||| TIES has offered me a privileged window through which to witness some of the most personally integrated expressions of study, practice and reflection I have witnessed in education. What is it about TIES that nurtures such authenticity, vulnerability and full presencing among faculty and students alike? There is a depth to the TIES learning encounter that at first blush feels like nothing short of magic. It is indeed the holy grail towards which holistic educators often reach but rarely, if ever, achieve. Upon reflection, however, the mystery of creating this container for depth, presence and authenticity begins to be revealed.
One key component at TIES is the content that is explored. What Parker Palmer would call the “Great Thing” around which the “Community of Truth” gathers. TIES syllabi have the courage and wisdom to seek out what is most important, the very essence of what it means to be human and live well upon this earth. Exploring authors from J Krishnamurti and David Bohm to Margaret Wheatley and Thomas Berry ensure that each seminar is engaging with matters of the utmost weight and import. This is a far cry indeed from typical teacher education programs that might orient around technique, methods and competencies. Courses in traditional education programs, such as “How to Manage Behavior to Maximize Student Achievement” for example, as expected, draw out superficial participation. While common TIES questions around, what is “right relationship” in education? Or how can we envision the educational mission to reflect the wisdom of Gaia? Or what are the implications of quantum physics on organizational leadership? These questions lead this community to the deepest explorations of soul and spirit, purpose and meaning.
Also critical to TIES success is the expectation and nurturing of students’ attention to deep noticing and personal reflection. This is achieved partly by the beautiful “Observation” periods that are sprinkled throughout the MEd program. During these courses, students are encouraged to observe in nature, or as a witness to human encounters. They reflect on what they see, how they feel, and the meaningful implications of these observations. The writing that emerges from students here exudes fullness, vulnerability and sincerity. In a typical post during observations, one student writes:
I wish I could “be” as freely and easily in other parts of my life as I was observing Blake. Free from worry, demands, timelines, lists- just relaxed pure joy. Being here now without the self imposed pressure. I think that is part of why I love teaching. I am forced to be here now, and be all in.
And this quality of engagement carries easily into seminars, where students’ study of new texts and challenging concepts, again is applied to personal lived experiences and reflections on classroom teaching and learning encounters.
A final remarkable and essential element to TIES unique approach, is the quality of the faculty-mentors’ role and expression. This again bears little-to-no resemblance to the traditional transmission model of higher education, where the faculty lectures, bestowing knowledge upon the passive and receptive learners, en masse. At TIES, the faculty open each seminar with such personal and poetic expressions of who they are as human beings, rooted in place and context. They proceed to engage alongside the learners with obvious care, posing key questions in response to students’ comments, driving the dialogue ever deeper, in an intricate process known at TIES as “weaving.” Often faculty mentors will share new relevant content beyond the syllabus, or add their own reflections, insights and applications of quotes that have been identified by the students. Mentors are willing to expose their own vulnerabilities and not-knowing, always as an invitation to dive deeper together, with awe and wonder. Perhaps most remarkable of all is the mentors’ capacity to allow for space and emergence within the dialogue, while still reassuring the community of their watchful caring presence. A common faculty posting is simply, “I am here. Listening and acknowledging. Paying attention.”
There is a “quality of being” at TIES, an ontology of presencing, a kind of generative listening that is difficult to describe, but is so clearly and instantly evident. Everything about the program from content to context belies the fact that this work is profoundly important, the individual student is honored and elevated, each person’s learning process is recognized and nurtured. TIES’ success goes well-beyond method and syllabus. It is a world view, a consciousness that envelopes the program, invading every aspect of the work, like a steady prolonged rainfall seeping into the soil and then slowly occupying a stream bed until all is immersed by the grace and beauty of this holistic learning community of care.