and give it to the class the next week.
The discussion that developed about the Compass of Shame demonstrated the learners’ comprehension of the concepts and that the first two objectives had been met primarily through the reading. It also led into my presentation on Kaufman’s exercise of refocusing one’s attention in order to soften the experience of shame. This was a challenging topic for me to explain because the goal of the exercise is not to avoid dealing with the shame trigger, but rather to stimulate a positive affect as a way to increase one’s ability to return to the trigger and respond to it. This is a distinction that some learners were having difficulty with, especially those for whom distraction has served as a response to shame.In order to assess the learners’ abilities to use this skill, I asked them to try it during the week if they experienced any situations of shame, and then to journal about it. If they did not have an opportunity to try this skill, I asked them to journal about their observations of Affect Theory and the Compass of Shame, focusing in particular on the ways in which they see themselves and others responding to it. In the journals that I received the following week, some learners described successfully using the refocusing exercise during the experience of shame. Others forgot about the exercise until after the experience of shame, and reported success with it in terms of helping them to process and respond to their emotions. Some of them also explored what it was that made it difficult to step outside their shame experiences and to remember the exercise; this indicated to me that they were reflecting on their barriers and looking for ways to overcome them, which is certainly part of exploring the refocusing exercise. Still others did not have the opportunity to try the exercise, forgot entirely, or did not feel comfortable trying it. However, they responded to the alternative journal topic and demonstrated a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of the Compass of Shame than had been evident in class. As a result, the journal served as an excellent assessment of the learners’ success at meeting the objectives.
Since this class session explored the interpersonal nature of shame reactions, it supported growth in the area of what Gardner defined as interpersonal intelligence. In addition, the session was specifically designed to help learners engage on an interpersonal level, which furthered this dynamic. As described above, the Compass of Shame exercise was oriented towards the visual learners, and all of the discussion and journaling helped the verbal/linguistic learners.
The journals that I received during the third session clearly demonstrated critical reflection and the ability to link the assigned reading with personal experience. Many learners specifically described ways in which the reading and class discussions shed light on their emotional processes while writing from deeply personal perspectives. This blending of the theory and the personal is exactly what I had been looking for as indicators of their meeting the objectives. I found that this helped me to deepen the in-class discussions, as described below.
During the second and third sessions, we focused on the intrapersonal processes of shame and explored how they led to interpersonal dynamics, tracing the ways in which the internal experience of emotion leads to various externalized behaviors that manifest in interactions with others. In this class session, we continued to develop this trend of expanding the scope of our exploration and examined the social dynamics that can develop as members of a group externalize their shame reactions. We also began to examine specific ways in which these patterns intersect with sexuality issues. The objective for the class was:
By the end of the session, learners will:
The reading for this class included McClintock’s (2001) work on the Rules of Shame, Csikszentmihalyi’s (1991) exploration of flow and optimal experience, and Green and Lawrenz’s (1994) analysis of shame within the context of spirituality and morality.
Following the pattern of the previous week, I began the class with a brief discussion and recap of the learners’ use of Kaufman’s exercise, as well as the usual check-ins. As with the previous week, this served to link the class topics and show the relationships between them. We also reviewed the covenants and modified them in light of some individuals’ suggestions and comments. Returning to the covenants and reexamining them in an ongoing discussion rather than using them as a set of permanent rules strengthened the sense of safety by modeling the groundrules as a living document that responds to changing needs.
In order to return to the topic for the day, I began with a needs assessment through a discussion of the readings, which generated quite a bit of self-reflection and made it clear that the learners were engaged with, and comprehended the topic. One learner asked me specifically why I had included Csikszentmihalyi’s work. After I explained the inverse relationship of flow and shame, I commented on my own defensive reaction and shame response that was triggered by her question. Rather than processing it, I modeled recognizing and acknowledging it, and then moving on; after the class, several learners thanked me for that and told me that it validated their fleeting moments of shame. This is one example of the merit of my modeling the behaviors and skills that I was asking the learners to develop while continuing to “get out of the way” by keeping the focus on the learners rather than my needs. This authenticity is an excellent way to deepen connection and motivation in the learners (Wlodkowski, 1999).
