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How to Teach Anything

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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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