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4 Steps to Listening Your Way to Teaching & Social Media Success

“Don’t teach. Facilitate,” I explained to skeptical instructors in a train the trainer program 15 years ago. The points of our program were:

  1. Look at your audience. They are unique. Know who they are and reach them there.
  2. Ask your audience questions. Assume nothing – start with basics. If they can answer the basics, they will gain confidence to master the tougher stuff.
  3. Answer your audience’s questions. Keep control of the conversation, but make a list of questions to get back to, if needed afterwards.
  4. Engage your audience. Find novel ways for them to participate. The more they participate, the more likely they are to incorporate it into their lives. See what works and what doesn’t, tweak it, and try again.

Look + Ask + Answer + Engage = Listen.

At first, I didn’t believe facilitation worked. I lacked the time to “Facilitate” when I was supposed to “Teach.” Teaching meant going through my list of exactly what was to be learned, opening the heads of my students, and dumping it there.

A brain dump ends up with a toxic brainfill with so much stuff nothing is absorbed, and the good stuff runs off first time it rains.  If an adult was subjected to a bad teacher who pushed, pushed, pushed, odds are students tuned out the teacher. So when instructors of adults push too hard, adult students respond by tuning them out.

Tune out = nothing accomplished. Listen so they tune in = students find new ways to apply what they learn and keep using it.

Facilitation can work. In order to work, the “facilitator” has to pan for gold – sift the rocks in the lecture and keep the best nuggets.  Listen to the audience but make sure the nuggets and important information is covered.

In the social media age, I see the same transition happening in marketing and advertising. Generations of salespeople were taught to PUSH their message, PUSH their product, and PUSH to get sales.

Problem is PUSH is now as attractive and current as that avocado green toilet was when we bought our house.

After a lifetime of PUSH, consumers now tune out the moment the PUSH pitch begins.

Marketers wishing to survive in the 21st century had better learn to PULL, to listen, and to facilitate to survive. Follow those same steps we gave teachers:

Look, Ask, Answer, and Engage.

5 Reasons Many 4-H Leaders Last

Last night was our county’s 4-H Achievement Banquet, when we recognize members and leaders. In our county of 800 4-H members, we have 127 leaders who have volunteered a combined total of over 1,280 years.  The volunteer who’s served the longest has helped 44 years.

We live in a world where families move and where most of us are so busy a few help with our kids’ activities but immediately quit when they age out. We juggle jobs, sports, families, and friends and simply don’t have time for more.

Why and how are these leaders who last different? The 4-H roots, originally targetted to agricultural communities, explains it. They are the same traits needed by a farmer.

  1. Vision. Tomorrow’s crops begin with today’s seeds.
  2. Effort. Sweat is essential to every successful farm.
  3. Adaptability. We never know what we will need to do for the crop to thrive.
  4. Teamwork. Everyone of all ages worked to keep the farm going.
  5. Humor. Songs, games, and jokes make days on the farm more fun.

How do these apply to 4-H Leaders? Leaders see the young 3rd grader, nervous about a project demonstration and know it’s the beginning of 9 years of public speaking experiences.

4-H members and leaders learn as much by sweating as they do by doing; they are among the hardest workers I know.

When 4-H began, it taught scientific principles to farm families in crop, livestock, and food production. Project areas change with the times. For example, foods projects no longer give a cookbook approach to making the perfect cookie but teach food safety, nutrition, cooking techniques, cooking in other cultures, food science, and consumer awareness.  Project areas also change with the times – rockets, rockets, and more are now projects as 4-H works to raise up 1 million new scientists.

4-H leadership is often a family affair. Many kids grow up helping their parents as leaders, who then become leaders when they grow up. Some new leaders now help their grandparents, who are also still leaders. That stable leadership network offers a crucial safety net to members, both with and without intact families themselves. 

Finally, you never know what 4-H leaders will do next – one year, the door prize at our Christmas party was – a door.

As a Brownie dropout who never lived on a farm, I became a 4-H leader 5 years ago. I hope some day I’ll be the 40 year volunteer, helped across the stage by my grandchildren 4-H leaders, at an achivement banquet.

Embrace the Change

In 1989, jobs were hard to find in a lousy economy. I landed a job for a physics department that would let me continue taking classes. Problem: I knew nothing about computers, and the job required it. I was a fast typist, and they decided to risk hiring me. My first day on the job, the dept. head gave me a handwritten syllabus. I typed and printed it, no problem. He looked at the file setup and refused it, telling me, “You used a word processor as a glorified typewriter. Here’s a book. Figure out what you did wrong and make it right.”

