My husband shifts gears when winter comes to our mountain town, blanketing it in deep powder through April if our collective community snow dance pays off. He winds down his construction projects until spring, and spends the winter months sharing his gifts and passion for skiing and snowboarding as a snowsports instructor. He completed the necessary training, memorizing, drills and mastery of technique in order to be certified in all disciplines as governed by PSIA and AASI. Fifteen years later, he’s still teaching, both students and new instructors, but his approach is not formulaic, and does not follow specific linear steps. His approach is 100% relationship-based, heavy on listening, and heavy of co-creating the lesson with the student.
Still, he works within the system and structure, and definitely taps the knowledge and learnings he has gained through the certification process. However, his approach focuses on creating spaces for students to have positive experiences. He brings out the best in individuals who range in age from three to 70+ years old. He meets his students in front of the ski school and off they go. Spending time building the relationship (the BEing), before diving in to the lesson (the DOing) sets the tone and feel for their time together. With the clock ticking, any instructor can try the same approach and use that first chairlift ride to connect and listen.
In the amount of time it takes to go from the bottom to the top of the hill, a relationship can be built. Instead of asking “what do you want to fix or work on?” which drills down into fear and frustration, what if an instructor asks “what inspired you to take a lesson today?” This is the very same approach I use to welcome a person to a community benefit organization, business or any space with “Hello. What brings you in today?” or “What prompted you to call us today?” It removes any assumptions or perceptions and opens up the space for sharing and connecting.
Whatever the individual’s response from that very first question, the listener can simply say “Tell me more about that,” and continue to hear what’s important to the other person. When people shares their fears and frustrations, they are actually sharing what matters to them. When the student states “I don’t know what to do in the powder,” she is actually stating that she wants to go have fun in the powder. With “tell me more” posed, she shares that she can’t see her skis and she is last in the group. She is put at ease by hearing that many other people share that same “being last” social fear, and that her friends are probably happy to have a little time to catch their breath until she arrives. The lesson will not focus on what to do in powder, instead it will focus on how to feel the powder and play in it. The fear of not seeing her skis will be removed by simply never needing to look for them down below.
When we are in a teaching role, whether that is slope side, in a classroom, or with a new employee we can move beyond the doing and showing, to allow some space for the self-discovery that occurs in every learning experience. Creating the space for individuals to be at their best is not measured by successfully completed steps 7-11 in the progression. It is measured by how the person feels, and sets them up to try some more.