Thursday, January 28, 2010

Those who can, teach, so that others can too!

Having once again attended a training session given by someone who acted as if he had been bound with barbed wire, dragged into the seminar and forced to speak about a topic he mainly knows as a hobby, more than a profession, I once again marvel at the people who deduce that anyone can teach.


For one thing, look at baseball managers. Baseball is the one remaining sport in which one need not appear to be one of the Brobdingnagians from Gulliver's Travels to succeed. There is a former NFL player who is affiliated with my work group - a member of the BALTIMORE Colts at one time, he was - and he looks pretty much like anyone else you might see on the street...just in slightly better condition. But he doesn't have the 27" neck and 68 XL suit jacket measurement of today's gridiron heroes. Baseball players are more or less normally-sized, and it says here that there is more thinking in the game of baseball than in any other big time sport.

However, being able to play the game very well does not always translate to being able to teach others or coach others in how to play it very well. The game's history is full of Hall of Famers who came back to manage big league clubs and ...uh...struck out. In most cases, it was because their idea of coaching was telling some guy, "Go up there and hit a double, then steal third and get ready to come home on a squeeze bunt like I used to do." Telling someone to do something is not the same as making them able to do it. Isn't that right, Pete Rose, Jr?

To get back to the ill-presented training class, let me share something with you that I learned a long time ago from a man who ran a trade school, teaching automotive mechanics. This may just come in handy if you're ever called upon to teach someone how to do something. (The exception would be if you're ever called upon to teach a teenaged family member how to drive a car. Then, all bets are off!)

The teaching method this man advocated used three simple steps:

  1. Tell them what you're going to tell them.
  2. Tell them.
  3. Tell them what you told them.
Now I know it sounds remarkably pedantic and simplistic, but it works. One of the main problems this fellow had who tried to lecture to our group the other day, only to be met with stares, glares, and slamming Frigidaires, is that he just launched into his lesson about halfway into it, as if he were teaching you how to make a sandwich, and started off by saying, "Well, of course, after you decide where to put the condiments, then you..." No wonder people were knitting their brows like Brezhnev.

If you want to teach someone to do something, you need to engage their interest, so you might start your lesson off with a lighthearted joke or humorous anecdote. Did you hear the one about the two guys out in a boat who had three cigarettes and no matches? How did they smoke? They threw one cigarette overboard...that made the boat a cigarette lighter!

Or, you could choose a funny one. It's up to you. But after the opening niceties, you need to say, "Today, we are going to learn to make a sandwich." And then here you could talk about why they are here to learn to make a sammy, or mention that most people have experience in this line and their own background in sandwich preparation, but the goal here is to make sure that everyone knows why they are sitting there and why you are standing there.

Then you tell them how to make a sandwich. Be sure to let them get up and make a sandwich, or at least get their hands on some cold cuts and tomatoes, because there is no learning like doing. I know that not every lesson is the sort of lesson that lends itself to hands-on involvement, but in any event, you have to get the class into it somehow, even if they are pantomiming the process. After all, you wouldn't want your tooth being filled by someone who had sat through I don't care how many years of lectures in dental school: you want someone who has actually done this sort of thing before!

Then you wrap it up (the lesson, not the sandwich) by going over why they came, what they learned, and how it will fit into their lives or work. If there was a list of steps or a procedure, this is the time to repeat it for them and review it one more time...or twice if there are questions.

And trust me, this works well! A lot of people who ought to be using it, aren't. It's the key to teaching, in my opinion. The man who demonstrated this method all those years ago put a raw hot dog in the middle of a car's electrical system, and showed how the spark stayed hot by showing us a hot dog getting cooked as he lectured. It's a lesson that has stayed with me for many a year, and that's the point, whatever you teach.

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