Take off your training blinders to adjust to students' needs

As a trainer, you must constantly keep your eyes and ears open to the ever-changing needs of your students. Bruce Maples discusses the importance of paying attention to your students.

The nearsighted teacher is almost a cliche. I bet, though, that even if your sight is 20/20, you still have trouble seeing in your classroom.

Most of us wear blinders when we teach. We’re so focused on the lesson that we lose sight of our surroundings. By thinking only of the next point we want to make, we miss the signs telling us what’s going on in our students’ minds and what’s about to happen. We’re then surprised when suddenly everyone is lost or a disruption takes place.

Float like a butterfly
You’ve got to learn to anticipate and adjust. The first step is to anticipate, or “float like a butterfly” as Muhammad Ali so eloquently put it. As I strongly believe, you should constantly analyze what’s going on, think ahead, and look for cues and clues. The act of teaching and learning is a living, dynamic relationship between trainer and students that’s constantly shifting. You’ve got to learn to sense it, know where it is, and try to see where it’s going. If the lesson isn’t going where you want it to, you’ve got to adjust.

You’re the pilot
Imagine being in the pilot’s cabin on a steamboat, churning down the river. You’re constantly looking ahead, watching the water and the shore. Even though you’ve piloted this stretch many times, the river can change overnight. You’ve got a big boat, and it takes time to turn. If you see something you don’t like, you’ve got to change course, even while moving. If you don’t adjust in time, you’ll hit a sandbar. It’s not enough to anticipate; you’ve also got to adjust.

What do you adjust? Anything you have control over. Think about that for a minute, and you’ll begin to get the idea. Change your voice. Ask questions to keep your students on task. Move around the room. Move toward students you sense are beginning to drift.
  • Change the pace.
  • Put a drawing on the whiteboard.
  • Tell a story.
  • Break the tension.
  • Create tension.

But whatever you do, don’t be passive and don’t lose focus. You’re the pilot. Always be on the lookout and turn that wheel when you see something that isn’t right.
We’d like to know your tactics for holding or regaining students’ attention. Please post your suggestions and comments to this article at the bottom of the page.
You should be tired when you finish
People who have never taught just don’t get it. They can’t understand why teaching, which many assume is one of the easiest professions, should leave people so tired. I’ll tell you why: Teaching is about constantly watching and constantly giving. Add to that the emotional drain of managing each student as an individual, trying to both respect and motivate, and you’ve got a real battery-drainer.

On top of that, good teaching is a contact sport. You’ve got to be constantly trying to connect, reach, and then give something of yourself to each student. Teaching is giving. By the end of the day, you might just “give out.”

My motto: Good teaching is hard work; great teaching is very hard work; mediocre teaching is no work at all. Good classroom management is part of that hard work. Fortunately, the best teachers also find great rewards in their work, and they make classroom management look effortless and easy. Let’s all strive to be that kind of teacher.

Bruce Maples is a trainer, writer, and consultant living in Louisville, KY. If you have any suggestions for future articles, please send us a note .

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