It took me 3 days to create a 3 page syllabus he would accept. When he finally accepted my work, I was so furious I was ready to quit. He then told me, “I know you’re angry. I know you’ve just spent 3 days wandering blind alleys figuring out how to do this. But each blind alley you went down taught you things you will need to know. It will get easier.”

And so began my trial by fire computer training. Part of my job involved clerical work on a NASA research project. It was old Internet days, with manual dial up handshake commands that had to be typed in a line at a time. I was supposed to load files to a CRAY supercomputer, download the results, and then convert those results to graphs.

On my first day on the job, not a single command worked when I tried to log onto the CRAY.  Exasperated, I called NASA, thinking I had to be the dumbest computer user on the planet. Response?

“You’re following yesterday’s instructions. Everything changed today.”

“When will I get today’s instructions.”

“Most  likely in 6 months. But I’ll tell you the steps to follow.” He walked me through the new handshake procedures.

And so began my year of learning to use a computer, on the job, with deadlines, when things changed every single day, before I had a chance to learn how to use them beforehand.

I had no idea when I started that job that it would change my life. Computer software eventually made sense. Within 6 years, I was a computer network administrator for a network of 50 computers for a law firm.  For the past 15 years, I’ve worked as a corporate computer trainer and have trained at least 3,000 people in how to use computers on their jobs.  In recent years, that has also branched into training them on social media. My experiences learning on the fly help me be a more empathetic teacher.

With social media, things change daily. Buttons move, features have different words, and more. It reminds me of my first day using a computer, 21 years ago. Yesterday’s instructions don’t quite work, and we figure out today’s procedures by the seat of our pants. It’s frustrating.

My lesson from years ago: embrace the change.

The blind alleys you stumble in, as you seek today’s instructions, are preparing you to handle tomorrow’s bigger computer challenges.

Missing The Boat

Probably thought but not written 500 years ago…

“I can’t believe the hoopla over Columbus. He brought back heathens and trinkets instead of a route to spices.

“What a waste of time and money. His stupid sailors drink, wasting time with songs and games. I’m too busy – I have to run the family lumber business. 

“There’s rumors Columbus was wrong. He got lost. Some day, all who thought he would open new trade routes will realize they wasted their time and money. I’ll be sitting here fat and happy cause I just expanded the family lumber business to the other side of the forest.  Sure thing, sure profit. Who has time to learn anything new when we’re so busy cutting down trees?”

End of excerpt from the honorary member of the World Is Flat & I’m Happy Bout That Society.

This business man was so busy tending his own family business that he missed the boat.

Those who ignore the changes social media will make do the same. Yes, there are some stupid games and conversations going on on new media. But those using it are on a boat to a new world just like Columbus’s sailors were.

Columbus wasn’t just playing stupid games – born Italian, he eventually learned Latin, Portugese, Castillian, and devoured the best books by the greatest minds he could find.  He scoured the Bible and often quoted it.

Smart people are using social media. They are building the next new world.

If you have a family lumber business, if you pull your head out of the local trees, you might discover a planet of new resources and potential customers. All by route of social media.

Those early explorers didn’t take a Loveboat across the ocean to learn things exciting and new. They worked, risked, prayed, waited, and worked some more. So do the new explorers. 

There’s an earlier key figure in the New World’s discovery: Prince Henry the Navigator. In the century before Columbus, he helped sailors by improving education – even starting schools. His schools helped develop maps, teach navigation, and teach shipbuilding. He plowed and prepped the field from which the next century’s explorers sprouted.

Some visionary educators today are doing the same with social media. Will your school sprout the next explorers, or will your students/employees miss the boat? Are they being trained to navigate the social media seas to a brave, new world?

No Classroom Dummies

One of the best investments a company can make is computer training of its employees. Training staff to make the best use of your computer investment can be the budget’s forgotten stepchild.

Companies sometimes pigeonhole or underestimate the abilities of their staff to use software well.

Once, before a corporate Access class began, students came in joking that the office computer “dummy” would hold them all back. I was asked how I would teach the class and help her too. Coworkers continued to joke when she entered the classroom.

After class began, I worked on a few issues with her.  For the first part of the class, she struggled to keep up with everyone else.

Everything changed when we started filters and queries.  For an entire hour, she was the first to suggest the best ways to find information quickly. 

