I think it is human nature to want to have your best employee be the face of your company when it comes time to educate your clients or other employees. But just because the person you choose to teach is smart and knows your material, that does not necessarily make him your best educator. But you can train him.
In the late 1960’s Lawrence Peter published a book called The Peter Principle, and it took the world by storm. He basically said employees continue to get promoted until they reach their level of incompetence. Taking a great employee, who may not be your best (or best-trained) communicator, and putting him or her in a position to teach your intellectual property to other employees and/or clients, may push that employee to a level of such discomfort that your education system becomes unproductive.
I’m not suggesting that moving someone into a position of educator is pushing them to their level of incompetence, but I am suggesting that teaching is both an art and a craft, and it can be learned. The art comes from the energy and commitment of the teacher. The craft comes from providing that teacher with a blueprint for education.
All it takes is a few simple steps – understanding “common ground” between the teacher and the student; creating curriculum in a “building block” fashion; and never “over-teaching.” This is the core of any education program. What we do is teach someone to teach, then guide them to applying their new teaching techniques to their own intellectual property. Then we set them loose in front of employees and clients. And this makes everyone stronger.
Comfort Zone – The Most Destructive Thing in Education
The greatest challenge teaching instructor trainers is getting them to stop teaching whatever subject they are good at doing and start teaching teaching.
Here’s an example from years of teaching scuba instructors and scuba instructor trainers:
I was teaching a class to three scuba instructor candidates and one instructor-trainer candidate. The IT candidate was doing much of the work. He was doing okay, showing the instructor candidates how to teach various skills.
But then it turned into a train wreck. He came up against a skill he did not know how to teach to instructor candidates. So he did what he knew best…he taught diving.
But the instructor candidates all knew how to dive…they were there to learn how to teach. I let this deteriorate for a short while to see if the instructor candidates would get the IT candidate back on track. But they did not. So a teaching class turned into a diving class, and no one was learning anything.
But I was able to turn this into a learning opportunity for everyone. Guiding the instructor candidates to start to question the IT candidate about how to teach the skill, we eventually found out the IT candidate had no idea. So as a group we showed him how to teach teaching, not teach diving.
The fallback to your comfort zone when you don’t know where to go is one of the biggest traps facing educators teaching experienced adults. The way out? Never lose track of the fact that any instructor training class is never about the subject…it’s only about teaching teaching.
Over-Teaching – When you don’t have the confidence to let a student discover something for him or herself.
When your ego is so out of control that you have to prove to students how much you know.
Over-teaching is one of the greatest blocks to good education. We define over-teaching as giving the student MUCH more information than they can handle at that moment. Over-teaching defies the concept of building block education and almost guarantees that a student will stop learning the moment over-teaching begins.
Here’s a great example of over-teaching from a scuba instructor-training class:
- The class has two instructor candidates and two instructor-trainer candidates.
- Both instructor candidates are recreational divers – neither had any technical dive training.
- Both instructor trainer candidates are technical divers.
- The task was to have the instructor candidates experience a simple gas interruption failure at the rote level in a pool. Which means the IT candidate should have signaled to the student, “Here comes the drill,” then simply created the situation where breathing gas was interrupted. The goal was to have the candidates experience the process. There was not supposed to be any decision making. This was the simplest task to prepare the candidates for the next level of training.
- All four went into the pool (without me). This should have taken 15 minutes. An hour later they emerged from the pool.
- During the video review, the first thing I saw was one of the instructor-trainer candidates shutting off an isolator valve – a very advanced technical diving skill. It deteriorated from there. The students had no idea how to handle this…they were forced to learn an advanced skill in the water with no process of building blocks. No one knew what to do. The IT candidate did not have enough experience to A. not start this drill, or B. stop it immediately. The students did not have the experience to stop it…they were just trying to be good students and listen to their instructor.
This became a huge learning opportunity for everyone involved. The instructor candidates came out of the pool angry and frustrated – they were asked to perform a new task, in the water, for which they had no prep. The instructor-trainer candidate who did this was clueless…all he wanted to do was show his students how much he knew and how more advanced he was than the students.
There were two huge take-aways from this. One is the IT candidates learned a huge lesson about over-teaching. And two, the instructor candidates got to experience first hand what it’s like to be over-taught.
At the end of the day, everyone learned, but no one learned what they expected to. The bottom line: stay on target and never teach above your students’ level without proper prep.
There are four levels of learning that we can apply to any teaching situation, and they must be taught in order.
- Rote learning is memorization. Watch someone do something, then repeat it.
- Understanding is how something works.
- Application is why something works.
- Correlation is how to do something in a new situation.
Here is a simple example of how that all works in teaching firearms:
- Rote: Put the bullets in, release the safety, line up the sights, pull the trigger.
- Understanding: How the gun works, how a bullet works, how rifling works, how wind effects bullets, etc.
- Application: Which is the right gun for the right job? How to apply advanced physics to a long range shot, etc. At this point a student would be completely comfortable with a variety of firearms and their uses. This is the place most training stops.
- Correlation: How to use the gun when someone is shooting at you. In other words how to apply thinking to the previous three steps, allowing you to use your training in new, real-life situations.
Our goal is to teach correlation, or thinking, but it’s impossible to get to the thinking stage without accomplishing training in the first three levels. In the above example, if you hand someone a gun for the first time, you put in the bullets, then you send that student to war where he or she is being shot at, that student may not even be able to get the safety off. But if you go through the steps, IN ORDER, the student will move through the education process in an orderly fashion and be able to think under stress.
Teaching rote, understanding, and application can be done in a classroom or field training situation. Most training stops there and skips the most valuable step: correlation. Skipping correlation does not give the student an opportunity to learn how to use his/her new skills in a real life situation. We must teach thinking. We must give students the opportunity to use their learning at the highest possible level.
We teach correlation through simulation. Fire departments train in fire simulators. Police train in bad guy shooting simulators. Scuba instructors train in swimming pools, etc.
Regardless of what you are teaching, teach the levels of learning in order, and always try to get to correlation. Give your students the opportunity to think in the toughest of situations.