Teach from the Front!

How not to give a class

The first time I videotaped myself as an instructor was at the Jungle Warfare Training Center on Okinawa. Watching the recording later I cringed. A lot. Among the many embarrassing things I was doing that morning was walking around the classroom. Instead of delivering instruction from the platform where the students could focus on me and what I was saying, I was in almost constant motion. Wandering up and down the center aisle of the room was something I was trying for the first time. I realized that this was not working for me-or the students!

  • It wasn’t an easy, natural behavior; it felt (and looked) forced
  • It was a distraction for the students
  • It was one more thing I had to think about as I was teaching
  • It was physically awkward for the audience to keep shifting in their seats to follow my movement

Hmm. I do like bulletized lists. Very organized… But I don’t need that list to sum up what I learned about this ‘technique’ in one short sentence: I never did it again.

There is a much better way…

 

“Anyway, it’s tradition.” (Disney, W. and Walsh, B., 1964)

When you’re an instructor, stand in the front of the room. that sounds rather boring and even cliché, right? Typically, I am a fan of change-when there is a reason behind it. There is no good reason to steer away from this old standard, and there are two great reasons not to:

  1. because it works and,
  2. the audience deserves it

Whether you are a professor, a lecturer or a trainer, the people in the audience are the most important ones in that room. Establishing yourself as someone who is there to help them is critical in creating ‘buy-in’ to what you have to say to them. Standing in the front of the room is how you make a connection with your audience so they will watch you, listen to you and trust you. It sends a message: I’m here to help you.

The people in the seats have some need to know what you are going to share with them. The more helpful you are, the better they will absorb the material. Making them work to ‘find’ you is frustrating for them; and that is the opposite of helpful. When the podium, chairs and media are all oriented toward the front of the room and the speaker stands (or sits) somewhere else it sends a different message to the audience: I’m more important than you. Don’t send that message.

Stand in the front so they know you’re in this together.

 

Some particulars…
  • Be visible

People learn through non-verbal cues. Want them to know that you are confident, enthusiastic and knowledgeable? They have to see you.

  • Project confidence

You don’t have to be the expert every time you speak, but you can earn a lot of confidence points by standing in front of the class. Standing up front tells them, “I know enough to help you with this subject and I’m not afraid to take the hard questions.”

  • Make eye contact

Gower and Walters noted that “a teacher who never looks students in the eye seems to lack confidence and gives the students a sense of insecurity” (as cited in Zeki, 2009, p. 1444). In non-verbal communication world, eye contact rules. Combine it with a smile and you win the day.

  • Connect with the audience

Know your audience. Use language and illustrations that are relevant to them. Find out what they want to get out of your class, then give it to them. They don’t have to like you, but they need to be able to relate to you.

 

Finally

But Vance, you protest, I’m just not comfortable front and center on the audience! You may be more comfortable near the projector. Or in the back of the room. (Or perhaps in your car!) I get it. you’re nervous. Do it anyway. Especially if you’re nervous, stand in front. Your audience will profit because you are improving yourself. According to Maxwell (2012), “You will only reach your potential if you have the courage to push yourself outside your comfort zone” (p. 163). Well, start pushing.

So, is this some kind of rule? Of course not. (I don’t make “the” rules, anyway). But it is “my” rule…and it works.

Almost there.

In 1991, Right Said Fred did a tongue in cheek send-up of fashion models doing their “little turn on the catwalk”. Funny stuff, and the little turn is appropriate for runway models. Leave the catwalk acrobatics to runway models.

Stand in the front of the room, make a connection and teach with a purpose so your audience wins.

 

 

Disney, W., and Walsh, B. (Producer), & Stevenson, R. (Director). (1964). Mary Poppins. United States. Buena Vista Distribution.

Maxwell, J. (2012). The 15 invaluable laws of growth. New York, NY: Center Street

Zeki, C.P. (2009). he Importance of non-verbal communication in classroom management. Procedia –          Social and Behavioral Sciences, volume 1, issue 1. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042809002572

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