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Archive for the ‘Learning and Teaching’ Category

my-funny-valentine

The monkeys learned the song My Funny Valentine at preschool for Valentine’s day. (I love the monkey’s preschool!) They’ve been singing it for a few weeks now, and I’m finally learning the words. But between the three of us, we all mess up the song almost all of the time. Tonight at dinner, the wrong word led to screams and shouts.

I don’t know about you but screams and shouts are two of my least favorite things to have for dinner. So I decided to put a stop to the arguing by listening to the song on You Tube. We listened to this version by Chet Baker, this one by Etta James, and this really great oneby AJ, who I’ve never heard of.

Listening to different variations, we heard different singers use a few different words and treat the vocals very differently. I tried to tell the monkeys that these variations are what makes music interesting. I talked about how different singers interpret the song differently, and that’s what makes it interesting. How you can learn from each version, or listen to them all and decide which one you like best. I promoted this approach to listening to and making music over their current approach, which involves screaming and fighting over whether the words are “is your finger less than Greek” or “is your figure less than Greek.” 

But I have to admit I was  talking for the sake of pleasing myself, instead of actually teaching them anything.

As music novices, they’re still sticklers for rules. They learned the song one way and that’s how it goes. As they get better at singing, and learn more songs, they’ll become more comfortable trying varying approaches. But not until then.

It’s kind of like how it’s often harder to work with a client who is new to an organization than it is to work with someone who has learned the rules and knows which ones can and should be bent. Or like how a seasoned researcher can divert from textbook research methodologies and still get insights that are interesting and valid, because she knows the rules that underlie the methodologies, and therefore can alter the way the research looks without altering how it works. But someone who is new to the field will tell you that things  MUST BE DONE A CERTAIN WAY.

With experience, comes appreciation of variation and diversity. When you’re still learning something, that variation is confusing and consistency reigns. It was fun watching all the videos, and the monkeys did enjoy them. But I’m still going to have to weigh in and resolve the argument: it’s figure, not finger. Go figure.

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After several hours of a rough morning with the monkeys, I found myself threatening thus: “I’m going to call your father.” To which the monkeys literally responded: “Why?”

And really, I’m not sure why I said it. They’re not afraid of him, and really, he was working at a cafe. What was he going to do?

I must have gotten it from my mom, who would routinely make the same threat. While it might have been somewhat more effective, because my dad was much more removed from the day-to-day  parenting than Mr. Daddy is, it couldn’t have really been that effective. After all, in the house where I grew up, my dad was the softie and my mom was the disciplinarian. It’s a good bet that had my mom called my dad, he would have been as likely to brush her off or talk her down from her anger as he would have been to punish me.

I can only guess that my mom was doing the same thing I was, using a threat that her mom used. And from what I know about my grandmother and grandfather, I’m guessing that the ‘I’m going to call your father’ threat was actually effective three generations ago. I think my grandfather could be pretty scary when he wanted to be.

This kind of passing on of tactics from one generation to another doesn’t just happen in households, it happens in offices, too. Just as I learned how to parent – both how to parent well and how to parent less well – from my own parents, I learned how to manage and lead from those people who have managed and led me. And I’ve got to say, I think I’ve had better role models in the house than in the office.

Either way, though, it’s really easy to find yourself parroting a voice that you heard long ago. We think of legacy systems as technology or organizational structure, but there are implicit ‘systems’ of leading and managing that get passed on in organizations, too.

As a parent, I feel like it’s my job to make sure that the monkeys don’t resort to an ‘I’m going to call your mother,’ when they’re trying to wrangle their kids. And I think most parents are already pretty concious about not repeating what we see as our parent’s mistakes. As a leader, I feel like I need make sure that I’m equally concious of not repeating the mistakes of mediocre or bad leaders or managers that I’ve encountered during my career.

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I’m a bit of a sloucher. It’s an ingrained habit which I’m not particularly proud of. In fact, if you forced me to make a list of 10 things I’d like to change about my physical presence, standing up straight would probably make the top 5.

Until recently, I didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. When someone tells me to stand up straight, I would be able to do it for a few minutes, but would always relapse into my slouchy stance.

Over several months of doing yoga, working on building my shoulder strength and opening my chest, I realize why I could never stand up straight – I didn’t know how. When reminded to do it, I’d roll my shoulders back. But it was always a temporary fix.

Really standing up straight, in manner that can be enduring, requires more than just rolling the tops of your shoulders back. First, you need to moving your shoulder blades towards each other, and pull them down your back. This enables you to open your chest without sticking out your boobs, creating breadth across your shoulders and chest and causing you to, yes, stand up straight.

Who knew?

Well, of course, lots of people knew. They just didn’t know that I didn’t know. And they just didn’t think to teach it to me.

One of the biggest challenges of learning new skills is that when you don’t know what you’re doing you don’t know what questions you need to ask in order to learn to do it better. 

This challenge exists when when you’re trying to build technical skills like qualitative research or doing a better asana, but it can be even more difficult if you’re trying to develop fundamental skills like connecting with others or standing up straight. People are used to teaching technical skills, and may even remember learning them, so they have a grasp on what the steps of the process are.

When we’re learning fundamental skills, our teachers may be unconciously compitent, or naturals at something, and therefore unable to effectively teach. Worse, we’re often trying to learn from people who are not actually ‘teachers’. They don’t always teach by breaking down a skill into it’s component pieces and helping you develop them one by one until suddenly, you’re standing up straight more than you’re slouching.

There are a couple of ways that as learners and teachers, we can help make learning fundamentals easiers. First, as a learner, know what you want to learn. But don’t stop there – be on the lookout for when people around you do things well that you struggle with and proactively engage them in a conversation about what they’re doing well, how and why.

As a teacher, take the time to break down the outcome you desire into the multiple elements that can impact success and failure. Then, focus on teaching those elements one at a time. Many basic yoga postures are interim steps that build upon each other and ultimately lead to the ability to do something you never imagined that your body could achieve. If, as teachers, we break down even fundamental skills like listening and leading into their consituent parts, our students can learn one element at a time, slowly making progress until one day, they can stand up straight all day long.

 

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