If You Can Read This, Thank the Husband of a Teacher

Every year about this time a different person moves into our house. She’s a bit more serious and a great deal more intense than the person who lives here during the summer. When school is about to begin a carefree, fun-loving person is replaced by someone with intensity and dedication.

My wife, Tammy, is a teacher. There is a transition in her personality every year at this time. If there is a teacher in your household, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Fridays become holidays. Summers are savored. Christmas break is a fantastic Christmas gift.

Those who don’t have educators in their homes have no idea. In fact, I wonder just how much of the public realizes and understands the amount of work, preparation, time, effort, care, and concern that goes into teaching a class — grade school, high school, or college.

I know it’s popular to say that teachers have it easy because they get holidays and summers off. But I can tell you from first hand knowledge that they more than make up for those hours during the school year. Evenings, weekends, and free time that other people take for granted are all used by teachers to get their “take home” work finished.

If a teacher has never taught a class or grade level before, you can simply double the work about which I just wrote. Sure, it gets easier the longer you teach a class or subject. But there is always work. Every day. School year weekends. All the way through to the last day of school.

You think children are happy when school’s over? Ask a teacher how they feel about summer vacation. It’s not because they don’t enjoy teaching. It’s just that they need a break.

You’ve seen the bumper sticker: If you can read this, thank a teacher.  The teacher’s family deserves some thanks, too, for the sacrifices they make at the expense of grading papers, planning classes, and going to bed early.

So, if you see a teacher today as another school year begins, thank her (or him). You might also think about thanking that teacher’s husband and family.

What’s a memory of your favorite teacher?

5 Things I Have Learned Teaching College Students

I have been teaching college students at Concordia University — Wisconsin for the past twelve years. Even in those twelve years college students have changed. They used to be much more engaged in the classroom. Now they’re much more passive. It means that educators have had to adjust, as well.

Teaching is simply one form of communication, and it’s techniques apply to other forms, too. Here are five things I learned teaching college students that apply to communication, no matter what it may be.

  1. College students care when their teachers care. Students can tell from the moment a lesson begins whether a teacher cares and is passionate about the subject. If they sense a caring teacher, they will be immediately engaged. If they sense a teacher who is disengaged and uncaring, they will be too. Don’t ask me how I know this… Good communicators care about their audience.
  2. In this digital generation, college students frequently need things changed up. How many minutes is it between TV commercials? That’s generally how often teaching techniques in the classroom should change. Every eleven to twelve minutes switch from lecture, to small groups, to video, to question and answer. Good communicators keep an audience on their toes.
  3. Over the past few years, college students would rather listen to a lecture than do small group work. This generation of young adults is used to having people cater to them. That’s OK for a while, but they do need to be stretched and taken out of their comfort zone if true learning is going to happen. Lecture for a while, but don’t do it exclusively (see above). Good communicators do the same.
  4. Given the opportunity, most college students want to impress. Give an assignment that’s more than just writing a term paper, and most college students will go above and beyond just the bare minimum. They want to create something excellent and unusual. I once had a student write and perform a song, ala Phoebe on Friends. It was one of the most excellent homework assignments I have ever had the pleasure of grading. Good communicators give their audiences opportunities to participate in a unique way.
  5. College students sometimes need some motivation to keep them on track. It’s the reason why there are tests and grades. Some students are motivated by them more than others, but all college students need motivation, whether it is a “carrot” or a “stick.” Good communicators motivate their audience to move forward in some way.

Based on your own learning style, how would you suggest communicators keep you interested and engaged?

“The Thank You Economy” for Churches and Non-Profits, Part 2

“…(T)he dominant obsession for any leader running a company in the Thank You Economy shouldn’t be the competition, nor should it be customer service. It should be your employees” (The Thank You Economy, p.89). That’s Gary Vaynerchuk emphasizing that The Thank You Economy is not just about outreach with Social Media, it’s also about treating your “employees” better than anyone else.

