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Simon Says

Simon says

by Andy Howie

I was really saddened and disappointed to hear from Simon, my Qigong instructor, that he has decided to stop teaching. I’ve built up a good relationship with him and valued him as a teacher, so I will miss him. I’m interested in my response because the philosophy of teaching Qigong is, in some ways, different to my preferred way of learning and consequently how I facilitate learning in others.

Qigong originates in the East and is based on a hierarchical system of teaching in which respect for the teacher is central. You ask questions, they teach and you learn from them. The teacher knows more than you and passes on understanding about the workings of the body, using joints correctly and the flow of energy, bit by bit. It’s a gradually ever-deepening process of learning, like slowly peeling an onion to get to new layers of understanding. It feels like a very traditional way of teaching and learning. Simon taught principles, and it was our responsibility as learners to apply those principles.

I admire Simon’s experience, knowledge and commitment, and I can vividly remember some of his wise insights, such as “relaxed is somewhere between tense and collapse”. It has made me wonder whether I sometimes devalue my own knowledge and wisdom and has emphasised to me the importance of having solid underpinning foundations in teaching. Simon had his own teacher, who he believed in, and this passing down of knowledge never felt oppressive or heavy. It was an approach based on study and then practise.

My relationship with Simon has reminded me that traditional teaching has a place; it is about me owning my experience, knowledge and wisdom appropriately and discerning when to use it – deciding what is appropriate in each relationship.

My belief, particularly in the context of the coaching and mentoring training I facilitate, is that we are all capable of learning from each other and teaching each other. Simon’s approach is more directive. Both ways have potential and consequences.

I feel I’m more in the business of creating relationships which will enable learning to flourish. When I am learning it’s good for me and my health, and, when I stop, I become fixed and less open. A bit of me is less alive. I am comfortable with the term learner, but perhaps Simon has made me consider to what extent I am a teacher too. I tend to close-up to the word ‘teacher’.

I have a tendency to think as teaching being linked to authority, and authority being about power. But authority can also be about experience and wisdom, and I’m comfortable with that. I don’t want to limit sharing my experience, but neither do I want power to seep into a relationship, which can impact the relationship, and can often lead to less learning for both people.

Recently I was facilitating a training event with a group of doctors and I explained to them that when they start to ask questions, I may not give straight answers because I don’t want to take away their own responsibility for the tussles the questions bring, which can lead to powerful learning. Later in the day, when another question was asked, I gave a more direct answer; I said that a coaching approach may not be always be appropriate in their consultations with patients and explained my own thinking, considering some of the possible consequences.

It’s a judgement call and the challenge – for the doctors, for me and for you – is to decide which approach is appropriate in which circumstances.