3 Qualities of Great Teachers
A FRIEND OF MINE calls me periodically, and I, him to update each other on our aspirations and family matters. With him I know I can be fully myself. We learn from each other and need to know someone else outside of our family is watching out for us. Talking with him inevitably puts me at ease.
That “at ease”-ness is part of what I’ve realized being a good teacher, mentor, consultant and facilitator – heck, a good father – is all about. We don’t promise our tribes or members or clients (or children) that what they’re going to experience is easy. And like my good friend we don’t offer empty truisms or false hope or unsolicited fix-it answers.
But we do create a space so our tribes feel safe and watched-out for enough that they can go to places within themselves and in their relationships that they otherwise could not alone.
A facilitator “gets” you. And although she’s willing to go part of the way with you, she’s there mostly to watch out for you while you take your own creative journey. With such a facilitator, you feel at ease even as you move through creative, existential, spiritual challenges.
NOT A GURU
It’s taken me a long, long time to realize that these qualities of a facilitator are as important if not more important than all the stuff you think you know that you’re dying to share with your tribe, your students, your audiences.
Modern-day “gurus” (not of the ancient ilk) often get trapped in what they think they know, and they also get trapped in the cult of their adoring fans and followers.
The man in India who opened to me the heart of yoga – T.K.V. Desikachar – could have gotten trapped. His father was among the most influential yogis of the twentieth century. But Desikachar’s student and friend the world thinker J. Krishnamurti advised a young Desikachar to avoid “the guru path” and instead follow the path of the acharya, the honorable teacher. He warned me and continues to warn others of the drive for easy answers. And there’s a huge difference between the person who offers easy answers and the person who equips you to handle your own path with a little more ease.
“Guru” means most literally “remover of darkness” – not an “expert in a field.” But I suspect the greatest teachers do not remove darkness for us. Instead, they point the way so we can navigate the inevitable darkness with a bit more easefulness.
Sort of like Dante’s Virgil.
The best teachers, facilitators, and mentors who have led me and whom I have interviewed share these qualities:
Versatility – Before he died, the best & most formidable Zen master (an Italian-American photographer and former chemist) I ever encountered drew from Shakespeare and Whitman, the problems in Washington and the problems in his own heart, from monasteries and marriages (plural) to awaken us. A similar quality is true of my greatest mentors in writing and in business.
Versatility is that ability to draw from several resources and to call upon any number of tools or skillful means to bring out what’s best in you – and then to place in your hands some of those very tools. (It’s also about not being afraid to re-create your best self as your life journey demands.)
Confidence – I am a root-word geek. And this is one of my favorites: The root “fid” means “faith” as in “fidelity.” And a great teacher or mentor acts with faith (con-fid-ence) not only in her best self and in her process but also in your best self and potential.
And she also has the confidence to be humble and to fail.
Authenticity – It’s an over-used word. But you know it when you feel it in a mentor or facilitator. Or you don’t. It comes in part from the previous two qualities. It comes from practicing every day to listen to the voice of one’s own authority. And to respond accordingly.
Those are the qualities I aspire toward. I fall short time after time, but aspiring toward them picks me up, brushes off my pants, and says, “Go try again!”
Those are my ideas.
DROP IN THE HUT
Whether it’s a mentor, parent, or leader, what are the qualities you most seek and cherish in a facilitator?
And haven’t you been that person to somebody else? And aren’t you that person ready to blossom even more?
I’d love to gather and share your ideas.
See you in the woods,