How are churches and non-profits doing on this front? It’s just as much about “inreach” as it is about “outreach.” Just because someone works for a church or non-profit doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have needs. Show me a well-cared-for worker, employee, or minister, and I will show you a worker, employee, or minister who loves his job, sticks around, and goes the extra mile (…OK…maybe not always…but more often than not).

Gary Vaynerchuk says there are two things that make employees happy and make them want to stay:

  1. Being treated like an adult.
  2. Feeling his/her individual needs are met.

Vaynermedia recently carried out these two things by establishing a new vacation policy: there is none. More than that, around basic parameters, employees for Vaynermedia can extablish their own daily work hours. I understand that this may not work in every church or non-profit, but what if employees actually could, within parameters, decide how much vacation time works and what their daily hours would be, as long as “they are doing their job 110 percent at all times, and they’re meeting their objectives” (p.91).

In other words: What if workers, employees, and ministers were treated like adults and felt his/her individual needs were met?

I know that realistically churches and non-profits would find it difficult to take work day hours and vacation time to this extent. However, what if churches and non-profits would do even a little better treating workers, employees, and ministers well.

Our church and school are far from being perfect examples of treating employees “like adults,” but we have tried to take baby steps in the direction of enabling our people to feel as though they are appreciated and their needs are met. Here’s what we’ve done:

  • The principal of our school welcomes each of our teachers to a brand new school year with hand-written notes and a candy bar or small treat.
  • Each March, during what seems to be the longest part of the school year, a solicitation is made to our congregation for monetary gifts. This money is used to provide gift cards to stores or restaurants for each teacher in our school.
  • As another token of appreciation, I (as pastor) take each of our teachers out for lunch once during the school year. After lunch they get the afternoon off to go home for some rest and relaxation.

No, it isn’t quite setting your own hours or determining your own vacation time, but it has meant a great deal to our “employees.” In the end, it’s really about one-on-one interaction and building relationships with people and treating them “like adults.” We have a long, long way to go in meeting individual needs, but at least we’ve made a start.

What ideas do you have for treating non-profit and church workers, employees, and ministers “like adults” and meeting individual needs?

Commencing into a New Commencement

I’ve attended a great many graduations over the years. I’ve been a parent, a participant, and even a speaker. For some reason graduations make me very emotional. It may be the pomp and ceremony, or, more likely, the marking of one of life’s milestones.

There are many positive things about graduation ceremonies. But maybe it’s time to re-think and update them.

Here are some of the things I’d suggest to someone planning a commencement ceremony in the year 2012 or beyond:

  1. Always have a Communications professor make one of the major speeches. The best speech I heard this weekend at our daughter’s graduation was done by a communications prof. Um, they know how to communicate.
  2. Convince the major graduation speaker to be short-winded. Nobody’s there to hear them…but they could still have a huge impact with a short, properly worded speech.
  3. Let grads tweet their thoughts during the long awarding of diplomas. A screen above the stage could scroll (screened) tweets that would be wildly entertaining during that long drawn out process.
  4. Make it visual. Use screens to display an action photo, piece of art, or some other  work done by each graduate. In this day and age of technology it would be easy to do.
  5. Give the poor faculty something to do other than sit there during the ceremony. Maybe they could escort the top student in their discipline. Perhaps they could read the names of the names of the students they had in class (logistics could be figured out).
  6. Involve parents by letting them interact electronically. Instead of lining up at the end of the stage to take pictures, they could walk across the stage with their child (again logistics could be figured out).
  7. Honor extra-curricular activity. More than letting the choir kids sing and the band play, displays of talent could be made by athletes, theatre students, or forensics club members.

How would you make a commencement ceremony better?

Reading is Key

A couple of weeks ago I attended a “literacy night” put on by the day school operated by our church. It was a popular event for the students and families of our school. There was dinner, free books for the kids, breakout sessions by age group, and a special guest speaker named Jane Marko. Although Jane was gearing her remarks toward the kids who were present, what she presented was applicable to most everyone.

