Yesterday I was talking to a friend about a discussion group we led together. He wanted some feedback, so I was making some suggestions and some compliments.

I wrote

There is a comfort that comes with experience. I’ve been teaching, formally, in some way for much of thirty years. (Whoa. That, my friend, is terrifying to realize). I’ve used outlines and notes and textbooks and overheads and powerpoints and whiteboards. I’ve known what I was talking about and I’ve been in situations where I’ve completely made it all up. I’ve trusted God and I’ve completely forgotten to ask Him for help.

rusted pickup truckIt was a revealing and ultimately challenging paragraph to write, to realize how long I have been teaching. My first formal class lecture was as part of an internship in college teaching during the summer of 1980. Since then I have taught college for money. I’ve taught at least a few lessons with every age from first grade up (and know that I’m much better when I am with adults).

What is challenging? The realization that I spend much of that time coasting.

Because I know that I can teach, that I can write, that I can communication, I often don’t spend time sharpening those skills, learning how to do those things even more effectively. I use the skills to generate content without looking at improving and sharpening and updating and replacing the tools.

If I were to quit coasting, to start pedaling again, what would I do?

  • I’d build a simple checklist about writing posts that would include rereading everything one last time before hitting publish. This is teaching. Both in style and in content,  what is here and at shapes me and you.
  • I’d start teaching a handful of people about teaching. It would force me to look at the craft of leading a discussion, of creating questions, of listening to hearts as well as words, of finding stories, of translating. I do these things, but I haven’t thought about how to do them recently.
  • I’d create a story about story that would help me explain to people who want to tell stories more effectively (to tell stories like Jesus did) what that means. Maybe there isn’t a story there. Maybe there is an outline, a metaphor, a system, a photograph, a mindset. But the pursuit of the story would become  a way to leverage my own thinking.
  • I’d look closely at how teaching can happen 140 characters at a time. Many of us know that it can. Many of us are helping each other grow in understanding with fragments of thought. But if one were to be intentional about it, what would that look like?

    Why that limit of characters? That’s how many characters those of us who use twitter can type at a time in each message. But that’s not a study of learning limited to twitter. All of us have those kinds of bit of time in many off-line situations as well. So how can small bits of intentional interaction shape ideas?

  • I’d thoughtfully examine the intrapersonal infrastructure necessary to do the work in those first four points. I love that sentence. It so intentionally is  vague.  Here’s what I mean. What habits of time and attention and conversation and relationship are necessary for me to accomplish those projects? What do I have to teach myself to say ‘no’ to? What do I have to teach myself to say ‘yes’ to?

So that’s what I would work on if I were to stop coasting. I should point out that  for me, much of that work would be directed toward spiritual formation, though I know that it would probably help with other kinds of learning as well.

Any of that interesting to you? Any of that something you want to understand, too? Any of that something you know well?

Want to go on the ride?


11 responses to “coasting

  1. I like the idea of thinking about Twitter and teaching. Not everything can be summarized in 140 characters, but some things can. Jesus said had many profound messages that would fit in 140 characters.

    Someone asked Richard Feynman what the most important idea was in science. If civilization were wiped out and we could only preserve one sentence about science for future generations, what would it be? He said “The world is made of atoms.”

  2. thanks, John. And how many larger learnings can be built 140 characters at a time? The Feynman statement is huge (no unpun intended) the more I think about it. Which I am.

  3. I had a professor ask us to explain why someone can pull out a peanut butter sandwich on one side of the room and we smell it on the other side. Well, the molecules in the sandwich are bouncing around, and a few leave the sandwich and scatter through the air. Some of these molecules reach our nose. But now try explaining the same thing without appealing to the fact that the world is made of atoms.

  4. peanut allergies?

    In the days before atoms, there were lots of explanations.

  5. You know Jon, I am with you. I am with you about refining. I am with you about deliberate practice and intention. I am with you and so very excited to watch what you do with 140 characters and teaching.
    But, (and you knew that was coming) I am challenged by the idea that you think you are/have been coasting.
    I have seen and read and experienced the nuanced way in which you listen/share/teach in virtually every platform.
    What I think you call coasting, I might call gliding from human to human in words and deeds that reveal 30 years of refinement in your understanding of hearts. Your practice or refinement of technique may not feel so deliberate, but your caring about people and Jesus and their relationship is intention at it’s core.

    I appreciate you and wish I had a bicycle built for two.

  6. ah, dear Rob.

    What you know, and I don’t, is how I help your heart. What I know, and you don’t, is how I could be incrementally more healthy and helpful to my own. So I’ll not be too hard on myself and you’ll not give me excuses and that’s how community works.

  7. This is all extremely interesting to me, Jon. I have just recently written a series of posts about my decision to “take back my life.” In many ways, that decision is much like the decision to stop coasting (although in my case I’ve been pedaling furiously, unable to recognize let alone claim the race I’m in).

    Your last three points are particularly intriguing–the pursuit of the story, the intentional small bits of interaction, and this:

    “What habits of time and attention and conversation and relationship are necessary for me to accomplish those projects?”

    I would love to learn more from you.

  8. I think what you would be offering (teaching) is very rich and actually a type of leadership training. Mid-career achievers would have much to gain; there is much they could learn from you, Jon. That is why you perhaps might think a bit bigger. You should teach more than a handful. You should teach lots. I would like to help you with this.

    LOL I am still a fan!

  9. I think what you said and what others said by way of comment is too big for my Saturday brain to take in…but I’m still reading; just thought I’d put that out there since I have tended to be absent from the blogosphere quite a regularly of late.

    We keep on growing as long as we don’t stop thinking and asking seeing and listening, don’t we?

  10. Kay But what if I teach a handful how to teach a handful how to teach a handful?

    I hear that worked fairly well once.

    But we will talk.

    Amy – You never stop asking. You will never stop growing.

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