How could someone like that suddenly show up everyone else in the room? She was not a digital native and needed help with a few basics.  When we hit filters and queries, she was in home turf. Her job required her to classify information and work through it methodically. Her years of experience shined in her classroom performance. 

She’s only one example why I refuse to believe anyone in my computer classes is a “dummy” incapable of learning.  Some take longer than others.  Yes, there are times I’ll tell someone where the spacebar is or that the shift key capitalizes.  I’ll explain the difference between the left and the right mouse buttons.

But I help them do more than that in class. I show them how using their software can make their jobs easier.  Whenever possible, we relate what we learn to practical applications.

What happened to the office designated dummy who blossomed into a filter query savant? By the next class, on her own, she had designed databases and queries that would make her job easier.

I’m glad her company trained her.  Now she can use a computer as a power tool to better do the job for which they hired her.

Computer dummies don’t come to my classes. The dummies are ones who never get trained or never make sure their staff is well trained on software they already have.

Smart companies and people are the ones who get as much training as they can. A little hard work and knowledge goes a long way.

Busted or Not?

Please answer the question at the end of this blog: was my son busted or not?

I’m a huge advocate of finding ways to incorporate social media into the classroom. Twitter offers a world of real time opportunities to build peer connections and learn from brilliant people all over the planet. To that end, I enjoy Mondays when I have time to join the #smcedu chat and encourage social media clubs on college campuses.

The ways teachers can leverage social media to enrich classroom experiences are endless. 

But there’s another side to the coin. In my spare time, I lead a teen discussion group on classical literature; my son is one of the members. When the new Facebook groups debuted, I decided to create a private group for the teens involved (and their parents) so we could exchange study helps, assignments, and answer questions.

Today, I posted a link to a study guide to help them read The Iliad. My son immediately commented that the link was one ugly website. Problem: he commented during school time, which means he was playing on Facebook while he was supposed to be working on Algebra. I immedad iately commented under him – why are you on Facebook instead of math?

So my question is: did I bust him for goofing off during official school time? Or was he learning in a different manner from previous generations? 

And for students: would you revolt if you started getting assignments from your teacher in a study group on Facebook? Or would you appreciate getting information in a place you already surf?

Chicken Dance Speech Class

The chicken dance inspired me! I was teaching a new public speaking class to teens and wanted a different icebreaker to begin the year.

The first day of class, all chairs and tables were pushed to the sides of the room. All students formed a big circle but didn’t know why.  Then I began to play the chicken dance – telling them the first class assignment was dancing the chicken dance. Some were more reluctant than others. For the fun of it, I wore a big, bright yellow outfit.

After we did it, I had them help me go through the steps of the chicken dance. When do we flap, and when did we wiggle? When we had the steps broken down, I gave a mock demonstration speech on the chicken dance, after which we danced to it one more time.

After we finished, I asked, “How many think starting a speech class with the chicken dance is stupid?”

All agreed.  So I continued, “Did anyone feel stupid doing the chicken dance in front of everyone else here?”

A few admitted to it. So I continued, “Fine. You have just done the dumbest thing you will do all year in speech class. Now we can get to the business of speaking in public and doing it well.”

I hate writing or speech classes where students spend more time studying the theory or art of speaking or writing than they do in the actual writing and speaking. The best way to write well is to write often. The best way to be a good public speaker is to speak publicly and often.

In every speaking or writing class, the bulk of our time is spent speaking and writing. We cover a little theory, practice, and then analyze what we learned. Finally, I encouraged them outside of class to read and explore their interests. 

We don’t teach kids musical instruments by having them study theory and occasionally experiment with the real instrument.  We do encourage them to practice daily and see incremental improvement over time.  When kids learn to swim, we don’t have them sit poolside to study books or videos; we take them to the shallow end, have them get in the water, and encourage them to discover what it feels like to move in the water.

The same should be true of the written and spoken word.

Learn by Living – 4H Achievement Records

Accountants have tax season. Greeks have hell week. With 4-H, I have Achievement Week, and this is it.

As chair of our county’s awards committee, I work with a committee that reviews 800 achievement records. Area companies have awarded scholarships which we give so our older members can attend state-level workshops in fields from food science to animal science to engineering. They also send 20 middle school students from our county to a 3-day career exploration workshop at Purdue University. Others send teens to leadership training.

