Motivating Prisoners–what is the Critical Artique?


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………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.


  1. Jenn O'Leary (JOL) says:

    I LOVE your authenticity, honesty and bravery letting us into your head like this!!!
    I laughed out loud several times while reading your post…

    First being from just outside Moronto, I appreciated that dig!! When people ask me where I am from, I say, just outside Toronto, but I’m not really from there! 🙂 Some of us who work “at the centre of the universe” are really embarrassed to say where we are from in anticipation of the contempt that is held towards Toronto by other parts of the country. This brings to mind the documentary “Let’s all hate Toronto” which was funny – if disturbing for us poor citizens who live/work there!

    Second – I have been in your shoes before (not at MALAT obviously) but put in to be the “expert” when I know that even though I am good educator, that I have skills and experience and tools and tricks to share, I am still just me. This JUST happened to me the weekend before I came here. I taught a clinical educator certificate course for three days in a row. When we did our intros in the group was a PhD candidate in adult education and a physician with 20+ years experience teaching in the clinical setting who in his words “wanted to see what Michener was providing to support his educators”… talk about an “Oh S$#t!!” moment. I walked right into it, asking questions that increased my Imposter syndrome! It ultimately went very well and with every activity and day I relaxed and saw that my concrete experiences on the bench were authentic and helpful to others (including the PhD and MD). I see this in your post too… that as you relaxed into your “lisa” suit your confidence increased.

    Lastly – ahhh… the “prisoners”… I TOTALLY thought she was talking about real prisoners and I am confident from the discussions around the table and laughter that a large majority did too… only the few people who were familiar with that terminology realized the disconnect. I was completely on the “no wonder prisoners like online learning, they can access the web and are probably planning their escape and searching youTube for how to make weapons out of bed springs and plastic forks”… That was what was going on my head and probably would have come out of my mouth if I was up where you were… and wouldn’t that have been spazz-tastic!?!? But it would have be me, all me!!! Whatever! Understandable… and as Hillary said “It’s not my business what others think of me”

    I have appreciated your presence in the classroom… I think you and Bill are a great tag team together representing academe, facilitation, application and support.


  2. Patti says:

    Lisa – I am so upset that I missed the Prisoner story in person, but while reading it here I, too, howled with laughter.

    I have had to fit into someone else’s suit, as well. My boss used to teach the same courses that I teach and her style is completely different than mine. It’s taken me a while to figure out that it’s more important (and credible) to “own” my courses than try to teach them in someone else’s style.

    You do not need to wear a Judith suit. Your Lisa suit is perfect. You are an engaging, authentic and thoroughly hysterical teacher.

    And now, I can’t stop saying Critical Artique either. 🙂

  3. readlisaread says:

    Thanks for your comments, ladies. I appreciate it. Now get out of my head and go outside. 🙂

  4. Colleen says:

    Delightful post, Lisa. The best educators can laugh at themselves! Your style is educational and entertaining and really you!

  5. Jan says:

    Your story is just as funny the second time around, Lisa.

  6. Alison says:

    I SAID I was sorry about that “prisoners” comment! It will haunt me until the end of days! (Or convocation. Either or.)

    I really did feel bad, but it made me recognize something huge about my MALAT experience: I’ve been in my own silly little world for so long that I don’t realize that everyone else may not know what’s going on in my head. I thank you, Lisa, for pointing out (with humour and honesty) a glaring gap in my own personality/construct/reality/what-have-you. Not everyone has had the same experiences, and I can’t start slinging terms around and expect that someone else understands me! (Those in my world get me, but–apparently–this ain’t Kansas any more, Toto!)

    Thanks or sharing this post with us – it’s nice to know that we (your learners) aren’t the only ones with cognitive dissonance! (See what I did there? Oh, yeah – that’s how I roll.) I appreciate your “Lisa suit” and the amount of work that you and Bill are doing for us, and I thank you for it!

    (Also, please tell me that you’ll wear at least one meme t-shirt! Come on – take it for the team!)

  7. Sandi Plewes says:

    I think the best part of the whole prisoner story was when you got Bill with it the next morning. That was priceless!

  8. Patti says:

    Me again. Two years later (!) and I wanted to let you know I still think you were an amazing facilitator who taught me more about teaching to the beat of you own drum than anyone else has ever managed to do. Oh and I still catch myself saying Critical Artique.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What are you searching for?

Wait…what did you say again?

Skip to toolbar