Finding an Unexpected Colleague in the Goal to Transform Learning

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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sales management toolsOn my flight home, I struck up a conversation with Alex who trains sales teams on how to effectively have a conversation with prospective clients.

As I learned over the course of our conversation, the problem of typical sales force trainings is that they overwhelm the learners with too much detail. The typical trainer uses technical vocabulary to review every product one at a time. Alex described that this training has a numbing affect on the sales force; it discourages them from asking questions for remediation or relevancy because they don’t want to look foolish in front of their managers or their peers.

Rather than confronting the reality, the managers indulge it. So a sales force can get certified for a training because they jumped through the hoops rather than their ability to communicate new information to clients.

Alex showed me a PowerPoint slide where he had three words:

Simple, Open, Innovative.

His easy-going approach is infectious where people want to engage him in conversation (hence my spontaneous blog post) to gain new knowledge and want to apply the learning immediately. What’s evidence for Alex? During the training, Alex looks for engagement. He describes that as eye contact, sincere questions from the audience, dialogue and debate over the subject matter, application of new knowledge by looking at their accounts and playing out test cases so they can later engage prospective clients.

How does that connect to the school world?

Simple, Open, Innovative.

A set of criteria for the types of assignments we need to give our students more often where they can learn new information, make meaning of larger concepts, and apply learning to predictable and unpredictable scenarios.

  1. Don’t overwhelm learners with information. It makes them less curious, less willing to look foolish in front of their peers by asking a question, less competent in their knowledge base so they try to unsuccessfully memorize all the details because they can’t distinguish between the two.
  2. Keep it simple by focusing on a single new concept before adding others to the mix.
  3. Ask questions to reinforce the larger concept and the relevant details.
  4. Provide regular opportunities for application through novel problems, situations, or challenges.
  5. Make the learning inviting to engender risk-taking, flexibility, and creation.
  6. Offer feedback and guidance along the way without doing the work for them.
  7. Train them to be independent of you — model gradual release of responsibility rather than creating a culture of co-dependency.
  8. Inspire them want to learn more by creating a set of resources that can be a jumping off point for deeper knowledge and further support.
  9. Be clear on accountability: transparent and specific expectations to measure success.

Finding a Solution

As the conversation wound down, Alex reflected that the same professionals that complain about how we are educating their children also struggle to educate their employees.

Simple, Open, Innovative.

I was reminded of the brilliant TED Talk of Dan Meyer that if we want to create adaptive, flexible problem solvers, hook learners with a simple problem and provide teaching when they are craving the knowledge.

My mind then jumps to Grant Wiggins’ post where he poses the question to teachers: “What would you do in your opening week to make students eager to persist with your course? … How should you begin to maximize interest, hope, and clarity about goals?”

And then my mind turns to the dynamic community that I hope this site becomes — a place where we can be inspired by the strategies, questions, and ideas to create real change in our schools and in our homes.


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