I have taught classes in all sorts of subjects for more years than I care to say. During that time, I have learned a lot from course participants and other instructors.
Working with another instructor isn’t just fun. It’s also a wonderful way to pick up tips and tricks. Perhaps the best facilitator I have ever met is Peter Frampton. I’m not talking about the rock star, but the ingenious designer of one of our most popular courses: “Accounting Comes Alive.”
Peter takes the principle that you should create a positive learning climate very seriously. He is very careful to avoid telling participants that they’re wrong. (He makes one exception to this rule when he finds that participants confuse income and expenses with cash because that drives him crazy!)
For everything else, he has very clever ways of working with people’s answers even if they’re wrong.
It has become something of a cliché to tell people at work that “our people are our greatest assets.” So many beginners in an accounting class will suggest that people are assets when asked for examples.
Peter will never tell people they are wrong even though it is wrong from an accounting perspective. Rather, he will congratulate participants for looking at the whole business. He then adds the truth, “Although you might think of people as assets because they definitely add value to your business, that’s not the way accountants think of it.” He then goes on to explain the concept of an asset more deeply. To be recognized, as asset has to be controllable, measurable, and it must have been acquired. Without those criteria in place, we cannot think of people as assets.
Without taking any time at all, he shows his appreciation to the participants, expresses admiration for their broad thinking, and explains something more deeply.
There’s an important lesson here. Instructors often feel that they urgently and emphatically need to tell people that they are wrong. It is far more important to correct people gently while continuing to keep them engaged in a conversation — the heart of good instruction.