Thursday, April 5, 2012

Keys to Studentship

Over the years I've become an excellent student. By excellent, I mean that I've developed the skills required to quickly and thoroughly learn what someone offers to teach me, many times to the point of bypassing the teacher's understanding what she is teaching.

It may seem a bit presumptuous or rain-man like to qualify one's own skills as excellent, but when it comes to learning confidence in one's skill is a critical success factor. If you don't see yourself as an excellent student, then you're likely not. If you see yourself as an excellent student but would never say so, then you're definitely not.

Using my criteria (quickly acquiring and comprehending what someone offers to teach), how would you rate your studentship? Let's do this on a scale of one-to-ten, ten being the most excellent and one being the least. Taking no more than three seconds to consider it, how excellent is your studentship?

Hmmm... Really?

OK, let's try again. This time call to mind the person whom you consider to be the greatest student ever. We'll make her a ten. Now call to mind the person whom you consider to be the worst student ever. We'll make him a one. With these two people anchoring the endpoints, how would you rate your studentship?

Would you like to improve your score? Here's how.

1. Trust the Teacher

The first step in becoming an excellent student is to decide that you know nothing and the teacher knows all. Note that this is a temporary state, not a lifelong commitment. Suspend disbelief and accept everything the teacher says as gospel. If something doesn't make sense or rubs you wrong, decide that it's due to your poor understanding of the topic.

When you fully trust the teacher, you'll gain insights that you would never have acquired otherwise. When you question the usefulness or effectiveness of what a teacher has to teach, you undermine your studentship.

2. Accept the Curriculum

People hire me to teach them to do what I do. Sometimes it's software and technology; sometimes it's marketing; sometimes it's music. The other day I was hired to help a software team that had been struggling to develop an advanced website. What I had anticipated being a ten minute review of my agenda ended up taking the entire morning as several of the software developers questioned the the relevance of various agenda items.

If my only concern had been relaying the material, I might have said something like, "Look guys, you hired me because what you're doing isn't working. I put together this agenda because I know it works. So for the moment, please go with me on this. If at the end of the day you can't do what you hired me to teach you, you don't have to pay me."

However, I decided to teach studentship instead. I entertained their questions. I let them drive the agenda. As the day progressed, the necessity of dropped agenda items became obvious. We ended up trying to pack an entire morning into the last twenty minutes of my visit.

A teacher may ask you practice and learn things that seem completely irrelevant to the task at hand. When this happens, remember Mr Miyagi's instruction to the Karate Kid: wax on, wax off.

3. Be Childishly Curious

The greatest asset of any student is unbridled curiosity. Rather than questioning the teacher or the agenda, rather than asking questions that demonstrate your knowledge, ask questions that improve your understanding. How does that work? Why does it work that way? What does it feel like? Where could I apply that? Can I try?

The questions needn't be voiced, just asked. The teacher needn't answer; just by asking the question you may gain an insight.

Note that the absence of curiosity leads to the I-thought-I-understood-what-he-said phenomenon that many experience the following day.

Take childlike delight in what you're being taught and be endlessly curious.

4. Put It to Work

Never take take a class that has no laboratory component. You can't learn to play piano without playing. You can't learn to swim without swimming. You can't learn to write without writing. You can't learn math without working problems. You can learn about any of these things, but you won't know them.

Excellent studentship requires you to put to practice what you've been taught. Further, you must do so shortly after the teaching. Studies have shown that our ability to comprehend and retain what we've been taught is significantly improved if we put it to work within a few hours of the lesson. If you wait until the next day, you've compromised your capacity by 70-90%.

Whenever possible, try what you've been taught before leaving the class, specially if you can convince your teacher to hang out and answer questions.

5. Decide that You Can

No matter how good the teacher, you won't learn well if you question your capacity. Even the slightest doubt has a disproportionately large impact on your learning capacity. Decide that you are and excellent student and be an excellent student.

It's important to note that you're responsible for studentship, not for learning. Learning is a collaborative effort between you and your teacher. If you deliver on studentship, then you've upheld your part of the bargain.

Go ahead, say it aloud: "I am an awesomely amazing, excellent student."

Hesitation to say so (you don't have to use my words exactly) is a good indicator of doubt. Stating aloud your belief will reinforce your belief; trust me.

Be a Great Student

So, how excellent is your studentship? How well do you suspend disbelief and put your trust in your teachers. How willing are you to abandon your sense of relevance? Do children marvel at your curiosity? Do you immediately put into practice all you've been taught? Are you an excellent student? Will you be?

Happy Thursday,

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