As the readings provided several different perspectives and covered a few different topics, I provided a handout listing the key points as well as the Compass of Shame that we had generated the week before. This helped us launch into a brainstorm of the Rules of Shame that exist for ministers, some of which were specifically related to sexuality and others which were more general. Many of the learners had obvious “a-ha!” moments when looking at the ways in which the Rules of Shame can contradict each other, creating a no-win situation. This led very naturally into a discussion about Inflexible Ideals (Morrison, 1996) and how the Rules of Shame create them. As a way of engaging with this topic more personally, as well as offering another format for their explorations, I had the learners form dyads and discuss what Inflexible Ideals they have experienced as seminary learners and within their religious communities, followed by returning to the large group. All of these exercises and discussions demonstrated the learners’ integration of the reading and the classwork with their experiences, as well as allowing me to assess their comprehension. By blending presentation, practice and assessment, I was able to abide by the principles of the model of education while creatively designing a format that flowed with the topics. In addition, this section employed Gardner’s visual, verbal and interpersonal intelligences.
The homework for this session was comprised of three sections. First, I asked the learners to journal on their experiences in the class so far and specifically tell me what had been working well for them, what they felt was missing, and what changes they’d suggest. I asked for their feedback to be as specific as possible so that I could use it to shape the following weeks. This three-phase model of feedback was based on a workshop on sexual communication that I have observed another educator use (Bartlett, 2001). From their responses, this was greatly appreciated, even by the learners who felt satisfied by their experiences, because it demonstrated my commitment to their interests. The second assignment was an optional journal either on their experiences of flow within spiritual/religious settings or on their experiences of the Rules of Shame and the Inflexible Ideal within spiritual/religious settings. Overwhelmingly, the learners were able to describe how flow and shame seem to be inversely related, as well as how specific dynamics foster one or the other. Some of the learners who had organized rituals or group worship also explored the ways in which ministers are responsible for how these patterns develop. Finally, I asked them to list three Rules of Shame that have to do with sexuality, preferably that they had experienced, enforced or directly witnessed someone experiencing. I asked them to bring their list to the next class for an exercise.
During the discussion of the Rules of Shame the previous week, one of the learners asked a question that I did not think that I had addressed fully, so I began this session by returning to her question and talking about my thoughts regarding it. From the head nods and the responses, it was clear that this helped the learners to clarify their understandings and that they appreciated my willingness to re-examine previous topics. Even though this process required me to acknowledge an area that I had not fully understood, returning to it allowed me to model my ability to recognize and work with my growth in front of the class. This honesty certainly felt threatening to my self-image as a competent teacher, and by making that reaction explicit, I used that to model the vulnerability that teachers and ministers must face if they are to be human in front of their class or congregation. This was an excellent transition into the sexual Rules of Shame.
The objectives for this class were:
By the end of the session, learners will:
We began the next portion of the class by having the learners write on various flip charts the rules that they came up with during the week. Many learners described how powerful it was to see them listed in this way, as well as how threatening it felt to be seen writing them. Both of these experiences blended into the discussion of how the Rules of Shame work, which led two learners to ask if I would type the lists up and bring them to the next class.
As a way of helping the learners integrate McClintock’s Rules and Rubin’s (1992) article on sex-negativity, as well as the other readings on sexual attitudes and shame (Bullough & Bullough, 1995; Francoeur, 1992; Lorde, 1978; Remez, 2000), I gave them a handout listing the key points of the articles. While Rubin’s language had not been integrated into the conversation, I was able to focus on specific points, such as United States society’s lack of a concept of benign variation. Quite a few learners had visible “a-ha!’ moments as part of this conversation. We also explored Lorde’s article “ Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” and talked about sacred space versus non-sacred space, and the relationships between shame and the non-sacred.
In order to meet the objectives for this session, the learners were expected to participate in the conversations and actively discuss and explore the topics, as described above. While some learners will generally tend to interact more frequently, I tried to create opportunities for them all to take part in the conversation, sometimes by explicitly inviting those who had not previously done so. Since the objectives for today were observable but not measurable, I decided that I needed to provide as many ways for the learners to demonstrate their success as possible, as well as being as flexible in my assessment as I could.
