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TEACH SOMEONE AND LEARN BETTER

TEACH SOMEONE AND LEARN BETTER

Every time I open a book I smile.

I remember.  As a child who was just beginning to learn to read, my favorite time was spent sitting on my grandpa’s lap and “teaching” him how to sound out the squiggly lines on the pages.

He would laugh and hug me as I sternly scolded him and got him to sound out the words as I was learning to do in school.  Together we made it through several adventures of Dick and Jane and Spot.

Papa, I suspect, was severely dyslexic.  He could sign his name, but he never learned to read – in English, anyway.

I think those times when he would sit still and let his baby girl “teach” him from her primer books probably set the foundation for my love of books and word-play.

SEE ONE.  DO ONE. TEACH ONE.

In his book, SMART THINKING: Three Essential Keys to Solve Problems, Innovate and Get Things Done, author Art Markman says that the cornerstone of medical education is, “See one.  Do one.  Teach one.”

When medical students are learning a new procedure, the first thing they do is watch someone who knows how to do it carry out the procedure.  This gives them a general idea of how the thing is done.

The student will then practice the new procedure until he or she can carry it out.  Doing it helps the student understand the various elements and techniques involved that aren’t apparent from just watching someone else do the procedure.

After that, the student is encouraged to teach this procedure to someone else.  This helps the student see whether he or she has enough knowledge of the procedure to show someone else how it is done as well as explain, in a simple, understandable way, why the procedure is useful.

As Albert Einstein famously pointed out, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

I found it interesting that these same principles are also used by tradespeople, craftsmen, artists, performers and cooks to pass along their specialized knowledge as well.

discover-the-possibilities
“Discover the Possibilities” by Georgie Pauwels via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

TEACHING HELPS YOU TEST YOUR OWN KNOWLEDGE

Markman points out that in order to teach somebody else you do need to form a complete and organized, easily-understood explanation of what you’re trying to teach.

It’s like writing down a recipe for making muffins.  Stirring the liquid ingredients into a mound of dry ingredients works a heck of a lot better than vice-versa. It’s a good and helpful thing to mention that to someone making muffins for the first time.

If your attempted explanations confuse your student, it’s probable that you need to work on filling in the gaps in your own knowledge.

  • Perhaps the student doesn’t understand the words you are using. Do you?  Are there other more common words or alternative ways of explaining that you can use instead?
  • Perhaps the student needs more information than you are giving them. Take it back down to a more basic level.  Find out what the student knows and does not know and start from there.
  • Maybe the way you’ve organized and presented the information confuses the student. How can you make the steps easier to follow?  Are some of the important steps in a procedure missing in your attempted explanation?  Are they in the right order?

In 2009, Columbia University professor Simon Sinek was interviewed by Erik Michielsen, founder of Capture Your Flag, a virtual mentoring platform.  The following YouTube Video, “How Teaching Others Build Your Knowledge” is a snippet published around that time.

In it, Sinek says, “Teaching forces you…to break down your knowledge into components that give you a deeper understanding of your own knowledge.”

JUST PLANNING TO TEACH SOMEBODY ELSE HELPS YOU LEARN BETTER

Interestingly, researchers have found that students who thought they were going to be tutoring or teaching others worked harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately, and apply it more effectively.

The guys in the lab coats dubbed this “the protégé effect.”  If we are going to teach somebody else, then we know we need to pay attention to the most important, relevant points and organize them in our minds so that we can present them in a coherent, understandable way.

This way of “relational learning” happened even if, ultimately, the students were not actually required to teach someone else.

This YouTube video, “Why Teaching Others Is the Best Way to Learn” published in 2013 by Art of Smart TV features resident nerd Rowan Kunz explaining the value of teaching others in order to get feedback about your own level of knowledge.

Art of Smart describes itself as a “movement that is changing the world through a new kind of holistic tutoring and mentoring for young people.”

An important point Kunz makes is the one about repetition.  Every time you go back over the material you are teaching someone else, trying to help the other person make sense of it, the knowledge gets embedded more clearly and more deeply into your own mind.

It all helps your brain build neurotransmitter pathways that help you access the information in your head.  Cool stuff!  Perhaps, by teaching (or planning to teach someone else) you’ll find other ways to widen and deepen the knowledge you hold.

ANOTHER TAKE ON TEACHING

There are more than one way to teach.  Some of them don’t use words.

The following YouTube video published by Fred Then in 2014, “Learning By Doing and Not Teaching” dramatizes one little Thai girl’s lessons from her mother, a vendor selling fresh fruits from a trolley at a market in Petchburi province.

The girl, Achara Poonsawat (also known as “Nin”), won a scholarship from the Sarnrak Project that allowed her to complete a Bachelor’s Degree program and become an elementary school teacher.

