By Dr Eamon Costello, Head of Open Education, DCU.
#OpenLearn: How many headsets must a man put on before you can call him a man?
One of the nice side-effects of my job is that I get to help people. Someone might point out, that as an educator, my job should surely be primarily about helping people. Surely helping others should not be a side-effect, a nice-to-have, but rather a first order imperative. Through a certain lens this is true, but people have different predispositions and motivations. What I realised, or perhaps more accurately remembered, during the #OpenTeach course, and in mentoring in the #FLTeachOnline course, is how much I love to learn. Learning is why I do what I do. I am in this gig for partly selfish reasons. As the old adage goes: If you want to learn, teach. Let me try to explain.
I invoke learning to help assuage my performance anxiety about teaching. I stress about teaching. This stress builds before the event but resurfaces as the headset touches my ears – as I get ready to cross the threshold into the online class. Questions suddenly bubble up that have been swirling around in my head for days: How can I really transform these learners’ understanding? How can I inspire them, bring them to a new level? What creative thing can I do to bring this class to life, to inspire my colleagues, impress my peers, wow the learners? What can I say that will affirm my status as a doctorally qualified educational expert? How can I avoid looking like a spectacular eejit?
The answers to anxiety, fixations and mental phantoms are not logical. You cannot outthink your anxious mind. More planning, more control, more preparation will not necessarily defeat the twisted logic of anxious thoughts. It may even provide more fuel for the fire. The answers are more ephemeral. They may, as Dylan said, be “blowing in the wind”*. Indeed, the answers may be questions. So instead of thinking about teaching, I try to think about learning: What can I learn here? How can I listen better? When I am talking too much? What am I actually saying when I do talk? What can I learn about myself? These questions are more calming for me, more relaxing, more inspiring. Coming full circle, I have managed to inspire a learner – and that learner is me.
So, what did I actually learn? Sinead, one of our great #OpenTeach facilitators, talked about how she found students coming out of breakout rooms to be more talkative and less camera shy than before they went in. This reminded me of something I learned from teaching our online tutors previously. One tutor reported students becoming more relaxed after the recording was turned off. They described it as analogous to them approaching the lectern after a lecture, as a moment when students are more open to asking a question. Similarly, a tutor talked about how they fashioned brief but intimate spaces before the recording of the session started for students to ask questions. This evoked a sense of transition for me. Certain teaching moments happen when we don’t expect them. When we move between one thing and another a space opens. In this space our anxieties about what we are supposed to be or not be doing momentarily subside and teaching happens.
I claimed earlier that I do this for partly selfish reasons. Sure, I do love to help people but I also love learning and when you teach you learn: you learn about your learners, you learn about yourself and, of course, you learn about your subject matter. You learn more and more about the things that you are fascinated by. You learn about the workings of the world that sent you spiralling down this path in the first place. And you learn that teaching and learning are not inseparable concepts, just like learner and teacher.
*Bob Dylan not Dylan Wiliam 😉