Inviting in the Magic: When Learning Goes Beyond the Expected

Years ago, I received an email from a course participant thanking me for the transformative experience. It turns out she wasn’t thanking me for the learning (although she assured me that too was profound); she wanted to share that the experience had helped her become clear about the need to leave her marriage. When I asked her how the course helped her do this – you see it was a course on how to design learning events – she plainly answered, “I finally had the space to be myself. Suddenly I realized how much of myself I had lost and how much I needed to find myself back.”

More recently, on the morning of Day 3 in a course on facilitation, a middle-aged man came to the venue early to talk. There was urgency in his face when he entered. “I couldn’t sleep last night!” he blurted. “As I drove home thinking about the different types of questions, we can use to facilitate groups, I realized… I never ask my wife open questions! Never!!” Fighting back tears, he continued to share that his marriage was on the rocks, and he finally realized some of his role in this. The course had offered him a lens into his personal life he had not yet had.

These two true events offer a glimpse into the power of the approach my colleagues and I live and breathe. I call this ‘the magic’ that can happen while teaching using the principles and practices of a learning-centered approach. This kind of magic often happens on a personal level, in private, and is not connected to why a group has gathered.

When this kind of magic is created, tough truths are shared for the first time aloud in public; deep self awareness is experienced; a hidden skill is discovered; a secret is shared for the first time; a new relationship is birthed; touching love is shown; an unknown beauty is mirrored back; and unknown power is named.

When we carefully and intentionally host an open, brave space for a group of people, we allow the spaciousness needed for deep sharing, realizations, and an opening up. When we lovingly hold a space with authenticity and integrity, we can invite words, thoughts, and stories that we ourselves don’t know. When we are fully present with ourselves and for those who have gathered, we invite the unknown, the mysterious and … the magic. In these cases, the real reason we have gathered becomes clear.

The magic is sometimes connected to the content that brought us together, and sometimes it is not. The surprises are sometimes experienced by all, and sometimes by a single individual. One thing is true, these moments are gifts.

So, how can we help encourage the magic:

  • Be fully present. All potential distractions need to be moved away, turned off, or stopped, so you can fully listen, watch and consider what is being offered. Consider setting aside at least ten minutes before a session to ground yourself with intentional breathing, mindful walking, etc.
  • Create the container. If you are in-person, room set up (and tidying!) is critical. If you are online, music and beautiful PowerPoint slides will help. Let the space itself express care, love, and respect to the participants!
  • Less is more. Don’t stuff your time full. Selecting just the right amount of content and activities so there is time for helpful reflection and dialogue is important.
  • Be comfortable with silence. Silence is needed: to think, wonder, work, and consider. Both introverts and extroverts will benefit from this time. See this blog for more ideas about this.
  • Invite solo time. Connecting with self is important: what do I think about what was offered here? See this blog for more ideas about this.

The magic will show up in different ways at different times with different groups. In fact, it doesn’t always show up, and it is not always known. It can be experienced weeks and months later, and it can be a profound experience in the moment followed by tears or shouts of joy. It can creep in slowly over time in a multi-day event, and leave you wondering and coming back for more. It’s magic.

The principles and practices that GLP is committed to are complex in their simplicity; they demand deep intentionality and attention; they need to be worked and reworked; and, they need to breathe.

This work we do as conveners of groups – to learn, meet, journey, consider, encourage, support, mentor, grow – is important. And so are our methods. When we are lucky, when all is aligned and we are fully present, when the room, the question and the time is right… that’s when the magic can happen.

How do you make room for the magic?


Jeanette Romkema is GLP Senior Consultant, Network Director and Co-owner. Read more blogs by Jeanette.
Here are other GLP blogs you may be interested in:

  1. Making Room for Magic: A Revolutionary Act in a Busy World
  2. Talking Circles: More than a Technique
  3. Own the Space: Tips for In-Person Room Setup


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