Catherine Okafor: Holding Up a Mirror to Our Training-Teaching-Learning

Barton College mass communications major Catherine Okafor, writing for The Huffington Post today, provides a wonderful opportunity for all trainer-teacher-learners to hold a mirror up to themselves/ourselves—and not shy away from what we see.

In “The Unfortunate Truth in Education,” Okafor uses her position as a learner and an observer to comment on her perception that “some teachers simply don’t care about their students.” And she’s not referring solely to the obvious fact that some instructors are more engaged than others; she is leading us toward a larger issue: “not caring to get to know their students on a personal level.”

Successful trainer-teacher-learners know exactly where Okafor is headed with her article, for a commitment to becoming acquainted with learners at even a superficial level doesn’t require tremendous amounts of time, as Sharon Morris and I demonstrated during our recent “Ignite, Interact, and Engage: Maximizing the Leaning Outcome” workshop. It begins—even in those settings where we may only have a total of 90 minutes of formal instruction-learning time with a particular group of learners—with a from-the-heart display that we genuinely do care about those who are choosing time with us over time they could be spending elsewhere in numerous other ways.

Sharon and I, using patterns followed by many of the colleagues we admire, arrived early enough to make adjustments to how the room was set up, be sure all the equipment and the various materials we planned to use were in place before the first learners arrived, and be relaxed when we began greeting the first arrivals. We had nearly a quarter of an hour to chat with people individually and informally as they entered the room (thereby demonstrating one of the lessons we were hoping to convey); sit with them to make sure that what they were expecting from the session was what we intended to deliver; and do everything we could to facilitate a bit of conversation among those participants since most of them were seeing each other for the first time.

By the time the session formally began, the learners appeared to be comfortable enough to engage with each other and, with varying levels of willingness, participate in the various activities we had prepared in an effort to help them learn how to ignite, interact with, and engage learners by actually being ignited and engaged themselves in their own learning process.

Okafor, in her article, talks about teachers “who didn’t take into consideration the opinions and suggestions that their students were voicing.” The predictable result was that “the majority of the students stopped voicing their opinions in class due to fear of the teacher not caring.” Many of us, on the other hand, realize that at the heart of the learning process is the level of engagement where instructor-facilitators are learning as much from the learners as they are acquiring from us. If we don’t listen, they don’t learn.

“I know it’s not an easy task” to reach out, learn about students, and listen to their opinions, Okafor writes.

And yet I would suggest that it’s ultimately far more difficult to be involved in successful training-teaching-learning if we aren’t doing exactly that, for the frustrations and poor results that come from not engaging and being engaged with our learners is more taxing for all involved than simply holding up that mirror Okafor has offered us and reacting positively and productively to what that mirror shows from the point of view of a learner as well as an observer.

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