What’s your favorite question to ask? For me it’s why? That’s it. It’s been the same question just about all of my life.
I find that it brings the greatest critical thinking challenges to me as I continue to work in the field of training and development. For most of my growing up years people told me what to do, I’m sure your experience was similar… we get an education and are advised what to take, then we start a career and learn the job with new rules and processes…sadly, asking why isn’t always encouraged!
This was the case until I was finally asked the question WHY DO YOU DO YOU WHAT YOU DO? What’s your purpose on this earth? Someone finally turned the table on me!
Let me ask you, have you ever written a personal mission statement? It asks the why of your life. I was at a leadership staff retreat a number of years ago when I was asked what my personal mission was …not only had no one ever asked me such a big why question…I had no answer for them. Thus started a grueling exercise of discover…and decision! The end result was…
I want to be about equipping and encouraging others to realize their full potential.
This guided my thinking and actions in every leadership role I took on.
Over the past while I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between being a leader and being a teacher. I tend to believe that not only are they connected, but being one compels us to also be the other. So if this is true…we need to consider what kind of leader-teachers we should be.
Take a few minutes to consider this connection and perhaps open the door to look at teaching…and our post-secondary classrooms, from another perspective.
John Kotters describes leadership this way…
“Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen, despite the obstacles.”
Can we see a connection to teaching?
Learner centred teaching is all about putting the focus on what the learner needs in order for them to be successful. Consider how similar this is to servant leadership:
“Putting the needs, interests and goals of others above your own and using your personal gifts to help others achieve their potential.”
Is there a connection here to teaching?
Our purpose should be to do all we can to help our students be successful.
Let’s assume that we are on the right track here. We all know that learning looks different for each student…the variables are endless.
So flashing back to leadership, what we are discussing is the type of leadership made popular by Blanchard and Hersey…Situational leadership. We know that this is a contingency approach that basically means IT DEPENDS. It depends on the readiness of the follower…the leader adapts his/her leadership style based on the needs of the person being lead.
- Telling– Leaders tell their people what to do and how to do it.
- Selling– Leaders provide information and direction, but there’s more communication with followers.
- Participating – Leaders focus more on the relationship and less on direction. Decision making is shared with followers.
- Delegating – Leaders pass most of the responsibility onto the follower or group. http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_44.htm
Can we connect these styles or stages to teaching?
Let me ask one final question…Can you view yourself as a leader in the classroom? If so, what kind of leader do you want to be?
In preparing to teach a leadership class recently, I came across this question:
If it is immoral to prevent those around you from growing to their fullest potential, are you being moral?
In other words, as a leader/teacher, am I doing all I can to help those around me to grow to their fullest potential? Hmmm!
Right now I’m sitting in a new little restaurant in Kelowna called Gratitude. Recently opened, it’s claim to fame is a menu that is gluten free, vegan, and safe for most allergies. Limited…but oh so tasty! I feel healthier just sitting here. My order…spicy root veggie soup and a toasted carrot bun with coconut butter. Very delicious.
When the server/owner delivered it to me, the salutation, ‘you are lovely and awesome’ was declared. That took me a little aback…to my shame, the first thought that came to mind was ‘now that’s a little phony…they probably say that to everyone.’ But then I thought, ‘so what if they do, how many people never get to hear those sentiments from anyone?’ Yup, slapped my own hand for that one.
So how does this connect with potential? Glad you asked. Let me guide you through my thought process. One of the courses I’m teaching this semester to third year business students is Leadership; I’m very excited to be working with these future leaders! In the first class we discussed the concept of leadership and explored the experiences of each person…interesting and often inspiring. One of the resources we included in the course pack is a Harvard Business Review called ‘Harnessing the Science of Persuasion’ by Robert B. Cialdini. The article summary states,
“No leader can succeed without mastering the art of persuasion. But there’s hard science in that skill, too, and a large body of psychological research suggests there are six basic laws of winning friends and influencing people.”
The article is adamant that this persuasion must be done in an ethical manner, and that mastery of the 6 Principles outlined can bring ‘scientific rigor to the business of securing consensus, cutting deals, and winning concessions.’
In class we watched a YouTube version of the article, and then spent time discussing it.
What we summarized from the discussion is that leaders need to setthe stage and create a reason for why people should follow them. The obvious danger is the ease with which a leader could cross over the line into manipulation…one good reason why the article stresses the need for ethical action and behaviour.
