162. To the student, thank you for the reminder

Thank you.001

“I love coming to your class because you let me be me.”

That single sentence from a student made me realize what I was doing wrong and right in the classroom.

But before I go into this, let me share with you this first.

I just finished watching Chris Emdin’s powerful and thought provoking video titled “Reality Pedagogy” in which he insists teachers to first understand students, their culture and their context, and only then teach them the content.

His argument is pretty simple. Even when teachers do have sufficient content knowledge, many still lack the tools necessary to address the cultural divides that render them ineffective in teaching.

Starting right off the bat by teaching the content, teachers miss the opportunity to foster engagement and relationship with the students who come from divergent background. Teachers miss the opportunity to show the students that classroom is in fact an extension of their lives and their communities. Why should the classroom be anything un-real than their realities?

How many times have I done this in the classroom?
How many times have I ignored about engaging the students, and focused simply on teaching the content?
How many times have I forgotten that students have lives outside the classroom too?

Now coming back to this student and what he told me that day.

He’s usually late for the class. Walks in after 30 mins or even 45 mins sometimes. Doesn’t stay quiet. Doesn’t stay still. Quick to answer. Quick to question.

He was talkative but unless he was being interruptive in the class, I was okay with his behavior. He also seemed like a good team player whenever students had group tasks and presentations. And like other students, he enjoyed tea-break.

So after the last class of the session, when he approached me and told me that he loved coming to my class, initially I assumed that he was referring to the tea-break. But he added, “You let me be me. And even though I come late, I feel welcomed and I’m learning stuffs in this class.”

And in saying so, he reminded me – one more time – that teaching is more than simply teaching the content. Thank you.


161. A reminder to myself


As a teacher, the more I speak in the class, the more I rob the opportunities from the students to interact, discuss, and, co-create knowledge. I know this.

But I tend to forget this and often end up talking (lecturing/presenting/instructing) more than I wanted to.

May be this naani dekhi laageko baani (habit formed since the early days of teaching) is the one that keeps me alert and motivates me to learn, unlearn, and relearn.

(Pic: I was giving the concluding remarks during the Unlearn Mini Conference II, Nov 4 2017)

160. Addressing needs and wants of workshop participants

Mega Bank Butwal

Do you know what the participants need and what they want? And do you cater to their needs and wants? Or, do you stick to your workshop beliefs, that you are there for their needs, not for their wants.

On October 14 2017, I had an opportunity to conduct a workshop in Butwal city for the 30 operation heads of Mega Bank branches. They had asked a day-long session on ways to improve their organizational communication so that they can be more productive at workplace.

For the next eight hours, we had discussions, activities, tea-breaks, individual and group works, lectures, videos, lunch break, presentations, and reflections. And, the written feedback.

A few minutes after the session ended, a participant came up to me, shook my hand and said, “I have fallen asleep in every other trainings, but today I could not. Thank you for this amazing session.”

And right after him, another one came up and said, “It was a good session but you should also provide handouts and materials.”

And a little later, as I flipped through the feedback forms, one particular comment made me really confused and amused at the same time. “Worst presentation ever. There was nothing to note down from the slides.”

I have come across all sorts of workshop participants with different needs, wants, and agendas. Some come in with positive mindset, some with negative, and some with personal issues. Some want to participate, some want to be not seen, some want to confront. All these add variation in the workshop. Motivation and challenge as well.

And, they’ve given all sorts of feedback too. Usually, we at the Empowerment Academy end our sessions with a “321 Reflection”. The participants write and share three things they remember from the session, two things they would want to share with their friends, and one thing they would implement right away. Sometimes, we also ask them to fill out a generic feedback form for workshops commissioned by their organization.

[The credit for 321 Reflection goes to the amazing Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa.]

And in all these years of facilitating workshops, I’ve never seen a comment so intriguing in a WTF way. “Worst presentation ever. There was nothing to note down from the slides.”

Anyways, three general observations that I would like to share:

a. Workshop participants love collecting handouts and lesson materials. I think they would like to have some sort of reference material for the future.

b. They would love to get the presentation files too. In reality, our slides rarely have any bullets points because we use them not as the main content but simply as aid. We still share/email them the pdf version of the slides.

c. A few participants love writing down notes and reflections on their own. But they would want to copy from the slides. Most of them like taking pictures of the slides with their cell phones.

And here I am in a perfect dilemma: should I cater to the needs and wants of the participants, or should I stick to my workshop beliefs. One of such beliefs is participants need to write to remember, and remember to write (Hello, John Medina.) I believe when you give photocopies of the slides and worksheets, participants tend to get rather lazy.

If you are a workshop facilitator or a teacher-trainer, please share your observations about the participants. And, what you generally do about their needs and wants.


