The Thursday

Naomi Karten (INTJ)

When I took PSL, what affected me most was Thursday. On Thursday, we had to design a problem for the other team to solve. It sounded so easy, but was anything but. We struggled. At times it was painful.

We came up with a problem, and it was exciting to watch the creativity with which the other team solved it. We obsessed all through dinner about whether we’d be able to solve theirs. We did, and it was more fun that I’d expected. Then came the fishbowls, and we took turns talking about our experience and our learnings. What a powerful, intense experience that was. I’ll never forget it.

When Dani and Jerry invited me to join the PSL Faculty several years ago, my first thought was Thursday, and the incredible responsibility of overseeing that day’s learning.

The irony of this opportunity was that I’d resisted taking PSL for years. When I finally took it, I found that it meshed wonderfully with the most gratifying aspects of my own work: helping people communicate more effectively, become more sensitive to each other’s perspectives, and build win-win relationships. Less than a year later, I attended PSL again, this time as an instructor.

Strange how careers zig and zag. In college, I started as a math major. On day one of linear algebra, when the professor warned that we’d better learn the 18-step proof that A times one equals A or else, I became an ex-math major. I switched to psychology for my degrees, and then became a programmer, intending it only as a quick detour to learn the jargon that my husband Howard (a programmer at the time) was spouting.

To my surprise, I loved programming. My detour turned into a career. I became a techie and then a manager. Then I combined my psychology background and my technical and management experience, and became a consultant. That move, more than 12 years ago, led to speaking, training, and trips to places I didn’t even believe existed (Hong Kong and Iowa, for example).

My work had been keeping me pretty busy, so when Dani and Jerry asked if I wanted to become an instructor, I pondered whether I could justify the time and effort. Twelve nano-seconds later, I gave my answer. YES!

It was an easy decision. When I took PSL, I left feeling that if everyone could take it, the world would be a better place. Now I am helping that to happen. I love watching participants learn about themselves and experience their personal aha’s. I thrive on seeing participants discover how to interact more effectively with each other, and therefore with others as well. I delight in seeing friendships form that will last a lifetime.

Being a PSL instructor is an awesome responsibility. It is also a privilege and a joy. And without question, I learn even more as an instructor than I did as a participant. Especially on Thursday.


Addendum: Due to a scheduling change a few years ago, we now start PSL on Monday instead of Sunday, so the Problem Design segment takes place on Friday. However, those of us on the Faculty still refer to it affectionately as “Thursday.”

Why I Teach PSL

Karen Straka (INFP)

I teach PSL for the same reasons people attend PSL. For renewal, growth, learning and change.

In my other life as a Counselor/School Psychologist, I frequently see people who are not interested in any of these things.

The children I see are brought to me so that I can “fix them”. The parents I work with are frustrated and want someone to blame. The teachers are just plain burnt out. And none seem interested in change. They fight it, deny it, avoid it and sabotage it. Their life, as difficult as it seems, is at least familiar.

After working with these people for a while, I begin to feel the same way. I start saying things like “What’s the use!” or “I’m not getting anywhere” or worst yet “it’s not worth it”. How can I continue to do my job in such a way as to foster growth when I myself start feeling hopeless?

By contrast, when I meet new PSL students, I see energetic, hopeful, intelligent people interested in learning new skills to solve problems, and most of all, wanting to make a difference in their world. As the week progresses, I am mentally and emotionally energized by the growth taking place before me. My spirit is renewed. I begin to feel hopeful again.

What I’d really like to do is to have a PSL-like effect on the children, families and teachers I work with in my other world. I’d like for them to leave with a new insight or hope, a new awareness or skill, a different perspective and perhaps courage to “jiggle” things a bit, to change their lives, to be less satisfied and comfortable in their old way of being.

After a week at PSL, I am eager to give it another shot.

What Happens When a PSL Instructor Gets Lost?

Norm Kerth (INFP)

I went out to the Portland Airport to pick up Jerry and Eileen. The three of us were scheduled to teach PSL in Oregon one day later. Eileen got off the plane with a bit of a puzzle. Jerry was supposed to meet her in Salt Lake City, and he never appeared.

Naturally, being trained problem solvers, we knew how to look at this. This was a perfect example of the Change Model Process. The old status quo was “either Jerry or Dani were always one of the instructors in PSL.”

The foreign element was “Jerry didn’t show up.” Eileen and I moved through a few chaos activities like “calling Dani and finding she wasn’t home,” “checking Jerry’s e-mail on his travel arrangements,” “looking at the airlines travel board,” etc. We recognized that we were in the chaos stage so we took deep breaths, relaxed our tense muscles, and looked for the possibilities.

Soon a transforming idea came along. Eileen and I had been teaching PSL for years, the only thing that was different was that we had never taught together. The demand for PSL has been growing and Dani and Jerry see that they can no longer meet the need alone. Wayne, Pat, Karen, Eileen and I have been training for quite some time to teach a course without Dani or Jerry. The transforming idea was: now is as good a time as any to do it on our own, in fact better! Better because we didn’t have months to get nervous.

So we moved into practice and integration as we spent the next three hours talking about how we might teach together. We discussed our strengths and weaknesses, what each of us taught best, what we need from the other person if we got into trouble, and so on.

