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.

155. Unlearning to be a better learner


So this participant, who has been teaching for over 25 years, walked out of the workshop when we were talking about assumptions, beliefs, and practices of teachers which they might need to unlearn.

A few weeks ago, we were in the beautiful city of Butwal to conduct a workshop titled “Unlearning Teaching”. Forty teachers from various colleges had showed up and they were sitting in several small groups of four or five.

After the opening session, we were discussing on the challenges of the 21st century teacher, especially because of large classroom sizes and students with different learning preferences, mindsets, backgrounds, motivations, etc.

“Is there any difference between teaching and facilitation?” I posed this open-ended question to the participants and asked them to come up with their analysis. Each group of teachers dove into discussion and wrote down their opinions. I then asked a participant from each table to share their beliefs to everyone.

The participants then took a small quiz on the differences between traditional teaching (lecture) and facilitation. After another round of healthy discussion, the participants eventually came to a consensus that for our teaching to be effective and meaningful, we need to grow our traditional role of a teacher into a more challenging role of a facilitator. A teacher teaches content, while a facilitator lets students co-create knowledge through interaction. Similarly, teaching means having a teacher-centric approach, while facilitation means having students-focused approach. Understanding these, the participants expressed, also helps teachers better manage the classroom dynamics.

“I want to share my experience on this one,” so this participant stood up. Excited to hear his perspective, I gave him the mic. “For these 25 years, I have used one technique to control the classroom. I use my eye-contact. It doesn’t matter if there are 40 students or 100 students, when I look into their eyes, they keep quiet and never dare to make noise.”

As a workshop facilitator, I usually expect different perspectives, sometimes dissenting ones too. People have strongly held beliefs and our job as facilitators is to simply stir their assumptions. So, while he stated his assertion, I kept actively listening to him.

“If a teacher cannot establish his authority, the students will dance on his head,” he added. “Even my colleagues invite me into their class if they can’t handle the students. When I take their classes, no one dares to give me any trouble.”

The room got silent and I could feel dozens of awkward eyes staring at me. I was caught in a dilemma: should I let the discussion get more intense or, should I acknowledge his views and move on to another agenda? My mind was scrambling for a way out.

“Thank you, sir for being honest and sharing your approach and…” I couldn’t even complete what I was going to say when another participant stood up. “I also want to add something.”

After conducting more than fifty workshop sessions in 2016 alone, I have come to realize that resistance in the participants is normal. And they display their resistance in different forms. Some don’t participate at all. Some look angry. Some get busy with their cell phones. Some seem to be asking question every 60 seconds. Some keep visiting the restroom every 10 minutes. All of these look normal when compared to an aggressive participant who likes to hijack the session. Even worse, when that participant influences others.

So when the other participant asked me for the mic, I could hear my heart screaming in panic. I thought the session was going to derail, and I was going to get grilled real bad. I straddled towards his table and handed over the mic to him.

“I completely disagree with your sir,” directing his gaze towards the previous participant. He spoke with defiance, “You are not controlling the students with your eye-contact, you are terrorizing them.”

I breathed a sigh of relief as I realized I had assumed wrong. “Fear might be a good solution, but it is a temporary one,” he added. “Your students remained silent not because they were learning, but because they were afraid.”

A gentle round of applause followed. Then another participant rose up and said, “What if we start blending the two approaches? From the way I see, sometimes we need to control the class, and sometimes simply facilitate it.” A couple more shared their views along the similar line.

“Great,” I thought. “Now the participants are ready to open up and discuss, debate, share their views.” But before I knew it, the experienced teacher got up from his chair and quietly walked out of the hall.

I had never felt thrilled and dreadful at the same. Thrilled because the participants were willing to reflect and analyze their teaching assumptions. Dreadful because that the one who walked out must have felt challenged, or even embarrassed – and worse, I couldn’t even have a word with him.

Hours after the workshop, the incident kept piercing my mind. It made me question my own beliefs about adult learners. Once my mentor had told me that adults are like babies, only in bigger bodies and bigger egos. Ideally, once we gain their trust, they open up and actively participate. Then they drive the sessions with their enthusiasm and cooperation. But the reality is usually complex and challenging. And that means, we – both facilitators and participants – must keep unlearning our assumptions, and keep relearning how we can learn effectively from each other.


