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134 APRIL 2010
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“Do you mind if I Meddle?”: Recollections of Henry Maier at the University of Victoria, 1983-1993

James P. Anglin

I have a photograph on the notice board in my office that sums up much of what I know and love about Henry. He is sitting, cross-legged and gnome-like on the floor in the midst of a workshop he is doing with field supervisors, and a supervisor is gazing quizzically from his chair at Henry as Henry gestures towards him with both hands, squeezing out some important point on (no doubt) some of the “minutiae” of care.

It was the supervisor’s first encounter with Henry, and this man was, as I recall, a skeptical person by nature, not easily impressed. He was probably dragged along to yet another workshop by an eager Child and Youth Care student placed with him. The photograph seems to capture the moment that Henry began to meddle with this man. Henry would not have reached this point without asking permission first: “May I meddle?” Of course, no one (in full public view) can say no. And no one knows quite what it means to allow Henry to meddle until it is too late!

Henry has been meddling in my life for about a decade now, and I believe I am much better for it. Long live Henry’s meddling! He does a lot of things very well, but I think that face-to-face, at-the-moment meddling is what Henry does best, and better than anyone else I know.

What exactly is “meddling”? Those who have been privileged to participate in one of Henry’s workshops (he very rarely lectures) will know. First of all, meddling involves Henry sniffing out a teachable moment. A word, a phrase, a gesture – something signals to Henry that this person is ready for a change, and it may be a first-order, incremental change (learning to do something better) or a second-order, transformational change (learning to do something new). Personally, I found any deliberate intervention by Henry into my life to be transformational, even his increments!

Second, meddling involves, above all else, engagement (or should I say attachment?). To encounter Henry, person-to-person, is to become attached to him, for he practices what he preaches. What human beings (including children, youth and Child and Youth Care workers) need, above all else, is attachment. I don’t know if anything I have ever read of Henry’s (at least that he has written in the past five or ten years) does not speak strongly about attachment, and attachment formation. I owe it to Henry for forever putting to rest any question in my mind about “getting too involved” with a kid. Knowing that your time with a person is going to be short is no reason not to become attached; what a sterile life it becomes to live that way. Children need to learn to make and leave relationships of attachment the same way we all do, and it is one of Henry’s missions to teach us how, and to ensure that the field of Child and Youth Care work, first and foremost, never, never forgets that. It is the heart and soul of our work, Henry reminds us time and time again. And we can never be reminded of this enough, in this increasingly fast-forward and out-of-touch world we live in.

What else is this meddling Henry does? Well, it is really all about learning. If I were going to market Henry, I might advertise that: “When Henry meddles, you learn!” Currently, there is a great deal of attention being paid to the issue of teaching in higher education. There is a perception (no doubt true) that universities have tended to neglect their teaching role in relation to their research function. Henry is one of those few (tenured) academics who has never hesitated to put most of his eggs in the teaching basket. In fact, he himself says, he is not a researcher. (I could debate this point, and explore the type of research Henry does, but I won't.)

To illustrate Henry’s power as a teacher and educator, I want to tell you about a workshop Henry did at the University of Victoria for our Learning and Teaching Centre in November 1984. That year, Henry had been recognized by the University of Washington with their “Teacher of the Year” Award. Those of you familiar with academia will understand that to be recognized as “the best” across a whole university is a high and rare privilege indeed. So, I thought that the little known and much misunderstood School of Child and Youth Care could ride on Henry’s fine coat-tails by having him come to Victoria to do a presentation for the university at large.

It wasn’t until I arrived at the session, attended by about 25 academics, that I began to have cold feet. I realized that in the room were seasoned professors from virtually every discipline in the university: law, chemistry, history, English, physics, anatomy, sociology, fine arts, and so on. How was (our) Henry, Child and Youth Care educator, going to be able to engage this diverse and highly critical (primarily cerebral) group? I need not have feared.

Henry began the session as he begins a new semester course. The chairs were arranged in a circle, with extra chairs for putting feet on for those who wished to do so. “When we meet for the first time, we meet as bodies,” he observed. “You can’t really learn unless you are reasonably comfortable.” Then he asked the participants to meet their neighbours. Immediately, the group was buzzing with conversation. “Students are more concerned with who their peers are than who is up at the front. I save time by taking the time to help them meet their neighbour.” The atmosphere was noticeably more relaxed when he asked for the group’s attention.

"People want to meet people rather than paper,” Henry added. “For most of the first class, I keep assignments and outlines hidden. For the first session I want the students to meet me.” He suggested that teachers allow the students to take the written material home to look over before the next class, at which time the questions are likely to be much better. This attention to the interpersonal dimension is important for learning, Henry stressed: “I’m not being nice; I’m interested in being effective.”

As well, he emphasized that “space speaks”: “I arrive early to arrange the environment. I continuously change space – if I want rows, I have rows; if I want a circle, I make a circle. Sometimes students come to class just to see how I have arranged things!”

Throughout the session, Henry modelled techniques he used in class sessions. The fact that his “tips” were demonstrated as effective within the session served to reinforce his messages in a convincing manner. His overall theme was: “It’s not how much you cover, it’s how much the students learn.” He continued, “I think, in general, we are covering too much. I find that the less I cover, the more students learn. Five years after the course, I want students not only to know some things, but to use them.” He quoted David Elkind's dictum, applicable to student learning as well as to child development, that “what is learned is used.”

In this brief session, Henry shared a good deal of wisdom and insight; above all, he demonstrated the power of the effective teacher, as a person engaged in the students' learning. Participants left the session with a greater appreciation of some of the generic elements of effective learning and teaching. As well, they had a little more understanding of the approach to people and change at the heart of Child and Youth Care work, and I was grateful to Henry for being Henry, and for caring so deeply and effectively for Child and Youth Care.

Over the past decade, Henry has made six or seven visits to the School of Child and Youth Care, and his message has always focused on learning; how children learn at various stages of development; how workers learn, and what they need to learn to work effectively with children and youth; and how teachers can learn to be more effective in promoting student learning. Henry has had a strong influence on many students, field supervisors and faculty at the School, and what he taught us is being used.

I often introduce students to Henry, and Henry’s work, by saying, “I’ve never spent any time with Henry without learning something new and important.” Need I urge you any further to find a way to spend some time with “the old Master Meddler”?

This feature: Anglin, J.P. (1993). “Do you mind if I meddle?”: Recollections of Henry Maier at the University of Victoria, 1983-1993. Journal of Child and Youth Care, 8, 2. pp. 31-34.

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