Many, many years ago I went to college and graduated as a teacher. I was going to say “became a teacher” but that would be wrong. College gives you a level of preparation to become a teacher but you don’t actually become one until you spend time in the classroom developing the requisite skills and flexibility.
Reasonably recently my wife completed a teaching degree. It was interesting to see how little the ideas and theories have advanced. I had the occasional giggle when my wife would talk about a new theory in teaching. I’d ask questions, discuss it a bit and then offer “I learnt that stuff, it’s just got a different name now”. Not that this phenomena is limited to the education industry.
I struggled remaining interested in much of my time at college. Teaching is an exciting career. Every day, every child, different challenges. College focused too much on theory for mine. The psychology was fascinating, not much else was. I’ve long held a view that an apprenticeship approach would be better for teachers. Learn by doing and experiencing. I suspect this approach would also retain those that really want to, and can, teach. For as long as I can remember getting your first teaching job has been more about academic achievement than desire to do a great job and a love of the profession. I know too many Teachers that “fell into” a teaching job and have just stayed on, not a lot of passion. I also know Teachers that are brimming with passion and desire to “do right” by their students. Again, this is not something that is restricted to the education industry.
The reason I’m writing this blog is not to reminisce about a former job and studies of old. Rather it is to talk about something a lecturer said that has never left me. Moreover it has been an enormous help and guided me when working with others. I honestly wish I could remember the name of the lecturer so I could attribute, but I don’t. Maybe he borrowed it from someone else in the same way.
“When you teach, bridge from the known to the unknown”
Having set this up I guess I need to explain why this is meaningful to me. Across my years in IT I have been a learner and a teacher. Often at the same time. I don’t “fly my own flag” very often, I prefer to let people make their own judgements based on what they have seen me do. Having said that I’m pretty capable when it comes to teaching, coaching and mentoring people (I see each of these three as different activities). I know when to be more and less directive. I know how to guide people to discovery and get an enormous buzz out of people suddenly “getting it”. Back in my days as a primary school teacher we called them “magic moments”. Those moments when you can “see the light bulb illuminate”. I don’t have a lot of formal certification (beyond graduating college) but I have a lot of skill built up by doing, driven by a passion to help people get better at what they are doing.
When I work with people, and they are new to what I am going to work on with them, the first thing I do is gain an understanding of what they know that is relevant to the task at hand. Sometimes you need to dig deep, sometimes not, but this is important. The first thing I get here is trust then engagement (and I think that is the order in which it occurs) . I’m not dumping stuff on them and expecting them to keep up. I’m building an understanding and, usually along the way, increasing their feelings of safety. So in finding the “known” I also find their comfort zone. The comfort zone is important. People feel safe there, they understand the territory, it’s demands and how to react. The “known” side of the bridge is the comfort zone.
It’s important to know where someone “is at” if you want to take them somewhere and have them enjoy the journey. If they know very little that is relevant, or to put it another way, their comfort zone is small, that’s an important detail if you want to avoid over stressing your student.Once you know what to link to you can start constructing the bridge that will lead to new understandings, new skills, new capabilities. Every session I run with people starts with establishing where they “are at”. This is really important to establish what might not have been clearly understood in a previous session or sessions. Always offer “revisit” options.
So you’ve made a link, you’ve got initial buy in and enthusiasm, the journey starts. Think about how great bridges are built. Slowly, carefully, “one plank at a time”. All those little planks build spans. Eventually the spans join up and we have a bridge. Don’t rush, allow time to develop understanding, practice, failure and learning, deep learning when appropriate. Rushing through the building phase may leave you with a bridge that is shoddy, useful only for a short time, if it all, and one that is prone to crack and fall apart with minimal pressure. That’s just wasted effort and setting people up for failure and misery.
I hope I haven’t made teaching and coaching sound easy, that would be wrong. You need to make decisions about where to start, how fast you can build that bridge. There are ways to do that but none are foolproof. Ultimately, as the teacher or coach, you need to make decisions and revise those decisions based on feedback.
In my experience I have met many people that claim they can teach and coach. Maybe they can. I know for sure though that I have heard many more people make these claims than I have seen “build a bridge”.
I drafted this blog a little while back. It has been sitting around waiting for me to come back and complete it. During my “muddling around” phase the following appeared in my twitter feed
A graphic was included with this tweet I have inserted a copy below. The timing of this was incredible and I love that it is based on the same analogy as my blog.
Thanks for dropping by.