154. Learning how to teach better – II

Learning how to teach better – II:
Igniting Curiosity in Learners

Igniting Curiosity

As I scrolled through my Facebook wall, a status posted by an MBA student caught my eyes. He wrote, “The main role of a teacher should be to ignite the curiosity. This will drive students to be in a receptive mode. The learning process becomes joyful and intense.”

Since I firmly believe that teachers and students both should feel equally accountable for learning, I replied to his status, “And, the main role of a student should be to come prepared with an open mind and ready to be ignited with curiosity. The teaching process becomes joyful and intense.”

Curious about how learning happens, we are forever tangled in a big puzzle: who should motivate whom. The teacher? Or, the student himself or herself? Or the parents? About this confusion, a colleague of mine usually quips, “I can’t be Tony Robbins. My job is to teach, not to motivate.”

“You cannot motivate other people,” writes Bob Pike, in his book Creative Training Techniques Handbook. Perplexing it may sound, upon reflection, the statement does make sense. We can’t wake up someone pretending to be sleeping. Similarly, we can’t motivate someone who doesn’t want to be. Pike also adds, “People do things for their own reasons, not yours.” Teachers may have reasons to teach, but learners may not have reasons to learn. Sounds rather depressing. But as teachers or trainers or mentors, we keep doing what we have chosen to do. We keep putting in our efforts. Hoping somehow we’ll be able to inspire the learners to be curious and motivated.

Can we untangle this puzzle? Let’s believe we can. But first, let me share you a bitter experience I had as a student.

I had always been a loudmouth back in my school days. And when I didn’t see the point of learning the geometric shapes, I had the nerve of asking my math teacher, “What’s the point of studying Geometry?” Back then, math teachers had a certain reputation. They were to be revered. And feared. Thus, as soon as I blurted out my question, I got a reply in the form of his murderous slap on my cheek. I didn’t dare ask anymore.

He could have said, “Geometry helps us understand the importance of balance.” He could have, he should have. But he didn’t. I never figured out the purpose of memorizing those theorems because my teacher failed to paint the big picture for us. He never cared enough to stir our curiosity.

And that’s what we – a lot of teachers, even the ones with good intentions, do again and again. By focusing too much on the details, we unconsciously neglect the part where we should be enabling students to visualize a bigger picture and connect it to the reality.

“If teachers can make us feel like we are learning a fascinating topic that will have a direct impact on our thinking and/or on our lives,” another student posted a comment on my FB status, “We have the natural instinct to become curious about that topic.” And, that could be the missing piece of the puzzle: enabling learners to realize the significance of the topic and to help them make real life connection.

In his book ‘Brain Rules’, molecular biologist John Medina writes that human brain processes meaning before details; the gist before the core concept; the bigger picture before the components. To put this in a very Marketing language, to grab the consumer’s curiosity, sell the benefit before selling the features.

The insight is: Start with the bigger picture and then logically explain the details. Present a real world example, connect it to the concept, tie the loose ends with details, and finally help the learners imagine endless possibilities. Or, share stories, make a point, lead that into the theory, ask students to reflect, and then help them implement the learnings in real situations.

Let me wrap this up. You may be a teacher trying to inspire students. Or a mentor trying to help a young entrepreneur. A trainer trying to transform an organization. Take the inductive approach. If we want to ignite curiosity in learners, paint the bigger picture in their minds, and then explain the meaning of the concepts, instead of bulldozing them with seemingly disparate data, details, and definitions. When we help them internalize and personalize the purpose, then perhaps, just like the MBA student said, the learning process becomes joyful and intense.

(Also published on The Kathmandu Post, Escalate. May 1, 2017)


153. Learning how to teach better – Part I

Back in my school days, we had a classmate who would rather give up his life than share class-notes with us. He would act as if we were plotting to snatch his beloved “First Boy” title. Like the hideous Gollum of Lord of the Rings, he would fight hard to hide the notes – his precious – away from us and other students.

Years later, when I joined university, I was astonished to meet once again a few of such Gollums. Like my sneaky school friend, they would conceal their precious notebooks from us – their competitors.

