July 28, 2012 by readlisaread
Title got you confused? Heh. I should think. Now, come along with me on a short journey (it’s only about 10 years long) and I will explain…
This week I have been immersed in a whole new learning experience. I was contracted by Royal Roads to add another course to my Associate Faculty facilitation list. But this one wasn’t just an online experience, this time, after two weeks online, I was going to the show….two week intensive residency, teaching graduate level courses, face to face.
One of the first online conversations was about the Imposter Syndrome. I know what my online communication/facilitation style is like, and I’m confident in my ability to be a very effective facilitator in that setting. But face to face? Where the learners would ACTUALLY SEE me? And where I would have to think on my feet, and choose my words with care, and not be able to edit them? Oh man, not only do I understand Imposter Syndrome, I got it in spades, baby.
At the top, I said this was a learning experience, and even though I was there as an instructor, there has been some very deep learning for me too. Starting with The Suit. Now, if you know me in person, you know that I have a very…..um……distinctive style. In other words, I know I am a Person of Size, and while I don’t dress like I’m apologizing for that, or trying to hide it, I also don’t try to be all In Your Face (that’s what my personality is for). But in this case, I am not talking about that kind of Suit, though I did agonize over my wardrobe a tiny bit, and exchanged my usual geeky/meme-based t-shirts and jeans for something approaching business casual. No, the suit I am talking about is the Judith Suit. Judith is my direct boss at the Uni, but more than that, she is a mentor, a friendly acquaintance and a formidable role model. I also like her very well, and we have much in common, career-wise. I also love that she is a tiny woman who raised 5 children, and she gushes about her grandchildren. Academically and professionally, she is a force to be reckoned with. So, when she had to find a replacement FOR HERSELF to teach this course, I did not take lightly her offer to me to do so. Oh but wait, it gets better. Her usual (as in for the past 10 years) co-facilitator is no mental slouch either– another Phd, Vice President and Provost of a prestigious university in an eastern Canadian town that rhymes with Moronto….as in, I’m pretty smart, but next to these two, I am a Moron, to. But there is one thing I know about Judith, she wouldn’t have made the offer if she didn’t think I was capable.
Alright. The stage is set then. Enter the players. Bill, the co-facilitator extraordinaire, and I hit it right off. A warmer and more generous — and authentic–academician I cannot imagine. As much as I knew, instantly, that I could count on him for support, I also knew that he, like me, does not suffer fools gladly. And, frankly, I’ve never been good at being the second banana. So, I had to just get over it, get on with it, and be awesome doing so.
My first lecture was about critiquing an academic article. (If this was a movie, you would hear some foreshadow-y music). I had Judith’s slides, hand outs and lecture notes from years’ past that she had generously provided. All I really needed to do was stand at the front and regurgitate the material. I was a little nervous, but no more or less than any time I have stood in front of a roomful of people. I got started and and things were going along okay. I had already reminded myself that adult learners are different than the hormonal teenagers I am used to facing, and so I wasn’t thrown by their silence….yet, something wasn’t quite right. Then the moment came. Not a lightbulb moment, exactly, but the moment certainly of “A Ha!”. Instead of saying “Article Critique”, which is what the lesson was on, I said “Critical Artique” and then could not say it any other way. It became in short order a huge mental block (and tongue block). Why was I stressing about it? Just because I was supposed to be knowledgeable about what I was teaching and stood up in front of these people in Judith’s stead and made a mistake……oh…..I made a mistake, and because I was trying to be all Judith, CLEARLY mistakes were not OK. Lisa makes mistakes all the time and thinks nothing of it, but Judith is perfect, and would never get her words mixed like that. Right? Riiiiiiight. I had to get out of the Judith suit immediately.
That night in my hotel room, I completely re-worked my next lecture. I still used all of Judith’s notes and materials, in my own Keynote even used most of her words. But I made it my own. I threw in a picture of the Honey Badger. It was an all Lisa suit, but made better with accessories by Judith. Lesson Learned.
The Prisoners, though, what about the Prisoners in the title? Well, this is what happens when I allow myself…..nay, encourage myself….to be authentic. In my third lecture, by now really gaining comfort and ease in this new facilitation experience, I was talking about motivation. One of the learners made a comment something to the effect of: “Well, when I’m doing a training session with prisoners, I find they are very resistant to being in a class room setting, and would much prefer to do the course online.”. So, I went all nurturing-educator and went on off down the rant-path to how classrooms probably hold scary memories for a lot of these people, and it is a stereotype for a reason that most people who are incarcerated lack education, and on and on and on until mercifully another learner stopped me and said: “Uh….. actually Lisa, in corporate training lingo, a “Prisoner” is actually someone who has been sent for training by their boss– in other words, they are not there by free choice.”. A slight classroom-wide gasp of dread and/or discomfort. A beat of silence. And at that moment, I neither knew nor cared what anyone else in my shoes would have done, I had only one recourse: I bent at the waist and howled with laughter. Straightened up, waved to room and walked to the door saying “Good night everybody!”. Absolute gales of laughter from the learners. For several minutes. And then we went right back to the lesson. Was I embarrassed? Sure, a little. But I had already introduced myself to them as a facilitator who knows she doesn’t know everything, and doesn’t try to pretend she does. Did they lose all respect for me because I had made a mistake, and didn’t even attempt a graceful recovery? (“Oh, I didn’t want to presume you meant that kind of prisoner. Be clear when you are using vernacular or slang to define the word– others in the room may not have the same context” oooooooh….smooth!). Well, if they did, it’s their problem now, not mine. I’ve also introduced the notion that you cannot be all things to all people, and while my teaching style may not appeal to everyone all the time, it is MY style. Yep, I wear my Lisa suit with comfort and style…. and pride.