Today I’m delighted to bring you a conversation with my friend and mentor, Jen Louden. Jen’s work has spanned many topics dear to my heart: women and comfort, retreating, creativity and writing. Recently, she’s been turning her attention to teaching. She’s helping service-minded women and men to start teaching now. Below I asked her the questions about teaching I really wanted to hear her answers to. Warning: read slow and take notes- her answers are full of wisdom and practical ideas!
Tara: What do you believe are the top 5 qualities that make a great teacher?
1.The willingness to say, “I don’t know,” and then to ask your students, “What do you think?”
2.The willingness to say, “I know this to be true. Please try it out for yourself and report back.” To stand in the brilliance of what you know without thinking that means you are the be-all and end-all or THE expert.
3.The willingness to continue to be a humble learner, to expose yourself to learning new things, and to be a fumbling hapless beginner.
4.The willingness to slow down, and to practice clear boundaries and loving self-care.
5.The willingness to examine your own bias in how you deliver your teaching. For example, I hate creating visuals to use when I teach online. The willingness to expand into creating slide decks – even basic ones – will help me reach visual learners much better because they will be able to engage with my material more effectively.
Tara: Are we all teachers?
Jen: How can we not be? To be human is to be learning constantly. It is built into our evolution, necessary for our survival, and certainly a huge requirement for managing the rapid-fire change we’re all navigating.
We teach when we share a story with a friend about how we learned to do a yoga pose. We teach when we share with a co-worker how to handle feedback. We teach when we show our beloved how we want the dishwasher loaded (which would be the right way.)
I highly recommend that anyone who wants to teach learn more about the art and practice of teaching, both to serve their people more effectively and to save wear and tear on their ego. You don’t have to suffer as much as I did!
Tara: What is the #1 block you see standing in the way of brilliant women starting to teach all that they have to teach?
Jen: Their own impossible-to-meet expectations. Women don’t teach because they believe what they want to offer isn’t “original enough,” or they can’t guarantee everyone will be happy with the outcome, or they try to include everything on their subject, or they just need one more certification before they are ready.
With expectations like these, it’s no wonder many of us never get out there!
The antidotes for impossible expectations are:
• Make a list of what would be “enough” for you to teach your material. For example, you deliver the promised materials, you end your classes on time, you offer a follow-up course, and you ask for feedback each week or module. What can you actually measure and know you did deliver? Focus on that.
• Focus on teaching ONE core message with your course. Throw everything else into the next course you teach, or into marketing materials. Focus helps high expectations and thinking you need to learn more.
• Teach your stories and your experiences. Use them to anchor “book learning.”
• Claim your lineage. Who have you learned from? Credit generously.
Tara: What was one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned about teaching? And tell us the story of how you learned it.
Jen: That I never know the impact my teaching might have.
I taught a workshop for about 800 people a few years ago on work/life balance – it was a corporate gig. Afterwards, I was certain that I bombed – utterly – that nothing I taught had landed, that it was an utter waste of everybody’s time, and that I just didn’t know how to reach a corporate audience at all.
About a year later, I got an email through my website from a woman who had been there. She told me she had been in utter despair that day, without hope. Her life had felt impossible, between helping her mom who had dementia, her teenage kid’s needs and moods, her work, her weight and her love of all things sugary. She said that the ideas I had shared – but more than my ideas, my honesty and my energy – had helped her turn a corner. She had since lost 34 pounds, stopped trying to be everything to everybody, and changed departments so she could work from home two days a week.
I sat there looking at my monitor, shaking my head.
We just never know what impact we have. Or how we will have it.
Tara: I have a dream to teach x. How do I know if I’m ready, qualified, to teach that subject?
Jen: You are never ready. Ready comes from teaching, from being in the transformational conversation itself, from being a humble teacher/student–so skip asking if you are ready to teach. It’s not a useful question.
• Are you called to teach a particular subject or thing?
• Does the idea of sharing what you know about this subject feel like you’ll be scratching a deep itch?
• Can you barely sit still thinking about what you will offer, talk about, share?
If yes, then ask yourself:
• What qualifications, if any, does your field require? For example, if you are teaching meditation in a lineage, do you need to pass a course first or have a teacher’s pat on the back?
• If there are no formal qualifications for what you teach that are agreed on by all members of your field, reflect on, “What does my heart need to feel qualified?” Check in with your deep knowing.
Finally, ask your community if what you want to teach resonates. Try different words to describe what you would teach. Let yourself be unpolished. Experiment. Watch for the light bulb moments in you and in your potential students – the “I want that,” and “That’s it!” That will help you hone in on how to describe what you will offer, and even what to put in your class.
Jen Louden is the best-selling author of 6 books, including the pioneering best-sellers The Woman’s Comfort Book and The Woman’s Retreat Book, with a million copies in print worldwide. Her retreats are world-famous. She’s taught for 21 years and co-created the beloved course TeachNow.