So, back to potential. I can see potential in my students, or in those I have been privileged to mentor, but if there isn’t a connection, if they don’t like me, they are less likely to give any credence to any suggestions I may offer for their growth and development. The same thing applies to any group of people or team you may lead…do they see evidence of the 6 principles demonstrated through your actions? Do you make it easy for them to follow you, or do you create barriers that in the long run will limit the positive influence you could have in their professional and personal lives?
While I initially felt like the greeting I received with lunch was phony, it did make me stop and think. If she really did know me would those be the words she would use to describe me; if not, would she maybe see the potential in me to come along side and help me grow into a person worthy of such a greeting?
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Have you ever witnessed someone realizing their potential? It is so exciting! Let me share an experience with you.
I had a student in one of my classes a couple of years ago. She was an exchange student from Asia and was totally overwhelmed with the whole Canadian education experience. Susan, (not her real name of course), was in her early twenties and had never been more than a few kilometres from home before this adventure.
Susan missed the first couple classes, so was already behind before she even started. After her first class I noticed Susan hovering at her desk, taking much longer than necessary to pack up her knapsack…she obviously had something on her mind. I approached and asked how the first class had gone for her. In very broken English, she shared some of the challenges she was experiencing with the language barrier, and wanted to check that I was ok with her using a digital translator. She didn’t want me to think that she was cheating in any way. Once that was talked through I thought we were done…not so. Susan went on to share how shy she was, and that she wasn’t comfortable talking in class, or offering her opinion on anything. In fact, she went on to say that she really didn’t have anything worth sharing anyway. Needless to say my heart went out to her.
Again, Susan didn’t seem to be in a rush to leave, so I decided to put my briefcase down and take a few minutes with this young woman. One of the things I like to do with my students is to ask them to identify their own goals for learning; so I asked Susan. Her answer was so honest…and frightful for her! Her goal was to voluntarily answer one question in class before the end of the term! That’s it, and even voicing it seemed like such a challenge. I assured Susan that I would not pick on her to answer a question that she did not raise her hand for, and that I would watch for her to indicate when she was ready. Susan finally left the classroom looking like a weight had been lifted off her small shoulders.
The next class we were talking about the diversity of cultures in organizations, and the joys and challenges that brings. For one of the activities I invited students to share something unique about their own culture, and describe a little bit about how that uniqueness would impact the workplace. After several students shared I noticed that Susan had raised her hand. Her expression told me that she wanted to take the big step…she was ready…already!
What happened next blew me away. Susan talked for a good three minutes, sharing what life was like in her home country, and how that experience influenced her confidence, or rather lack of confidence, in this brand-new world. She was nervous, but received incredible support from her peers as they listened intently to every word; it was a beautiful thing to witness.
When Susan finished she simply sat down. At the end of class she came up to me, as excited as any child on Christmas morning. The only words she could express were ‘I did it, I did it!’ After the initial exuberance had died down she added ‘And it’s only the beginning of the semester! I reached my goal already.’ Those are the moments that affirm why I love my job!
That day was the first of many with Susan speaking out in class; she even participated in an oral class presentation. When the semester ended, successfully for Susan I might add, I saw a very different young woman leave with determination and intention to return to her home country and encourage other young Asian women to find their voice. Someday I hope to meet up with Susan and hear about the next step in her story.
Helping someone realize their potential does not have to be a major undertaking. At times it’s as simple as being available to listen, and to pay attention to what’s not being said.
Who are the people in your life that just need a listening ear or an encouraging word to move them towards realizing their potential? Look around, they may even be in the room with you right now.
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
― Leo Buscaglia
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It’s been a while since my last blog. There are a couple of reasons for that…not the least of which being absorbed in prep for teaching my business students. One key reason is tied in with the never-ending question regarding what to write about. I can think of lots of things to say when I’m nowhere near a computer (and have just had a great cup of coffee!), or don’t have time to gather the scattered thoughts into some semblance of order. However, when a pause in my schedule presents itself, I still need to find that focus.
