Teaching and Coaching 101

Coaching 5th-graders on giving presentations got me thinking about the essential practices of a good teacher and coach.

From personal experience as both a student and a teacher in different settings – experiential, traditional school, online, peer group, private coaching  – here is my take on Teaching 101 in 3 minutes.

1. Don’t overload – focus on a single skill or concept at a time (or as few as possible). Trying to cover too much at once may overwhelm students and result in lack of perceived progress, reducing their motivation to continue with the activity or class.

2. Keep it highly interactive. Learning is an active process. We learn by doing. Actively engage students with the material by getting them to answer questions, practice problems, play games, write, present, run experiments, role play, give feedback to each each,  and create – a  design, a tool, a website, an art or multi-media project – as appropriate to your subject.

Focus on learning, not teaching. Avoid long lectures. Have a short lecture, or better yet, have students experience something and then ask them questions about it.
“If you teach a man anything, he will never learn.” – George Bernard Shaw

Some suggestions:

  • variety in activities helps maintain learners’ attention
  •  icebreakers and warm-up at the beginning of the session get students into an active mode -speaking up, participating and getting to know their classmates
  • go for quick wins. Is there a simple project or assignment students can complete early on that will give them a sense of progress and accomplishment?

3. Balance encouragement and support with constructive criticism, based on the needs of the student.
One of my ballroom dancing coaches was a master at this. When I was happy and energetic, he would challenge me and provide a lot of constructive criticism. But on occasions when I showed up for class feeling down or frustrated, he would verbally encourage and physically support me by dancing alongside, until I got immersed in the activity, relaxed and became receptive to feedback. He provided whatever I needed the most to make progress at any point in time – sometimes a challenge, sometimes a confidence boost.

For older learners, it is also important to
4. Demonstrate the gap of knowledge and clearly communicate the goals and benefits of the activity or class.
This could be an interesting question students are not able to answer now, but will by the end of the class. Or it could be a demonstration of their current in/ability to do something versus where they’ll be after completing the course. Understanding what they will learn and how it is relevant is critical for motivating and engaging adults.

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