Each 4-H member turns in an achievement record which we review to select award and scholarship trip winners.  We look for a lot more than the prize-winning jelly or grand champion dairy cow.  As we read, we look for the learning experiences that went into the project: experiments, failures, research, and more.  But that’s just the beginning of what we evaluate.  Drilling deeper, we review workshops, demonstrations, field trips, and community service projects that involved those project areas.  It’s not about the ribbon at the fair but about what you learn and how you will share it with the world to build a better community. We look for leadership experiences and activity participation.

Sometimes the project that earned a red ribbon and involved lots of struggles teaches more than a champion. 

I love the fact we nurture such a wide range of project categories that there is room for every member to discover an area of talent and be recognized for it.  Each time they try something new, their confidence grows.

4-H is a microcosm of life.  Our self worth is more than a resume. It’s more than a ribbon at the fair.

“Learn by doing” may be the 4-H motto, but when I see those 4-H records, I think of something else:

“Learn by living.”

Teaching Plato Outside the Cave to Teens

How could I get teens excited about ancient Greek literature?  Specifically, how could I help my 14 year old son who loves robots lots more than reading get Plato? As I sat on a back deck today, the sun beamed among the trees. I suddenly saw how to help get Plato’s cave. 

I called the teens outside and told them to pull chairs into a line, facing the house’s outer wall.  Then I told them their legs and necks were bound; the only thing they could see was the blank wall.  Sunshine was behind them, but they could not see it. We could make shadows with the sun, onto the wall of the house, but shadows were different from the real thing. This was our version of Plato’s cave.

One girl was “set free.” She walked behind the row of chairs and could see the sunshine.  I told her to note all the things she never saw because all she had known was a wall. Like the prisoner in a darkened cell, the sunshine would take some adjusting.  After she had explained it, I told her to go back to her chair to sit with the others.

I asked her what it felt like to return to the chair to only see the wall.  Depressing. I challenged her to explain what she had seen to those who had only seen the wall.  She struggled to find words, and the teens played along as good skeptics.   She was now the philosopher who had seen things the others never realized.

As a conclusion to the exercise, I noted Plato’s observation that if those who had always been chained got the chance, they would most likely kill the philosopher.

After the real live exercise of Plato’s allegory of the cave, the kids got it.

We sat in the sunshine after that, and I thought about how this applies to us. We think we know the whole universe, and then we see a light and realize we’ve gone from Kansas to technicolor Oz. If we then return to our old wineskins, we struggle to explain to those who’ve never seen the light what we’ve encountered.

Our challenge is to explain what the light is such that people will listen instead of kill us. Those ancient philosophers are more than just a bunch of dead Greek guys. 

Are you in a cave? Have you turned around to see the light? If so, did you share what you saw with others?

Writing With Passion and Heart

For 10 years, I’ve tutored students in writing.  Using my own methods, I’ve never once met a reluctant writer who could not write.  I have met students so stilted by structured programs they struggle to complete a sentence.  What is the difference between my approach and theirs?

Writing programs that obsess with small building blocks to master focus so much on style that they forget substance.  As they focus so hard on the small parts, students lose their voice.  They may write well academically, but they will struggle a lifetime to write with their own voice.

Social media utterly transforms writing. For students today to succeed on platforms like Twitter in the future, the style-obsessed writing systems will build barriers that will make them less effective writers in new media.

What do I do instead? Go for the passion! What would a student write about for fun? Tap into that interest, and the writing will flow.  Not only will it flow for the writer, but it will be more interesting for the reader. 

Integrate writing into other school subjects so it’s more interesting than just writing for the sake of writing. Literature and history courses offer countless opportunities to practice writing.  You can write summaries, present arguments, develop character sketches, and compare/contrast countless people and topics.  Read good stuff. The better stuff you read, the better your writing will be.

It doesn’t stop with writing from the heart.  Be the editor after you are the writer. Review the writing for mechanics.  After the assignment is written, tweak word choice, sentence beginnings, and good grammar. If students worry too much about the best word choice and sentence beginning in the first draft, they forget the substance of what they are writing. Then their whole writing piece seems disjointed – just like the writing itself.

Don’t expect perfection on each piece.  Daily practice is more important in early years than crafting a perfect essay only once a week. Musicians practice daily, and the process of practice improves them over time.

The more a student writes, with breaks to tweak the grammar and mechanics, the better writer the student will become.

With social media, writing programs need to emphasize keeping a student’s unique voice. They need to learn academic writing which is 3rd person but also be able to write with 2nd and 1st persons.

Be who you are. Write who you are.

I write, therefore I am.

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