Would You Remove Them From Class?


I’ll put my position right up front; never. Nope, I’ll never remove someone from any class I lead with one exception. (Drat! There’s always one exception; and if there’s one exception I can hardly say I’d never remove someone now can I?)

Seriously, the only time I’ll remove someone from a class I lead is when it is clearly in THEIR best interests. I’ve known a lot of people over the years who kick people out of their classes simply for their own personal benefit. Oh they may say it’s for the good of the other participants but in reality, well, we know better!

Now you might not agree with my position on refraining from removing people from a class for sporadic attendance as an example. Well, here’s how I see things. Perfect attendance is ideal; after all you can’t learn what you miss hearing, seeing and experiencing. When you’re in a class where success is achieved by building on what was learned the previous day, missing class is a huge barrier.  However, the way I see things, when referring to adult participants, treating them like adults means the accountability lies with them rather than me. In other words, they get out what they put in. I’m here, I’m sharing and instructing to those who show up, and if you come and go, you have to assume the responsibility for both what you learn and what you miss.

I know unemployed people have more than just the job hunt taking up their precious thoughts. I’ve met a vast number of people who earnestly want to get a job. All they can control however – and make note of this point – is what they can control. That sounds trite but my point is unemployed people never just have the lack of a job to focus on; no, not ever, and they may lack resources to solve problems too.

Right off the top, the lack of a job often means the person lacks an identity. Instead of saying, “I’m a Carpenter and I work for ________”, they can only say, “I’m a Carpenter by trade”, leaving out the shared identity with an employer. Coupled with this loss of identity as employed is a huge hit to self-esteem. Why after all do you think people hide their unemployed status from family and friends as long as they can? And when was the last time you asked someone what they do for a living and they responded with a confidently delivered, “Why I’m unemployed and in receipt of government financial assistance. Thank you for asking.” Yep; never.

So lack of status, self-esteem and obviously financial income. No job, no money. No money, mounting bills. Mounting bills, increased debt. Increased debt, poor credit score. Poor credit score, no job in some organizations. All of these lead to soaring stress, anxiety, confusion; a trip along the rollercoaster of applying for jobs with high hopes, crushing defeats of being ignored completely, rising hopes when interviewed, dashed dreams of success when rejected..

Now let’s add the stuff that isn’t shared by everyone. You know, the specific problems a person has. Here you can choose from dysfunctional families, homelessness, threats of eviction, physical ailments, concerns with being too young or too old to be taken seriously. Literacy issues, isolation, depression, single-parent status with no childcare, lack of appropriate clothing for interviews, transportation, gaps on the resume, lack of current education and/or expired licences and certificates. Take a breath. How about rent payments due, lost bus passes to agonize over, mislaid identification, court proceedings with the ex to discuss support payments and visitation access. Let’s round things out with the parents who fret and worry about you being so vulnerable and who keep saying you just need someone to take care of you; totally undermining your long held belief that you are independent, strong and quite able to take care of yourself.

Yes, so with all the above going on – or if not all the above then certainly a lot of the above going on with those looking for a job, it borders on cruelty to misread someone’s sporadic attendance as entirely their responsibility or fault and penalize them by removing them. All this accomplishes is adding another failure to their growing list of things to feel bad about.

So when someone doesn’t attend the way you’d like in your class, demonstrate empathy and allow them to continue. Don’t ask why they can’t commit because honestly, they may not be able to articulate all the reasons. As for the others in the class who do show up daily and do contribute and do their best to succeed, praise them for doing so.  You might tell them that you’re taking notice of their good behaviours and that their actions are all contributing to their future success. You might even go so far as to remind them that the stresses they are experiencing may be similar to what others are going through, only the others have fewer resources than they do to cope.

The gift you give your participants is a new perspective; empathy for their fellow classmates. You are suddenly not just teaching people about job hunting or career exploration etc., you’ve just added a life skill; a human element that came as an added bonus not mentioned in the promotional brochure that enticed them to attend.

Well done!

Giving 100% Might Still Not Be Enough


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.

When Sharing A Skill


Whether you’re a newbie or a long-time, seasoned veteran, you could be guilty of making a rookie mistake; sharing a skill and assuming the other person can do it without actually observing them try it on their own.

Now it’s not that you’re smarter than the people you’re sharing what you know with. No, it’s more than that. It’s that you’ve had practice over time and have come to master or improve what you once found new and they haven’t. If you make the assumption that someone who is nodding their head in the affirmative can do for themselves what you are instructing them on, you’ll be surprised to find they often can’t. The danger here is that when you do discover they can’t perform up to your – or their – expectations, you might actually even set them back further than when you started, as they wrestle with a drop in self-esteem and question their abilities.

Case in point, the dreaded resume. I know, I know, why that! Ah but it’s true my readers. Yes, as an Employment Counsellor I help many people daily and one of the most common things I’m passing on to those I help is how to craft a winning resume. This is something many people think is pretty simple to put together; they believe anybody can make one. On the one hand, this belief is absolutely true; however, not many can make an effective one, and that’s the difference. I regularly see people genuinely show they understand the suggestions I’m passing on, and most importantly, the reason behind those suggestions. Yet, if they sit down on their own to implement those ideas and suggestions, there’s often a gulf between what they understand and what they produce.

So may I suggest that when passing on a skill, do more than just tell someone how. Perhaps for the auditory learner; those who just need to be told how to do something, this might work. However, the majority of learners I’ve found need to not only hear what you’re passing on, they need to also see it done and then have the opportunity to try it themselves under some watchful guidance.

Again, it’s not that the learner is inferior to the teacher but rather, the teacher has had more experience learning a new skill, practicing it repeatedly and mastering the subject. A new learner has neither the practice doing what you’re passing on, or the time to have mastered what you impart.

