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Coyote teaching is a method of teaching and mentoring made popular by Tom Brown, Jr. and Jon Young. A coyote teacher never gives direct answers, and answers questions with questions, inspiring the student to dig deeper into the lessons and search for embedded or connected lessons. A successful coyote teacher inspires the student to learn on his/her own until the student no longer depends on the coyote teacher. Naturally, when a student is trained by a coyote teacher, the student becomes adept at the style of teaching and can, in turn, mentor more students in this method.
According to Jon Young, coyote teaching was inspired by the teaching methods of native hunter-gatherer and tracker societies from across the globe including the Akamba people of eastern Kenya and the teachings of Stalking Wolf, the mentor of Tom Brown Jr. Its practitioners have called this style of teaching an “intersection of many technologies”, merging both new and old techniques. The result is a combination of the native traditional and the modern methods of instructing students and it can be applied to many disciplines.
Coyote teaching is the method used to train instructors at Tom Brown Jr’s Tracker School and Jon Young’s Wilderness Awareness School. Naturally, when a coyote teacher trains a student, the student becomes adept at the style of teaching and can in turn, mentor more students using this method. A common saying among coyote teachers and students is, "When raised by a coyote one becomes a coyote".
Coyote teaching is built upon a cultural tradition of “peacekeeping” by fostering positive relationships among students, instructors and the community. A key aspect of the peacekeeping tradition is to recognize every being’s wish to be appreciated.
The goal of coyote teaching is to expand the sensory awareness of the pupil to gradually include more and more of the subject material and learning environment. Using the environment to teach the pupil is also essential.
This teaching method emphasizes experiential over theoretical learning and focuses on developing the whole student, rather than one particular skill. Coyote teaching can be a way of transferring tacit knowledge of an activity and increasing the functional intelligence of the pupil. A deep student-instructor relationship is essential to the process and is often inseparable from the development of a mentorship.
Methods of Application
Initially, coyote teaching was used to teach wilderness awareness and tracking skills. This subject or “locus” emphasized awareness of oneself and ones surroundings for survival purposes, just as our human ancestors relied upon. In other areas, environmental saturation involves immersing the student in what he or she is learning. The coyote teacher surrounds the student with the sensory components: sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes of the subject they are studying and he or she helps them become aware of the environmental feedback that results from the student’s actions. A popular technique at wilderness awareness schools is to teach “wide-angle vision”, which involves having the student become aware of both their peripheral and central fields of vision in order to see the larger environment or the bigger picture of the field of study.
Art of Questioning:
This is borrowed from the Socratic method. The art of questioning involves asking the student questions about the subject material and encouraging the student to ask questions themselves. In many instances the coyote teacher will refuse to explain something to the student, instead encouraging them to seek the answer and giving them the resources to do so. The coyote teacher always leaves some questions unanswered.
The coyote teacher may at times play the role of the trickster transformer in order to facilitate experiential learning and often involves the use of deception. A teacher may play a harmless trick on the student, for instance, deflating a player’s basketball slightly, or unwinding a music student’s guitar string) often when the student is unaware. This technique teaches discernment and aids in experiential learning. It also teaches the student how to avoid the treachery of others and in turn employ this technique himself or herself in the future.
Coyote teaching involves the rich storytelling traditions present in native cultures. By telling stories to the student the coyote teacher describes narratives and role models with moral and ethical themes. The stories always have a component of learning and are at the same time entertaining. The stories employed by the coyote teacher may involve using a hero to inspire the student to learn more or to model appropriate behavior. Storytelling can also warn students of the dangers along the learning path.
When appropriate, the coyote teacher may employ an edge experience. Edge experiences involve pushing the student beyond their comfort zone and beyond their current experience level. For example a music teacher may expose their student to an audience for the first time. The edge experience involves using the student’s fear to motivate them to higher standards or a higher level of achievement.
Creating a need:
A coyote teacher fosters or creates within the student, a need to learn. A common technique to create this need takes the form of tests or homework. In coyote teaching, needs specific to the student must be invoked and can be physical, emotional, social and/or intellectual in nature. An example may be to assign a class presentation instead of a written report. This would emphasize the student’s need for both a good grade and the social desirability of making a good impression on fellow students.
Use of Taboos:
In a structured learning environment taboos are necessary conditions for the success of the teaching effort. Coyote teachers use taboos to establish a culture of respect and a definition of what is and is not acceptable behavior.
It has been said by Jon Young that coyote teaching is inseparable from a mentoring relationship and emphasizes a deep knowing of the student. Building strong rapport with students is helpful in maintaining coyote teaching. The relationship between teacher and student can become so strong that coyote teachers often refer to their students as brothers or sisters. This implies that a long relationship will be maintained and the students will have a role model they can rely upon.
The Art of Mentoring & Coyote Teaching audiobook CD Set: by Jon Young with Ellen Haas