Since I expected some learners to find discussing the topics to be more challenging, I also gave them the option to demonstrate their meeting the objectives through the journal assignment for the week, which was:
What are some of the ambivalent feelings you have had around your sexuality? Can you identify the conflicting influences you felt, on a personal, interpersonal, family, social, cultural level? What were some of your responses to it? What emotions arose for you? How do you deal with that?
This assignment was one which was optional to hand in because I decided that the learners who had met the objectives in the class did not need to demonstrate their success again, although some of them did submit the assignment.
Until this point, I felt confident that my use of paired exercises, flip charts, brainstorms, group discussions and lecture and my linking the classwork to the reading had been effective. After I received the learner feedback from the previous week’s assignment, I definitely felt more ambivalent regarding my teaching practices. Some of the learners found the reading perfect, some found it too dense or too long, and others found it not academic enough. Some learners enjoyed the journaling and others found it cumbersome. Some learners liked the exercises and discussions, others wanted more lectures and some wanted more formats for the exercises. I knew that there is no way to please everyone all the time, or even with any one thing, and that the goal is to appeal to different people with different facets of the course so that everyone feels satisfied by most of it. Even so, I felt quite a bit of my own shame while reading their responses, which led to feelings of resistance to being open to their writings. Even after reading them again, and focusing on what the learners said was working well for them, I still felt defensive about the ways in which I was not “perfect.” This is one of the areas around which I feel shame, so it became one of my opportunities to engage with the work that I was asking the learners to do.
Being able to sit with this reaction and reflect upon it was an important experience for me, and quite humbling. Even in the middle of it, I was able to recognize that I had been asking the learners to travel along this path and that as the teacher, it was my responsibility to do so as well. In addition, I was able to identify one way in which I had fallen into the pattern of teaching in a way in which I like to learn: I prefer to read the material for a session, and then have the teacher use it as a foundation for further analysis or presentation. As a result, I sometimes would not assess my learners’ understanding of the reading as well as I could have, or would not provide enough time to ensure that everyone had absorbed the information. As someone who learns from reading fairly easily, I had assumed that my learners had done the same. Receiving this feedback at this time was invaluable because I still had time to respond to it, as described below.
This session began to take the dynamics we had been discussing so far and examine how they work on a cultural scale, thus continuing the trend of looking at the ways in which behaviors on a smaller scale develop into patterns on a larger scale. The objectives for this week were:
By the end of the session, learners will:
In light of the feedback I received, I also wanted to address any questions or concerns that the learners had. As a result, rather than adhere to my lesson plan, I asked the learners for their questions and spent the first half of the class responding to them and having them discuss each topic. Having my lesson plan as an alternative was important since it would have given me an option if responding to their questions had not taken as much time as it did. The flexibility to adapt to the needs of the moment, even when it means discarding a plan that took some time to develop is a crucial teaching skill, and I felt satisfied with my ability to use it. This feeling was even more justified when three learners approached me during the break to thank me. This is another example of how getting out of the way and focusing on the learners’ needs is crucial; in some ways, it seems most important when it is the most difficult to do. From a process perspective, this was a constant shifting from needs assessment to presentation and back, with some assessment after each presentation.After the break, I had the learners divide into small groups and examine different target group/dominant group dynamics. Each group was assigned a different target/dominant group and asked to list as many different sexual stereotypes for each. We then posted the lists on the walls and discussed the patterns we saw. My goal in this exercise was twofold. First, I wanted to show how the dominant groups are labeled “normal,” and how the target groups are usually labeled as asexual or sexually uncontrolled. This would show how sex-negativity is used to enforce oppressions, as well as connecting issues of social justice to the previous week’s discussion. Secondly, I wanted the learners to explore how social oppressions and sexual shame are mutually reinforcing, which would help the learners to understand the ways in which these issues intersect.
