161. Reminder to myself

Cover

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 motives me to learn, unlearn, and relearn.

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

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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/)

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

unlearn-butwal

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.

 

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?