Forget about style, worry about results.
— Bobby Orr
A few days ago, Carmen Llerenas, a Mexican Feldenkrais colleague who lives and practices in Paris, asked me about my teaching style. I demurred, only saying that how I present Awareness Through Movement lessons has certainly changed over the past 40-plus years.
Since then, I’ve been reflecting on what drove me to develop my way of teaching or, as Feldenkrais put it, my handwriting. Looking back, I realize that, over and over again, the feedback I received from the students in my classes has been the driving force of my style’s uneven, often uneasy evolution.
Since the beginning, I wanted to reach people who were unfamiliar with Moshe’s method. I figured one way to cultivate a wider audience was to introduce it to people in their working environment. My first such gig was teaching 911 operators. (This is the number people call in the US and Canada when there’s an emergency.)
The twenty-some participants gathered in a conference room in the county building for the workshop. In keeping with a popular topic of the day, my premise was on reducing stress.
The workshop was not a success. Only a few of the twenty-some attendees seemed engaged in the lessons or responsive to the ideas I presented. The rest were disinterested. One person stared out the window the entire time. Another chain smoked throughout — that’s how long ago it was.
A few nights later, my friend Mick McCarthey, who consulted with the companies and organizations whose employees were not getting along, was over for dinner. As I was preparing dinner, he inquired how the class went. He asked more than once; each time, I changed the subject.
After the meal, he took me aside to say that he couldn’t help but notice how I had avoided his questions. Even though we were good friends and colleagues — he had hired me to co-facilitate some groups with him — I responded defensively, saying the participants weren’t ready for what I had to offer. He smiled gently, put his hand on my shoulder, and asked if the participants had completed evaluation forms. When I said they had, he suggested we review them together. Grudgingly, I agreed.
Leaving my roommates and the other guests in the kitchen, we went outside, sat on the steps, and I read the comments the students had written, one by one.
“This was the most boring course I’ve ever taken.”
“I don’t know why I’m here.”
“What is the purpose of this class?”
And so on.
When Mick asked what I’d said, I reviewed my teaching plan with him. That was when he pointed out two possible pitfalls.
- I’d jumped directly into teaching without telling the participants explaining the potential benefits or introducing them without telling them no introduction to how to get the most out of doing ATM.
- In focusing primarily on the importance of awareness, I had unwittingly implied that they were unaware and came across as being superior. When I argued that this was central to the method, Mick said he understood this from his experience working with me and kindly suggested that this might not be the best place to start.
I realized I had taught the same way Moshe taught in the Amherst training. Those of us in the program already understood the rhyme and reason of the lessons. Mick suggested that I consider how the first class needed to teach new students how to do a lesson, illustrate the advantages of what was surely unfamiliar to learn, and demonstrate how effective it is.
Not only were the participants in the workshop unfamiliar with the idea of learning through moving mindfully, but they had been required to attend. How could I get them on board? Mick challenged me to find ways of making what I had to offer relevant.
Thanks to that long-ago difficult, uncomfortable conversation, I learned to turn failure into feedback.
Thanks to Mick’s insight and guidance, I started to think not just about what I had to say and teach but how to make it more accessible and meaningful to students. Looking back, I can see how it inspired central aspects of my approach, such as explicitly framing courses in terms of what is significant to students and starting by acquainting them with how and why lessons work.
Please let us know your perspective! Add your comments, reactions, suggestions, ideas, etc., by first logging in to your Mind in Motion account and then clicking here.
Commenting is only available to the Mind in Motion Online community.
Join in by getting your free account, which gives you access to the e-book edition of Articulating Changes (Larry's now-classic Master's thesis), ATM® lessons, and more — all at no charge whatsoever.
To find out more and sign up, please click here.
Please share this blog post
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This blog may contain one or more affiliate links. When you click on a link and then make a purchase, Mind in Motion receives a payment. Please note that we only link to products we believe in and services that we support. You can learn more about how affiliate links work and why we use them here