As it turned out, the brainstormed lists were not quite what I had expected. Perhaps this was because I had not explained the task as clearly as I could have, but whatever the reason, the learners told me that they had not understood the purpose of the exercise. In retrospect, it might have worked better if the entire group had focused on one particular dominant/target group and worked together, rather than dividing into smaller groups. In my experience, working with the large group allows me to ask guiding questions and keep the exercise focused. I had hoped to be able to demonstrate the similarities between the ways in which sex-negativity reinforces homophobia, sexism, racism and ageism, and I think that I expected more than was reasonable in the time allowed.
I also think that I took for granted that all of the learners would share a common vocabulary for exploring oppressions, based on my experiences with some individuals and with Starr King School as an institution committed to social justice. In retrospect, this seems quite naïve given that I have ample personal experience that suggests that taking something as diverse as perspectives on oppression for granted is likely to not work. If I had the opportunity to do this exercise again, I would probably have the class work together with more directed facilitation.
Nevertheless, I was able to draw some useful comparisons between the lists that the group generated and make some of the points that I had hoped for, which were very well-received. This allowed me to explain the homework assignment for the week, which was:
Find a public place where you can sit by yourself for at least an hour and observe many different people whom you don’t know, such as a café. If this won’t work, you can do this with a TV, with the sound turned off.) As you watch people walk past, try to imagine what their faces look like when they have sex- not what types of sex, or who they’re with, but what expressions and noises they make. As you do this, keep notes of the people you see and what sorts of reactions you have. Do this for at least one hour.
Journal about what happens- Are there people you find easier or more difficult to imagine having sex? People you find yourself wanting to not imagine having sex? Are there any patterns in what you imagine, or in where you find this challenging? Are there ways in which you see your visions of people’s sexualities as being influenced by social stereotypes, or whom you find attractive? How does it feel to connect more deeply with the awareness that we are all sexual beings? What emotions and reactions are you finding yourself having? Do you find any shame reactions coming up?
Out of all of the journal assignments, this one generated both the most excitement and the most anxiety. The next week, some learners said that they had found it enlightening, affirming and fun, while others found it threatening and shaming. However, many of the learners did identify groups that they found more challenging to imagine having sex, such as the elderly and the disabled, and were able to reflect upon why that might be. Since the objectives for the class were to identify and explore these patterns, this showed their success, regardless of what shape that exploration took.
I found it interesting that some of the learners described this exercise as a psychic violation of other peoples’ privacy. However, when I asked, none of them had thought to try the exercise with people on television; I had offered that as a way to try the exercise in the privacy of their homes as a way to increase their sense of safety since I was concerned that some of them might feel anxiety about trying the exercise in public. I would like to have asked them what their reasons for not doing so were, but I didn’t think of it until after the class was over; my intuition is that some of them were experiencing shames that kept them from trying the exercise in any form and this would have been an excellent opportunity to explore that.
Until this point, most of the class sessions were oriented towards intellectual explorations of the mechanisms and dynamics of shame, even though they were grounded in deeply emotional and personal experiences. I designed this session and the next in order to offer specific skills that can be of use for UU ministers, based on the Phase 1 interviews, and they represent a shift towards the second and third goals for the semester:
By the end of the semester, learners will:
This session marked the shift from concentrating on the bottom portion of the Flowchart and beginning to move into the middle and upper sections. In order to help the learners see the flow of the semester, I explained this orally and I put the second and third objectives for the semester at the top of the day’s agenda, as well as the day’s objectives.
Affect Theory begins with the assumption that the affects and the emotions are somatic responses, and that we often respond to the physical sensations they trigger even when we are unaware of them. Kaufman’s refocusing exercise is most useful when we can pay attention to our feelings of shame and can stay aware of how it shifts as we deliberately stimulate the positive affect of interest. I decided to include a class on embodiment skills to help support the learners’ abilities in these areas. Since this is not an area in which I felt qualified to teach, I had a colleague join me. Astraea Davidson MSW, is a somatic body worker and therapist who works with clients around body-based awareness.
