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The Tao of Teaching: Part 2

This article is part of a series of writings on Greta Nagel’s book The Tao of Teaching: The Ageless Wisdom of Taoism and the Art of Teaching. The goal of this series is to promote discourse on topics related to teaching, classroom management, student-centered learning and other progressive educational methods. Utilizing the enlightenment and wisdom offered in this book as an impetus and guide, I will critically reflect on my own teaching practices and connect my own experiences to the anecdotes and examples provided by Nagel. You can read Part 1 of this series here.

Check out The Tao of Teaching here.

Learn more about Greta Nagel here.

Silence is a Virtue

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“Good teaching can take few words.” — The Tao of Teaching

In keeping with this post’s theme, this will be a brief installment. Essentially, the theme should not be difficult to grasp. It can be beneficial to learners when a facilitator simply steps back and shuts up. Specifically in a student-centered classroom setting, the idea is that students will connect to and retain a greater amount of material if they are allowed to explore and understand the information (especially if it is a skill such as language learning) in their own way and time.

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Rather than a lecturer or director barking instructions at a silent group of learners, the silent facilitator is circulating around the room offering feedback and answering questions when engaged by the learners. The learners are directing their own learning and utilizing the teacher as a resource. Learning by doing, often from mistakes. Mistakes are avenues to learning. Nagel reminds the teacher:

The wise teacher does not constantly remind the child nor does she or he criticize. Natural consequences are part of the Way.

This method is often associated with early childhood education but it has applications for all ages. This works well with my freshman university English language learners in South Korea. It is not always easy and can be uncomfortable initially, but given a little determination and most of all time it can produce very meaningful learning.

The head teacher in my department loves to tell a story of one of his first experiences employing this method. He had been flirting with the student-centric model in his classes upon the encouragement of the program director. He wasn’t seeing results and felt he needed a bolder approach. He walked into the classroom one day, looked at the students and simply said, “Go.” He proceeded to drink his coffee and wait 10 excruciating minutes until the students began to form groups, ask questions and get on with their learning.

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Yes, he admits it was initially an uncomfortable experience but the result was students engaging themselves and making personal connections to the learning. Nagel states that teachers should: “speak once and expect to be heard.” So today I encourage you to listen to the Tao and just “Go”…

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…next time in The Tao of Teaching Application Breeds Learning: Dig Deeply

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