Developing Our Skills and Competence as Practitioners

Jeff Haller and Candy Conino are members of the Task Force to Separate Graduation from Certification along with Dwight Pargee, Alice Friedman, and Kathy James. Four of the committee's members, Haller, Conino, Pargee and Friedman, have organized a full-day workshop at this year's Feldenkrais Method Conference in Asheville, NC, with the goal of demonstrating how a particular form of competency-based assessment could be implemented.

Jeff Haller and Candy Conino are members of the Task Force to Separate Graduation from Certification along with Dwight Pargee, Alice Friedman, and Kathy James. Four of the committee's members, Haller, Conino, Pargee and Friedman, have organized a full-day workshop at this year's Feldenkrais Method Conference in Asheville, NC, with the goal of demonstrating how a particular form of competency-based assessment could be implemented.  

“Formative assessment,” as they call it, is not a judgmental or punitive testing process, but rather a strategy that can be used by individual practitioners and their peers to assess their own skills and growth and create learning plans to further refine their practice of the Method. The Task Force has created a draft document called the
Feldenkrais Practitioner Profile (FPP), which they will be using in their conference workshop as a guide to participants. In a recent interview, Jeff and Candy described why they believe that formative assessment can be used to raise the professional level of each participating practitioner.

What are your goals for the workshop at the Feldenkrais Method Conference in Asheville, “Giving and Receiving a Lesson in Every Lesson: Gaining Confidence in your Competence”?  What will participants experience?

CANDY: Our goal is to change the conversations that we have about our work when we do Functional Integration. We are going to focus on how we can promote reflection and learning from what just happened, and for planning our future learning - so that every lesson we give or get can make us better practitioners.

We'll start with an introduction to the FPP and how to ask open-ended questions. Then pairs of participants will begin to give and receive lessons. Half of the group will be watching a lesson; the other half will get a lesson. The observing group will make note of “moments of interest” - ‘wow' moments, puzzling moments, etc. - and they'll begin to formulate questions. We'll study the actual decision-making of the lesson - not “where do you put your hands?”  

After the lesson we'll invite people to ask open-ended questions, which is something that takes practice to do skillfully. An open-ended question is one that deepens the experience of the person being questioned, that lets them reflect, that does not require a yes-no answer, and does not involve judgment. By answering such a question, the practitioner deepens her own experience of the lesson.  

So the observers will practice how to ask each other – and themselves – those kinds of questions, because when we're working day to day, we need to ask ourselves those questions. Nobody is watching us!

Everyone will have a chance to give a lesson, get a lesson, and formulate questions.

JEFF: This workshop is going to be based on the FPP. As a practitioner, this is my job description. It's a very open-ended job description, but it gives me a handle on the kinds of things that I can assess within myself.  It helps me to be able to say, “I really do know this material” or, “Wow, I'm really good in this area - and these are the areas where I need to develop myself.” When I know what it is, I can develop a plan so I'm not just going to study mush! I'm going to study something concrete that will continue to support me in my development as a practitioner.  

In my trainings, during practicums, the people who give the lesson are always given a chance to talk in an open-ended way about what they saw and experienced when they were working, what they were hoping for, where they got in their own way, etc. Then I would always give the group a chance to ask questions or give their observations.

What happens after a couple of rounds of people watching, observing and being in this conversation is that you start to see really good lessons emerge. They stop being stereotyped. They stop being related to the last thing we learned in class. When you provide this kind of process you see a different depth begin to emerge. What we will do is try to continue to support that level of conversation taking place on a large scale, so that it can seed the community.

Why do you feel that this kind of process is so important for Feldenkrais practitioners?

JEFF: I think oftentimes people don't know that they don't know the material. If you ask them to talk specifically about what it is that they know relative to self-organization or working with a client, they often don't know the specific skills and talents that they actually have. How many students don't understand basic ideas like ground forces, center of mass, moment of inertia, equal and opposite support, proportional organization through the whole of the self? Until they know that they know it, they can't utilize it and have it be part of the curriculum that they create for the client that they're working with.

I think when people are deeply clear of unnecessary habits, when they can support themselves almost skeletally, they are probably a lot happier people. It's not a small feat to create the conditions where that can be acquired! And it's worth working with people so that they can have that.

CANDY: Even after twenty years, if we're doing our work well, we'll find places where we still think we're inadequate. Because we're not going to get to a point where we're fine and that's it. That's the whole intention idea of our work - we're continually improving!

We have a 4-part diagram about “competence in action.” When I teach Functional Integration, I teach this is what you do: every time you put your hands on someone it's because you're either gathering information, you've made a plan, you're working the plan; then you reflect, and then you make your next decision about how and where, and what you do when you put your hands on someone.

If someone gets a chance to articulate that for themselves, all of a sudden they begin to appreciate how a lesson emerges for both the practitioner and for the client on the table. It just emerges out of the competence in action process.

JEFF: Often people will strive to give these lessons that they remember, templates from their training program. But even in those kinds of explicit lessons, there still has to be this process of starting your plan and then engaging in the plan and being able to reflect for a moment: “Wow, where am I going? Am I actually in contact with the person or am I imposing something on the person?”

When we have Feldenkrais practitioners who think that they ought to be able to do explicit things to people who have explicit conditions, I think we've lost focus on what we are as Feldenkrais practitioners. Moshe said that his greatest gift was to take abstract ideas and make them concrete. There is a concrete way in which a Feldenkrais practitioner continually creates the environment for learning by asking questions.  

The very nature of the process is to be in this continued place of asking questions of ourselves and asking questions of the other in such a way that the outcome of the lesson becomes a surprise to both of us. That's my definition of a good lesson: when both of us find something new that we've never discovered before.

This year's conference theme is The Tipping Point – Propelling the Feldenkrais Method into the mainstream.  How does your workshop relate to this theme?

JEFF: Obviously, in order for there to be a tipping point, the center of mass has to be raised significantly. And, if we're going to do that, it means that there has to be power applied. I think that this whole process of having people really learn to build their own portfolios and have their own action plan can provide a tipping point with regard to us becoming professionals of a high order.

I'm excited about this year's conference program because we have so many people that are going to be doing presentations that are not the standard fare. We have first class people making offerings and bringing vital and vibrant new life into the conversations. I think that's fantastic. I think we're on the verge of seeing some vitality beginning to emerge.

CANDY: I've been working with the competency project for nine years. I don't think that there's anyone who has learned about how to do these formative processes that hasn't been fundamentally changed in their attitude towards themselves and the work, in a positive way.  

What I do with this material, for instance, is at the end of my day, I'm going to look for the things that make me feel like “Oh, I could have done that better.” Honestly, there are some things that - if I'm off my game, if I'm tired, hungry or annoyed about something - I'm going to resort to certain habits that are not my finest habits.  

At the end of my day, what would I have liked to have done better? And I'm going to say to myself, “Tomorrow, how about if you attend to this in yourself – and we'll have this talk again at the end of tomorrow.”

I don't do an overall assessment of myself – I just do it for today. My only interest is that at the end of the Friday I'm going to be just a little bit better, more informed, more self-aware than I was on Monday. That's one of the things we're trying to get across in this workshop. At the end of the lesson, can you be just a little bit better, more self-aware.

JEFF: Like what Moshe talked about, the point is to come to the place where you can take that which you do perfectly and then look in the areas of your life that need to be improved and how can you spread the qualities of what you do perfectly into the rest of your life?

Moshe is no longer alive. We are Moshe. Every single one of us in this legacy is now the Moshe. And we can respect Moshe for who he was and what he left us. But if we are his legacy then we have take on the propensity that he had for continually investigating how he could make his work better - we have to do it too.

CANDY: We have to do it and we have to be able to talk about it to each other so that together our collective knowledge can expand and evolve all of us together. That's what we need to have conversations about.

Find out more about this workshop.

Seth Dellinger is a certifiied Awareness Through Movement® teacher, a 4th-year student in the Feldenkrais Training Program of Baltimore with David Zemach-Bersin, central organizer of the DC Feldenkrais Festival, and writes a regular blog at