Fishing for Wisdom

I just came back from a week at the AYE Conference. My head is full with several new ideas swimming around and stirring up half-baked old ideas - which is a good thing.

One of the thoughts causing my head to spin came from a session one evening where we discussed ideas to improve the conference moving forward. Johanna Rothman led the session and at one point she mentioned that the AYE workshop sessions included pure [Virginia] Satir [ideas, models, etc.] and applied Satir. This got me thinking about some of the subtle differences I had noticed about the sessions and what they meant to me.

In particular, some of the ideas and models I learned from the AYE sessions appear to dwell longer in my mind and apply to a broader spectrum of situations while others seem to be more specific - i.e. an application of a model in a particular context. Don't get me wrong, whether you choose to attend a pure Satir or applied Satir workshop at AYE (and the sessions aren't labelled as such because it doesn't really matter), it's a win-win scenario. :) Sure, different hosts have different styles, but each session is different every time so you sometimes see people attend the same session again to see what new insights they get.

So, what's the big deal here? Why did I get stuck on a small point like this? Well, it reminded me of the time when I was in Teacher's College in the mid-90's, preparing to become a High School Science teacher.

I had 2 main professors in Teacher's College - one for each of my 'teachable' subjects of Physics and Chemistry. Their styles were very different. One professor seemed to keep me busy while the other made me think a lot.

I'll be honest, coming from a university environment to Teacher's College, I expected to be told what I needed to do to be a teacher. You know - I expected a lecture-style learning environment like most of my previous undergraduate courses. What I got didn't match that expectation so I was a bit frustrated at first until I discovered the secret that no one clearly explains to you.

What's the secret? Okay, I'll tell you. The secret is that when you go to Teacher's College, *you* are the teacher, not the student. So, by going there acting like a student expecting to be taught, I had the perspective all wrong.

I don't recall when the paradigm shift happened for me but I'm glad it did. After that point, I didn't consider my professors to be the ones teaching me to be a teacher; I saw them as guides to help me learn the things I needed to be a better teacher.

The real teacher here is experience. And that you can't get unless you are doing what you want to be doing, not sitting in a classroom somewhere talking about what you want to be doing. So what did I get from the Teacher's College experience? I got access to many different 'teachers' to help me deconstruct my experiences so that I could learn from them.

I need to pause for a second and think about that last sentence again. That sounds suspiciously a lot like the AYE conference experience to me. Hmm.

So what was different between my two main professor/guides? I think (now) it was something similar to the difference between the 'pure Satir' and 'applied Satir' AYE sessions. One professor offered tips and ideas that applied in a certain situations - the ones we said mattered to us - while the other discussed models and ideas to help us learn from our own experiences in more broader situations. Looking back, those things weren't clearly stated in that way at the time. I think I understand a bit more now about how they were trying to help us, in different ways, to become better teachers. Of course, both professors provided us with lots of opportunities to practice demos and teaching short topics in an environment where we could safely receive feedback from our peers. (hmm, more AYE conference and PSL familiarity here.)

I recall that someone once mentioned the old Chinese proverb while were at Teacher's College:
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

To me, the quote makes me think of the difference between information and knowledge. I think both professors were trying to teach us to fish (i.e. give us knowledge), just in different ways. They both wanted us to leave the college more confident with knowledge that we could use to help ourselves become better teachers moving forward.

Back to AYE and present day. Reflecting upon the learnings from this past week, I learned new models and ideas that I can apply in many ways - some apply at work and some apply to life beyond the workplace. I think I left with a few fish and a few new fishing techniques.

The old proverb bugs me though. I don't think it completely captures the full experience and feeling of what happened. There's something missing, something meta.

And then it came to me today. It's not the fish. It's not learning to fish either. It's the fishing.

If you pay attention to what you are doing while you are fishing, I think that leads to something other than information or knowledge; it leads to wisdom.

Continuing with this proverb as an analogy, if I learn deep-sea fishing while on vacation, I don't think that will help me very much if I decide to go fly-fishing at a local river. There are many different ways to fish - for the different kinds of fish, the environments in which they live, and the purpose of fishing (e.g. food vs sport).  If we pay attention to more than just the types of fish, their environments and techniques to catch them, we can learn something more, something bigger.  I find it hard to think in broad ideas like that sometimes.  I also find those are the most rewarding moments though.

Attending the AYE conference (and PSL this past Spring) was like that for me.  My head doesn't stop thinking about ways to apply the models and ideas we experience at AYE.  Meeting wonderful, intelligent, kind practitioners from all over the world helps enrich the shared experiences in ways that bring us closer together.  We talk about fish (individual experiences) and techniques to help find solutions to problems we think we see.  And then the hosts/speakers go and show us things that help us solve problems we didn't even think about or see!

For me, attending AYE is an opportunity to meet old friends, learn about myself, learn about how to interact better with others (both at work and in personal life), share experiences and knowledge with colleagues, learn some new problem-solving techniques, make new friends, and pause for a moment to reflect upon where I am in life and where I'd like to be.  It's a moment to notice that I'm fishing - I'm learning and growing.  And that others are fishing too.  And while some are fishing for similar things and others for different things, we all recognise that we are fishing so we have that in common.

It's going to take me a bit of time to unpack all of the ideas I was exposed to this past week because learning happened on many different levels.  I could post some notes, and I plan to, but I don't believe the notes alone can convey the experience of learning that happened there.  Much learning happened between conference sessions too.  You meet so many people with similar or related interests and different experiences that once you start talking in the hallways, over dinner or lounging about somewhere, you can't help but continue to learn and think about things in new ways.

If you want, that is.  If you're into that sort of thing.  If learning, growing, and working better with other human beings isn't your cup of tea, then this conference is definitely *not* for you.

To everyone else, I highly recommend the experience.  This conference, and the PSL workshop, are opportunities that shouldn't be passed up.  It might even change the way you think about things.  It has for me.

To the AYE and PSL hosts, Jerry, Don, Esther, Johanna and Steve, to my Teacher's College professors, Peter and Tom, and to my family, friends, and colleagues who have all provided me with helpful feedback and information to help me grow and be a better person, I thank you.

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