While preparing yet another Train-the-Trainer program today, I came across this beautiful image that represents, for me, the beauty and wonder of teaching how to teach. After my morning exercises and thirty minutes of Zen meditation, I was thinking of which three “questions” to ask of the ten trainers who will join me at Olympus Headquarters in Melbourne, Australia later this evening for our working dinner. Usually, I open this session with an icebreaker exercise focused on active listening, followed by three interactive group exercises where each group tackles a challenging question such as “what is competency?”

For tonight, I decided my questions will be inspired by the image at the top of this page and the following Zen story.
A young monk once came to the Master Nansen, and asked “Tell me, is there some teaching that no master has ever taught?”
Nansen said, “Yes, there is.”
The monk asked, “Can you tell me what it is?”
Nansen gazed at a nearby tree. He looked toward the sky, and cocked his head listening to the birds chirping. “It is not Buddha,” he said, “it is not things. It is not thinking.”

So, let me explain. While our train-the-trainer seminars teach specific techniques regarding the use and implementation of a multidimensional educational program that includes checklists, assessment tools, simulation, interactive lectures, and case-based exercises, they also include a variety of confidential self-evaluations that prompt participants to ponder their strengths, shortcomings and aspirations as educators. All the while, the program’s goal is to share a philosophy about teaching that participants might pass along to their students. Learning more about themselves, teachers learn how putting away their egos and sense of self-importance allows them to concentrate more fully and effectively on building learner-centric educational experiences. In parallel, the teachers’ use of formative assessments allows them to identify student weaknesses that are remedied during individualized, time-efficient “teaching moments”.

But let me close with a word about Zen for the uninitiated. A thousand years or so after Buddha, a monk named Bhodidharma (Bhodi=enlightenment, dharma=truthful) made his way from India to China, establishing a way of thinking about Buddhism that spread to Japan and beyond. It was a revolutionary process focused on the principle that even a layperson could achieve enlightenment, not necessarily through strict rules and prayer/meditation techniques, but also by abandoning rational thought and learning to explore intuition and out-of-the-box thinking. The importance of nirvana, reincarnation, and kharma were downplayed, while meditation techniques and riddles or stories called koans, were used to help students learn to concentrate, challenge their minds, and abandon purely logical thinking. Awareness would be the first step, many learned, toward enlightenment (satori in Japanese). Today, millions of people around the world practice, believe in, or associate with Zen, sometimes as religion, other times as a philosophy or way of life.

In typical Zen fashion, therefore, I leave it to you, my readers, to ponder how the image of a woman balancing gracefully between a tree’s roots and branches, combined with the story about Master Nansen, work together to illustrate my philosophy about education, and thus provide the focus for tonight’s Train-the-Trainer session in  Australia.