As always, inspiration comes from places you least expect. Our son and his family have been on somewhat of a road trip for the past few weeks. His work affords him the privilege of working
from wherever he happens to be…although that in itself presents problems when depending on the strength and availability of Internet connections. (I digress…). On the day they packed up the vehicle to head off on their adventure, my daughter-in-law handed me a class jar with a twig stuck in it and ask that we take care of it. Now, you have to know that our grandkids are home schooled, and are getting the most amazing education imaginable…everything becomes a teachable moment in the family, even the unending collection of ‘nature’. So, when I asked what ‘it’ was, Crystal immediately said, ‘It’s an oak tree’.
After a good chuckle, I had one of those ‘hmmm’ moments. I saw a dried up twig with a couple of pathetic looking leaves clinging for dear life, Crystal saw beyond that to what it would become…a mighty oak tree with potential far greater than what we could even begin to imagine.
I’m passionate about training and development, but for me it goes well beyond the material created or the skills taught…it’s about the outcome; it’s about the people involved in the training and development. The potential is there, it simply needs to be fed, watered, perhaps pruned, and planted in an environment where it will be encouraged to growing into…who knows?
One of the reasons I love teaching and working with young business leaders is because I get to be in on the ground floor of their journey. I have the opportunity to help them see who they are and what they have to offer. I love to see the light bulbs go on as they discover their innate strengths and struggle through the questions of ‘so what?’ I love the challenging questions they present as the result of critically thinking through some theory that makes sense on paper but somehow falls short of what they have already discovered in the work world…and life in general! I love to chat with them after they have completed their first life chapter of formal training, and hear the passion bubble up as they share what’s been happening and the opportunities that they have embraced. I love seeing the ‘twigs’ grow into ‘oak trees’.
All that to say, I found my focus. Potential…plain and simple. It’s all around us, it’s in us, and it’s each of our responsibility to develop. How does that happen? Who are the
people we choose to spend time with to foster that potential? What do we do when ours’, and others’, potential is being squashed? So much to probe and ponder!
“Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.”
― John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
I spent one week this summer facilitating workshops that focused on learner centered instruction. The audience was a group of 22 professors visiting from China who wanted to learn more about what the post secondary classroom looks like in Canada…specifically the learner centered approach. This was an amazing opportunity for which I am so grateful, and hope to do again!
I’ve done a great deal of curriculum designing. As I go through the process, I am always conscious of the fact that the audience represents a variety of knowledge levels and therefore the need to include some form of prior learning assessment is vital. However, the preparation and delivery of this material to our Chinese visitors required that I take all my concepts and explain them in ways that would translate across language. No buzz words, no acronyms, no idioms, and no making assumptions about their frame of reference.
Unfortunately, the reality of this didn’t fully hit until I was in the midst of presenting and realized that the confused looks were not only caused by a language barrier, but also by conceptual differences in how we approach education. For example, discussing the challenges of having young learners (18-22 yrs) and mature learners in the same class made no sense to them…they would never have the ages mixed to start with! I also learned that it was fully acceptable to put your head down and have a nap if you were tired…nothing personal!
I was so thankful that one of the professors was quite fluent in English, so together we navigated the murky waters using all of our senses, including a lot of laughter, to catch a glimpse of what learner centredness is all about. In fact, the whole process became a living example of how we, as facilitators of learning, must focus on the needs of the learner if we are to develop individuals who can think critically, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, and be the creative innovators our institutions and organizations need.
As I reflected on this amazing opportunity my mind wandered down the path of ‘so what?’…so what did this experience teach me that was new, and what actions/attitudes did it reinforce in my own practice? As I probed, here are some of the ponders that emerged…
- Do I sometimes use terminology that is commonplace for me, but far from common to my learners? (This reminded me of words we used growing up in Ireland that weren’t so acceptable to my grade 7 teacher in Canada…think ‘donkey’!)
- Does what I think my learners need to learn match what they want/need to learn for their situation? (Granted, some skills are non-negotiatble & need to be taught.)
- Do I take enough time to gain a clear enough understanding of their context/culture? (A simple thing like properly receiving a business card can build or break a relationship.)
- Am I presenting the material in such a way that they are active participants in their own learning? (…and is the activity appropriate for the learner and desired outcomes?)
- Am I as focused on encouraging self-directed learning, as I am on simply delivering content? (Do we simply give them a fish, or actually teach them how to fish?)
These questions apply whether I am teaching my business students, or facilitating training and development for a group of business professionals.
What are some of your ponderings around this topic?
