What I've learned about teaching

A while ago, I posted a request on the Kaze Uta Budo Kai / Windsong Dojo forum for any of the dan grades to submit what they've learned about being a teacher. Here's a few ideas that came up:

Less is more. In other words, I try to distill what I'm trying to convey in as few words as possible and avoid the dreaded "verbal diarrhea" that so often accompanies the accumulation of knowledge. What's the old adage about the way humans learn best? Hear it, see it, do it. I would imagine that there ought to be less emphasis on the "hearing" end and more on the "doing" end of that spectrum.

I also try not to overload students (particularly white and green belts) with too much information all at once. One or two things to work on for a class is usually plenty; the rest will come in time, and probably from someone else. Bite size pieces. Kaizen is the Japanese idea of small, continuous improvement.

Build on success, as Nick has often said. Sure, a green belt might not being doing the technique 100% correctly, but remember, they're still relatively new, how could they? If you haven't been lifting weights, it's highly unlikely you're going to walk in to the gym and bench press 200 pounds. If you start slowly, train, and build on success you can do it.

Of course, I don't want to just fall down or jump in the air for them; they have to have some of the pieces in place. But I have to allow them to practice with a "big window" with big movements, where they can find success and the encouragement to go on. I also need to reinforce that success verbally. One thing I learned from writing and design critique groups is to follow the pattern of "praise, critique, praise again."

Know when enough is enough. Sometimes taking kohai through a lot of repetitions can help them get the hang of things; and sometimes, especially when they're frustrated by their own inability, it can just make them even more frustrated. Especially with new students, they don't have to be perfect (they've got years, decades even, ahead of them). Sometimes it's best to move on.

Rephrase it, or visualize it. Occasionally, when I'm trying to get something across, it just doesn't seem to be sinking in. I say the same thing over and over, but get the same (incorrect) result (the definition of insanity, isn't it?). So I've learned to re-phrase things, to put a things in a different way. Sometimes, that means finding a way to put what I'm trying to get them to do in a visual example. For example, when doing a double foot sweep, telling them to "sweep to the baseboards", meaning to keep the sweeping action going until your foot touches the baseboards on the far wall. Which may be physically impossible, but the visual often gets the right action from my partner where words had previously failed.

In the end, it's fun to see my partner's eyes light up: "Ooooooh! I get it now!"

Do it wrong on purpose. Sometimes I will try to replicate an incorrect motion so people can feel it, then perform it correctly. Feeling the difference between the two will sometimes help things click.

If they don't learn it from me, they'll get it from someone else. And that's okay. In fact, that's the beauty of working with different partners every class. So I don't have to worry if I failed to get something across. Maybe they just need more time to let it sink in. Maybe someone else will explain it in a way that clicks. I do the best I can in that moment, then let it go. The truth is out there, and over the course of countless years and countless encounters with countless teachers, they will find their way.

Of course, there's a lot of "right ways" to do it. What are some that have worked for you?