The objective for this class session was:
By the end of the session, learners will:
For the needs assessment, Ms Davidson and I asked the learners to identify the physical sensations they feel during experiences of shame and during experiences of sexual arousal. In addition to serving as a needs assessment for the session, it gave us a quick assessment of the learners’ abilities to talk about their somatic experiences and also demonstrate that the language of Affect Theory and other aspects of the course content had been integrated into their vocabularies. Thus, this short interaction contained many layers of assessment, which was certainly appropriate at this point in the semester.
After this portion of the needs assessment, Ms Davidson also assessed the level of learner experience with embodiment skills. Since almost all of the learners had some experience with developing embodiment skills through meditation, yoga or other practices, she was able to talk more deeply about the foundations of somatic awareness and how somatic awareness skills can help us stay focused on the present moment, which was a tool that many of the Phase 1 participants described as being important for ministers. This was the presentation that I had asked her to accomplish, which led into the practice of following Ms Davidson through a series of embodiment exercises. As most of the learners had described experience with these skills, we increased the amount of presentation and decreased the amount of practice. We also spent more time in the assessment phase, in which we asked the learners to talk about which embodiment skills they find easier or more challenging. In addition, the journal assignment was designed as another opportunity for me to assess their success, as it asked the learners to write about their use of the embodiment exercises in response to any shame reactions they had before the next class.
This was possibly the easiest session for me, since almost the entire session was devoted to a presentation with Sharon Ellison, the developer of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication (PNDC) and author of Taking the War Out of Our Words : The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication. I took advantage of the two-week gap between the prior class and this one and had the learners read the entire book as preparation for her presentation. I was drawn to her work because it offers a model of communication that is consistent with the theoretical framework of Affect Theory and the other literature on shame, even though it had not been developed with them in mind. During her presentation, I was able to link some of the points that Ms Ellison was making with the reading and class discussion, and observed several learners in clear “a-ha!” moments.
As a way of assessing how the learners were able to apply PNDC tools, the assignment for this session was to try to use them when applicable, and then to journal about their experiences. From their responses, some of the learners found them helpful, while others found that they didn’t add much to their interactions. However, most of them described the ways in which Ellison’s conceptual clarity made it easier to identify and avoid defensive communication patterns. I decided that this demonstrated their success at developing more effective communication tools.
Since I planned the semester with several different theoretical frameworks in mind, I wanted to use this session to show the learners what some of the relationships between different topics were. In many ways, this acted as a recap for the semester even though the learners had not yet demonstrated their success at meeting the objectives through their presentations. I felt that this overview would increase the level of motivation for the presentations by giving the learners the opportunity to step back and see the larger picture. While this did not follow the exact structure of the model, it served the learners’ needs more directly. Since the purpose of the model is to be able to respond to the learners, I decided that this shift was a better step than rigid adherence to the framework. As one of the characteristics of adult learning is that people learn best when they understand why they are learning (Knowles et al., 1998), offering them this wider perspective was important.
The objective for the day was:
By the end of the session, learners will:
After the opening check-ins, I showed the learners a flip chart that I had prepared showing the relationships between each step of the semester, from the intrapersonal dynamics described by Affect Theory through the interpersonal, social and cultural patterns we explored. During the discussion that followed, the learners drew comparisons between my presentation and their experiences and models from other fields of study. This showed both that my presentation was well-planned and that learners were integrating the information by connecting it to their experiences, which seemed to be a clear indicator of their success at meeting the objectives, as well as my success at facilitating theirs.
As a practice, I then had the learners divide into three groups in order to develop lists of responses to shame on three levels: the personal, the community and the liturgical. In order to support these different directions for exploration, the reading for this session included writings on shame on the personal level (hooks, 2000a; Smedes, 1993), the community level (McClintock, 2001), and the liturgical level (Pattison, 2000). I referred to these articles as a way of introducing the exercise, and to show that being able to shift from one level to another helps us find appropriate responses to a range of issues.
One of my assumptions based on the theoretical background for the semester is that shame has an adaptive value. At the beginning of the semester, the learners were resistant to this idea, since it contradicts so many common definitions of shame. As a result, it was a source of great pleasure to me to hear them describe different ways to integrate the messages that shame offers on each of these levels and list strategic responses. Each group developed a list of techniques that were appropriate for that level, realistic and took the theories of shame into account.
