The Art of Teaching

While we all thrive to provide the highest level of service and attention, learn how developing your leaders into teachers can support achieving this goal.

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Training helps an individual understand how to do something, the method, the order, the how.

Teaching, though, is so much more than just training. For an individual, teaching connects the dots. It zooms out of the task and provides a bigger picture for consideration. Teaching is the “why” in the overall equation. Teaching helps the student see the benefit and how one thing interacts and impacts another.

One very old writing that I connect with was writer by a man named Isaiah, who mused: “I am teaching you to benefit yourself, the one guiding you … if only you would pay attention.” You see, when a skilled teacher teaches, he takes care to explain the benefits.

In late 2017 I noticed I had middle managers who were good trainers, but they were not very good teachers. They were to be commended for their ability to assign tasks and train employees on those various tasks. Their technical skills were and are very good. However, something was missing, and I soon discovered it was their teaching ability.

From a very young age I was trained to be a teacher. And with this as part of my professional genetics, I wondered how I could devise a top-down strategy to pass on my teaching skills to my workforce? I determined the answer was simple – stop, reflect, organize a plan, and act to address the need.

Training Managers To Teach

Training others to be better teachers is not a destination. Instead, this is a journey and really needs to be rooted in an organization’s culture. Every skilled teacher is always learning. So, I began to observe my managers more closely while on the ground at a service center. I would watch how they interacted with their team members.

I had several discussions with those managers, and I shared with them my observations. Early on, I said, “Regrettably, we are not very good teachers … and this needs to change.” While training is a constant feature at my company, East Coast Facilities, as well as at the highest level in the professional snow and ice management industry, our collective abilities as skilled teachers still needed attention. I knew the change would be slow and subtle, but it would also be purposeful and deliberate.

Little by little I began to offer small doses of training focused on teaching ability. For example, at times I would simply point out that maybe an individual spoke a little too fast, or that someone could have done a better job enunciating their words, especially for a person whose second language is English. I began commenting on the importance of advanced preparation when managers planned to train, and the value of not only thoroughly knowing the material, but in skillfully presenting it. I encouraged them to make clear points, and not to speak with long sentences that offered little to no substance.

In recent years, I have worked hard to set an example in teaching. I work very closely, on the ground, via video or teleconference, to constantly reinforce our culture of training and teaching. I began to focus in on this need and I consider it when making hiring decisions and even when developing job assignments. For example, it is no accident that Safety Committee Chair and HR Supervisor Edwin Torres is also one of our most skilled teachers.

When training employees together with our managers, I provide ample feedback, sometimes in the moment and often at the conclusion. I have no doubt my managers can see the benefits of becoming skilled teachers themselves, and it is evident they are working hard to improve.

Take, for example, crew leader training at our HQ in Allentown, Pa. Following this training is a secondary training curriculum for the managers who were present. The outline focuses on the teaching skills observed during the crew leader training and includes many of the principles managers can adopt when training others so they’re doing more than training. They are, in fact, teaching. I have found this double-sided training approach to be very effective.

Another way we have enhanced training to my management team includes the use of written articles, very similar to this one. Many are written as practical, professional development guides geared toward the management team and they become the basis to learn how to become better teachers. Likewise, formal training sessions are recorded and archived so they can be used as tools to help managers develop their own teaching skills and strategies.

The Value In Manager Training

So, why is this type of training so important? How will advocating teaching skills to leaders have a positive impact on an overall organization? The benefits are numerous. Here are some of the top benefits I’ve observed and really like:

  • Employees, especially front-line workers, can reach their maximum potential if we take the time to teach them
  • A highly trained, and knowledgeable workforce is the foundation of a successful business
  • Teaching enhances discipline, order, safety, production, quality, know-how, proper use of the fleet, and overall results
  • Teaching empowers people in their lives and provides them with many principals that help them grow in life
  • Teaching ability transforms a lower level manager into an expert operating at maximum capacity

Now, add up these five benefits and tell me if you will not see happier clients and better overall results?

But this continues to beg the question: Why is teaching ability so hard to find in management teams?

I am not sure if there is a solid response to this question, but I am confident the short game, as I call it, has something to do with the answer. I believe most organizations are so focused and short-game-centric, they lose out on the opportunity to play the long game and build a culture that invests and embraces high-level fundamentals like teaching ability.

For short-game leaders and managers, it simply costs too much and takes too long to develop.

However, I can attest from my personal experience as an industry executive, that these are the very cultural fundamentals that drive year-over-year, multi-million-dollar growth in our company. And teaching directly impacts the bottom line.

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Skills To Focus On

If you want to follow this course, then there are skills you can adopt and work on that will enhance your ability to a team with teaching skills.

You must speak clearly. If you do not speak clearly. If your accent, local dialect, volume, pitch, pace, or enunciation is not understood, then you cannot teach effectively.

Find common ground and think like your students. Come down off your lofty perch and speak like the rest of us simple people. High flying words and phrases are not helpful. Step back and think like your student by considering their background, level of training, formal education, and even culture. You might even begin a discussion speaking with your student about family, or their kids, anything to find some common ground, to put them at ease. When a student sees you as another person with things in common, they will be more receptive to your teaching.

Use illustrations. Illustrations help your student understand the how and the why at the same time. Illustrations are also powerful teaching tools to help your student remember what you taught them. Simply reciting three or four words from a past illustration will help them immediately recall what you taught them.

Use examples. Examples assist by providing a warning of a negative outcome, or a model for a positive outcome.

Explain the benefits. Explaining the benefits is very important. When a team member understands why we do something and what the benefits are, then they are more likely to buy into the standard you are teaching on.

Summarize the takeaway points. If a formal training session or discussion is more than a few minutes, take away points are critical. Think back to any time someone taught you something, I will guarantee you, you cannot remember the entire discussion or seminar. Key points help consolidate the most important pieces.

Ask questions. Asking questions helps to ensure that your student is learning and that they understand. Skillful questions do not elicit a simple yes or no. Skillful questions are probing and help draw out what the student is really grasping when you are teaching them.

Reinforce the training. I am certain you have heard the expression, “The fortune is in the follow-up.” That is so true. Follow-up on the training you provided. This aspect of teaching is so important. We call it, “repetition for emphasis.”

As a leader, it’s important to devote time to consider how enhancing the teaching skills of your trainers and leaders will help your organization thrive. It is so worth the investment to put substantial effort into this business fundamental. Do not be short-sighted. Instead, play the long game and win.

Joshua Gamez is the CEO of East Coast Facilities, a facility maintenance firm that serves Fortune 500 clients in multiple states on the East Coast.

September 2020
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