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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?
If you were asked to identify one question that you have asked the most over the course of your life, what would that question be? For me that question would be ‘why?’. This question got me into the most trouble as a kid…and as a teenager, giving me the reputation in our family as being challenging and rebellious. In fact, it wasn’t until I hit my 40s that my parents finally realized that I wasn’t rebelling but truly wanted to know ‘why’; what was the purpose of doing the things I was asked to do.
I still ask that question, and find that it brings the greatest critical thinking challenges to me as I continue to work in the field of training and development. I also use it often in my coaching practice. However, I’ve added another question…it’s like a follow up question…’how?’
Let me give you an example of some of the questions I’m currently asking regarding my business students.
- Why do some students choose to come to class only when it’s convenient?
- Why do so many students struggle with thinking critically?
- Why do we still get the question ‘will this be on the test?’
- Why do so many students leave college still not knowing what they want to do with their life?
I believe the first step in responding to these questions is to change the questions…
- How do we motivate students to choose to come to class even when it’s inconvenient?
- How do we encourage students to think critically?
- How do we change the question from ‘will this be on the test?’ to how will I use this in my life and career?
- How do we help students discover their passion, their personal ‘why?’ in order to enter careers they will enjoy?
When I take this same thinking into the workplace, the follow up ‘how’ questions become:
- How do we motivate employees to be more engaged…to take more ownership?
- How do we create environments that encourage critical thinking?
- How do we help employees connect what they do at work with why they do it?
- How do we help employees realize their greatest contribution?
What do you think?
Author Daniel Pink believes it has a lot to do with autonomy; you may want to get your hands on his book ‘Drive’. Lots of ‘hmmm moments’ to probe and ponder.