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How to Teach Anything

How to Teach Anything

Since the Chicago strike, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to become a teacher. Although I do training seminars and keynotes all the time, I’m not sure I could be in a classroom day in and day out. It must be especially difficult with young students who would rather be somewhere else!

I once heard a saying:

“Those who can do, do.  Those who can’t do, teach.”

I don’t think it’s true.

Good teachers require a complex skill set from time and project management to interpersonal communication and public speaking, and as they’re juggling dozens of balls day in and day out, they have to always wear a game face. Wouldn’t you rather just go to your office and type away on your laptop for nine hours?

There comes a time, however, when even we office folk have to teach. Whether you’re an IT person instructing some clients on a new piece of software or a consumer marketing executive serving as a mentor to a group of young professionals on etiquette, your moment will come. And if you’re a manager leading a team, that moment might be sooner rather than later.

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Doug Lemov, who recently sent me his new book Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better, specializes in the subject of teaching. Here are a few of Lemov’s ideas for teaching anything to a group. By wielding these techniques as appropriate, you’ll likely find yourself less intimidated and more effective at the task at hand:

Use a strong voice

Command a room by waiting until there is silence before you begin. Be clear and crisp with your language. If you want people to listen, stop moving and don’t engage in other tasks at the same time. Don’t engage in off-topic conversations. Feel like you’re losing control of the room?  Exude poise and calm.

Get 100 percent compliance

Establish eye contact with off-task students while teaching the others. If you’re going to correct someone, do it quickly as not to draw too much attention to negative behavior. Emphasize compliance you can see, like “pencils down.”

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Cold call

Call on people regardless of whether they’ve raised their hands. This allows you to check for understanding, decrease the time spent asking for volunteers, and send the message that you care about your audience’s opinion.

Use “right” judiciously

When people hear that an answer is correct, they will stop striving, so only say something is “right,” if it really and truly is. If an answer is three-quarters correct, tell students they’re “almost there”. Make sure they’re answering the exact question you asked.

Give specific directions

Focus on what to do instead of what not to do, using manageable and precisely described actions that students know how to take. Make your remarks sequential, easy to remember and solution-oriented.

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Motivate with positive framing

Assume the best of your students and zero in on what they can do well right now as opposed to what might have been wrong in the past. Build momentum by calling out successes. Talk about who students are becoming and where they’re going.

Pay attention to format

Even if your relationship with your students is informal, use correct syntax and grammar while in teaching mode. Insist that students speak audibly so everyone in the room can hear.

Featured photo credit: Composition of Books, Stationary and an Apple via Shutterstock

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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