166. A massively underprepared teacher

Prime College

Recently, we held a two-day workshop for the faculty members of Prime College. After the usual ice-breaker, I had this slide up, asked the participants to write them down, and share their responses.

While they were writing down their teaching & learning assumptions, I somehow slipped into my past and thought about my early days as an English language teacher in a private school.

 The first two years of my teaching career were a disaster. With shame and regret, I have to admit that I was nothing but an arrogant teacher who would walk into the class with “Hey, I’m from the capital city, educated in a private English medium school, and I’m going to save you from your miserable English competency” attitude. I mocked at students’ pronunciations. I even joked about other teachers’ pronunciations.

I realize that I was massively underprepared to be a teacher. I probably did more harm than anything good to the students. What made me jump into teaching profession then? Probably, the assumptions I was unconsciously carrying into the profession.

  1. My job is to teach, and students’ job is to learn.
  2. My job is to control, and students’ job is to be in discipline.
    (I have to keep the class under control. If I don’t do this, the students will start dancing on my head. When I lose my authority as a teacher, the students will never want to learn.)
  3. My job is to teach and it’s easy.
    Just go to the class. Teach the content. Get out of the class. That’s it.

How did these assumptions grow and bloat in my head? May be I had thought, “Hey, I’ve been in a class for more than 14 years. I know what it takes to be a teacher. I can easily do what my school teachers used to do.”

Well, I had my worst moments.

(About the workshop:

Becoming a 21st Century Educator
Oct 11 and 12
A two-day workshop for the faculty members of Prime College, Kathmandu
on the theme of Designing Positive Learning Experiences in the classroom.
Conducted by Empowerment Academy)


164. To be, or not to be inspired — is not the question


Let me ask you. If you were to secure your physical property (your house) from any fire related damage, electric short circuit or electric appliance malfunction, what would you do as a precaution?

I’m sure, this is what you would do. You’d make sure that everything’ gets designed and fitted 100% accurate while constructing your house. You’d also get some sort of smart alarm system installed. And you’d probably also get insured.

And, you would probably contact us because we have a company called “Safemandu”.

That was an idea we could bank on.

Well, that’s what we thought during the 4-day workshop on “Inspiration, Iteration and Innovation”. And we were so damn wrong.

The workshop, organized as a part of BUCSBIN project, was a super squeezed 4-day version of what happens in a 4-month semester at the Oamk LABS of Oulu University of Applied Sciences, Finland. Two Lab Masters Janne Karjalainen and Ulla‐Maija Seppänen were facilitating the workshop participated by 30 academicians and practitioners from a wide range of faculties.

The main objective of the workshop was to give us (faculty members) a sneak-preview of how students go through a human centric design process in a lab setting and come up with innovative ideas to solve real problems of the society.

Drawing from the philosophies of Design Thinking and Lean StartUp, the program is designed and conducted to make multi-disciplinary groups of students work in teams, align their personal goals with team goals, and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They explore the problems and issues, get validations, design solutions, get validations, test, fail, test, reiterate, test, refine. Go through the loop. Learn through the process. And at the end of the program, they acquire the skills and attitudes to be self-directed and self-motivated professionals ready for the 21st century.


What happened:

On the first day, Janne and Ulma divided us in 10 teams and assigned each team topics like “Healthy sexual behavior among teenagers”, “Retaining talent in the country”, “Security in the Urban area”, “Financial Independence for Elderly People”, “Promoting Gender Equality”. Very vague. Very broad.

We were to discuss in our team, brainstorm as many ideas as possible, and keep our minds open for more perspectives. Janne and Ulma repeatedly reminded us to go deeper and wider. “Your opinions are the best ones. And they don’t mean anything”, Janne emphasized. We had to therefore go out from the venue, find at least 10 people, empathize and interview them. Then get back with more ideas and understanding of their real needs and desires.