As an assessment for the semester, this was a definite indicator that they had absorbed the information and were able to adapt it and use it well. While I had not designed this exercise to serve as a larger assessment, in retrospect it makes sense that it did. The exercise was grounded in the entire semester, so it offered an opportunity to assess their learning on the same scale. One of the advantages of the educational model that this highlights is that by requiring opportunities for practice and assessment to be integrated throughout the semester, important information emerged even when I had not planned for it. I strongly believe that had I not been following this structure, I probably wouldn’t have created the opportunity to observe this evidence of their learning. Not only did this session help the learners, it was a wonderfully positive experience for me because I was able to see my own successes. This was an unexpected benefit to using this framework.
The final four sessions were devoted to learner presentations which used an open-ended format. The only guidelines for content were that I asked the learners to spend fifteen minutes sharing something about their experiences with sex, shame, spirit and/or power from a personal, heart-centered perspective, rather than presenting a lecture or book report. Learners could work together or solo, and could use any format: poetry, song, music, a sermon, telling a story, sharing artwork, any form that helped them connect with the topic and the class. If someone was planning on sharing a visual project, I asked them to talk about it with the class and tell us the history of their work and what it meant to them.
While these were the only criteria for the presentation, I asked the group to abide by certain covenants while watching and listening to their classmates. After each presentation, we spent ten to fifteen minutes in what I called “appreciative feedback.” Rather than critiquing the presentation, I asked the learners to respond from their hearts and share with the presenter and the group what it was about the presentation that resonated for them. They could talk about how they felt, what they were reminded of, the ways in which they were inspired, or other similar appreciation. The goal was to deepen the community within the class and help the presenter achieve a sense of healthy pride for their work (Nathanson, 2003). Since I was asking the learners to risk shame by sharing deeply personal material, I wanted to support the transformation of shame into pride. I also wanted the presenter to be able to reconnect with the group through experiencing Kaufman’s (1992, 1996) interpersonal bridge and to see how mindful connection with others can help individuals respond to and overcome shame. Throughout the semester, more than any other element of the course, the presentations generated both the deepest anxiety and the greatest joy. I was available throughout the semester to help develop the presentations, and several learners met with me to discuss their progress. As it turned out, the results, discussed below, exceeded all of my expectations.
For each of the presentation sessions, I asked the learners for two journal entries. The first was always one of:
If you presented this week, what was that like for you? What came up for you as you were planning/preparing your presentation? What came up for you during the presentation? Or:
If you did not present this week, what was it like to observe/participate in the presentations? Did you find they inspired any thoughts or emotions for you?
The second journal entry changed each week. For one session, I asked for feedback about the journaling, for the next, I asked them to reflect on how the course helped them personally, academically or professionally, and for last, I asked them to reflect on the objectives for the semester and whether they felt they had met them. All three of these assignments were a combination of self-assessment and feedback on the class.
From the perspective of assessment, the project presentations demonstrated how the learners integrated the work in which we had engaged into their lives and made it personally relevant. While the highly flexible nature of the projects triggered some anxiety, the advantage to not giving more guidance to the group was that the learners were able to work with their individual needs and choose how to test their own learning edges (Griffin, 1997). Some learners specifically chose topics that were more challenging, while others chose presentation formats that were less familiar, and a few opted to engage in both ways.
For each and every presentation, the personal risks that the learners took were deeply moving and awe-inspiring. One learner who had started ballet classes in her early 40s performed a dance piece that she had choreographed, even though she had never danced for anyone outside her class, including her partner. Four learners told their stories of being sexually assaulted, two of them for the first time. Two learners told us about their struggles to define their masculinity without internalizing sexism. Several learners shared poetry, artwork and stories that they had never shared with anyone; some of them had been creating their art for over twenty years and had not previously let anyone else see, hear or read it. One effect of this degree of sharing was that the level of fellowship and safety within the group was revealed and deepened. As the teacher, I know that I can take some credit for helping create and support the structures that facilitated this, and I also know that the learners were responsible for much of the effort and attention that built such a degree of community.
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