“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.” ― Galileo
My mentor died last month. It was unexpected. When I heard the news, my breath caught in my throat and a simple “no” escaped my lips.
Imre Molnar was the Provost of College for Creative Studies. A former corporate designer, Imre choose a career in education because he believed in students and was inspired by the kind of innovation one only sees in the freedom of an experimental incubator like a student studio.
When the President of our college organized a meeting for faculty and staff impacted by Imre’s death dozens showed up – including professors, maintenance men, department chairs and administrative staff. It says a lot about a person when his impact extends far beyond the boundaries of his authority. There were over 800 people at his memorial.
I remember the first conversation I ever had with Imre about bringing transcendental meditation to College for Creative Studies students. He listened to me with rapt attention. The intensity of his gaze suggested the sincerity of his interest. His pointed questions helped me to narrow my focus and strengthen my arguments. As our meeting finished, he smiled at me. Spreading his arms wide and gesturing to the stacks of papers strewn around his office he said, “Molly, you have an outstanding idea. As you can see, I am mired in my own mess of papers and projects. This will have to be a grass roots effort but I want you to know – I believe in you. And, I promise not to get in your way.” His silent support served as an enormous motivator. His belief in my ability to be successful empowered my efforts by helping me to see myself through his eyes. I knew he expected the best from me.
The art of teaching is the ability to help others see things in new ways. It doesn’t always take a lot of words but it does require a sustained attention on your pupil. Listening may be the most powerful tool a good teacher develops. It is in the act of listening that we allow students to rise to expectation, shift perspective and feel their own internal knowingness. Active listening engages student’s attention and helps them to expand their own knowingness. It also creates an atmosphere of warmth and love which motivates students to strive to do their best.
Many years ago a dear friend of mine lost her mother. After the funeral, she and her four siblings were sitting around the table laughing and crying and telling stories about their beloved mother. Eventually, her eldest sister confessed, “I know this is hard on all of you but ultimately this is the most difficult for me. You see, I was always mom’s favorite.” A pregnant pause ensued while everyone gathered their thoughts. Eventually they all said, “No, no, no!!! I was mom’s favorite!” Could there be anything more powerful than a mother whose children all believe they are the most cherished?
Human nature is to please. We all work extra hard to please the loving mother, the doting father and the high minded teacher. Imre was an inspirational leader because he knew how to make everyone feel respected, valued and appreciated. We all believed we were his personal favorite. In my mind, his death has opened the heart of CCS – with each of his “favorites” hungry to share Imre reflections, there is more talking and reaching out on campus. Ironically, the lasting impact of Imre’s personal touch style of teaching may be a renewed commitment to collaboration.
Imre’s life inspired a great and empowering legacy – a true commitment to creativity, innovation and thinking outside the box. I am proud to be one favorite in a crowd of many – it insures my ability to tap into the great resources left behind in the collective memory of my many new friends.