Lessons from Teaching in 2019


Lessons from Teaching in 2019

Steph Lee

As a teacher and educator, daily self reflection is crucial.

Instead of making a new year resolution, I decided to review all my lesson plans of 2019 and summarise them.

Transmit Insight, not Information

The more you know, the smarter you are and thus the better teacher you can be? Nope.

Information can be a clutch for your students. And most, even my little ones, know how to google or turn to another human being for information. As a teacher, your job is to take information and transform that into an insight that makes a difference in the student’s journey. Constantly educating and developing oneself is imperative, but I believe it would also benefit if we learn how to communicate nuggets of information (and maybe wisdom) to our students. This takes timing, humility, and practice.

Layer, Pause, and Mirror

“ ..because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” — Donald Rumsfeld

Donald Rumseld, a former US Secretary of Defense gave a news briefing explaining the complicated relationship between the US and Iraq at the time, using the concept of known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. It sort of became famous overnight (and probably used by many a school teacher to explain US politics) but intelligence professionals have long used an analysis technique referred to as the Johari window, created by two psychologists to understand their relationship with themselves as well as others.

The Johari window is a concept my partner and I think about a lot and we try to apply it to our teaching classroom as much as we can. I made myself a more practical way to apply the concept.

Layer. Layer instructions, drills, progressions, skills, and even feedback cues. Layering helps me reflect upon the known knowns as I am transmitting the information. I am also able to course correct myself faster and possibly progress the student faster, as we go deeper into the lesson.

Pausing. Pause to see if the information/instructions/demonstration makes sense. Pause to see if the students look confused or enlightened (often in my case, neither.) Pause to see if they are listening. Pause to listen, pause to give space for questions and feedback, pause to breathe. Pauses help build a relationship between you and the person you are listening and working with.

Mirror. Mirroring is considered the art of subtly imitating another person’s body language and facial expressions. This is actually something human beings already do unconsciously — think of how yawns and giggles spread, or how children tend to have similar expressive gestures as their parents.

Mirroring does help build rapport and trust, but I actually recommend using it as a starting point to make yourself more aware of the unknown unknowns, during the teaching process.

By observing another person keenly to look for mirroring possibilities, you also notice a whole lot more about how you are presenting yourself and the material…and how your instructions or feedback are really coming across to them.

Mirroring prevents us from making cognitive illusions about how effective we are as teachers.

I highly recommend watching one of Chris Voss’s negotiation videos to learn this one better. Or some footage of the former CIA Chief of Disguise (yes it’s a real job title!) break down spy scenes in movies. There’s a lot to learn.

Remove Ego but Instill Confidence

Ego is the noise we make when we are afraid or in deep, paralysing doubt of ourselves. Confidence is the quiet engine that keeps working through the dead of the night, trying to bring us towards the light.

I used to have so much ambition for my students. Quite a few of them have surpassed me in skill and they are becoming wonderful human beings and even teachers themselves..but their knowledge and mastery isn’t what I am most proud of. I am most thrilled by how confident they are of themselves and their bodies. Achievements will fade, but confidence rarely does.

How to breed confidence? It takes time and honest practice; possibly very little you do will ever matter. But this is imperative: encourage the student NOT to just focus on their strengths and ignore their weaknesses — this would be direct ego-feeding. Constantly give them an environment to test themselves in and guide them through with the best of your abilities. Set an example yourself.

More to come.

Learn to thrive in doubt

Teaching sucks 90% of the time. You don’t know what actually works, in terms of helping the student or building a progressive and productive classroom. You don’t know what’s going on with them (hormones, work stress, injury, your guess is as good as theirs.). You don’t know if the information you are giving is truly working or delivering a positive long term result.

Learning to thrive in doubt does not mean ignoring fears and practical realities or simply shrugging one’s shoulders in cest la vie fashion.

It means learning to sharpen one’s ability to listen, to still work and teach, and to be the best teacher-person you can be, in that moment. If all else fails, you must try. And that is learning to thrive in doubt; not giving up on them or you.

This brings me to my last point.

Study Failure

Success will never teach you as much as failure will. I learnt this early on as a dancer getting rejected from numerous auditions. I once went to 37 auditions in a month and got rejected from all of them. Fail faster, yes. But study why you’re failing, as you’re failing, and you will come away with gold.


Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *