Training, Lecturing, Coaching, Mentoring, Teaching are showing the challenge of the English language and its history of being based on Gaelic, Latin, Saxon, Danish and Norman French. That story is interesting, but is for another blog, it involves being conquered many times (German, French) and a plague (1600’s) killing fifty percent of the population, for those that are curious. It results in words like cow (kuh) being used by the animals poor farmer and beef (boeuf) being used by its wealthy consumer … I digress.
So what about Education?
Lecturing is like public speaking. The speech delivers the facts, hopefully the knowledge and the students take what they can. A great lecturer will deliver it in memorable, fun size bites and be a joy to listen to, so its not an easy role. If you have the audience laughing, looking puzzled and keen to ask questions then you can rightly assume you have the X-factor. If they leave mumbling about the assignments or the weather then you may want to find training or reconsider your approach.
In contrast, the trainer takes the students present understanding and turns it into delivered habit of excellence. I suspect we all have thrown a javelin so we know how to do it, the trainer will work with us and if we have passion and flare help us to make it a skill. Its a very tough, full on, draw out the students understanding role but is based on a knowledge base. It is not coaching, its about building skill through repetition, its about building a neural path in the brain that will make the activity a habit, build it into the students subconsious.
Coaching is often, if not always, included to some degree with training. However, the coach does not need to be exceptional at the activity, unlike, I would argue, the trainer. The coach should just know how to guide the student to improve. I have heard it said the best coaches for tennis players are ex-skiers; they have an eye for form, for balance and for pace and are able to transfer that into assisting a tennis player to improve their game. By way of contrast, the trainer would be the person the tennis student plays the game with, enabling the repetition of the actions. The coach can advise on how to improve, the trainer needs to know how to play well.
Perhaps we should recap here, just to bring it together before we move on. You can read a book on tennis, you can watch a PowerPoint driven class on tennis, however that will not get you to Wimbledon. It will give you the knowledge, but not skill. In fact, if its not taught, then it’s quite likely to not give you knowledge either, just awareness. I used to laugh when I heard that a product line were training the sales teams around the world, using PowerPoint. I asked the question at the time; “How many top class footballers train looking at PowerPoint in a room”? If you tested the staff at the end of the “training” on their understanding and how they planned to engage the customer base with the new PowerPoint story the results proved the “training” to be nearly worthless. At best they recalled three things, are worst the were confused and hoped to figure it out later. A lecture on the features and benefits will really only create awarness and little more, the staff had to find their own way to transpose it into something that can address a customers pain point or problem. Of course, I could digress as to whether the more informed were looking for a featured, benefit, advantage or as some, struggling to cope with fba, perfer to make feature, advantage, benefit. Simply, its not the exciting thing that the feature does but the real benefit that the thing it does brings to the explicit need … I will leave that thread for another day.
In the tennis analogy, when you are out on the court the trainer will make sure you engage in exercises, repeat the same action many times, may even be the other tennis player you need to practise with. Its helpful if the trainer has played tennis, its actually helpful if the trainer plays tennis well. When you struggle with an aspect, the coach will explain how to adapt to accomodate the difficulty and the trainer will help you repeat that until it becomes habit. Over time you will build up a skill, if your passion drives you on that skill, the ability to repeat something precisely and effectively without thinking, you may become world class.
Another example is learning to drive a car, something most of us have done. If you drive one now and have done for a few years then you have trained to a level that you can do just about anything in the car without thinking. Things like gear selection, speed regulation, sensitivity to other road users, positioning in the road are all what we might call second nature. Our training was to repeat the activity, we rarely have a coach although watching some people on the road I think it would be wise for some, and some go on to advanced driving classes which have a coach to help you to improve. A previous employer of mine sent the whole sales operation on a defensive driving course, to reduce the insurance premiums, where we drove for a day with a coach. A few days later I was very thankful of the coaching as it defused a situation that could have gone very nasty .. ooops!, again I digress.
I do recall a collegue and I fighting back often against the PowerPoint “training” and showing how it could be done differently when together we went to deliver training for a European Distributer in La Gaude, France at their technical conference being held at the Club Med. Together we had developed a single PowerPoint slide, yes that is one slide, for a whole day of training, one team in the morning, one in the afternoon with a total of 25 students per session. The other vendors had hundreds of slides, going into the finest details and in a discussion in the bar the night before they thought we were insane having one slide for training in some 15 products types for the day. That evening we won the best training session award as the audience had been entertained, were engaged, learnt more than they had ever done before and bounced out the the room excited to get on and find some customers for all the new ideas they had.
The secret, the one slide had a problem as a picture that was formed from 5 items. The 5 teams of 5 students were given one of the 5 items that they had to solve. They had to make a single slide and present what they suggested would solve their problem. They were engineers, the problems were design-in challenges and they had to choose components. On the table in front of them they had all the data sheets and user manuals of the products they were being “trained” on.
