Chapter 8- How Did the Model Support My Authenticity?

In addition to being successful in terms of the learners meeting the objectives of the course, Sex and Shame, Spirit and Power was also successful with respect to helping the learners deepen their connections to their authenticities. At various times during the semester, each of them showed the rest of the class a deeply revealing side of their genuine selves. This is especially apparent from their journals and the learner presentations. For many of them, the presentations in particular provided opportunities to overcome internalized shames and speak their truths. While I think that I have described this clearly, an important aspect that has not yet been included is how my authenticity deepened during the semester. At the beginning of this dissertation, I cited Cranton and Carusetta’s (2004) definition of authenticity as “being genuine, showing consistency between values and actions, relating to others in such a way as to encourage their authenticity, and living a critical life.” In order to explore how my model of adult education influenced my authenticity, I will examine how each of these factors changed for me during the semester; however, I will discuss them in reverse order to provide the most conceptual clarity.

My model of adult education both supported and demanded critical thinking on my part in several ways. First, in order to develop the model and the BARS in the first place, I spent several weeks reflecting on each of the areas that I considered essential to effective teaching so that I could develop my standards for both “acceptable” and “optimal” practices. I met with several adult educators in order to discuss questions that I had with respect to some of the facets of the model and to examine some of the assumptions that I held that were affecting my understanding of adult learning. In essence, in order to create my model, I critically examined what made each aspect of it important to me in terms of both my personal ideals and the literature on effective education. Since I knew that my values would suffuse it, I wanted to make them transparent, at least to myself, so that I could work with them rather than deny their presence. Throughout this process, I came to understand more deeply some of the ways in which I see myself and my role as a teacher and I believe that this awareness suffuses both my description of effective teaching and the BARS. I further believe that other teachers might easily use the basic framework of my model of adult education to scrutinize their values, since it leaves room for each individual to develop her own vision of each feature.

Secondly, my model also helped me to reflect on my teaching practices during the semester. While different topics and class sessions seemed to lend themselves to particular approaches, by returning to the model, I was able to ask myself whether another perspective or technique could be applied and whether I was making assumptions based on my personal preferences. For example, I developed exercises such as posting the “Sexual Rules of Shame” (see Session 5) in direct response to considering other ways that I could approach this subject; I know that I sometimes forget to employ exercises such as this one out of my tendency to rely on didactic presentations. While it is certainly possible to engage in this kind of self-reflection without this particular model, I found that reading the BARS while I was developing a lesson plan facilitated this process; I could more easily ask myself whether I was meeting my goals for acceptable or optimal teaching since I had a tangible reminder of what they were. Through this process, the BARS often inspired me to seek new approaches to the topic that might not have otherwise occurred to me.

Thirdly, the model gave me a framework for my journaling practice. After each class session, I spent a few minutes recording my impressions, reactions, thoughts and ideas in order to use them to plan my next lesson. Since the model has clear areas of focus, I was usually able to use it as a starting point for my writing. Although the model does not encompass as many topics and concerns as I explored in my journal, it often helped me begin writing or helped me continue when I could not decide what topic to write about next. When I read my journal in order to plan the next class session, I was able to develop my skills more fully as a result of having used the model in this way.

I found this to be especially helpful after having read the learners’ feedback that I gathered during the semester. As I described above (see Session 5), I found some of their feedback challenging and some of my own defensive reactions took shape. One of the ways that I responded to my reactions was to return to the model and ask myself if I still believed that it was useful and if so, if I believed that I had been applying it well. When I realized that I could answer both questions affirmatively, I was able to hold on to both my belief that I am a good teacher and the knowledge there are ways in which I can improve. This allowed me to overcome the defensive “either/or” reaction that I find is often a result of my shame being triggered and to be open to the learners’ feedback and intentions. Although my expectation when I developed this model of adult learning was not that it would help me reflect on and respond to my shame reactions, I am not surprised that it did so. One of the challenges with listening to shame is that we often disregard or ignore information that contradicts it. Returning to the model that I had developed and worked with over a period of months enabled me to affirm my trust in myself and to honor my emotions while pulling myself out of a shame spiral. My ability to use my model of adult learning to examine my experience in the moment that it was happening was a direct consequence of having spent so much time crafting and using it.

