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Always Learning: One Key Rule for Teaching and Training

June 27, 2012

Always Learning Something

As you enter the room, those already there watch you; they learn something about your professionalism, your openness, your style, your desire to be there, your energy.

As you scan the room before making your opening comments, they soak up knowledge about you; they learn your agreeableness, your enthusiasm, your hesitation.

With every word, with its intonations and inflections, with the comments you make, with the notes you put on the board and the far-off or engaged look when others are speaking, with the slight nod or slight frown as someone interrupts you to ask a question–there is no time when they are not learning.

This is probably the key underlying truth that drives all our other understandings, and all my other rules and tips, about teaching and training.  They are always learning something.  They may not–perhaps they are often not–learning “the material” or “today’s lesson” or “the new procedure.”  They may be learning that you are tired and not very into today’s meeting.  They may be learning that you are passionate about your subject–or bored by it.  They may be learning that you really consider yourself a researcher (or an executive, or a programmer, or an expert, or an outsider) rather than a member of their community or an educator.  There is SO much they could be and are learning, besides the content of your lesson or speech, at every moment.

The neurological reality is that our brain’s don’t switch off when “new content” isn’t arriving, and they don’t focus with laser intensity on “the material” or “the talk.”  Our long evolutionary history of social cohesion for the purposes of avoiding danger means that when people get together, they are always, always scanning the others in the room, judging their intentions, attitudes, purposes, and relationships without even noticing that they are doing so.

What this means is that good ideas and well-written lectures or meeting notes will never suffice.  You must also always be teaching them three things through your body language, responses, and word choice:

You must always be teaching them that you care about them as people.  If this is not true, either get out of teaching or find a way to make it true.  Humans are extremely perceptive; if you don’t care about them, they will not learn from you.  And why should they?

You must always be teaching them, also, that you care about what you’re doing and believe in it.  If you’re not passionate about your subject, or if you don’t believe the new procedures will be useful, or if you are bored, they will learn to feel the same way.  If you simply can’t feel passionate or believe in something you must teach, tell them so, explain why nonetheless you must all work together to make the information interesting or valuable, then try to do so.  However, it is better if you can teach yourself the ways in which the work is interesting or valuable, then convey that.  To weed out the first lesson that “this is boring” or “this isn’t going to work” or “this is a stupid top-down thing from upstairs” is very difficult, especially when you are the one who planted it.

Finally, you must always be teaching them that “it’s more complicated than that.”  Don’t let yourself get away with easy reductions and simplifications, or you will teach them to do the same.  Introduce questions, commentary, qualms, and concerns, then work them out together.

The neurological and evolutionary reality is that we cannot not be learning, that we are always scanning others for their investments in what they are doing, their integrity and energy, and their purposes.  These are, in fact, the main things you can teach and the main things they will learn: whether something is interesting or not, whether it’s worth bothering with, whether you are invested in the subject and in them.  Once they learn those things, the other learning–the “content” learning–happens almost on its own, as people want to learn about things that are interesting and energizing and want to learn for people who care about them.

Your students or employees are always learning something from you about yourself, your investment in what you’re doing, and your belief in the value of the material.  Make sure that is being conveyed, and the rest will follow.

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2 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Eleanore's Ramblings… and commented:
    “As you enter the room, those already there watch you; they learn something about your professionalism, your openness, your style, your desire to be there, your energy.” How do you enter a class, and what does it say about you?

    #educ_dr

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  1. Eleanore's Ramblings…

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