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We are all teachers now – at home or virtually

I was talking to a client recently who has a PhD in economics and is a regular presenter at international conferences. And she was terrified of home schooling her twelve-year-old! She said that lecturing or even facilitating conferences wasn’t in the same league as thinking through a lesson plan for a middle schooler. Turns out that the Covid19 experience has brought us all a new appreciation for teachers and teaching (inside schools or corporations)

I have been a high school teacher and a corporate trainer and am happy to share the five best practices that have been most helpful to me over the years. They are important in a classroom context but also especially relevant to virtual education.

Start with objectives. This may seem obvious but too often teaching (or virtual meetings) become activity versus goal driven. What understanding or skill do you want to focus on during this afternoon’s Math or English lesson? Or, what do you want to accomplish in this morning’s pipeline review? Same thing! If you don’t know where you are driving, you are unlikely to arrive at the right destination. Educators call these terminal objectives because they are the end-state of the instruction; being specific about them will add clarity for both the student and teacher.
Be client centered. Carl Rogers’ concept of client centeredness is a critical concept for both K-12 education and management training. Start with where the client is at – whether it is your child or project team. Jumping to a lesson plan or project activity without first assessing aptitude AND attitude is a fatal flaw. If your daughter loves math, but hates rote exercises, that’s good to know. Or if your staff loves to know what everybody is working on but hates laboring through individual report outs during virtual meetings, that’s also good to know.
Make the Words Match the Music. A fellow named Benjamin Bloom speculated on a taxonomy of learning way back in the 1950’s that has endured into the 21st century. His point was the more complex the learning objective, the more complex the educational design. If your goal is simple comprehension or recall, a good lecture or book is just fine. If you want critical thinking, including the ability to synthesize, a more sophisticated and interactive design is needed. Reasoning on the causes of the Second World War is best done in interactive conversations, not by working through a US 2 textbook. Similarly, implementing Agile PM requires a hands-on experience, even if it’s all virtual.
Manage The “Classroom.” The course that best prepared me for teaching high school and working with adult learners was not educational psychology, but rather classroom management. Managing the home or virtual classroom means checking in with your student(s) regularly and structuring the experience with clear boundaries and operating norms. For virtual education, it means establishing ground rules on how questions, topics and conversations will be sequenced. For home schooling, it means creating consistency in your day to day teaching agenda, despite balancing a challenging work schedule.
Show You Care. The compliment I have always cherished in both my teaching and corporate career is when a student says “you really cared” about me and the learning topic. That is so easy to lose in virtual education and home schooling. For home schooling, the risk is “of course, I care” since I am your mom or dad – so I might forget to tell you that while we are teaching. For virtual education, it is “how can I show you I care?” since I am in front of this laptop miles and time zones away from where you are sitting. So, you need to be explicit about how you communicate your caring to your child, staff or colleagues — by saying it out loud and finding ways to acquire and incorporate their feedback.

Final Thought

My son is in his last semester at Drexel University and my daughter is a recent graduate of Boston Conservatory and now a professional dancer. My wife and I have had the privilege of teaching and mentoring them as they have worked through K-12 and into higher education. We have tried to keep these five best practices in mind even when the circumstances of the education has been most trying – for our son during his final virtual semester and for our daughter as she is holed up in her apartment taking online dance classes and teaching her own dance students through virtual streaming.

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

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