Teams versus the Professor/Student Learning Relationship

Once again, I was reminded of the power of a committed group of good thinkers to generate insights with problems that have been bugging me for a while. Six of us got together yesterday to gain a preliminary understanding of whether we might be a collaborative group to figure out how to scale powerful forms of adult experiential learning.

Prior to this meeting, I’ve been spending a lot of time researching (see Cathy Davidson), experimenting, attending seminars, and sitting in on other professors classes to identify a better way to help students learn and rapidly translate their learning into meaningful action.  For a long time, something has bugged me about standing in the front of a lecture hall (with fixed chairs and tables) as the “professor” who will somehow enlighten the “students.”

I am reminded of Mark Twain’s comment “College is a place where a professor’s lecture notes go straight to the students’ lecture notes, without passing through the brains of either.”

Long ago someone shared that the person who learns most in the classroom is the teacher. Selfishly, this accelerated learning as a “professor” is one of the many reasons I get so much enjoyment out of teaching.  Yet, in reading Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It, she provides evidence that having the students teach accomplishes accelerated learning – for both the student and the instructor.

As I was listening to my colleagues talk about the need for trainers and train the trainers and certifying trainers in order to develop great teams, the light bulb went on.  Here we were talking about how to produce great teams, but we still set up the distinction between Master and Student.  Our whole framework is the thousands of year old, master apprentice model of learning.

I realized that I had experienced another model of learning that involved teams of teams of teams with the focus on creating powerful groups of 3-7 member/leaders.  Twenty years ago, family friends invited my wife and I to live a Cursillo (Spanish for short course) weekend in New Hampshire. [Note:  The Protestant variant of Cursillo is Walk to Emmaus.]  Through the experience of the weekend, I realized that the transformative power of the accelerated learning was happening by this wonderful focus on teams and teams of teams.  I spent a lot of the next ten years finding out as much about the Cursillo Method as I could and had the gift of participating as a team member in many different environments in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Washington State.

The brilliance of the model is that starting with the invitation to participate in a Cursillo small group or weekend, the man or woman is treated with extraordinary respect as a leader.  It is only for the three days of living the first weekend that you are casually identified as a candidate.  Yet, as you look around the room of between 30-60 men, you have no idea who is a candidate and who is part of the “presenting” team.  We are all together working as a collection of small group teams to understand the talks (Rollos) through discussion and team art and the sharing of each.

The primary goal of the weekend is to create a vibrant, shared vision of what the Ideal leader is.  The structural DNA of the weekend is Piety, Study and Action.  Piety is our way of being in the world in the context of our shared vision of the Ideal.  Study is what we do to learn more about the ideal and our environment.  Action is how we put our piety and study into transforming our environment into something great.

The recommendation is for the Cursillista (candidate who has lived a three day weekend) to continue the sharing and learning in a Post Cursillo world of your small group of 3-7 men or women.  The structure of these weekly meetings over coffee or a meal is elegantly simple, yet powerful in the impact.

  • During this last week, how was I most like the Ideal? (Piety)
  • What did I learn? (Study)
  • How did I put my learning into Action?

After each team member has shared about the previous week, the questions are repeated with the time frame being the coming week for how each member will do Piety, Study and Action.

Everyone is a leader and everyone is a part of at least one team.

What if we could transform our classrooms into teams of teams of leaders?  This restructuring would certainly meet Cathy Davidson’s and Kate Hayles’ primary quality of a learning environment – collaboration.  What if we could live in a world of collaborative leaders?

What are your experiences of how to reliably produce great teams producing great results?

This entry was posted in Content with Context, Human Centered Design, Learning, organizing, User Experience, Working in teams. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Teams versus the Professor/Student Learning Relationship

  1. Pingback: Listening for Life | On the Way to Somewhere Else

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