Has this happened to you? You’ve just sat down to eat and you reach for the salt and start shaking it only to find all you get is a few grains of salt. While you did get every last grain you could out of the container, it was still inadequate. So you got up and grabbed a second salt shaker and got the quantity you wanted.
Whenever a group of people come together to learn, you’ll find those in attendance have varying abilities to receive, comprehend, internalize and then use the new information in the way it was intended by whomever gave it to them. Just like that first salt shaker, one person might give it all they’ve got, but it’s clearly not enough to term their experience successful. Others in the group might be more like the second in that they don’t need to invest 100% of themselves to grasp the lesson; they’ve got so much more to give and aren’t taxed to their limits.
This is something that you should remind yourself if and when you find yourself instructing any group. It’s easy to misread someone in attendance and openly question their level of commitment, their self-investment and how bad they want to learn whatever they’ve signed up for. It could be that other things going on in their lives have robbed them of what they would have otherwise loved to pour into your instruction. Yet, the multiple things that are occurring around them outside of your own awareness has them distracted, consumed with worry. As a consequence, they find it difficult to process what you’re sharing and then demonstrate they have mastered the learning.
This is true whether we’re talking about children, teens or adult learners. The major difference experienced by those in these three groups is only the things they worry or stress about; but the experience of being distracted itself is shared. So you may see a child unable to focus or pay attention in elementary school and make the error of assuming they are a daydreamer or assume they just wont’ concentrate. A teenager might walk into a class and look sullen, withdrawn, unmotivated etc. but really they are fixated on something they are experiencing in an all-consuming way. As for an adult, it’s not hard to now understand that while a person might tell us they are committed 100% to learning, what we might observe is skipped classes to work on solving outside issues that they feel take priority.
I suppose then it’s ourselves we have to look at when at the start of a class we tell the those before us to give 100% of their focus to the materials. While we assume our meaning is clear and direct, upon reflection, we might be failing to lay out what’s required in order for each person to ultimately be successful. Why? Life gets in the way is how I put it.
Let me use my own experience this week and last as an example. I started with the expectation I’d have 12 unemployed people and over the course of two weeks I’d share with them much of what it takes to successfully land a job. Cover letters and resumes, interview preparation and job applications, all crammed heavily into 10 consecutive days of 9:00a.m. sharp to 2:30 p.m. Before being accepted into the class, I spoke individually with each of the 12, going over their expectations and mine; specifically asking them if they were prepared to commit to these days and times. All 12 told me what I wanted to hear and accepted the invitation.
What I’ve observed is not all 12 have the capacity to keep to that commitment. It’s not that they are lazy, combative or don’t want to get the most out of time together; it’s that not all 12 are actually capable of being present for the 12 days. So what’s got in the way? Life. What does Life look like? It’s mental fatigue, mental illness, a threat of eviction, a bad decision to stay home and await a phone call with a job offer when they could have attended with their cell phone in hand. For some, it’s the trigger of something raised in class that’s brought back a haunting memory from the past of failure, shame and the need to, ‘take a day or two to work things out’.
What we can’t tell just from looking at someone, is how much they’ve got inside themselves to give. If I could line the 12 up and see them like 12 salt shakers, I could easily see how much they each have to start with, and I could also see how close they are to emptying everything they’ve got. The expectation I have for how much they need to invest in the first place to succeed and perhaps their own ability to accurately self-assess themselves may be unrealistic.
Maybe I should get a few salt shakers of various quantities and sizes and illustrate this point to the group. Perhaps it might save someone from feeling bad about not meeting my expectations or those of the course. Hey, when you give it all you have, it doesn’t matter how much is expected of you, you’ve emptied the tank. Demanding more of someone who has nothing less to give is unrealistic and does them a disservice as they are set up to fail.
Hmm… maybe this would be a good read for anyone who helps people.