Israel Galindo in The Craft of Christian Teaching quotes psychologist Carl Rogers as saying, “No one can teach anybody anything.” As an educator, I discovered this truth several years but it was hard to accept. No matter how well prepared I was and how thoroughly I had thought about my presentation, my students were only going to learn when they were ready to do so.
As a coach in the last few years, I have been reminded of this truth. People change when they are ready to change. Despite everything I do, a person only adopts and practices new behavior when they choose to do so.
So what does this mean for those of us who are involved in people development processes such as teaching, coaching, mentoring, and supervising? The best that we can do is to provide the climate in which learning can take place. We attempt to create an environment where the person (student, protégé, etc.) can recognize and begin to practice new understanding and behavior. How do we do this?
First, creating this environment begins with our own attitude. We must recognize the person with whom we work as a child of God with independence, intelligence, and the ability to choose. If we do not have respect for those with whom we work, we will not be willing to invest our time and talent in them. Even when they are resistant, we must see the potential within.
Second, the kinds of questions we ask of others can either facilitate their learning and development or hinder it. In coach training and supervision, I have learned how often I ask “closed” questions as opposed to “open” questions. Closed questions can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Often, they are framed in such a way as to guide a person in the direction you want him or her to go. Although this may be a perfectly acceptable instructional design, they often lead to a dead end. The questions that provide real learning are the “open-ended” questions that require the person to think about their response and sort out the possibilities. Such questions allow the person with whom you are working to draw on their own experiences and understanding.
Third, we must communicate unconditional support for the person to whom we are relating. This may be the greatest challenge of all, especially when we perceive that they are not living up to their capacity or they are negative and unmotivated. Our response is to continue to seek ways to engage them so that they will motivate themselves to change. They must own their learning experience.
This is not easy. Perhaps this is why James wrote, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1, NIV)