But luckily, we had a friend who would, without any hesitation and suspicion, share everything he had: books, notes, research articles. And we would share ours too. He would also ask us to come over his house for group study sessions. I still remember those sessions where four or five of us would teach each other, question each other, and listen to different explanations.

For me, those sharing sessions resulted in deeper grip of the concepts that we were trying to master, and helped us become better thinkers, analyzers, and creators of our own interpretations. We would discuss, argue, and often indulge in intense verbal battle – and each time, we would develop newer perspective and better insights. Bottom line: we taught each other and made each other better.

And this brings to my first point. As Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky proposed, learning happens best through social interaction. The more we share, the more we learn. Yes, we all learn in our own peculiar ways, but we learn best by interacting with each other in different social contexts.


Now, imagine your teacher was to teach the concept of research. One way is your teacher starts the class with the definition of research. Explains the concept part by part. Gives some examples. Ends the class by going over the process of conducting research. This is what usually happens.

Another way is your teacher tells the students to visit 10 different companies, find out the number of employees in each, find out the salary range for males and females, and prepare a report – all these without giving you specific instruction. Asks you to write a reflection on what you did, share your findings, and finally the teacher connects everything to the concept of conducting a research.

I bet the second way will be far more effective because as a student, you would be engaged in constructing knowledge with your own hands. You would certainly learn and remember better from the experience than from memorizing the definitions written by the teacher on the board.

And, that’s my second point: learning happens when we actively participate in the learning process, when we take part in co-creating the knowledge by diving into real (or realistic) situations.


Once I was invited for a guest-lecture session in a reputed business college in Kathmandu. When I arrived at the college’s reception, the lady behind the desk looked indifferent, then confused. She asked me ten different questions about me and what I was doing there. I tried to explain her: “Look miss, this person from your college had called me yesterday for the session. So here I am.”

She snapped, for some reason. “What is wrong with this coordinator?” She exhaled anger. I stepped back. Literally. In a millisecond, her face turned evil red, and eyes looked possessed. “This coordinator never informs me and he shouts at me for not doing work properly. I am so fed up working in this office.”

And, all that time, I was thinking, “Dear lady, I don’t need to hear these internal stuff. I am an outsider. You don’t have to vent out on me.”

I was expecting a warm welcome and a cup of coffee. Instead, I witnessed a disgruntled employee losing her cool and risking the organization’s hard-earned goodwill.

Later when I thought about the incident, the theories of Organizational Behavior and Psychology started bouncing back in my head. I knew the theories, explanation, and examples from the books. But they made real sense only after I reflected on the incident unfolding in front of my eyes.

John Dewey, a pioneer in progressive education, had once said, “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” And that’s my third point: learning happens when we experience an event and consciously think back to analyze and make a meaning out of it.


Connecting all three scenarios, let me tell you what I believe about teaching and learning, and what we, as teachers, can do make it better.

When we help students explore, find, and draw multiple perspectives through classroom discussions, activities, enquiry, they learn better. When we understand this concept, we can design learning situations that allow students to ‘learn by doing’ and we help them experience and reflect to construct new knowledge.

Let’s reflect. Are we simply teaching the content? Or are we creating helpful environment which allows students to interact? Are we merely giving them assignments? Or are we allowing them to work together, learn together? Are we constantly dumping knowledge on them? Or are we giving them opportunities to reflect on their learning?

Dear teachers, let’s reflect.


A slightly modified version of this article was published on national daily The Kathmandu Post on April 17, 2017.

Becoming better mentors

152. 17 Things Teachers Can Do This 2017

17 Things Teachers Can Do

Dear passionate teacher,

“You become the teacher you hated in the school.” This is a famous saying in education. I’ve been teaching for almost a decade now and I have to confess, I was slowly turning into the teachers I despised in my school days.  Only after I joined the M.Ed. program in 2012, I realized how bad of a teacher I was. And since then, I have been trying to improve my attitude, skills, and knowledge about how learning happens and how teachers can help students learn better in a meaningful way. Now, I am also passionate about helping other teachers to become better at what they do.

So dear teacher, here is a list of 17 small changes you can bring into the classroom this 2017, and hopefully create awesome learning experiences for your students, and for yourself.

