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                                      Keeping it Simple…

Good morning dear reader & welcome to my world for another week. In my last few articles I have referred to failure. Yesterday I attended an Institute of Directors luncheon & the speaker was one Jodie King, Chief People Office @ Air New Zealand. Jodie had a significant international career before joining Air New Zealand in 2013 to drive key initiatives including the airline Talent & Leadership frameworks. What a powerful presentation from someone fully in control of her topic. Certainly no signs of failure with this young dynamic executive.

This evening on one of the television news programmes there was an article on the failure within our teaching standards within New Zealand. In interests of space, I will not go into specifics, however I was reminded of the K-I-S-S principle which is frequently suggested in a learning environment. The acrostic stands for “Keep it simple, stupid.” It seems we are a people who loathe difficult study. We want easy answers & we want them quickly. Mastery of a subject, however, requires years of diligent labour & study. But once the teacher has mastered his material, how does he transmit it to his students?

From my experience in a teaching environment, certain assumptions are made in the classroom. The first is typically the teacher knows more about the subject than the student. It is, in general, a safe assumption. The second assumption is a teacher cannot communicate his mastery of the subject all at once. To educate, we must lead students “out of” ignorance into knowledge. This knowledge moves in increments, from the simple to complex.

The great teacher, like Sidney Poitier in To Sir With Love, helps his students gain understanding. This may be the most vital & most difficult task of teaching. Students often complain the teacher speaks “over the heads”. What does this mean? I suspect it means the student does not understand what is being taught. It may indicate the student is lazy & unwilling to be stretched intellectually. It could also mean the teacher does not understand what he is teaching.

Often our educational process is a failure with respect to learning. The syndrome goes something like this: A student attends high school classes, takes copious notes, memorizes the notes, & makes an A in the course. Then he graduates & follows the same procedure in university. Then he may become a teacher & he has a great store of information about which he has been tested yet has little understanding.

Information has been transferred but never processed or digested by the inquiring mind. This teacher now goes in the classroom where he gives lectures from his notes & textbooks. He allows little time for questions (he may fear questions he may not be able to answer). He continues the behaviour of passing his own education with his students & the game goes on.

A great teacher can simplify without distortion. This is the supreme test of understanding. If I truly understand something, I ought to be able to communicate it to others. There is a vast chasm which separates the simple from the simplistic. The greatest teacher ever, teaches in simple terms. But never simplistic. To oversimplify is to distort the truth. The great teacher can express the profound by the simple, without distortion. To do this requires a deep level of understanding. The great teacher imparts understanding, not merely information. To do so the teacher must understand the material being taught.

Given the many articles I have read recently together with consistent media cover on our current education system, perhaps the government & education academics & bureaucrats consider bringing someone in from the outside. I suspect a Jodie King would be the perfect candidate. I suspect we would begin to witness some simplicity in time as an alternative to another failure…

Thank you for taking the time to be with me once again. I hope my journey may encourage you also. This is Kenn Butler in Paradise, Nelson, with my best wishes for the weekend ahead. I look forward to being with you all again next week.

Kenn Butler
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