How to get better at almost anything – Requires trying

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I just read Ross Laird’s latest post Teaching for Change He brings up several good points and has more than a few great ideas about how to  stay current in today’s shifting teaching/learning environment. I’d like to pick up on a thread he began. He says,

“Teaching (in its various forms) is one of the most influential roles in society. After parenting, it is perhaps the most crucial, for all ages. And yet, teaching — whether to children or adults — is a profession in which few practitioners have any substantial training. Many instructors have certificates or degrees in teaching, but there’s so much to know about the subject that most good instructors pick up their best skills after training, in the field, thinking on their feet and trying to keep students awake”.

I agree, most good instructors do pick up skills after training, many however do not. Those that do, I suspect, either purposefully or through some kind of inherent mental model do indeed learn to think on their feet. The act and process of thinking on your feet has been referred to as reflection-in-action and Donald Schön literally wrote the book The Reflective Practitioner (1983) where he introduced the phases reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action.  Research for Teachers reviews the work of  Donald Schön, and his mentor John Dewey, and is an excellent resource to get you feet wet with.

The idea that dedicated and reflective practice is essential to improving any behaviour or craft is not limited to the field of education. Scott Miller and Barry Duncan have made careers out of MyOutcomes used extensively in behavioural health. (I blogged about this at length here and here ) Athletes, actors, and to an extent used car salespeople the world over know that to become better at any craft entails a certain kind of reflection that includes feedback from self and others and then a certain kind of practice.

The advantage that athletes, actors and salespeople have over those in the human service fields is that they usually receive immediate feedback that leads to self reflection and a change in behaviour that can include periods of dedicated practice to improve on the new behaviour.

Ok, the odd part about this is that those who teach or counsel also receive immediate feedback. Their feedback however comes from the learner or the client.  For some reason, for some people, this kind of feedback doesn’t have the same impact that say getting booed off a stage does, or losing a sale (and real dollars) or losing a race and your scholarship along with it. What does this say or suggest about; 1) What is truly believed about clients/learners, 2) The current models used to assess/reward those who teach or are in helping professions.

I think it says a lot.

More Reflective Practice links:

Transcript of Presentation “Educating the Reflective Practitioner” to the 1987 meeting of the American Educational Research Association Washington, DC.

Key Concepts of Reflective Practice

chris argyris: theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning

donald schon (schön): learning, reflection and change

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