  1. Understand how learning happens:

As teachers, we must understand at least these three insights from the field of Mind, Brain, and Science:

  • learning happens best through social interaction;
  • learning happens when students actively participate in the learning process; and
  • learning happens when students experience an event (directly or indirectly) and then reflect on it.

So the question for us is: are we simply teaching them or are we creating facilitative environment which allows them to interact, work actively, learn, and reflect on their learning.

  1. Give them a big picture:

“Why do we study Geometry, sir?”. I had once asked my math teacher. I got the reply in the form of his slap on my cheeks. He could have instead said to me, “When we understand shapes, we understand the importance of balance.” I never figured out the purpose of memorizing those theorems and calculations because my teacher never painted the big picture for us.

Don’t make that mistake. Give the students meaning before details. Leadership guru Simon Sinek tells us to start with ‘why’. Help the students see the ‘why’ – the big picture and the subjective value of the course. Tell them how challenging the course is and tell them ways to overcome the challenges.

  1. Help them connect the dots:

And then, help them connect their learning to the real world. Help them understand, remember, analyze, synthesize and develop solutions to real life problems. Push them to explore and persevere. Guide them to come up with new ideas. Let them dream. And, support them to nurture their dreams.

  1. Start strong, end stronger:

Be mindful of the first few minutes and the last few minutes of the class. Students usually remember the first moments best, and the final moments next best. This phenomenon is called the Primacy-Recency effect. Don’t have a clumsy opening. Rather, start your class with something that’s unexpected (story, joke, strange facts, drama) but not with something boring and usual. Similarly, end the class with an activity that’s memorable. Don’t say, “Well, that’s the bell. Time’s up. See you in the next class.” Doing that is a lost opportunity.

  1. Let them teach each other:

I believe that peer teaching can be far effective than lectures in so many cases. As the popular saying goes: when you teach, you learn better. Ask students to teach each other in pairs and in groups, usually for revision works. Besides, this is one of the best facilitation techniques. We all need some relief here and there.

  1. Let them review each other:

Give them a rubric and ask them to grade each other’s works. Teach them the art of giving constructive feedback and then have them critic each other. There are tons of research that confirm peer-feedback as an effective learning technique. Also, this gives students a great opportunity to learn the essential art of building and maintaining relationships.

  1. Tell stories:

We may not remember facts and information. But we remember experience. Story is the best weapon to provide unforgettable experience (vicariously) to the students. There’s a myth: stories are just for the literature classes. Well, not true at all. Even if you are teaching math or physics or finance, you can always wrap your content inside the stories and deliver your lesson. Try it. Human brains simply love stories, and every teacher must be a storyteller.

  1. Reduce lecture time:

Decrease teacher talk time. And instead, increase student talk time. When the teacher speaks, the students have nothing else to do but to listen (assuming the students can stay focused). Unfortunately, listening is the least effective way of learning and retaining knowledge. Also, the one who talks gets more practice time, which means, the teacher is getting to practice explaining the information. If your dominant method is lectures, you are not giving students enough opportunities to analyze, interpret, and create their own knowledge.

  1. Mix up different methodologies:

So, how to reduce lecture time? Simple. By mixing different teaching methodologies. Try this mantra: an effective learning happens in a teacher-led-students-centered class. Get them involved in activities. Pair works, group activities, problem solving exercises, student presentations, stories, debate, quiz, panel discussion, interview, and many many more. Important tip: don’t do the activities for the sake of doing them. Always finish off an activity with a reflection. Make them write and share reflections.

  1. Revisit 3X3W:

Retention is a big issue in teaching/learning. How do we make sure that students understand and remember what we teach? One of the ways is to implement variations to teach a single concept (especially the difficult ones). Here’s my rule of thumb: teach a concept at least 3 times in 3 different ways. Suppose you are teaching the concept of photosynthesis. Tell a story about how plants work throughout the day to produce oxygen for the living beings. Show them a process diagram and have them practice drawing the diagram. Then show them a video of how photosynthesis happens. Well, you get the idea behind it. Unlike drilling, this sort of repetition is helpful because students will have a chance to encode at least three versions of the same information in their brains.

