When I recovered today from the week with all that wonderful collaborating and socializing I had a question asked by Monique Eckmann in her speech in the final session popped up in my mind anew:
“How can we organize a self-reflecting process because it can’t be taught?”
I find it a very useful and productive question. What is self-reflection, and what are the preconditions for it’s practice?
And Monique’s also useful answers put it in a nutshell was to stress the need of everyone to tell his/her own victim story instead of being suspected or blamed as a perpetrator. And from this psychological or psychoanalytical perspective we know that behind every perpetrator is a story of his/her own experience as a victim. The experience of being a victim doesn’t makes you good. “Auschwitz was no borstal” (as Zuckermann puts it).
But there is more in it than a psychological or pathological answer. There is an interesting answer from the system theoretical perspective, which may enable us to open the question up to all learning processes.
When I reflect on my own history of development of self-reflection including the competence and the will to criticize myself for the sake of being able to change something inwardly – than I can say, that I only startet a process to become more and more able to do so, when I finally got rid of blaming myself for mistakes, errors and failings, and when I quit the system of shame which came from my entire early environmental systems in my 1st and 2nd socialization.
When I say that learning is a self-organizing system it does not mean at all – although it is often taken for – that you have only to provide an access to the internet or to a library, and on it goes. Strange to say that often teacher do exactly this when they skip their usual intentional teaching for a so called “project”: they push their students in a situation confronted with material, or a task, or a “learning object” (as the Cultural Historical Psychology puts it) and then they abandon them extremely – in opposite to their usual extremely overprotecting and patronizing teaching work. And they find it “pedagogical” when they don’t answer student’s questions and rather say “Go, find it out by yourself” although they know the answer. Instead of professional pedagogical behavior I can name this only rude, but it’s very usual. This stems from the idea, that either the teacher steers the whole process or the student(s) do and their is no third.
To skip this useless dualistic understanding we may notice that there is both in individual psychic systems as well as in social systems: the self-steering closed psychic system (the person) or the self-steering closed social system on one hand and their respective open interfaces to connect with their environments on the other hand. Every trial from the environment – which is every other person and every other social system to the person or system we look at – to take over control of this self-steering apparatus is answered by a self-steered defense of the self-steering apparatus itself. If you have any positive influence to persons or in certain social systems you have it only because you are (at least intuitive) aware of these autopoietical apparatuses. If these self-steering systems would corrupt themselves the whole system would collapse. (This makes for instance usually 12 to 18 year old boys refusing to do a solo audition in front of their music class.) And from this understanding it can easily been understood why it is not useful at all to challenge the internal self-steering apparatus by asking for self-reflecting activities when this apparatus is unstable which is often the case exactly for weak students. (This corresponds with Monique’s argument of the “illusion to get power” – and by that to strengthen or heal the “self” – by persecuting others). But if there would be no stimulus from the environment at all the system can bear to let in, it would be threatened by isolation which would also lead to system’s death.
So as teacher or educator we can see ourselves as one of the various – and important – environments to our students. And what we can do to make learning processes in general happen is to skip all these useless, counterproductive trials to enter our students’ self-steered systems and instead to create environments for them in which as much as possible interfaces can be used by them because their need to connect is met and their need to be autonomous as well.
Beyond these primary needs there are two other important needs I seek to fulfill in learning processes I am in together with others: that is the need to be challenged through participating in activities that matters and the need to feel competent with contributions. I don’t think that the preconditions for good learning are on this state different between children, adolescents, and adults. These are conditions for human learning.
If these 4 needs are met the learning methods and shapes of the processes can look very different and the range of their variations may be very wide. It depends on context. Be moderator and observer and be an involved person as well. When you have to be what: it depends on context. So for instance Karen Polak showed professional competence when she entered the scene and presented a missing perspective in a workshop I attended.
I have a few principles for my actions as educator:
- If I don’t feel well with the process in a certain situation, I ask the students (or teachers or pupils) or other participants how they feel with the situation. In most cases they don’t feel well either, but if I bring this up early as my own problem they willingly make serious suggestions what we could change together in the environment.
- An as it turns out mostly, if they are not asked regularly and many times for feedback during the process at least in every single phase, they are often too polite or not in conscious connection with their own feelings so they could ask for something could show and tell their dissatisfaction early enough so process, structure, environmental choices can improved.
Make it short: I can’t appreciate to much what I learned for my teaching through studying System Theory and I like to recommend it to you. If you read German you may find it useful to have a look on my post Systemtheorie für Lehrer. If you want to read in English I recommend the work of Pete Senge
Blog by Lisa Rosa from the Landesinstitut für Lehrerbildung und Schulentwicklung Hamburg.