Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson  



     Goodness gracious, ain’t that the biggest mouthful of words you ever saw in your life?  An-dra-gog-i-cal.  You gotta’ chew on all those syllables for three minutes just to get them in the right order on your tongue so you can say it…but the word is important.  The word describes perhaps the most important people in our lives.
     For some years now, I’ve been aware that certain people in my life have an ability to create “improvement” in me.  When they are trying to help me learn something - to move me forward down the path – I actually move.  After spending time with them - no matter what we are attempting to accomplish - if they are around, I do better than I normally do.  In writing, roping, with horses, in my work, and my life in general, these special people – I call them “coaches”- help me do better.  Self-esteem increasing, confidence boosting, real, squeeze it with your hand and feel it, tangible help.  (And Lord knows every teacher I ever had in junior high would tell you, “That boy was sooo hard to help!”)  For years I had no idea how they were causing this change, or even what they were doing.  But…my understanding of the mystery is improving.  It’s all in their teaching style.
     There are two kinds of teachers – pedagogical and andragogical.  Let’s call them “P” teachers and “A” teachers.  While we may not use the word “pedagogy” every day, we know all about “pedagogical” teachers.  We’ve seen them, been with them, and taught by them all our lives.  Those who teach in the “P” style have certain beliefs about themselves and about us students.  First of all, they are superior to us.  To most “P” teachers, we are dumb brutish beasts with little worth.  All of the wisdom resides in the pedagogical teacher.  He or she usually stands behind some sort of podium or lectern, and simply talks.  (Think lecturers, teachers, horse trainers doing a clinic, etc.)  “P” teachers must give us information because we don’t know anything – or if we’re lucky, they think at best we are a blank slate and assume our prior knowledge and our experiences are lacking in any real value.  And our potential?  They seldom worry about that since in their minds almost always… we have none.  Most importantly, since “P” teachers see little value in us, they rarely get to know us.  We are just one of the many.  They may not actually dislike us, but don’t plan on a friendship with these people.  We just don’t measure up to their standards.       There is another kind of teacher.  I’ve found that describing them is difficult.  Once I told my friend and wonderful stand-up comic, Kent Rader, about how much one of my coaches had helped me.  “Darrell Buzan doesn’t make a list of what you do right and a list of what you do wrong,” I said to Kent.
     “What on earth does he do then?” he asked.  “What does he do that has helped you so?”  I found that difficult to answer.  Here are some characteristics of “A” teachers…
     *    Experience with “A” teachers usually begins because you seek them out.
     *    “A” teachers ask you a large number of questions.  This seems odd because since we are so dumb and lacking in knowledge, why would our answers be important?  Why would anyone want to hear what we think?  “A” teachers do.
     *    They don’t tell you much.  If you ask them how to do something, they don’t tell you how to do it.  “Experts” do that.  Ask an “expert” how to rope, play a violin, hit a golf ball, train a horse, or anything else you can think of, and they will talk all day.  “A” teachers want you to do it.
*  “A” teachers don’t use much praise at all.  Again, this seems to violate what we have heard most of our lives about what good teachers should do.  That is, that when we do something well, teachers should praise and reinforce our correct action.  “A” teachers don’t hand out many compliments.  They are too busy wanting you to see you do the thing.
     *  “A” teachers like us.  They often become shining lights in our memories.
     Examples of how an “A” teachers approach leadership, teaching, and coaching… 
     My wife, Sherry, holds an administrative position at the university.  When she is asked to handle a particular organizational problem, she first visits with the group concerned.  After she has assembled necessary facts and information, instead of telling people what they should do, she always begins by saying, “Tell me what happened.  Tell me what you think.”
     When I ask Bronc Fanning or Kenneth Colson – two of my best roping coaches – why I missed a steer, they rarely ever describe physical errors in my delivery of the rope.  Instead, they will ask me where my horse was positioned.  They make me think.  They involve me in the solution.
     When at a herding dog clinic, Orin Barnes talks a bit, but he requires the majority of the time be spent with me working my dog.  All the while he’s asking me why is the dog doing what he’s doing.  He forces me to look at myself.  He doesn’t tell me.  He makes me do it.  
     I have watched countless horse trainers on television, but I never learned more than when Australian Joe Guy came to my farm, and watched me work with my horses.  He didn’t tell me how to; he asked me why it was happening. 
     He forced me to think.  He involved me in the solution.
     Moral of the story?  In our own lives, with our children, grandchildren, and with our animals, we should strive to be “A” teachers.  And if we desire to improve personally at any task, we should seek out andragogical teachers.  If you do, not only will you improve, but later in life when you have hard times, those shining lights will be in your memory – and they will give you strength.  They will help you find your way.  

          Michael Johnson

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