The teachable moment

This past fall, I was working on an e-learning system and a seasoned executive I was working with used the expression the teachable moment. I was intrigued by the expression and asked him what it meant and this is what he explained to me.

He said the teachable moment happens when a student is ready, prepared to learn, has the background, interest and curiosity to learn and when a teacher is present and ready to teach. It’s when the moment is ripe.

Now let me jump ahead a couple of months, and here I find myself on the brink of a new project with technology I haven’t worked with yet. I’ve been honest with my client about my background, what I know and what I don’t. I’ve burrowed into bookstores reading and researching. And then out of the bookstores and at a project meeting, the system architect and I were left to discuss specifics. There was a brief moment where I became consciously aware that there I was … reasonably prepared, one of several recently-purchased books in my bag, a notebook and pen in hand, listening carefully. I was ready to learn. The architect had turned teacher and was drawing and explaining. He was ready to teach. For that split second awareness, I was amused at how I manage to find myself over and over where I am the student and someone has become my teacher.

As a test manager, I’ve taught several testers over the years. I look for curiosity and people interested in learning when I’m hiring. And I when I meet people I can often sense people who strike me as done learning and people who are still going, still learning. I look for those traits.

I’ve also noticed that some people are more comfortable being the teacher, but I wonder if they don’t block out possible moments for themselves to be the student. Crazy workplace dynamics can make admitting that you don’t know something a vulnerable road to take.

I think about that – it’s hard for some people to be in the role of the student. Can I craft myself to be accessible to learn from? Am I accessible? Do I offer to teach when I can?

Sometimes there’s the opportunity to be the teacher and sometimes the student. We rotate the roles – or at least we can rotate the roles.

So I know I am comfortable being the student, it is a familiar role for me. More than 20 years in technology and I still see myself as student. How can I help other people be comfortable and ready to be the student?

I know it can happen in any relationship – not just someone younger than me, not just someone who reports to me. Teachable moments don’t just happen in classrooms. And often, moments is all we get because time passes so fast.

So this spring, I’ll shift to teacher at classes in March and in April. I’ll post on that separately because I don’t want to distract from thinking about teachable moments. Those moments, brief bursts of pure learning. Which role am I in – student or teacher? How gracefully can I rotate from one to the other – so that I both give and take? How do I make teachable moments?

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