The next aspect of authenticity is relating to others in such a way that their authenticity is supported. While it is clear that the learners deepened their authenticities, the questions of how I acted in order to foster those changes and how the model of adult learning helped me do so are somewhat harder to tease out. One way in which the answers to these questions can be developed is through the lens provided by Wlodkowski's (1999) work on the associations between relevance, motivation and safety.

As I described above, one of the processes that I wanted to take into account is the relationship between risk, healthy pride and shame. When we take a risk and succeed, we feel healthy pride; when we don’t succeed, we feel an emotion based on the affect of shame in direct proportion to our initial desire for success (Nathanson, 2003). Engaging in the work to deepen authenticity often entails taking large risks, at least upon occasion, since the attempt to expand authenticity or to connect with it can depend on the ability to let go of outdated worldviews and self-images, including the shames that block us from authenticity. Wlodkowski points out that learner motivation to take risks is directly related to the ability of the teacher to provide a safe environment.

I certainly can not take all of the credit for the creation of a safe setting for Sex and Shame, Spirit and Power. Each of the learners in the class contributed to it, as did the culture of SKSM and the UU community in general. However, there are some definite ways in which the model of adult learning helped me to build safety into the syllabus.

One example of how this developed was the use of the warm-up phase of the lesson plan to build relationships among the learners and to create a space of mutual safety. When I was planning a lesson that I expected to be more challenging in this regard, the model reminded me to incorporate extra steps to build safety into my plans. Similarly, the assessments that I integrated into each lesson helped me to ensure that the needs of the learners were taken into account. Finally, the model also prompted me to work with as many different intelligences and learning styles as I could. This reinforced the message that I wanted to connect with the learners on their terms as much as possible, rather than demanding that they meet me on my terms. In these ways, my model of adult learning helped me to create the safety that directly supported the learners’ willingness and abilities to venture into new territory and express their genuine selves.

Another way in which my model supported my capacity to help the learners expand their authenticities was through my use of improvisation and inspiration during the class sessions rather than relying on a fixed lesson plan. I believe that as long as the objectives for each lesson are met, the path taken is not important; as the teacher, I wanted to be able to let go of my plans if they were not serving the learners. In a sense, this parallels “getting out of the way,” as described above (see The Role of the Unitarian-Universalist Minister), in that I think that my emotional investment in a particular lesson plan ought to take a backseat to meeting the requirements of the learners. There were many times at which I needed to modify the lesson plan in order to respond to the needs of the moment; on one occasion, I decided to respond to the learners’ questions by discarding my entire plan and improvising the entire session (see Session 6).

My model of adult learning helped me in this regard in some important ways. First, because it is quite simple in its most basic form, I was able to modify the lessons in the moment while still following the trajectory of warm-up though recap. I strongly believe that part of what enabled me to do this was the fact that I knew that even if my new lesson wasn’t “perfect,” it would still be more effective than a lesson that was ideal in terms of education theories, but less relevant to the learners’ questions. This made it much easier to set my attachment to my original plans aside and meet the needs of the learners, which both made it more effective and demonstrated that their safety was a priority to me. Given the relationship between safety and the willingness to take risks, and therefore move into authenticity, I believe that my model directly facilitated this sequence.

Secondly, because the BARS specifically assesses how well I was able to incorporate safety, respect and support for the learners, it reminded me to make sure that these goals were woven into each lesson plan. For example, when I planned the journal assignment following Session 3, I provided the learners with the opportunity to engage with the content of the lesson to the degree that they felt comfortable. This made it possible for them to work with their own learning edges (Griffin, 1997) and manage their own safety around the topic of responding to shame through Kaufman’s refocusing exercise. I can distinctly recall planning this journal exercise and reading the section of BARS labeled “Practice,” which reads: “Exercises were challenging, but not threatening.” This reminded me that the assignment would be more effective if I gave the learners some options with regard to how they approached the assignment. Not only did this provide more security for the learners who chose to not use Kaufman’s exercise, it allowed the learners who did not have an opportunity use it to still complete the assignment. I further believe that because I gave the learners the option, some of them were able to explore it more deeply; my experience as a teacher is that some people will take larger risks when they have a choice than when they feel forced. Because the BARS and my model of adult learning helped me to get out of the way, I was able to place the learners’ safety first, which had a direct and positive influence my ability to help them strengthen their relationships with their inner selves.

