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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!
My mind is full! The last 2 days I attended a conference on the flipped classroom. www.techsmith.com/education-flipped-classroom.html It’s a great practice that has already proven to be effective in all levels of education; however, flipping a classroom isn’t as easy as flipping a switch! It takes time and a lot of preparation. Let me paint a picture of what ‘flipping’ might look like in the course of living and learning.
We love traveling (you probably figured that out already!). One of the things I’ve learned about the individuals we travel with is that we all prepare for a trip differently. Let me give you an example. A few years ago we took a trip to Europe that brought us to such amazing
places as Florence, Cinque Terre, Rome, Santorini, and Barcelona. Together we decided where we wanted to go for a holiday, and the general mode of travel (flights, trains, hikes, cruise ship…).
Once the dates were decided, some of us took a back seat and simply dreamed of what we would experience. However, two of the guys dedicated hours of research time looking at and planning where we would visit, must see attractions, restaurants, and even the best places to buy certain local products. When we arrived at the destinations, Dennis and Dennis (we named them D ‘n D Travel) were prepped and ready to learn the secrets of the historical wonders we visited. They knew the history, the stories behind the cultural landmarks, and were able to deepen their discoveries by adding their prior knowledge to the in-person experience.
The rest of us still had a fantastic vacation, at times weary from sensory overload, but I feel fairly confident in saying that the two who spent time gaining a base knowledge before going, walked away with even greater appreciation of our experience. Their learning was ‘flipped’…rather than waiting for the travel experience to learn about the culture and attractions, they watched Rick Steeves www.ricksteves.com, did Internet research, talked to others who had visited Europe previously, and even created our personal travel itinerary! They laid the foundation for experiential learning to build on, and helped the rest of us appreciate elements that we may have overlooked.
Back to training and development. My formal teaching context is in post secondary, but I am also involved with training and development in business; this happens in boardrooms, or even in coffee shops! Does this idea of ‘flipped’ apply in those non-traditional settings? I would say so. At the start of the conference participants were reminded to ask a very important question: What should students be doing inside the classroom, and what should they be doing outside the classroom?
With our employees and teams, what T & D can take place on their own through reading, webinars, or on-line courses, and what skills need the face-to-face interaction with a facilitator or trainer? We need to think about the hardest thing (skill, ability…) that will be required of them, and make sure face-to-face time is dedicated to help facilitate that learning. If the learning calls for face-to-face interaction, what learning activity can they do ahead of time so that they come prepared for full engagement?
Let me offer a simple example. You have a team that is experiencing conflict, but is at a loss for how to effectively resolve it. How can ‘flipped’ learning be applied?
- You invite everyone to a short team building session aimed addressing conflict resolution.
- One week prior, you send a link describing a conflict resolution process that you have found to be effective, or a YouTube video that demonstrates that process.
- You ask that everyone take time to look at these resources before coming to the team building session.
- In the face-to-face time have participants summarize what they read/watched, and then put the process into role-play action, providing examples of conflict areas experienced in the industry.
- Make the training time long enough for participants to become comfortable with the process, but short enough to make good use of their valuable time.
- Don’t forget follow-up…close the loop by soliciting feedback on the effectiveness of the whole training experience.
So what has happened here? Your team members learned the ‘theory’ outside of the ‘classroom’, allowing the face-to-face experience to focus on the application of the learning; you ‘flipped’ the training.
Whether you are a teacher or a person tasked with leading a team, training and development is a key element in the growth of your people. Let me challenge you to try something that may be a little bit outside of the box…flip the learning experience!
ps In the previous blog I promised more about self-directed T & D…next time…I just had to blog about this conference when it was fresh on my mind! Oh yes, this was part of my own self-directed learning 🙂
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I saw a basketball camp poster a couple of weeks ago that really got my attention…so much so that I went back yesterday and took a picture of it!
Can you read the caption?
“The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”
Think about the impact of this statement; your parent’s life was changed the day you loudly announced your arrival into their world, and your own life was (hopefully) changed the day you found out why your presence in this world has such incredible value!
I always seem to keep coming back to ‘why?’ Such a simple word, but the mysteries it uncovers are endless.
So, once again, what does this have to do with training and development? Everything! In fact, answering your ‘why’, leads to a greater sense of autonomy, and that leads to intentionality in training and development.
I think I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with a conversation I had with my son around the area of autonomy. Our eldest grand daughter is 10, and she is demonstrating a beautiful aptitude for art; in fact she can get lost in her creations. When a piece is completed she shows it off with great pride and satisfaction. Faith’s life is inevitably going to be in the world of arts, so how can we help with her development and success? By helping her develop autonomy. At this young age she can already describe what she would like to do (granted, this will be fine-tuned over time), so why not work backwards from that end goal? What patterns of behavior, what activities, what mentors, what books, what travel…can Faith be exposed to that will grow and develop this innate talent that is emerging? What questions can we ask her to help her make decisions that will bring her closer to her goals? Can she already be taught that the decisions she makes at various stages of her life regarding activities, studies, healthy living, friendships, values, and so on, will give her a greater sense of mastery and control over what she can achieve? I believe so.
You see, as individuals, self directed training and development is something that each of us needs to take responsibility for, and then act upon. This same process can be applied in the workplace, and in the classroom…more about that in the next blog.
However, for now, you probably don’t remember much about that first ‘most important day’, but perhaps you can reflect on the second most important day of your life…why you were born. What is it that you can do to take responsibility to develop that amazing creation that is you into the person you were put on earth to be?
Hmmm, lots to probe and ponder around that!