  1. Emphasize on Reflective Writing:

As mentioned earlier, learning happens when students experience an event and then reflect on it. Simply experiencing an event (listening to a story, doing a pair-work) is not enough. The students must reflect on the experience and make a meaning out of it. For this, reflective writing is an amazing tool. Before the class ends, ask students to calm down and reflect on the day’s learnings and write freely for about 5 minutes. What do they remember and how will they use the knowledge in their lives? How did they feel? Why did they feel the way they felt? And so on. This short closing activity will help students cement the experience and meaning in their long term memory, and they can easily retrieve the insights when they need them.

  1. Make students draft their classroom constitution:

Why not let them write their own classroom constitution? They will feel the ownership and teachers won’t have to enforce rules in an autocratic way. Also, students will feel that they have autonomy over their learning process/environment. It’s best to do this on the first day of the class. Divide the class into several groups and tell them to come up with a certain number of rules. Then, each group leader will present their versions of the constitution and through voting, they finalize the draft.

  1. Modify classroom setup:

We like changes. We love novelty. In life and in classrooms. And when students spend their entire semester or a session in the same classroom, they surely would love to see some changes. Studying in the same set up day in and day out for months is not motivating (and is not fun at all). Change the seating arrangement. Change the layout of the benches/desks. Change the posters and wallpapers. Better yet, assign a group of students as Change Police Officers every month. They’ll have to implement new ideas for change in the classroom.

  1. Go beyond the four walls:

John Dewey had said, “Community is the curriculum” and I interpret this as a call out to all the teachers to take their teaching beyond the four walls of the classroom. A lot of teaching and learning happening inside the classroom, sadly, do not reflect the realities of the communities and the society at large. We’re still teaching subjects in isolation however learning becomes meaningful when students get opportunities to integrate their subject-skills (say – language, calculation, social studies) and apply the skills to solve the problems of a community (say – write a narrative of people on how they are earning through poultry business). When students get to interact with real issues, their learning becomes real learning.

  1. Manage the Affect in the classroom:

One of my inspirations, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa writes about how teachers should take control of the affect in the classroom. Affect (a subjectively experienced emotion) directly influences attention and learning. What she means is that we should take charge of the ‘feeling’ in the classroom. Walk with positivity into the classroom and you can help students feel better, learn better, and retain better every single time. (See: Pygmalion Effect). Also, let the students know that they can count on you if they are facing any problems.

  1. Take risk:

If we only do what we can do, we will never be more than what we are right now. Great quote, right? Therefore, challenge yourself. Many teachers (especially the ones who have taught for many years) I know are reluctant about, for instance, class observation. They might have valid reasons for such reluctance. Nevertheless, request your colleague to observe your class and listen to their suggestion. Ask your students to anonymously evaluate you on your strengths and weaknesses. Be ready to face the worst comments. You can pick on one area of improvement and work on it. If the rules allow, take your friends as a guest into the classroom.

  1. Make your own list:

[This space is for you. I’m sure, you must be doing these already in your own ways. Think about how you can add on to the above ideas and personalize them for your students.]

Popular blogger Seth Godin once said, “If you want people to become passionate, engaged in a field, transformed by an experience — you don’t lecture them and you don’t force them. Instead, you create an environment where willing, caring individuals can find an experience that changes them.” Fellow passionate teacher, teach we must but let us also create awesome learning experiences for our students. Let’s keep trying.

Passionately yours,
Umes Shrestha

151. When the student is ready…

When the student

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Took me some years to realize the meaning of this zen wisdom.

All learning has to have some purpose and until the student figures out (or attempts to figure out), the realization (teacher) does not appear.

We’ve been trying to force learning. We’ve been trying to tell learning. We’ve been trying to provide learning. And kept wondering. What went wrong!

Well, trying to teach before the learner is open to learning – that’s what went wrong.

I am not trying to shy away from my responsibility as a teacher but when students (adults) don’t come prepared, and worse, come just for the sake of coming into the class, I hit the motivation wall.

John Hattie says, “The number one factor that influences a student’s learning is the student himself/herself.” I also believe that to be true. The teacher comes second. The student comes first. But it’s been the other way around for so long in our education system.

Is there any way we can open up learners to be open for learning?

Or, am I asking the wrong question?