The Importance of Librarian “Congruence” for Learner-Centered Reference & Information Literacy Instruction

In my relationships with persons I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something that I am not. It does not help to act calm and pleasant when actually I am angry and critical. It does not help to act as though I know the answers when I do not. It does not help to act as though I were a loving person if actually, at the moment, I am hostile. It does not help for me to act as though I were full of assurance, if actually I am frightened and unsure. even on a very simple level I have found that this statement seems to hold. It does not help for me to act as though I were well when I feel ill.

What I am saying here, to put in another way, is that I have not found it to be helpful or effective in my relationships with other people to try to maintain a facade; to act in one way on the surface when I am experiencing something quite different underneath. It does not, I believe, make me helpful in my attempts to build up constructive relationships with other individuals. I would want to make clear that while I have learned this to be true, I have by no means adequately profited from it. In fact, it seems to me that most of the  mistakes I make in personal relationships, most of the times in which I fail to be of help to other individuals, can be accounted for in terms of the fact that I have, for some defensive reason, behaved in one way at a surface level, while in reality my feelings run in a contrary direction.

-Carl Rogers, from “This is Me” in On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy, pp. 16-17. Full chapter available here.

The third core condition of humanistic counseling is called congruence, which we understand as being authentic and genuine in our relationships with learners.  In the psychological literature, this state is often described as when what individuals are experiencing on the inside is in harmony with their outer expressions. For example, you would be congruent if you expressed joy over a Dodgers victory when you were really excited, but not if you pretended to be happy that the Dodgers lost because you were trying to impress a Yankee fan. When individuals are congruent in their relationship with another person, there is a sense of emotional realness present in the relationship, which is lacking in relationships where individuals act on either an internal or external pressure to put on a facade […]

The revolutionary American photographer Walker Evans spoke about his time teaching at Yale University, saying that his attitude toward students was, “I don’t really know a hell of a lot more than you do except I’ve been around longer and I do have experience and if I can articulate it some of it will rub off and do you some good.” Evans was straightforward with his students about his role as a facilitator of learning rather than a “sage on the stage,” positioning himself as a partner rather than an all-knowing expert. This congruence of feeling and action requires a certain amount of vulnerability, which Rogers locates as integral to learner-centered pedagogy. In “Questions I Would Ask Myself if I Were a Teacher,” Rogers states that one of the central applications of humanistic counseling to education leads him to ask himself if he has the courage to risk himself emotionally in his relationships with his students: “Do I dare to let myself deal with this boy or girl as a person, as someone I respect? Do I dare reveal myself to him and let him reveal himself to me?”Though Rogers recognizes that this may be difficult – it requires courage to reveal your true self in any interaction with another person – he nevertheless concludes that “if the relationship between myself and my students was truly a relationship between persons, much would be gained […] I could step off the pedestal of ‘teacher’ and become a facilitative learner among learners.”

Indeed, often the best learning tools we have at our disposal are simply our own experiences. The challenge [for the librarian] is to take a risk and share them in a productive way that might be helpful to another person. For instance, a few years ago Kevin met a student who had been invited to work on a psychology research project with a faculty member while still a junior. It was a huge honor for the student but also came with pressure, so the student asked to set up a time to meet with Kevin for some research help. Kevin and the student met over coffee, and as is often his tendency, he engaged the student in a discussion about his life before getting into the nitty gritty of the research project. It turned out that the student was really struggling with feelings of fraudulence. Most of the kids in his research methods class were white students who he felt “really fit in,” so of course they’d be asked to do research! But why had this professor asked him – the student described himself as just a Mexican kid from the middle of nowhere – to be a research collaborator?

It was a true moment of rapport, not only because the student felt free to share a deeply vulnerable piece of himself, but also because Kevin had felt the exact same way so many times in his life. He too had felt like school was not a place for “someone like him”: a “bad” kid who never seemed to fit in. These feelings of fraudulence continued, and even increased, the further he progressed in his education. Kevin not only expressed that he related to how the student felt, but also shared some of his own experiences. He talked about his high school experiences of being told to drop out of school, his feelings attending schools where the vast majority of students were wealthier, and having grown up with a single mother who worked as a waitress while attending graduate school herself.

In this case, sharing certain elements of personal experience led to congruence of emotion for both of them and helped the learner feel unconditional positive regard from the librarian after sharing challenging feelings. They discussed how they didn’t have to change their innermost selves just because they were working on research in a college setting and that their backgrounds could even be an asset in imagining interesting research projects. In this way, revealing certain personal experiences helped to facilitate a significant learning interaction […]

We hope to make clear that being vulnerable with a student in a learning context does not require sharing either things you deem inappropriate to share (things that would be too personal, which are hard to articulate but, like with the test for pornography, you know it when you see it), or things you feel emotionally vulnerable with sharing (for whatever reason). In the above example, Kevin was comfortable sharing the facts about his educational life with the student, both because he felt no shame or embarrassment nor any questions about the appropriateness of the content, and also because it seemed to be, in that context, of pedagogical value to do so.

Addressing a similar point about congruence within the context of psychotherapy, Schneider and Krug set a litmus test for self-revelations based on the following principle: “The guiding therapeutic question is, To what extent does encounter build the therapeutic relationship … or, on the other hand, to what extent does [it] do the opposite, and defeat or stifle facilitative process?” Similarly, in the information literacy context, we can ask ourselves, To what extent would revealing oneself facilitate the process of significant learning? To what extent would it hurt it?

There are certainly cases where Kevin sharing how much he hated school when he was younger could have negative pedagogical consequences. For example, if Kevin had told the eleventh-grade English student [discussed in Chapter Two], “Look, I hated all my English class assignments and thought my teachers didn’t ‘get it’ when I was your age too,” it could have further undermined her teacher’s authority without making any gains toward significant learning in return. For this reason, Kevin didn’t abandon being congruent, he just found a more pedagogically productive way to be real in the relationship with that student [by helping her do research that she did personally connect with].

Sharing our stories and narratives with learners is not only an effective way to encourage authenticity in students’ own research, as we saw with the narrative modeling approach discussed in chapter three, but it is also an effective way to build rapport by presenting as real, individual people. The contributions this can make to learning may often be subtle but have the potential to be profound.

-experts from Chapter Four: “Relationships: The Heart of Learner-Centered Pedagogy,” from Learner-Centered Pedagogy: Principles and Practice by Kevin Michael Klipfel and Dani Brecher Cook.

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Filed under Education, Library Instruction, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Quotes

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