As we talked, the idea seemed like a good one. We believed that the course that we teach would be every bit as high quality as if Jerry was on the team. Yes, different but every bit as good. So we moved to our new status quo, we were the teaching team for the March ’94 PSL.

When the next plane from Salt Lake City arrived, Jerry got off mumbling about missed connections and said, “while I was waiting for the next plane, I got to thinking that this might be a good time for the two of you to teach the class and I’ll observe… what do you think?”

Eileen and I just smiled and said, “Okay.”

The class went as well as all of us expected.

The PSL Within

Eileen Strider (INTJ)

You know the drill — PSL always starts before it officially starts! I’ve just landed in Salt Lake City — suppose to meet Jerry and go on to Portland. But, no Jerry anywhere in sight. Okay, remember to breathe. What’s the worst that can happen? Can I survive the worst? Oh, yes, Jerry’s not lost; he’s just not where I expected him to be. I suddenly realize I don’t have a clue how we were to meet Norm. I’d left those details up to Jerry – but I never told him.

A problem that turns into an opportunity! Over lunch with Norm, we agree we will teach PSL and Jerry will observe. Although we’ve known each other for a number of years, we’ve never taught together. Norm has always taught with Dani and I with Jerry. We do some contracting with each other for what we need during PSL. We sort out which of us will facilitate and teach parts of PSL. I feel good – like we’ll make a good teaching pair. Norm gives me a quick tour of Portland.

Jerry arrives and we head to Newport. On the way, we prepare for PSL. Jerry has a Great Idea — we will teach PSL and he will observe. Great minds…… But can he do it? Can he resist the temptation to rescue us from problems of our own creation or the participants? It will be hard but he’s committed to trying it. This will be the first PSL taught by two people neither of whom have the last name “Weinberg”. History in the making.

Sunday morning we set up the training room in the Sylvia Beach Hotel. Sitting in his observation chair, Jerry realizes that all these years, the room has been set up poorly making it very difficult for everyone to see. A payoff already from his new role!

Participants arrive; greetings are shared. PSL officially begins with

“Never turn your back on the ocean; never use an umbrella; pronounce it “O-re-gun” and whales take priority over everything.”

The class seems to be going okay. Wednesday night (Note: this was the old days, 1994. Now, everything is moved up a day, and Wednesday is Thursday.) I’m thinking that everything has been cool, calm and collected — maybe too cool? Norm and I discuss. And then it’s Thursday. Thursdays have a way of sneaking up on you. In some PSLs, all that’s happened before (maybe years before) focuses down to Thursday. One participant has the courage to speak the unspeakable; to say what the real problem is; and we each see how our actions affect others. Ah, the bittersweet pain of recognition.

Suddenly it’s the last morning. Norm, Jerry and I do a fishbowl. I think Virginia Satir would be proud of this triad. Class photo is taken, graduation commences. Where did the week go?

There’s always a PSL within PSL, the instructors’ PSL and the participants’ PSL.

Jerry did a great job staying in the observer role and coming out when it fit for him.

I learned and benefitted from his nightly feedback and support sessions.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with Norm and learned new ways of presenting the concepts from him. I look forward to working with him again and to working with other PSL faculty members. And I thank Norm, Dani, Jerry, Karen, Pat, Wayne, all the PSL participants, and the power of fate for giving me this wondrous opportunity.

Rattling the Windows at the March PSL

David Schmaltz (INTP)

The weather report predicted storms when we arrived on Saturday, but the front headed further south and left us some unseasonably warm and sunny weather, perfect for spotting whales. This was my second PSL as a member of the faculty. Still in training, which means I was still looking for a Gestalt that included me as anything other than an observer, I entered cautiously.

This is weird work. We have control over how the experience is staged but not over how it plays out. Our participation in how it plays out depends mostly on how it plays out, and every instance is unique.

By Wednesday afternoon, Verseworks performed with a backdrop of darkening sky and increasing wind, as though the storm front promised earlier in the week had chosen to arrive at a more dramatic moment. The simulation was quiet but there was something threatening going on beneath the surface. The storm finally arrived Thursday morning with gale force wind and horizontal cloudbursts playing the perfect counterpoint to the Problem Design exercise.

When should an instructor jump into the middle of a student’s chaos? The class mirrored the full force of the sixty mile gusts rattling the old hotel’s windows. It seemed to me that the windows watched like the instructors watched, rattling a little and flexing almost unconcerned. The windows had apparently seen this noise before.

There is a special compassion springing from deliberate inaction. This is impossible to describe and very, very hard to learn. Helping is supposed to be a hands-on affair and mere bystanding somehow hurtful. Yet, robbing a student of their opportunity to participate fully in their own learning is the greatest crime any teacher can commit.

Thursday night, unable to sleep, I went for a walk in the continuing storm only to run into the student who had been most wind-blown during the day. He had found his own lee. He rattled his learnings enthusiastically in spite of the dark and the rain and the competing wind.

People learned enough this week. Some learned in spite of themselves, others because of themselves. This is how it is in a storm. One rides what the wind provides and, if unhindered, learns what they need. Getting out of the way is challenge enough for any teacher. Given remarkably little direction and some personal space, people find enough meaning in their own experiences.

I think I’m catching on.