By the time I get to the end of the week, I’m tired – anxious to sleep in on a quiet Saturday morning. Yet this Saturday morning I found myself standing in the rain in the arena at Cross P Ranch with 7 of my Wednesday night students – each of which were brave enough to give up their Saturday morning to join me – in the rain – all on the promise it will prove to be an interesting morning. I have no doubt they began to wonder early on as we sent them out to get to know the horses in the arena (their metaphorical students) on the opening ‘school year meet and greet event’. Turns out these ‘students’ were anything but cooperative – eliciting frustration, anxiety, and fear (sound familiar?) By the end of the morning they were fully engaged, lingering on to continue discussing the experience. There was a whole semester of sound educational pedagogy wrapped up in the experiential learning found in this Saturday morning’s EAGALA method of equine assisted learning event.
I had the opportunity to be trained in the “Fundamentals of the EAGALA Method, Part One” at Peace Ranch in Traverse City, MI this summer. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of potential. This followed with an “EAGALA in the Schools” workshop at Acres for Life in Chisago City, MN. There I met Michele Pickel, Associate Professor at Concordia University – St. Paul, and certified EAGALA equine specialist. She told me of taking her literacy methods classes out to her ranch for an EAGALA learning session. Intrigued, I set a date to take my elementary science methods class. This would clearly be a new experience for me, a shift in discipline for Michele, and charting a new world for students at Hamline.
Science methods with horses? We made a plan. My students would become teacher teams charged with bringing their best pedagogy to bear on helping their students (the horse) meet a carefully crafted objective – to move their ‘student’ over an obstacle – all the while encountering the kind of events they will find on a daily basis in their classroom. The power comes in the metaphors that develop in the experience followed by the processing of what those metaphors might suggest to their developing voice as teachers. It is the job of the EAGALA facilitators to lead the participants through the raising of those metaphors following the strategies of clean language.
An emerging metaphor – in the first ‘half semester’ the ‘teachers’ developed their plan, selected materials, and set to work to help their ‘students’ meet the objective. As hard as they tried, they couldn’t get their student to even approach mastery. One group had brought out a halter and laid it along with all the other materials in the ‘classroom’. At one point, the ‘student’ went up to the halter, picked it up with his mouth, and dropped it. The teachers noticed it, but didn’t act on it at the time. At mid-semester debrief, we asked about the materials and tools they had chosen. Someone commented on the halter. We asked about it. “We didn’t think we could use it.” Following their lead, an image emerged of the horses’ halter providing the familiar structure to which they are accustomed as metaphor for the clear structure teachers must provide in a classroom to enable the safe spaces necessary for effective learning to take place. With the halter comfortably in place, the ‘student’ felt secure in the established boundaries and proceeded to meet the objective. By metaphor, establishing guiding principles and effective classroom management, students (the human variety) gain comfort in a clear definition of the boundaries of the classroom, allowing them to relish in the freedom found within those boundaries thus enabling a safe and respectful learning space to emerge.
This was but one of dozens of rich metaphors that developed allowing a deepening understanding of what it means to be an effective teacher. As in the case of all EAGALA learning events these metaphors will continue to rise to the surface as each person seeks meaning for themselves. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend a Saturday morning – thrilled to be part of this rich experience.