Those Who Can, Teach

TeachingAt Start Being Your Best, I write about personal development and Life Design.  It’s a process that’s built on four habits; Learning, Developing, Creating, and Leading.  The habits are placed in the order they’re in for a reason, and Learning is first of all.  In order to become a better person, and to develop habits that allow you to create and lead, you need to learn new information all the time about the knowledge domains that you operate in on a daily basis.

Learning needs to be an intentional process in order for you to get as much out of it as possible. One of the best ways that I know of to learn material is to teach it to someone else.  Teaching someone requires you to systematize and formalize all the knowledge you have floating around in your mind about the topic at hand.  This is crucial in order to make it easy for someone to learn.  In the process of figuring out what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it, and the order in which it needs to be said, you’ll inevitably plot all this out in a way that makes sense to you.  Teaching it to someone else, however, causes you to see if the way you see things makes sense to other people.  In the process of systematizing your knowledge, you’ll also have insights into an issue that you hadn’t had previously.  The act of taking thoughts and putting them in a more concrete form may connect threads that you hadn’t connected before.  Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.  Everything can be broken down into its component parts and be made understandable for a layperson.

So, teach someone something that you’ve been trying to learn yourself.  Assemble all the information you currently have on a subject, then write a blog, record a video for Youtube, whatever.  This will not only get you to think more clearly about a particular topic, it will also put your information out in front of an audience.  Just do something that’s going to give instruction on how to accomplish a task that you’re trying to learn better.

How do you go about getting ready to teach someone (or a group of someones)?  Use the steps outlined below:

  1. Figure out what you want to communicate. What’s the point?  Are you trying to impart some basic knowledge of a topic, or would you like to convince someone to come over to your point of view?  Two purposes, both require teaching, yet each requires a very different approach with the person being taught.  And, remember:  keep it simple.  Most folks aren’t going to be able to absorb many points; try to keep it between one and three issues you feel are most important.
  2. Assemble a lesson plan. We’ll use “lesson plan” for lack of a better term, but it doesn’t need to be quite that formal, especially if you aren’t planning on using it in a classroom setting.  Simply set out the goal of your particular teaching exercise (the one to three points you want to convey) on a sheet of paper, and then begin to list (or mindmap) every related fact/illustration/detail related to the topic and those key points.  Once you’ve exhausted yourself (not just what you know off the top of your head, but doing a bit of research as well), it’s now time to put all these facts into some kind of order.  Make the material flow, plan out some discussion questions to keep it interesting for your audience, and think of ways to avoid simply reciting a list of facts to those you’ll be working with.
  3. Test it out. This might be just in front of a mirror, but it’s much more helpful if you can try it out on a live person first.  Your guinea pig will be able to tell you what works and what doesn’t, which areas aren’t as clear as they might be, and what types of questions the material you’ve prepared may elicit.  This is your chance to refine your material and technique before you go in front of the actual person or people who’ve asked for you to share.

Know this:  you’re going to feel like a phony.  The thing is, this feeling is common to everyone who’s ever taught anything.  There’s always a little part of your brain that says, “You’re not really the expert everyone thinks you are.  You’re going to get caught!”.  You’ll be worried that the people you’re teaching will ask you a question you can’t answer, or they’ll actually know something about the topic that you don’t.  It’s okay.   Chances are, they’re not going to ask you anything that’s going to stump you.  If they do, be thankful for it!  It’s a chance to learn something more about an area you’re interested in.  Just tell them you don’t know and work on figuring out the answer to the question together.

If you happen to run into someone who does happen to know more than you when you’re teaching, you’ve got another opportunity to learn.  Accept their suggestions in the spirit in which they were offered, because they just saved you a bunch of time.  Now you don’t need to work it all out on your own; they did it for you.  We who teach should keep the Socratic method in mind, and teach via dialogue and question-asking, rather than by lecture and spewing knowledge.  Maintaining humility at all times, and being willing to accept new knowledge, whether it comes from a teacher or a student, are the keys to true growth.

Update:  Found an interesting article today about the tendency to discount your ability in situations where you’re looked up to as an expert.  It does happen, and it’s not fair to you.  You are good enough to do what you’re doing; if you weren’t, you wouldn’t have been asked to share in the first place!

photo courtesy: goldendragon613

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