Becoming An Intentional Teacher

Small group training workshop

Mindfulness in teaching?  Yes, by all means.  Every act we do as a teacher should be intentional.  Here are four things we especially want to be intentional about:  

  • How do we relate to our learners?
  • Which skills will the learner need to know and apply?
  • What stories do we choose to make a point?
  • How do we build relationships among learners?


Be intentional about how we relate to the learners

When you are preparing for a day of teaching, do you consider what to wear or not wear?  What impression do you want to make?  Relaxed, professional, in charge, a class act?  Then welcoming people as they arrive is courteous and an opportunity to relate to them as individuals and help them feel comfortable.  Learning people’s names quickly personalizes the classroom.   Think about how available you are during breaks or after the session. The bottom line is that we are creating a temporary community for learning and a sense of belonging for the learner.  Everything we do enhances that community as a rich source of learning. 


Be intentional about which skills the learners need to know and apply

Good teaching always requires good curriculum. The challenge, however, is what to include because trying to cover everything can frustrate you and participants alike.  What concepts are key to the topic and what skills will learners need to use to explore those concepts?  Knowing the concepts that anchor a session and the skills they will be using decreases some of the anxiety participants have as they begin. For example, when teaching interpersonal conflict management, we might tell people:  You will learn what a conflict is, and what it isn’t; you will learn and practice a variety of ways to manage conflict; and you will experience listening for understanding. These three points become a roadmap for what will happen.  Skills?


Be intentional about the stories we use to make a point 

Stories can be excellent ways to illustrate an important point, but not just any story will do.  Stories put flesh and blood on ideas and concepts, so we want to use them with careful forethought. Author Lee Colan suggests a way to decide what story to use based on the word T.H.I.N.K. 

  • First, is it True? Story details can be embellished, but is the central point true? 
  • Second, is it Helpful?  Will the story help the learner make a connection with what they are learning?
  • Third, is it Inspiring?  Does it show the impact of people’s better natures at work? 
  • Fourth, is it Necessary?  While a story might be clever or entertaining, does it really make our point.
  • Finally, is it Kind?  Never use a story that ends up diminishing anyone, including yourself. 

Even if carefully chosen, stories evoke different responses in different groups and cultures.  Pay attention to people’s reactions and be ready to address those reactions especially if the story falls flat.


Be intentional about how we build relationships among and between our learners

The path to powerful training opens when we are intentional about creating a sense of common purpose in the group.  We like thinking of this as a “community of learners.” Why is it important to build relationships among participants?  We learn better when we feel safe, and we feel safe when we are reasonably comfortable with who is in the room with us and what is going to happen. There are several ways to accomplish this .

  • Be a good host, finding ways to relate to learners as individuals and connecting them to the session. 
  • Use warm-up activities suited for the group that thaw the stiffness of first meetings. 
  • Create an environment of openness and inclusion by how you model those values and in the group norms you establish with the group.
  • Build in small group activities for people to learn from each other.  Small group activities do not exist just to break up a lecture. They help participants recognize in themselves and others the knowledge and experience everyone is bringing to the session.

These four strategies for becoming an intentional teacher do not distract from the importance of the content of a session.  Rather, they significantly increase the chance of people getting far more from a session than they had imagined.

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