Right now I am designing a series of workshops that will be presented to a group of 23 professors visiting from China. The purpose of their visit is to learn how we ‘do things’ in the Canadian post-secondary classroom…how is our approach different from theirs. Great question! I think the answer to this goes beyond the ‘how’ to the ‘why’; I know that my focus is to be as learner-centred as possible, but why is that important? Let me share a bit of my teaching philosophy.
I believe that teaching has not happened until learning has taken place. That being said, learning is primarily the responsibility of the student; however, as a facilitator, my role is to present material in a manner that is in line with the needs of the learner, doing all within my capacity to remove barriers to learning. In other words, my aim is to be learner centred in the approach I take. In doing so, I need to transition my approach from that of pedagogy to andragogy, being careful to provide support for the students as they move from recipients of knowledge, to participants of and contributors to new learning.
Growing in my own ability to do this effectively has become a driving force in my own learning journey. My mission is to embrace various learning styles, engage student curiosity and invite them to explore new information. The new learning needs to be applied, and if appropriate, it should re-frame their existing knowledge.
As a teacher I must also be a continuous learner. I need to know my material in such a manner that enables me to help the students understand; I need to be comfortable and well informed in the subject matter in order to encourage inquiring minds that may challenge new concepts and theories. I need to be open to learn from my students, recognizing the wisdom that comes from their own life experiences. To do this I need to be committed to listening well.
Learning happens best when students feel safe, accepted, and enjoy the environment in which they are learning. I believe that the classroom should be a place where humour is welcomed, new ideas embraced, questions encouraged, various teaching techniques utilized, and where a passion for learning is cultivated.
It is important for me as a teacher to get to know my students, and for them to know that my primary goal is their success.
In my last blog I finished with… “With my current class, it will start with a one on one conversation…” In those conversations I wanted to learn what success looked like for each student, but what I came away with was so much more. Once again I am humbled by the life experiences these individuals bring to the learning environment; yes, I have much to teach them, but so much more to learn from them.
Learner autonomy, taking responsibility for their own learning success, looks different for each person. For some it’s a high grade, for others it’s a sense of accomplishment, for others it’s content mastery, and for others it’s the first step toward a better future…and I get to be part of their learning journey!
I really love teaching! Not just being in the classroom, but also preparing for the class. I love thinking and working through creative ways to present concepts; I can totally get lost in developing activities that will engage every part of the learner’s brains and pull on past experiences to give context to new learning. It’s one of the few things that will make me forget about having lunch…until I discover that putting two thoughts together is becoming a bit of a challenge!
Take today for example…I have spent the better part of the day at my computer designing a power point presentation on The Anatomy of a Lesson Plan. But that’s not where the creation ended…I then imported it to Explain Everything, recorded a voice over, and am now ready to upload it to Moodle for use in an on-line course for instructors. It’s not perfect, but I’m pretty proud of my first attempt using a new application!
I haven’t always been this excited about learning new things…especially during my elementary years in Ireland, and then on to junior and high in Canada. Going to school was something that I had to do, and any learning was an unexpected by-product of being there…except for music classes, those I loved, and really didn’t think much about learning, I simply enjoyed the music! But then there was history and geography…neither a favourite. Memorizing dates and places was beyond me, and grasping why I needed to know anything about anything that happened hundreds of years ago seemed like a royal waste of my time. Fast forward many years; walking the cobbled streets of Ancient Greece and Turkey suddenly gave the relevance I needed to study both geography and history!
Now the tables are turned and I am most concerned about the success of my learners. What can I do to help them engage in a way that invites excitement about learning…how does external motivation get transformed into intrinsic motivation? I have a couple of ideas formulating in my brain as a result of reflecting on my own learning journey.
A few words come to mind: purpose, relevancy, ownership, autonomy.
I know that most learners have a difficult time engaging if they don’t see the relevancy in the material content, which makes them question the purpose of extending their mental
energies. As a facilitator I need to make sure that content is linked to desired outcomes, and delivered in a learner-centred way. I also believe that part of facilitating learning is to help move my students from a consumer mentality to an ownership mentality.
We identify adult learners as those being 18 years and over, but how do we help transition young people from a pedagogical model into the world of androgogical learning autonomy? With my current class, it will start with a one on one conversation…
More about this next time…then we’ll talk about autonomy in the workplace!