There is so much more to being an effective educator than lesson planning and content knowledge. Educators never get enough credit for the time and energy it takes to create an environment for learning. Knowing the subject is only half the battle. In their book, The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher, Wong & Wong (2009) describe how that the first opportunity to build effective habits for effective teaching is during the first days of school. In a nutshell, to be effective the educator must understand classroom management and have lesson plans that promote and produce learning (p. 4).
This blog is less about lesson planning and curriculum building, and is more about the softer skills of being an educator: self-awareness, classroom management, engagement with students, and understanding how to convey a message so that it sticks. This is of particular concern for sexuality educators, for no matter where we practice our craft, our audience will bring with them their socio-cultural perspective. Newman & Newman describe this concept as consisting of “norms, roles, beliefs, values, rites, and customs,” (2011, p. 44).
We have to remember, that no matter how comfortable we are as professionals with sex-related topics, that culturally, “sex is surrounded by an army of social norms, religious restrictions and moral taboos,” (Heflick, 2011).
The topics we are asked or prescribed to teach are presented to classrooms or training rooms with people who come with their own cultural experiences, personal stories, family and religious values. For this reason, it is necessary for us a professional sex educators that, as we plan to impart knowledge, we must be mindful that only paying attention to the transfer of knowledge may have an adverse impact on how we may be perceived by our audience.
As we walk our professional selves into any classroom, we bring sum of our life experiences with including our own ‘stuff’ around sex and sexuality. The following information may help with acquiring or developing the soft skills of teaching:
Be self aware. Given that we know that topics around sex and sexuality stir emotions in people, it is important to understand how these topics impact us. Consider that self-awareness is a skill that helps us to judge our own performance and behavior so that we are able to appropriately respond to different situations. Self-awareness helps us tune into our feelings as well as the behaviors and feelings of others. This also includes being mindful about how you show up in very personal ways, including attire and your use of language.
Managing the learning environment does not mean that the educator needs to always be in control or rule with an iron fist. However it means that we have the responsibility to ensure that we create an environment for the effective transfer of knowledge. To do so, we may consider that to effectively facilitate learning, as professional educators we must:
- Know our audience and prepare training materials appropriately
- Apply principles of learning
- Manage and use time effectively and efficiently to respect the time of others
- Be prepared to manage difficult students or participants
- Be able to use and manage the use of equipment necessary for the learning experience
No one likes to be taught by a teacher who is not prepared to teach. We need to know our topic, prepare the location (classroom, conference room, etc), practice what we have planned to teach, and have a Plan B. We have to remember that not everything goes as planned. Having a back up plan will always come in handy, and not having one may prove to be disaster. We each have times where we forget a flash drive at home or forget to email the documents we need.
There are so many concepts in area that we could teach. We have to be clear on what our enduring message is and to create an environment that allows for this message to be conveyed. Heath & Heath have developed a simple framework to create and present messages that stick. In their book, Made to Stick, they describe crafting presentations that are simple, provide an unexpected opportunity to learn, provide credible information, concrete messages, invoke emotions, and in the end tells a story.
For sexuality educators the pressure is on. When we step into a classroom, it is likely that at least some of audience is on pins and needles just because of the topic. That anxiety may show up in a variety of ways: over-enthusiastic participants, quiet and withdrawn students, a student who presents as oppositional because what is being taught is outside of their socio-cultural experiences. In our role as sexuality educators we may be ready to teach and change the world, but if all we have in our toolbox is a command of the content, then we are likely to lose at least some of our students.
Heath, D. &. (2014, 3 15). Made to Stick. Retrieved March 15, 2014, from Heath Brothers: http://heathbrothers.com/books/made-to-stick/
Heflick, N. (2011, April 9). The big questions: life, death, and free will. Retrieved March 15, 2014, from Psychology Today: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-big-questions/201104/why-is-sex-so-taboo?
Kids, L. W. (2011). Thinking skills: self-awarness. Retrieved March 15, 2014, from Self-awareness fundamentals: http://learningworksforkids.com/skills/self-awareness/
Newman, B. M. (2012). Demvelopment through life: a psychosocial approach (11th Edition ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Wong, H. K., & Wong, R. (2009). The first days of school: how to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA, USA: Harry K. Wong Publications.