On the second day, we had to pitch our ideas in 3 mins. They call this — Gate 1 presentation. Some ideas get through the gate, and some get thrown away.

Safemandu — our team’s idea didn’t get through. We were crushed, emotionally. And, I got depressed for almost 11 minutes.

What did they say?
Identify your users. Go talk with them. Find more perspectives on the issue. Try to understand their needs, wants. Their beliefs. What they say. What they do.

What did we do?
As soon as we got our topic, we quickly switched into our “analytical” heads and started prescribing solutions. Worse, we got into defensive mode.

What happened?
We got kicked out during the Gate presentation. And we had to attend the funeral session of our idea. That was heartbreaking but a humbling experience.

What did we learn?
Don’t jump into pre-conceived solutions without understanding the real needs and desires of the users. (Also, hear the instructions properly.)

The feedback circle after the presentations was sweet yet brutal.

Anyways, I quickly got assigned with one of the remaining teams. The problem focused on creating a platform for teenagers so that they can have meaningful conversations with their parents about sexual abuse and harassment. And we had to go through the same process. Understand the problem. Understand the user. Understand their needs and wants and beliefs and behaviors. Brainstorm — good ideas, bad ideas. Pick one that seems feasible, viable, and desirable. Go out once again and get validated. For the next day, do more research. And finally, come up with a prototype, along with a business plan.


Next morning, we continued working with our prototype and business model. And also prepared a 4-minute presentation for Gate 2. And, surprise surprise, the judges for Gate 2 were four people who had no idea what was happening in the workshop. Two foreigners. Two Nepalis. More pressure on the presenting teams because we had to make sure the judges understood the context, problem, solution, prototype, and the business model — everything in just four minutes.

After the presentations were over, Janne and Ulma made us sit down in a circle. Two minutes of self-evaluation. Two minutes of our evaluation by another team. And, two minutes of evaluation from the two lab masters. And once again, this was a nerve-wracking experience. Feedback sunney baani chaina ni ta 🙂

On the final day, Janne and Ulma unpacked what happened throughout the previous days. They talked about their belief on learning through the process in a team with members from diverse academic backgrounds and interests. They also stressed on trust and accountability — both on individual and team level.


My reflection:

Inherent in the workshop (and in the four-month program back at the Oamk LABs) is the focus on experiential learning. These guys have figured out how people learn. I could see Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle as the structural backbone of the entire workshop. Experience. Reflection. Conceptualization. Application. Feedback. Over and over again.

My whole teaching methodology (and philosophy) is largely guided by Kolb, and seeing these guys mix the essence of experiential learning, design thinking, and lean startup made me realize the limitless possibilities of fulfilling the gaping holes in our teaching approach and education system at large. Specifically, at business colleges. We could do so much.

Back in December 2017, representing BUCSBIN project, we had a great opportunity to visit Oamk Lab and Oulu University of Applied Sciences in Finland. We got a first-hand experience on how the lab masters there are re-defining teaching methodology and curriculum by focusing more on the learning process than on the outcomes/grades. (May be one of the reasons why Finland’s education system is considered the best in the world at the moment.) This 4-day workshop reinforced my learnings from the Finland visit and my belief on experiential process.

The purpose of this workshop was also to enable the faculty members of the BUCSBIN project run our own versions of Oamk Labs at King’s College and KU School of Management. This has given me (and hopefully to all participants) enough confidence to conduct such workshops, idea incubation and development programs.

A huge respect to Janne, Ulma, and also Kimmo Paajanen for your no-nonsense facilitation and amazing support. You guys are the best.

Lastly, to be or not to be inspired — is not the question.

It’s the only answer.

The workshop was organized by Building University Capacity to Support Business Incubation in Nepal (BUCSBIN) partners: King’s College, Kathmandu University, Idea Studio Nepal, Oulu University of Applied Sciences and YoungInnovations. April 24–27. At Summit Hotel, Lalitpur.

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/)