As a speaker myself, I was impressed by her energy, and her knowledge of the topic. The topic for the night was, of course, reading. Jane Marko made a compelling case that we all ought to be reading, reading more, and reading often.

According to Jane, reading is the key to:

  • Success
  • Knowledge
  • Being who you want to be

Who couldn’t, wouldn’t, or doesn’t, need those things? In fact, all three of them go together: knowledge brings success in being who you want to be. But it takes time and commitment to be a reader.

Here’s what Jane Marko recommends in order to make it happen in your home:

  • Turn off the TV
  • Have lots of books around
  • Create a book shelf just for kids’ books
  • Read the books that your children are reading
  • Read with your child
  • Set aside time for reading each day
  • “Make it a date” to go to the library weekly

Jane makes clear what we already know, but need to be reminded: When you read you get smarter. We need to know everything we can about the world. In this day and age, when information explodes exponentially literally every minute, filling our brains with knowledge is critical not only to treading water in school or our career, it is critical to get ahead in an extremely competitive world.

It’s a good idea to make reading a habit. Jane Marko recommends reading at least (or just!) twenty minutes a day. Those twenty minutes every day add up and put one ahead of those who read less, or are not reading at all. At our literacy night Jane appealed to my competitive nature. She challenged everyone present to commit to reading more than the next person. I took it as a challenge to read more than I already do.

According to Jane it takes twenty-one days of consistent change to make something a habit. If you’re already in the habit of reading twenty minutes a day, good for you! If not, I challenge you to commit, along with me, to reading at least twenty minutes every day for the next twenty-one days. That takes us to May 18th. That would be only seven hours of reading between now and then. You can do it!

If you’re going to accept my challenge to read consistently these next twenty-one days, please post a comment below.

Let’s make ourselves smarter than our next door neighbors, co-workers, and fellow students these next twenty-one days. What tips do you have for making reading a habit in your home?

The First 10 Minutes

The other day a student from a class before mine came out of the classroom and said, “Did I miss anything the first ten minutes I wasn’t there?” And the student to whom he was speaking said, “No. Not really.”

Oh, really?!

I hope no one says that about the classes I teach. I try not only to fill every minute of every class with something worthwhile, with some great “takeaway,” but I also try to see to it that each class begins with something valuable. It’s always important to pique interest, create anticipation, and provide continuity at the beginning of any new undertaking, including a seemingly run-of-the-mill class, task, or meeting.

I begin most of my classes with a ten-minute “starter” I call “Protocol.” Protocol is an opportunity for a student to review the contents of the previous class period, and then in some way carry that contents and those thoughts forward into the current class period. Over the years students have conducted game shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, they have created their own media presentations, or they have used crossword puzzles or fun quizzes.

The results have been very positive:

  • The students making the presentation have had to engage the material and learn it better themselves.
  • The students in the classroom receive the benefit of reviewing material in a fun atmosphere.
  • All material along the way is reviewed so that there is less “cramming” when it is time for an exam.
  • The first ten minutes of each class period are advantageous to the entire class.
  • Protocol is a springboard for new material.

This method works well in many areas of life, business, or ministry. A good book always has a great first sentence. A good meeting always has an energizing and creative start. A good sermon has an interesting introduction.

Books, meetings, sermons, and many other things in life benefit from reviewing older material and springboarding into new. The whole idea is to build on things we know so that we retain the old, engage the present material, and look forward to what we are yet to learn. I’m working through that process right now while I am learning all about creating and maintaining a self-hosted blog. It’s both frustrating and exhilarating, but boy, have I learned a great deal. And I can’t wait to learn more…building on top of what I already know.

How can you use the concept of “Protocol” in your work or daily life? How do you take advantage of the first ten minutes? I’d love to hear your ideas.