The creativity, the dialog, the energy, the cool designs, the want to do it with imagination was outstanding. The presenters become the facilitators and the audience built their solutions, preparing to share the logic behind their component choices. Even after lunch the second set of 25 students did not suffer from post-lunch doze, there was no presenter droning on about some detailed feature they are likely to never care about. What we had delivered was training. They were engineers, they already had the knowledge that enabled them to explore technology. They used their knowledge to develop, along with the trainers who knew the subject well, a range of solutions that they all shared and debated to ensure the optimal design was identified for each problem.
Moving on, then of course, then there is Mentoring. Often confused with Coaching, Mentoring is not about repetition until it becomes a skill and honing the deviations to ensure that the repetition is consistent and focussed on improvement. Mentoring is about taking proven knowledge, understanding and skill and sharing that experience with someone trying to do something similar. If I stay with the driving analogy, you are unlikely to seek out a Mentor to improve your driving. A trainer, a coach, maybe but not a Mentor, unless you want to be a Rally or Formula One driver. In the case of a Rally driver you would engage a Coach to help to hone the skills you have and a Mentor to understand what skills you need to develop, and in that instance an ex-world class Rally driver would be a great Mentor. Details like gaming strategy, finding the right line, understanding how the weight distribution changes through a route would be Mentor subjects while the Coach would be about honing what you are doing to be more effective. However, while Mentoring can have a component of teaching, as can Coaching the real subject of Teaching is very different.
Teaching is really special, its about developing knowledge. The Black box methodology being used by teachers in recent years is incredible, it has the student do the work, in a social, questioning, so called formative manner and what results is new neural pathways that are created as learning occurs. The brilliant teacher leads, ask questions, helps the students explore and helps them find the answers. Education, from its latin root, means to “draw out”, that is to pull from the minds of the students what they know already and using their social interaction to build on what they know and adapt the understanding of the group through questions and deep thinking. They assess themselves, their own understanding and in doing so they build a real understanding, the connections in the brain are used to build and correct their comprehension of the subject.
In 2009 I spent some time teaching Physics in a boys Grammar school in the UK. It was a magical experience. When you have a room of boys curious and engaged, as the lesson you are delivering is asking questions rather than pounding knowledge into their minds, the buzz is incredible. When they all say “wow! sir, that’s the best lesson we have ever had here” at the end of a lesson I challenge anyone to beat it, and yes I am referring to Physics.
Prior to the Black Box research the Honey & Mumford learning styles were just about all that teachig had to go on. The Teacher was told that exposing the student to knowledge, that is trying to fill their heads with facts, was the role. The learning styles theories abound, in basic terms it says that students learn in different ways, duh! (rocket science, not!) Whether its Visual, Audiory, Kinetic (VAK) or the more detailed Activist, Reflector, Theorist and Pragmatist (Do, Review, Conclude, Plan next step) of Honey & Mumford is a debate that many might enjoy. It has value, but nothing like the change in impact that Black Box principles have.
What VAK means in real terms is the teacher had to say it, write it and demonstrate it and the student had to say it, write it and experience it. Back when I was at school that involved the teacher writing it on the board or reading it from a book and then we had to copy it from somewhere into our own exercise books … OK, OK, you can wake up now!! That paragraph sent me to sleep while I was writing it. The student had no chance, they either had to be personally passionate about the subject or have the drive and determination to find their own way to learn before the test or exam, no wonder so many children never made the grade.
I would say even back then, the teacher who showed energy and drive and conveyed a passion to the audience was the winning teacher. They were not the teacher that had a silent class, they were the teacher that looked to the external viewer as if they were running chaos. They had discussion, dialog, exploration, challenging ideas, questioning expected outcome versus experienced outcome and high energy lessons. They had stories, case studies, history of how the truth was found, even in English they questioned word choice, sentence construction, author thinking, author experience. In Mathematics it was about abstract ideas from number behaviour, in Chemistry it was about the magic of the atom and how new elements have been found and the daft names they have been given, or blowing things up. Of course Physics was about hair raising experiences and is now about how Newton was mistaken, his laws are approximations and that quantum mechanics is a better model, and the fact that after all they are all models.
When I was training to teach I recall a passionate discussion with my students in year 9 (14 year olds) about how a laser works, how it differs from a flourescent tube and a vaccum bulb and the thought path the inventor followed to explore if it was possible to play with excited atoms. I also recall a passionate discussion with the lower 6th (17 year olds) on what mass and gravity really are and how they are strangely related. Perhaps the developed curiousity of my classes will move them to explore their world further and find the cure for cancer, who knows. My mission was simply to make them curious, explorative, to want to know how the world works with our present models. Even the students that found recalling the facts tough were enthusiastic to explore and when tested recalled the facts, and how good can it get was all I could think at the time. I often wonder about what my students are doing now.
I have no idea who said it, but I am mindful of the thought “To teach is to touch a life forever” and as such I ask that those who are teaching, realise that their passion, their energy and their ability to engage their audience are touching their students lives forever. Teach, using Black Box principles, get the students engaged, convey curiosity and passion not knowledge and watch they soar to new heights of understanding.