- Is Your Work Enjoyable Enough That Struggles Become Learning Opportunities?
I am now penning down my thoughts on a return flight from a neighbouring country. After five consecutive days of hectic work, I can feel lethargy slipping into my bones the moment I sit down in the plane. Yet, strangely, I remain high-spirited as I recollect in amazement the emotional dramas that were played out over the week.
- Opportunities Are Often Dressed Up As Struggles
The work was cut out for me before I arrived on Monday — to show newbies (between 1.5 to 2-year work experience) the ropes of providing effective consultation to teachers who are far more experienced.
Fortunately for me, I have aged with enough maturity to know that it was not a chance to showcase myself, but an opportunity for my younger colleagues to shine at work. Opportunities, however, are often dressed up as struggles. They have no choice but to grow through struggles.
- A Week Of Tears & Laughters
I knew it would be a gruelling week ahead for them. Sure enough, a serious-minded trainee D became so nervous about meeting my high expectations that her face turned ashen and her body stiffened. Another trainee M, a vivacious gal broke into tears when she started having doubts about her bulldozer’s way of working with her teachers. And the third trainee, Z, a young man with a happy-go-lucky attitude almost buckled under pressure when forced into a “do-or-quit” situation. It was only at the end of the week that they gleefully told me how much they didn’t want me to come initially. Now, they could tell me candidly how they felt.
Different emotions come into play when people are faced with a struggle that they are unsure how to navigate through. And it was my responsibility to make sure that the gain would be worth their pain.
- A Challenge Is Only A Problem In Our Minds
From the start, I could tell D was having doubts in her capabilities as an education consultant. Despite her best efforts, D had difficulty in helping an amicable teacher, Ms G make sustainable improvements to her classroom situation. Quietly, D was blaming herself for not being good enough in her work. And she assuaged her sense of inadequacy by being more hardworking and self-critical than others.
Unknowingly, D focused mostly on the negatives than positives in her work. Her joy from work was often short-lived, as she quickly turned her attention to more problems.
This week became a major turning point for D when she prepared herself to cleverly use the strengths of both the student and teacher to achieve the outcome she really wanted. Her consultation was so encouraging and student-focused that it motivated Ms. G to share even more with her after the consultation.
D was liberated by the change in the way she viewed her problems. Sometimes, a challenge is nothing more than a problem in our minds. By changing the way we view problem, we can find better answers.
- The Answer To Our Problems Rests Squarely On Us
M’s challenge was quite the opposite. M knew exactly what she was doing and the fastest way to get things done. She was beaming with confidence even as she spoke about her exasperation in dealing with people who are slower-paced and less goal-oriented. Her confidence was shaken only after she started to realise that the person who seriously needed to change was none other than herself.
This time, M departed from her test-proven approach of “I’ll tell you what to do”, and came up with a new idea of “I’ll ask and you’ll answer”. Before she could try her new idea, M quickly realised that Ms L, a good natured young teacher, was most likely to become tongue-tied. Almost immediately, M modified her approach and focused solely to engage Ms L in a conversation about the students’ before-and-after performance over six months.
The outcome was splendid! Ms L spoke animatedly about her students’ changes, and reflected on how little she shared her joy with students, parents and her work partners. This laid the ground for M to work with Ms L on communication with parents and students from now onwards.
Most crucially, M’s heart melted when Ms L expressed her appreciation for the things M had done for her this far. M reflected, “I know everything about Ms L, but I never understood her: her real feelings towards students. And I felt very touched that she appreciated me because she is not someone who thanks easily.”
Very often, we think we know someone, but we don’t. The answer to our problems with others often rests squarely on ourselves. Do we make enough efforts to feel and understand others who are so different from us?
- The Precious Lesson Of Learning From Others
It was difficult not to like Z. He is a really nice chap. Even after he felt hurt by my stinging remarks, he came to me saying that he appreciated that I said and did everything for his good.
Yet, time and again, Z could not rise up to the tasks he was given. Whether they were questions on student observations, content expertise or communication skills, things that are expected of any 2-year-staff, Z fumbled in his answers. The only consolation was he did not quit: he just blanked out.
It became clear to me that Z’s brain has a circuit breaker to protect him from being overwhelmed with stress. I decided that Z needed bite-sized, intensive hands-on training in order to learn effectively. And he would grow well with tough love: affection and discipline.
But time was running out. Z had chosen a seemingly impossible task to provide consultation to a veteran and successful teacher, Ms J. Even his more experienced colleagues felt inadequate to support Ms J themselves. What do they have to offer to someone more experienced and competent than themselves?
Well, the consultation session turned out to be an eye-opener for everyone. Ms J was delighted that the discussion centred on helping her students enjoy Math, using real-life video footages to analyse areas of improvement. After the discussion, Ms J enjoyed a teacher-and-student role-play with Z so much that she smiled and said, ” Z, please come to my classroom to do this with me.” Ms. J saw the possibility of Z working with her to refine her preschool instructional skills.
Z had done the impossible! His humility and preparation had paid off.
In that instant, everyone learnt a precious lesson: it is not how much you know, but how genuine you are to learn. An experienced and excellent teacher is willing to work with you with long as the you are genuinely eager to learn together.
Finally, a big thank you to the three young colleagues who demonstrated how much sincerity and courage were needed to face challenges. I have been much energised by you!
I am also grateful to the more experienced colleagues who stepped up to assist the young ones to meet the challenges. Without you, the results would not be as fruitful. You were role models!
Most importantly, I am most thankful to our wonderful teachers who have shown us how improving ourselves to bring smiles and growth to children is the only way to enjoy our work in the education industry.
And depending on your personal satisfaction level, you should thank or blame your boss for inviting me to conduct this training for you. I hope that I have helped you all to experience work struggles in an enjoyable way. But I’d take no responsibility for any collateral damage done. (laughs)
Just brace yourself for the next training.
William W. K Tan
13-15 April 2018
(Started writing on 13 April, Friday and completed the article on 15 April, Sunday)