Tag Archives: Instructor Tips

True Confessions

No one likes to be called out for their mistakes, least of all the teacher or trainer. When I was a newbie instructor teaching undergraduate college students basic German language skills, I lived in fear of not knowing the answer to a potential question. I prepared for class endlessly – or so it seemed – so that I wouldn’t appear to be less than an authority in the subject I was teaching.

Much of this over-preparation was due to my lack of confidence. For reasons I won’t go into here, I felt like I needed to be at the top of my game when I stood in front of a group of students. I had a detailed lesson plan for each class, and I prepared more material than we had hopes of covering in the time allotted.

I still teach from a lesson plan today. Frankly, I don’t know how to do it any differently. I create an outline for the class, then go back and refine it. When I refine the topics, I determine how much time we’ll need to cover each topic. Finally, I make sure I have more material than I need just in case we get through something faster than I anticipated.

This seems logical to me, but I’ve sat in too many seminars and continuing education classes where the instructor ran out of material or didn’t know how to use different techniques to manage the time better. Even more painful were the instances where the instructor didn’t know the material they were covering. I’ve seen this occur when someone is teaching a set curriculum and does not need to devise a lesson plan (or so they think).

Adults have little tolerance for instructors who waste their time or don’t present the material they thought they would get. People will vote with their feet and attend those classes and programs that deliver on their promises with engaging instruction.

Here are my recommendations for teachers and trainers who want to deliver great instruction:

  • Know your material: This might seem evident, but it’s worth keeping in mind. You will lose all credibility, especially with adults, if you appear to not know your subject. If you are teaching from a curriculum you did not prepare, you should study it thoroughly so that you are prepared to present it. Sure, there may be questions that arise that are out of the norm. It’s o.k. to acknowledge such a question and tell the student you’ll find out and get back to them. Do it and add the information to your knowledge base. There’s no excuse for not knowing the material you teach.
  • Prepare well: You may not be as persnickety as I am about lesson planning, but you do need to do something to get ready to teach. Maybe it’s a review of the topics or material you will be presenting. Perhaps you need to find some illustrations or pictures to help get your points across. Whatever you need to do to feel comfortable when you walk into the room, take time to do it. I like to have written notes to remind me of the points I need to cover. With the switch to online instruction, I swapped my full-page notes for small sticky notes around my screen so that I can see my points as I continue to look into the camera.
  • Practice: I never liked it when my mother would tell me repeatedly that “practice makes perfect,” but there is something true about the value of practice. When was the last time you practiced delivering your material for a class? I can hear you tell me that you’ve done it so many times, you don’t need to practice. I understand that. But what about the new material you plan to present? What about that new class you’ve been tapped to teach? You don’t need an audience to practice, just a willingness to feel uncomfortable as you perfect your delivery.
  • Be grateful: I think the ability to stand in front of a group of people willing to learn what I can teach them is special. I am very grateful I have the ability to be the teacher. I remind myself of this often, and especially when I am getting ready for a class. Maybe you want to say a prayer or meditate, or maybe it’s a gratitude list in your journal. It’s up to you how you express your gratitude for the opportunity to teach, but I recommend you do it. Your perspective will shift when you approach teaching with gratitude.

What you do before you step into the classroom defines what happens during instruction. When you know your material, prepare well, practice, and express gratitude, teaching is a transformative experience for your students – and you.

Anybody Up For Some CE?

If you have some kind of state-issued license to practice a profession, you probably need to have continuing education credits to renew or maintain that license. That’s true for me. I am a licensed real estate salesperson in the state of Ohio. I don’t sell much these days (my training position occupies much of my professional life), but I have maintained my license nevertheless. I must submit 30 hours of continuing education credit every three years to renew my license. It doesn’t seem like much (other fields have higher requirements), but many real estate agents have difficulty accumulating the necessary hours in the three year period. There are several reasons why. Here are a few:

  • Long Classes: Real estate licensees must take three “core” classes (core law, ethics, fair housing/civil rights), each for three hours. That leaves 21 hours of electives that fall conveniently into three-hour blocks. The more hours you can get at once, the fewer times you have to go to a class or log in for online education. Continuing education providers generally offer classes in three-hour blocks. This seems like a positive thing, but sitting for three or six hours for continuing education can be daunting for someone who wants or needs to be out working with clients and going on appointments (don’t forget–real estate agents don’t get paid unless they sell a house). Many agents consider it to be a necessary evil instead of an opportunity to learn something to help their business.
  • Boring Presentations: Many CE courses are taught by industry professionals who know a lot but aren’t good instructors or facilitators. In addition to that, many commit “murder by PowerPoint” with wordy and un-engaging slide presentations. The result can be three hours of boredom. I have seen many agents check out of class mentally and do everything from read a newspaper to check e-mail, post on social media, and text. I doubt much learning happens.
  • Seat Time Rules: It’s not whether you learn something that gains you CE credit, but how long you sit in the class. Managing seat time as a CE provider is much easier than administering tests. If the class is boring or uninformative, you still get the credit as long as you are present for the required amount of time.

Teaching continuing education courses is a challenge. I care about how much agents learn in the CE classes I teach. I want them to remember important information. That means I have to be an engaging instructor who employs a variety of methods to hold agents’ attention and make it easy for them to recall the material when the class is over. Here are a few techniques I use to accomplish this:

  • Interesting Slide Presentations: I don’t want to commit the mistake of putting too much information on the screen. Slides should enhance the material presented. I want the focus to be on the information, not on words on the screen. PowerPoint is fine, but there are other presentation software programs you can use to create wonderful presentations.
  • Varied Teaching Techniques: Not all people learn the same way. Lecture is not the only way to teach. I mix things up with group exercises, instructor-lead training, partner work, video, and short quizzes. I make sure people get up and move around at various times. Groups and teams present the results of their work to the entire class.
  • Current Events and Examples: The information presented in a CE class could be the same from class to class, regardless of who teaches. To make things relevant for the learner, I try to bring in examples and case studies to illustrate the points I’m teaching. In a fair housing/civil rights class, I look for current cases to cite as examples for behaviors agents should avoid. In a class of social media for real estate agents, I look for agents across the country who are doing a good job using social media in their businesses and show their pages/sites/profiles online.

Continuing education exists so that practitioners in a profession have the most recent and relevant information in order to work competently in their field. As instructors, we can make the experience of continuing education dull and lifeless or interesting and engaging. It’s up to us. When done well, continuing education can be something licensees look forward to and attend willingly.