Waxing physically and philosically...

After literally years of deliberation, and as a result of some delicate and some less delicate prodding, this blog is my effort to organize - to bring together - my thoughts about my work as a conductor and as a personal trainer, to rant and rave as necessary, to celebrate the little things and the larger moments of brilliance, and to share some conductive magic and life lessons gained through 'waxing physically and philosophically'.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ask the Expert - or Putting the 'E' in 'CE'

Before I had any real understanding of what Conductive Education actually was, I was interested in it.  I had the general idea that it had something to do with helping people with disabilities and I liked the idea of helping.  I didn't really know what was meant by 'conductive' -- despite lengthy debates amongst other students and conductors, reading Andrew's various analysis' over the years, and spending the last 15 years trying to trying to explain it to other people I'm still not totally sure what it really means.  However, I did understand the word 'education'.  I have long been passionate about education, teaching, learning, and dynamic potential.  I had some amazing teachers over the years; teachers who lifted me, who inspired me, who saved me from my teenage self but somehow I couldn't see myself standing at the front of a classroom and 30 kids in a mainstream school teaching curriculum subjects.  You might think that hopping on a plane from Canada to England to pursue a career based on some vague ideas about helping and teaching and disability was a bit insane, but at the time it really felt like this perfect opportunity custom designed just for me had somehow fallen out of the sky and landed at my feet.

And yes, we studied anatomy and physiology, etiology and presentation of conditions and diseases, and disability politics.  But much more, we studied pedagogy.  We learned about learning and motivation and potential and transformation and experience.  We learned about Vygotskii and his 'zone of next potential', and we learned about driven and inspired teachers like Feuerstein who didn't just find ways to teach people deemed 'unteachable', but believed so much in the power and processes of education that they sought and developed alternative ways of teaching and unleashing potential, and in doing so transformed the potential of education itself.  We learned about inspired teachers like Peto who chose to see past the medical model of disability and to believe that teaching and learning could positively  influence the presentation of disability, and developed a holistic pedagogy around helping people learn ways to manage their bodies.  And we learned that everyone could learn, and that learning is a lifelong process, that learning is dynamic and non-linear, and that learning is a shared two way experience between teacher and learner and that both teacher and learner learn and grow as a result of the interchange.  These ideas still excite and fascinate me today.

CW is working to regain leg strength following a hip surgery, so that she can push through her legs and bridge in her wheelchair and therefore be able to adjust her position in her chair to get comfortable and to allow her to get dressed and do other things involving position changes more independently and without hoisting.  Last week after our session, CW and I were chatting, reviewing the progress that she had made over the past few weeks.  We agreed that there had been slow but steady improvements in the movement and strength of her legs but that we were both frustrated that the bridging wasn't happening.  CW respects and trusts her orthopaedic surgeon -- his best advice was keep doing what you are doing.  CW works with a fantastic physio -- who gave us great feedback on how much pressure CW was able to put through each leg and which muscles were and weren't firing -- interesting and useful, but again, not getting us anywhere.  We had worked out the obvious things -- that mechanically a huge change in leg length would change everything and had tried everything to adjust for that, and still, well, nothing.  Then CW said that maybe it was more about where her back was in her chair now, and that if she had something behind her to bridge over it would work.  And this light went on for both of us -- yes leg strength was vital to the bridging, but CW doesn't bridge like other people bridge, she has a complex system of arching her back and triggering a reflexive movement and then using her legs to support her.

So the next session we tried ... and here is the result

But the real result ... another reminder that though I'm the teacher, I'm also the learner, and I am certainly not the expert.  I have some pieces of paper from university saying I'm a conductor, and I have years of experience working with many people and their incredibly different bodies and have learned some tricks and 'task solutions' that I can share.  But I don't know what it feels like to be in CW's body -- she is the expert.  And because as the teacher/learner I had the humility to say 'I don't know, what do you think' and as the learner/teacher she had the confidence to say why don't we try this, we both learned, and we found a solution.

“To be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner. I am not a teacher, only a fellow student.”                

            -- Soren Kierkegaard, Danish Existentialist