Nin’s mother’s methods of teaching were not academic since she was herself unschooled.  However, they were based on real-life fact-finding.  Nin’s mother encouraged the girl to observe what others did, analyze why their methods worked and try the methods for herself.

Sarnrak Konkeng Huajai Krang (Good Kids, Good Hearts) is an initiative operated since 2000 by AIS, the largest mobile phone operator in Thailand.  The children targeted by the initiative are “underprivileged children who demonstrate love and close tie to their families.”

While the scholarship recipients go to school, their families receive financial aid from Sarnrak as well since that allows the youngsters to attend school without worrying about having to help support their family.

Here’s a poem….


PAPA AND HIS NET

Papa sits on the gray-green sand.

His skin is leathered by the sun.

Jewel drops of water sparkle in the darkness of his hair.

White salt traces down his arms, his back, his chest.

His rough, brown hands weave the shuttle delicately.

Like a bird, it flies intricate patterns over and through,

As the net grows whole.

 

Papa talks about the fish the net and he have captured.

It is a strong net, his best net.

Not even a big uhu could escape it.

Manini and weke they have caught by the score.

He snagged it on some rocks and it was wounded,

Torn upon the cruel, black pōhaku.

He mourns the jagged tears as his hands deftly flutter,

As the net grows whole.

 

Papa argues with a friend, things fishermen argue.

He swaps lies about the ones he and his net “almost,

And he brags about the ones that didn’t get away.

His eyes twinkle when he shows his teeth in laughter.

They shine in amusement at the whoppers and the toppers

And the ones that flop,

And his hands – his rough, brown hands – keep on flying,

As the net grows whole.

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Teach Me” by Giovanna Matarazzo via Flickr [CC BY-NC]

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WORK AND MEANING

WORK AND MEANING

“Meaningful Work” is the new Grail, it seems.  Every time you turn around there’s somebody or other admonishing and exhorting you to get out there and “find” the work that gives meaning to your life.  It’s the key to happiness, joy and self-fulfillment, they say.

WHAT MAKES WORK MEANINGFUL?

Adam “Smiley” Poswolsky, in his book THE QUARTER-LIFE BREAKTHROUGH, has a clear and succinct description of the shape this “work with meaning” is supposed to take.  He says this sort of work has these four qualities:

  • It reflects who you are and what your interests are.
  • It allows you to show your gifts to help others.
  • It provides a community of believers that will support your dream.
  • It is financially viable, given your desired lifestyle.

This is the kind of work that has all the bennies and the good stuff that you like, so I suppose it does makes sense that if you actually had a job like that it’s likely you would be blissed.

Lifestyle and career coaches and fire-starters all seem to agree:  If nobody will hand over that Meaningful Work treasure to you, then, by golly, you can just get out there and make your own bread for your own self!  (Go, you!)

daily-bread
Daily Bread by M. Dreibelbis via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

“MEANINGFUL” CAN BE HARD TO FIND…OR IS IT?

In the real world, it seems to me, a majority of the people who must work for a living often have a limited number of options.  For one thing, they do have to accept whatever available jobs there are that they are qualified to get.  (They hope these jobs will pay enough to support them and their families.)

servant-girl
Servant Girl by University of Hawaii at Manoa (Hawaii Digital Newspaper Project) via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
If not, they may choose to take on a couple more similar gigs or invent side-gigs that take up the slack.  Often they may work really hard on acquiring or expanding skill-sets that will make them more attractive to assorted employers.

Some of them may even make the effort to develop skills that will allow them to build a framework for work that is uniquely their own.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in a press release issued in March, 2015, tells us that the four most common occupations in America at the time were retail salesperson, cashier, food preparer and server, and office clerk.

All of these jobs are basically low-paying positions that are mostly done by rote.  If you tried to fit them into the “meaningful-work” template the life-coaches tout, these jobs probably would flunk a bunch of “meaningful-work” tests.

The thing is, these jobs are still a necessary part of keeping the world around us functioning smoothly and well.  If you take away all the salespeople and cashiers, all the food service people and all of the assorted office minions and functionaries, would we be able to live life as we know it?

Probably not.

WHERE DID ALL THE MEANING GO?

In this YouTube video featuring a TEDx talk given at Azusa Pacific University, Ryan T. Hartwig explores how Meaning went Missing-In-Action from the still-useful post-modern jobs we do.

Hartwig’s point in the video is this:  “There is no meaningful job unless someone brings meaning to it.

It’s not a new idea.  For what was perhaps his best-known book, WORKING, which was published in 1997, American journalist and radio broadcaster Louis “Studs” Terkel talked to over 100 people – from gravediggers to movie studio heads — about their jobs and how they felt about them.

He came away with the thought that “Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread.”

A couple of stories from the book THE POWER OF MEANING:  Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith, illustrate this point quite handily.

