10 Principles for Teachers Ready to Receive
Undergirding all communication is attitude to learners
Most of my teachng was in yoga, but much of it took place in three college settings with diverse subjects: speech, writing, employment skills, English, film study, best sellers, sociology, philosophy, and theology. In my career, I had students from pre-school age up into their 7th and 8th decade. Outside the classroom, I taught motorcycle rider certification for the State in Hawaii as a Motorcycle Safety Foundation rider/coach, and I’ve taught yoga, coached youth soccer, and taught guitar to several people, but my listing of this experience is only a way to say that it’s unimportant compared to the experience of the learner no matter the setting.
The key to being an effective teacher
I’ve been called both a good and bad teacher, but no matter what the review was, one fundamental concept carried me through all my years teaching, presenting, giving instructions, listening to speeches, teaching in classrooms or meetings, and leading my faculty union. It is the core from which I operated. It’s very simple: it was not about me . . . ever. I’d like to unpack what this means and why it’s important for teachers.
Teachers are usually responsible adults, and they often take upon themselves more responsibility than required. Yes, teachers are responsible for presenting content, for managing the classroom, and having a well-defined curriculum and effective pedagogy, but they are not responsible for learning, and neither are they central to student learning.
This is hard for teachers to hear because it requires putting ego aside. Teachers, it’s not about you, ever. Internalize this, and use this as your mantra for your preparation and for your peace of mind: It’s Not About You.
I think it is the main key to public speaking, teaching, or coaching, and it is the great secret that many public speakers and teachers miss. Advice on technique will not help one bit if the speaker doesn’t focus on the most important aspect of speaking, and that is their attitude toward the listener. And the truth is that it’s always about the listener or the learner.
Your teaching is about the people in front of you and your attitude toward them. It’s about the student and if they are getting what they need to get. When you understand how to operate from this center, your teaching can flow because the pressure will be turned away from you.
That’s where your focus belongs, and when it is, the foundation will be laid for your success. Your students will pick up on your attitude toward them before the class even begins. So forget about techniques or curriculum when you start. Get your attitude right: it’s not about you.
Most books or presentations on speech or teaching do not say this. They talk about the techniques you can adopt to become an effective speaker. But . . . by now you know what’s coming; it’s not about you.
Shifting Your Focus
When teachers keep their focus on the people in front of them, they are relieved of worry about how they’re doing. Freed from self-critique, our attention will then be turned to answer two questions — the only two that really matter in any teaching event:
⦁ Do you know what your students want?
⦁ Can you help them get it?
If you can answer yes to both of these questions, you will be ready to teach and ready to speak. Turning your focus — from you to them — is what helps you connect.
Realize the Commonalities
Think about how you can speak to your audience convincingly. If you first put yourself in their shoes, chances are you will realize many of your audience members are not just a little bit like you, they are a lot like you.
⦁ Just like you, they have concerns for their well-being and for their family and friends.
⦁ Just like you, they may have family members who are ill or struggling. They could be feeling stressed out by their commitments, their jobs and roles, or they may be working hard just to cope with life.
⦁ Just like you, they may be happy one day and sad the next.
Your students will have many of the same concerns you do, and since you know these crunch points, you can speak to them once you realize the commonality. With empathy guiding your attitude to listeners, you will reach your audience with clarity, confidence, conversational tone, and relaxed posture. Your teaching will be a dialogue; an occasion where you work to listen and respond. Yes, your audience is listening to you, but they are also talking to you. Talking and listening is how you communicate with friends, why would you change that core attitude when you get up to teach or speak?
A Real World Example
A friend of mine in Wisconsin taught energy efficient building for thirty years both internationally and nationally. His specialty was solar power and straw-bale construction, an for many years he was one of only five people in the US certified for a particular kind of straw bale home building with solar energy. Refining his craft, he received excellent reviews from a broad audience demographic in his workshop teaching events. I asked him why he received such glowing reviews and I realized his secret was preparation, which he described.
“I go to the room beforehand and imagine the people sitting there. I smudge the room with smoke from sage and sweetgrass (an indigenous American practice) and offer prayers for everyone coming to class. I make sure that in my mind I am respecting the knowledge of everyone that will be there and I let go of my expectations.”
His curriculum is open-ended. His pedagogy is to ask questions and let others answer from their experience while maintaining a relaxed and conversational style. This approach is not in any teaching manual I’ve read. And whether or not his prayers and preparation change the classroom or the audience, it is entirely true that they make him ready for that point when teacher and student engage. His preparation brings him to a place of readiness. Readiness applies whether we’re prepping for a duel or a classroom, “The readiness is all.” ~ Hamlet
He respects his audience and their knowledge and wants them to contribute. They will if they are comfortable.
After his sessions end, people line up to ask questions and meet him. And so if teaching is not about the teacher but the learner what does this mean?
10 principles for your teaching
⦁ Place your focus where it belongs — on what your students want and helping them to get it.
⦁ Prepare the space and visualize the best for them (readiness).
⦁ Check your ego so you can encounter others where they are with respect and positive projection.
⦁ Concern yourself with attitude rather than strategy or performance.
⦁ Make the students your allies by aligning your interests.
⦁ View your teaching as a laboratory, where trial and error are expected, not punished.
⦁ Teach less and give your students space to do more.
⦁ Put yourself in your students’ shoes and realize the commonalities.
⦁ Remember, it’s not about you.
⦁ Do the best you can then let it go. If a student will not commit to their work, it’s on them.
By following these principles as you teach, you can be flexible, conversational, relaxed and connected.
Teaching in this way empowers you to bring absolute sincerity, absolute honesty, and absolute integrity into your classes. It opens a variety of delivery options for you because you will do whatever works best for your listeners. And why would you do that? Because you know that it’s not about you.