When I was in school I never wanted to be a teacher. I didn’t want to deal with kids like me. So I chose a very different profession as an advertising creative. But along the way I learned that if you are a manager, leader, coach or parent, you are also a teacher. You teach other people new skills. You teach processes and procedures. You teach them how to not freak out when they don’t get their way. Because sometimes dealing with adults is even worse than dealing with kids like me. #AmIRight
Learning to teach
When I realized that I had indeed become a teacher myself I began studying teaching techniques. I reflected on what tricks my teachers had used on me (like standing in the corner, and wearing a tall pointy hat). Today I keep my eyes open for great teachers and teaching techniques in the workplace, in my children’s sports and in academia. As a result, I found a really great teaching technique from my son Johann’s piano teacher.
My son Johann is now on his 4th piano teacher. He started playing in Ohio when he was 5-years old. Then had 2 teachers in Georgia, and now has one in Mequon, Wisconsin. All of them have been interesting characters. But the current teacher, Miss Rita, is my favorite. She is Russian, with enough energy and optimism to light up all of Leningrad. She is a wonderful teacher who all the students love. Maybe it is because she tells all of her students that they are “Za best!’ Or more often, “Za Best of Za Best!’
However, there is one teaching technique that Miss Rita uses that I love so much that I have stolen it from her. When Miss Rita is teaching a new concept, introducing a new technique, explaining a mistake, or reiterating a point she punctuates the lesson with a short and simple question:
Do you understand, or kind of?’ -Miss Rita Shur
There is real magic in that little phrase. First, it is great to check to see if the lesson sunk in. But I really love the ‘or kind of’ section of the question. It is so much easier to say that you ‘kind of’ get something than to admit to not understanding a lesson at all.
The question covers a wide swath of comprehension that ranges from, ‘Whaaa whaaa whaaa, whaa, whaaa whaaa,’ to ‘I heard what you said but I have no idea what you mean,’ to ‘I think I know but we should clarify that I am right.’
Make it easy to learn more
Most people are not comfortable saying I don’t understand. Especially in front of others who do. Using ‘Do you understand, or kind of?’ provides a beautiful detour around a No answer. It also offers everyone partial credit for at least kind of learning the lesson. The question also acknowledges that learning is not always binary. There is often a lot of gray area. And a teacher’s job is to help add color to the gray areas. Like a house that falls out of a tornado onto a witch.
Whether you are a professor at Dartmouth, or training a newbie how to make fries at McDonald’s, you have to know how to teach. To be effective you should make sure your lessons land. Following up your teachings with ‘Do you understand, or kind of?’ let’s you know if there is more teaching to do. It tells the student that you know they are smart, and must have picked up at least part of the lesson. It makes it easier for others to express that they could use more explanation. So try this follow-up question the next time you teach something new. I think you’ll find it is za best. If not za best of za best.
*If you know someone who teaches, coaches, manages, leads or parents, and could benefit from this technique, please share it vis zem.