In the first story, John F. Kennedy ran into a janitor at NASA in 1962.  When the president asked the cleaner what he was doing, the janitor said he was “helping put a man on the moon.”

first-man-on-the-moon
First Man on the Moon by John Flannery via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
The second story is about a road-worker directing the flow of traffic near a repair site on a stretch of Colorado highway.  The guy stood in the hot sun and periodically he would turn  a sign that read “Stop” on one side and “Slow” on the other.  He kept doing that diligently, over and over again.

A driver in the line of cars waiting for their turn to get past the repair site asked the road-worker how he could stand such boring work.  The road-worker replied, “I keep people safe.  I care about these guys behind me and I keep them safe.  I also keep you safe, and everyone else in all those cars behind you.”

As Smith points out, “The ability to find purpose in the day-to-day tasks of living and working goes a long way to building meaning.”

 THE SERVICE AGE

Wharton School of Business professor Adam Grant did a survey of two million individuals across over 50 jobs.  Those who reported finding the most meaning in their careers included clergy, English teachers, surgeons, directors of activities at religious organizations, elementary and secondary school administrators, radiation therapists, chiropractors and psychologists.

These people all felt that the world was a better place and other people were better off because they were there doing their work.  Grant found it telling that every one of these satisfied workers provided needed services to other people.

We’ve been told that we have moved out of a “manufacturing economy” into a “knowledge economy.”  However, as Grant points out in a 2015 Huffington Post article, “Three Lies about Meaningful Work,” we are actually living in a “service economy.”

In the United States, nearly three out of every ten employees are knowledge workers, Grant says in the article.  They are outnumbered by the service workers who represent eight out of every ten American employees.

Not only that, but it was estimated that in 2016 almost two-thirds of the world’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was produced in the service industries.

ANOTHER ANSWER

In this YouTube video of a 2012 “Capture Your Flag” interview, author and public speaker Simon Sinek answers the question, “What makes your work meaningful?”

Capture Your Flag” is executive producer Erik Michielsen’s educational media company which has been creating online video content and helping to develop material for online and educational publishers since 2009.

In the series of videos Michielsen continues to produce, he interviews what he calls “rising leaders” and “near peers” (people a step or two ahead of the viewers of the video) who have faced and resolved familiar business and career situations and problems.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND A TAKE-AWAY

If the only meaning in work is what you, the worker, brings to it, then it seems to me that it would be a good thing to think on the counterintuitive advice Professor Hartwig gives at the end of his TEDx talk:

  • Focus on the good you do in your work. How you help others and the value of the work you do are important building blocks for finding meaning in your work.
  • See and act beyond the bottom line. Profit is an important thing, but it is not the only thing of value for your bottom line.  Building relationships, connections and community transcends and adds to your bottom   line.
  • Never say, “I’m just a ________” (Fill in the blank) You are more than just a job title.  Remember that.

Hartwig also encourages managers and administrators to develop a work environment that will help to foster this way of thinking by allowing and encouraging workers to make their work more meaningful and allowing them to use all of their human qualities to do it.

Here is a poem I wrote about what being a property manager means to me and the lessons it has taught me.  [Kuleana is Hawaiian for “responsibility.”]


THE GATEKEEPER SPEAKS

 

Ya know, I’ve been thinkin’,

I get to walk through Other People’s worlds –

All of them valid, all of them real.

The people living in these worlds

Are who they are,

Are what they are,

And they have to be Real with me.

 

Because I am the gatekeeper –

The foo-dog holding the key that

Unlocks the theater back door.

In order to use that stage that is my kuleana,

These people must get by me,

So I become a tourist in their lives.

 

They show me its shape –

All the good parts, polished up and spiffy-nice.

(It’s only later that I get to see

The darknesses and broken crockery.)

 

This all helps me understand a fundamental thing:

These others walk wrapped in a bubble-world

Of particular hopes and dreams.

They come to me lugging a load

Of issues, the consequences of past mistakes.

 

It has nothing to do with me

When some dream blows up in their faces,

Or some hope dies a lingering, agonizing death.

It has nothing to do with me.

Their moves then are predicated on

The prevailing climate in their own world-bubbles.

 

Sometimes I get caught in the crossfire of conflicting other-people needs.

Sometimes I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time –

The quintessential bystander

(Not always innocent)

Who gets the random fist in the nose.

 

It has nothing to do with me.

But, DANG!  It hurts!

Since I don’t see it coming,

A face-block’s the only move left to me.  Ouch!

The blows a reminder-tap.

It says, “Pay attention!”

 

It surely is a liberating thing to know:

People are doing what they do,

And very often,

It has nothing to do with me.

I do not have to take what they do personally.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  The Grail by Carlos Garcia via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below and tell me your thoughts.

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