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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Learning the art of the CE

Before I start, let me assure you writing this blog wasn’t an easy task. I must have re-writing and corrected it a dozen times and, as I always, I recognize that I do not hold the ultimate truth to everything and especially to everything that involves CE. But this is my story to how I got to my understanding and how I have communicated it in the past.

Back at University in the UK during our second year, we were asked to prepare a 20 min presentation about what CE is. We were supposed to explain it to our fellow students and teachers CE as they never heard about it. Sounds easy??? Surely, by the second year we should know what the heck we were studying?? Well, looking back it was one of the toughest tasks we had to master and I still draw from what I learned on my way to give this presentation.

By the way, we had to give quite a few presentations as our tutors and creator of this course thought we should be able to talk publicly about CE – annoying at the time, but I am now quite thankful for it. My presentation skills have improved a lot: Some of you will be pleased to know that I stopped rocking forward and back, hardly use my notes and even try to make eye contact. But mostly that depends on the audience and yes I am still learning.

Anyway, to prepare for the presentation I read through most of the published books about CE in English and German. Especially in German I read quite frequently about the principles of Conductive Education, which referred to:

  • the conductor,
  • the task series,
  • rhythmical intention,
  • the program(also daily routine),
  • the group

and sometimes even the furniture.

According to Sutton the concept of CE principles orientated in Ester Cottons book (Funny, that I know exactly what book he is talking about but unfortunately its not in my small CE home library).

Even though we had all access to Cotton's CE principles, as far as I remember no one of us used it to describe it. I guess, it is because we didn't get CE taught in a black in white perspective; and because we wanted to look like we knew what we are talking about in front of our classmates and tutors. However, every now and then (actually more frequently lately) those principles pop back up to describe CE. In my eyes, the principles of CE according to Cotton are failing to describe the pure essence of CE. Further, the task series, the rhythmical intention, the program (or daily routine) are merrily facilitation tools available to teach certain skills. The description of the conductor read to me always like a job description – a very ambitious one for that matter. It always encouraged me to try to be a bit harder and be a bit better.

The question comes up and has come up in the past: if you do not have all of those teaching tools, resources and techniques available – even through they are pretty powerful- would you still do CE? I would like to argue that yes you do. We know that you do not necessary need a conductor to teach a conductive lifestyle, the parents with the right guidance can take over this role for their own child. If we as conductors did not believe this, why would we have parents and child groups and seek constant conversation with the parents and caregivers? Breaking down skills to make them learnable is a handy skill to have and give opportunities to practice those during the day is also important. But one can do that during their daily routine without actually following a task series or a program. At the end of the day that’s why we as conductors use task series during our program to encourage the use and application of different skills during the individuals daily life. I do not think that giving parents task series to practice with their kid is a way to encourage a conductive lifestyle. It actually estranges the individual and their family from living. To encourage the kid to hold on when riding their bike and swinging on a swing, keep their sitting balance when going sledging, moving their legs when playing soccer with their siblings and much more is living- that is conductive living. What we can do, is to show them how to break down certain skills or during which situations they can be practiced. By the way, I know when a family lives a conductive lifestyle, when they come back to me and found different way to apply those skills.

As my teacher from University used to say we do not want our clients to go through live counting. What we want them to take away is the things rhythmical intention (RI) teaches the way to organize our thoughts through speech, to slow our movement down or speed them up accordingly, to plan ahead, to learn how to use our breath effectively to move and much, much more. RI is a powerful and complex tool and helps to teach a lot of skills, but during my individual session I find myself using it less and as always only for certain purposes.

Coming back to the presentation I had to do for school. What did I do? How did I describe CE. To be honest looking back it was rather a process then a solid idea, that with the more I read and understood, changed the shape of project- quite literally. I am a quite visual person so I wanted to present CE in a kind of diagram, simple and clear. So I kept researching for the essence of CE. I read your typical CE books, at what we been taught in practice and what was taught to use during our conductive pedagogy lectures. In books I found Hari talking about techniques that unfold linear, longitudinal, spiral we used to teach. I guess that means techniques we use all the time like our observation skills; techniques that slowly increase determined of the circumstances, like techniques that build up on each other or slowly become less in use, like the use of manual, verbal and psychological facilitation. Looking at our practice I learned a lot of differentiation to suit each individual as well as the group needs, which we learn to use according to our observation skills. In our pedagogy lectures we learned the concept of how and when to use different techniques, being aware of different challenges and mostly encouraged to “think outside the box”.

First, I wanted to use my brothers magnets and sticks to build something, but due to shipping problems that idea failed. I tried to draw something but unfortunately I am not the artist of the family. So, my friend and me looked for something with linear, longitudinal, spiral structure on “google” and we came across the structure of an DNA. So that’s what I ended up using as my diagram to present CE. And it worked quite well to bring across my point, how each thing we do interlinks with another and depends on the individual we work with. Sometimes what we choose to do looks a little a bit different as the facilitation techniques vary in order to serve the individual as well as the group better or sometimes- as we do not live in perfect world - adapt to the resources we have available.

So what did I really learn about CE? That CE is complicated and simplifying it mostly denies its complexity. CE’s essence is its pedagogy– the way and the art of how we teach.

When I introduce CE to new crowds nowadays I start by explaining that it is foremost an educational approach focusing on teaching children and adults with movement disorders, skills that are relevant in each individuals life. That it looks at all aspects of the individual personality. That it recognizes that some skills like confidence, motivation and attention have to be addresses first in order to teach new physical skills. I talk about CE fundamentals, which consist in my eyes of the conviction in life-long learning and that with each new skill acquired new potential to learning is born. That in that quest of learning the dynamic of the relationship between the teacher and the learner is important, which builds up on trust that needs to be continuously nurtured. That we realize, that the role of the teacher and learner needs to be flexible. The reason for choosing what we teach, how to teach it and when, depends on techniques we learned during our training as well as our past experience, interests and additional training and how we have seen it work, or not work, to teach certain skills. As Susie Mallett in one of her latest blog said, there is no cook book for our work. Which allows us to try and be flexible in our teaching and change with our clients, but it is that fact that makes describing CE sometimes quite challenging.

The best way to make people understand what we do is choosing examples of our practice that might be relevant to their own learning and that very much depends on the crowd or person I talk to. Strangely or maybe not, that is exactly what we learned during our training to be able to give specific example to show what CE can do and has done in the past. And luckily that makes blogging about our practice even more important.



  1. Andrew and Susie just became my 2nd and 3rd favourite bloggers to read.

  2. James, I hope that you know how pleased that makes me!

    When I pass no 5 on your list and am safely headed towards no 10, then it will be time to climb aboard the ship for the west, with the elves.


  3. I remember that presentation of yours, including the behavioural traits mentioned that were wholly transcended by your obvious joy in the DNA spiral that you had hit upon to model what you were saying.

    You might care to give this an airing here on your blog some time, so that others who like the notion of developmental spirals (upwards and/or downwards!) might play around with it.

  4. " I do not think that giving parents task series to practice with their kid is a way to encourage a conductive lifestyle. It actually estranges the individual and their family from living."
    Exactly, Anne. I haven't seen this in writing yet (I've been thinking about writing about this, among many other things, sigh...:-)) Your blog contains some of the most useful information for parents by far.

  5. Thanks everybody.I do appreciate it.

    Andrew, I will try writing about it as soon as I get my notes from my parents attic in Germany. Hopefully at the end of this year.