The next facet of authenticity that bears examination is demonstrating consistency between actions and values. I find this particularly important in light of the observation made by Cervero, Wilson, & Associates (2001) that a teacher’s values will suffuse the entire educational process. Given the enormous scope of the field of adult education, the ability to clarify my ideals through the development of the BARS served me in some important ways. For example, at the most basic level, I spent a significant amount of time defining my values, which I consider to be a clear prerequisite to choosing to act in ways that are linked with them. In addition, by framing my values in behavioral terms, I was more able to align my lesson plans and exercises with them. This is comparable to the earlier discussion of course objectives, in that whether they are strictly measurable or not, it is easier to determine if they are being met if they are described in terms of specific actions.

Another way in which my learning model supported my goal of acting in ways that were aligned with my values was built into the evaluation process that I designed. Since I knew that I was going to ask the learners to use the BARS to evaluate my teaching practices, when I felt hesitation to try something new or resistance to approaching a topic from a less-familiar perspective, I was able to overcome it by asking myself if I thought that it might improve their assessments of me. While I am generally very self-motivated, I know that I sometimes need an external motivation to overcome an internal resistance. Rather than retreating from the situation or having it escalate into a larger conflict, I was able to use the model to either set my concerns aside in order to better serve the learners, or to inspire me to explore the roots of my hesitations in order to resolve them. By using the model in this way, I was able to manage and expand my own metacognitive skills around my values as a teacher and as the semester progressed, the external motivation became much less important as the success of my earlier endeavors became the foundation for my internal motivation later in the semester. As a result, my model helped me self-manage my internal processes and act in ways that were attuned with the values that I hold as important for my teaching practices.

The final ingredient to Cranton and Carusetta’s description of authenticity is “being genuine.” I find this a hard concept to define, although I think that I know it when I experience it or see it in other people. Lacking a clear definition for this idea, I’m not sure how to determine how my model of adult education influenced my ability in this regard, although I believe that it did. For example, it helped me to set my defensive reactions aside and work with the learners with a degree of openness that I don’t think that I would have otherwise. However, given the difficulties in quantifying this kind of experience, I think that the best that I can offer around this topic is my personal experiences as I have described them throughout this dissertation.

Whether my model of learning directly facilitated my connection to my genuine self or not, the fact that it clearly supported my authenticity in the other three dimensions that Cranton and Carusetta describe is a strong argument that it was a powerful tool in this regard. One question that arises for me is whether someone else could use the same model in a similar way. My initial answer is that I believe that each educator would need to first develop his own understanding of adult learning, instead of accepting mine uncritically. My experience was that it was not the model itself that fostered my reflection or consistency between my actions and my values, but rather that the process of considering each area within it in such detail made it possible for me to become a more authentic teacher.

This is an especially important point to consider given how many researchers and writers in adult education acknowledge that many newer teachers often wish for a checklist or another tool that would help them over their learning curves. One way in which this model could be used by educators is to take the basic framework of outline through recap and use critical reflection and self-directed learning on each aspect of it to develop an individual assessment of “optimal” and “acceptable” practices. This might help newer teachers to work with the desire for a checklist while supporting them in their professional development and their authenticities. I found this to be one of the more useful tools in my development as a teacher and I believe that others might as well.

One of my biggest challenges in developing expertise is that I often feel an anticipatory shame around failure. This can easily trigger fear-shame binds that limit my ability to mindfully examine the situation, assess my skills and resources, and develop plans to respond to the situation. When I began to plan Sex and Shame, Spirit and Power, I often wished for a format that would help me guarantee good practices. Since this wasn’t available, I was forced to return to the BARS and reflect on how I could act that would mirror the goals that it was based on. From the perspective of Affect Theory and Kaufman’s refocusing exercise, this practice interrupted my shame reaction by giving me something to focus my attention on; as a result, I was more able to find ways to design lessons without reacting from an anticipatory shame. I have found that while Kaufman’s exercise is helpful when it is simply a “time out” which offers me a break from the trigger, it is more effective for me when my refocusing is centered on addressing whatever situation or event has triggered my shame. My understanding of adult learning in general, and my application of it through the BARS in particular, helped me overcome my defensive reactions and move back into my authenticity so that I could create lesson plans from a more centered place. I think that the fact that this was my first experience with teaching a semester-long course and that it was so successful is indicative of how useful the model and the BARS were in this regard.

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