159. Pre-workshop and Post-workshop Jitters. Is it good to be nervous?

Nepal Police

(Photo: A 3-day workshop on presentation skills at the Communication Directorate, Nepal Police Headquarters, Naxal.)

I usually have pre-workshop and post-workshop jitters, and feel this swirl of nervousness rushing through my veins for about 190 seconds. Especially, when I couldn’t interact with the participants before the session.

After all these year? You might ask.

Yes. After all these years as a teacher and trainer. Being slightly nervous and being aware of the feeling. That has always saved me from being cocky and from screwing up badly.

I know the conventional advice trainers and coach give:
Look confident. Be confident. Establish your credibility.
Show them who is the authority in the room. Project your personality. Start strong.
You are the one in control.

Never worked for me.
And never would I suggest this to others.

The only thing I would suggest – a very vague one though: Be authentic. Look vulnerable. And start with a smile.

And, that’s the way we (Abhisekh and I) started the workshop on presentation skills for Nepal Police officers. That we were super nervous would be an understatement. But after a few minutes, as we got into our rhythm, we felt the familiar connection one human can have with another one. The only belief we had was the belief that we would eventually enjoy it, that they would enjoy it. Cos’ even police officers need to feel safe before they start participating.

So, if you are stepping out into the world of training and workshops, step out with a smile and some nervousness.

Good luck.

Nepal Police 2

(Photo: A mandatory selfie before we wrapped up on the first day.)

158. Four years of learning NOTHING

Tri Chandra Class

A packed classroom. Around 80 students. Some standing on the back of the class. The sociology professor walks in. Opens a book. In a slightly raised teacher-like voice, he starts talking about sociology, Max Weber, Karl Marx, and Émile Durkheim. Students listen to the professor in awe. In pin drop silence. Some of them take note. The professor pauses for a second. “You students are getting it, yes?” Heads nod. He flips the page. Resumes talking about society and social class. Checks his watch. “Alright, that’s it for today.”

This is what usually happened in the classroom when I was studying B.A. in Tri Chandra College.

Another class. Another classroom. The english professor strolls in. With a thick book, “Literature” written on the cover. “Okay, today I’m going to talk about Shakespeare and his dramas.” Everyone gets excited. He starts talking about Shakespeare’s life and how he wrote all those epic dramas. His accent is unusual. Heavy Nepali peppered with British accent here and there. The professor sort of moves into a trance. He looks like he’s hung out with Shakespeare and had tea together. The students believe he has. Students listen to this professor in awe as well. In pin drop silence. Some of them take note. The professor pauses for a second. “You are getting these stuff, yes?” Heads nod. He flips the page. Resumes talking about how important Shakespeare’s legacy is. Checks his watch. “To stop or not to stop the class, is the question. Let’s stop here today.”

Every new class would be a slightly distorted version of the earlier class. There would be no discussion. No assignment. Just teaching and listening. And a 3 hour exam at the end of the year. Yes, we had a yearly session, not a semester. I remember only these about the classes in Tri Chandra. A few figments of the whole experience. I don’t remember anything else. I don’t remember learning anything else.

I had to pass the exams. And, we all had a magical key. Nima’s Guess Papers – a collection book of all the previous questions with answers and explanations. It was magical because it worked for almost all the students. Year in and year out. The question papers looked the same. The answers looked the same. All we had to do was start cramming up a week before the exam, and then spill everything out on the exam paper. The more we spilled, the better score we got.

Four years without knowing any professors or lecturers. Four years without learning anything. Four years of cramming up Nima and spilling out on exams.

(Pic source: http://www.everestuncensored.org/tri-chandra-college-education-history-of-nepal/)

157. Mindset of a Presenter/Public Speaker


Make your message matter to the audience.
Your message must matter, else stay quiet.
You are on the stage for the audience, not for yourself.
You are not trying to impress the audience.
And when (if) the audience applaudes, accept it with humility. Don’t interrupt. Don’t sound apologetic. Don’t be a jerk.
Learn. Unlearn. Relearn.

156. Preaching is easy. Helping is not.

Thou Shalt Not Preach

If writing is a reflection of our thoughts and attitude, then changing the writing style would probably change our mindset as well.

Take a look at the two sentences below:

a. A teacher should be polite with students.

b. When a teacher is polite with students, students respect the teacher and they love being in the class.

The first one clearly is a preaching. “You should do this… You should do that.” Annoying to read. Also, the writer looks like a whiner.

The second one is a suggestion with a potential positive outcome. It’s an attempt to help, genuinely.

Preaching is easy. Helping is not.

May be, when we start writing in the second style, we’ll be able to contribute rather than just preach.