How do you educate an educator?

Conference starts in one week – and our primary tasker is to kick off a brand-new schoolhouse to train the instructors at our leadership education schools. Target implemetation of this new program is 2012, and we the “education specialists” get first crack at sketching what it might look like.

The status quo is a currently existing week-long instructor course. It’s not a bad program, at all – it has proven very effective at taking people with no teaching experience at all and molding them into classroom lecturers who can deliver technical content efficiently to adult learners. We send all our instructors to this school, and it gives them the public-speaking confidence to get up in front of 100+ students, introduce a topic, lecture on it, and summarize it. Most of the instructors who go through this course go on to teach at tech schools, usually for specific skill sets. They need to be able to effectively pass on skills like changing brakes on a vehicle, calculating a weapon’s firing pattern, or using an office software application.

The problem – and it’s a big one – is that the school that I manage is not about teaching finite and easily evaluated skills. We are trying to help our students learn things like critical thinking, decision making, people-management and leadership… stuff that you can’t always do in a step-by-step, follow the manual manner. So we task our instructors with leading guided discussions, creating role-playing scenarios, presenting case-studies and ill-structured problems. We task them with giving constructive feedback on student writing and critiquing participation in small-group work.

We task them with this, but we didn’t train them for it. Right now that is my job. I send them to the “how to give a lecture” class, because that is the only game in town – and then I have to make up the difference with monthly staff development training, where I try to break them of the habits of rigid lecture formats and “sage on the stage” domination of the classroom. It’s a little overwhelming. My colleagues from sister schools and I get together twice a year and talk about how it’s going, and we all find that once you have trained an “instructor” to deliver a lecture, it is difficult to break those habits and convince him to be a different kind of  “educator”; to loosen up and let the class run with it’s own ideas from time to time, to guide and facilitate learning instead of spoon-feeding existing knowledge.

So we plan to break the monopoly of the existing instructor school, and build our own. There are six of us, and we have a week (less, really – there are other taskers) to sketch out this rough draft of what that might look like. Six possibly over-educated, definitely opinionated, and occasionally argumentative education professionals from different backgrounds, one member of our parent organization to chair the meetings and try to keep us on task and non-hostile, and a small conference room. This could be a breakthrough – it could also be a bloodbath.

My initial thoughts, in no particular order:

  1. It should be largely experiential – if we decide to do a period of instruction on problem-based learning, we should present it in a PBL format. The unit on Socratic questioning should be taught by <drumroll> …. Socratic questioning.
  2. The basics – adult learning theory, instructor preparation, assessing learning outcomes – should not take up valuable classroom time. They should be delivered as pre-requisites, preferably in a distance-learning format – I’m thinking a combination of CBT modules and MCI (Marine Corps Institute) style books with quizzes that are sent in for grading.
  3. The school itself should be at least two weeks long, three would be better. The current one week school is limited in what it can deliver, and it tends to overwhelm. The whole idea is that there is not one way and one way only to create a learning environment, so we will need time to explore at least a few different ways thoroughly, and at least introduce a few others.

Watch this space for updates – it will be interesting at least to see what comes of this.

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