A trap you also want to avoid is feeling somewhat smug about your superior knowledge in whatever you’re teaching and then making the leap to feeling superior as a person overall. Whomever you’re sharing your skill with is without question the expert in other areas; certainly better skilled say in what they do for a living than you are at the moment. So a trained and experienced Office Administrative professional might not be able to market themselves in a résumé as well as you, but they may well have superior knowledge about keyboarding skills, shortcut keys, use of tabs etc.. if you’ve never had formal training in Office Administration and everything you know on a keyboard has been self-taught, they just might be able to share a few things with you!

As I say, the majority of people I’ve come into contact with as an Employment Counsellor, Trainer and Facilitator learn best by being given the opportunity to practice newly learned skills. A tremendously good thing to do during this learning period is to give encouragement and recognize the skill development so watch your words. If they hold you in high esteem and value your opinion, they’ll be greatly influenced by both your praise and your corrective criticism.

I have found that taking a few minutes while sharing what I know, to learn something from those I’m working with does us both a lot of good. First of all, I learn and appreciate what this person can do; a little insight into a job perhaps that I only have a basic understanding of. More importantly by far however, the person I’m helping feels good that I’m both interested enough to want to know, and they experience some measure of improved self-worth in knowing what I do not. We are after all, two people with skills in different areas, both having strengths and areas to improve upon. We just happen to be in a situation where my strengths are being showcased and drawn upon. This however, doesn’t make me better overall, or in any way superior.

It is also of critical importance to recognize just how much a person can take in during your time together. If you’re working together for 2 or 3 weeks, you can pass on much more than telling them everything you’d like them to know when you’ve only got 30 minutes together. Your expectations of what you can share and what they can grasp and retain must adjust to the circumstances.

So share what you know while checking both the learners comprehension and ability to do for themselves what you’re sharing. Share to the ability of the learner in a partnership model; working together to pass on a skill or series of skills and not the model where one is the, “Wise One” and the other an empty vessel to be instructed. See if this makes a difference.

But What If The Other Person Isn’t Hearing Me?


I bet you’ve had this experience. You know, you’re talking to someone and they nod their head at the appropriate times, and from their facial expressions you gather that they are giving you their full attention. So far so good. Then at the conclusion of your point, they ask a question that baffles you because it would appear that while they were listening, they didn’t appear to hear you.

I’ll give you an example from my own experience by way of illustration. I often make it a point to introduce myself to job-seekers who are working independently on their resumes. From a quick look at the work they are doing on a computer, I can generally tell if the resume they are crafting is likely to produce the hoped for result of generating an interview for them or not. I often end up sitting down and explaining the things I’m recommending, and almost always they actually do realize that the suggestions I’ve made improve the overall document. Like I said, so far so good.

It’s at the conclusion of this process that I get surprised. After saying several times that the resume should be specifically made for a single job, and then revised each time a new job is applied to, they will often say something like, “That makes sense. So how many copies can I make?”

At this moment, I want to ask them why they want 20 copies of the resume if they just a few minutes earlier appeared to understand that a new revised resume would be required for each job they are applying to; but I don’t. After all, I figure that I may have just given them 20 or 30 new bits of advice and ways of marketing themselves that they previously hadn’t been aware of. To expect others to ‘get it’ entirely is not always a fair expectation on my part.

Truth be told, I can’t think of a specific example, but I’m willing to bet that there are some people I deal with who also wonder about my own comprehension when dispensing advice to me. In fact, my neighbour might speak to this. He’s a Roofer by trade and is a fast talker as well. He launches into stories about the various clients he deals with and almost all his stories deal with clients who just don’t ‘get it’ when it comes to their own roofing needs. While he’s talking he may name 10 people – many by first name only – and assumes I know who he’s talking about, but I don’t. Then later he figures I’ve got this fantastic memory for all the names of these people and recall their various parts in his stories. My memory isn’t that good either.

At work, I’ve had my colleagues debrief with me when finishing up with an especially challenging client. Sometimes I entirely understand the frustration my colleague is feeling. Other times though, I also see the exact moment in the retelling of the interaction when I myself would have ended the interaction, but my colleague didn’t give up.

I believe it’s critical to read your audience and check to see how much what you are saying is sinking in. At some point you’ll reach a saturation point. To continue providing new information; no matter how excited you are personally to provide it to them, well, it may just be a wasted exercise. The problem if you got to that point wouldn’t be the person’s ability to grasp what you are saying, but rather your own failure to say less and walk away satisfied that the other person learned something.

We all have different abilities, limitations, capabilities and attention spans. While you might have the capacity to take in a large amount of information and retain most of it, others you work with may have the ability to only retain a small amount. If you can figure out what someone is really after, what would be most helpful and walk away satisfied that they got what they needed most, be satisfied with that. After all, you can always invite them back to continue your conversation and give them more ideas and suggestions at another time. If they want it, they’ll come back.

Now of course, if you are fortunate enough to work in a setting where you see clients and customers on a continual basis, you can dispense information over a period of meetings. If the customer or client is likely to only interact with you once, or very infrequently, best to perhaps limit your investment in time to what might help them most in the here and now.

By way of example here, I’ve sometimes been asked to do up a resume for someone I’ve never met before who needs a resume immediately. If time allows, I do so and hope that as I go I can talk about why I recommend the things I do over other ways etc. But if that person isn’t interested in what I’m saying and their body language and words just screams that they don’t really care, why would I drone on? Not much chance of getting through that ambivalence.

So be patient and read your audience. Give them an opportunity to take in whatever they are capable of and check for their understanding and retention. Sometimes say less. And from time-to-time, take your own advice that you would give others.

Cheers.