Introducing teaching as a professional competency

The previous posts on calling the tech world to action and providing context for that call to action set the stage and gave some insight into my development of a strategy for helping tech companies evolve their business practices: make teaching a professional competency.

Situating the concept

Engineering generally encompasses three areas:

  1. Human-computer interaction
  2. Computer-to-computer interaction (with the code for interacting written by humans)
  3. Human-to-human interaction (nebulous, hard to quantify, and getting companies in trouble since forever)

In that human-to-human interaction, there are several areas to cover. We need to start including teaching as a professional competency as one of them.

Why does this matter?

Whether we call it that or not, we all teach to some extent, every day. The first scenario that we might think of is on-boarding (at a company level or team level), but any time we want to “spread awareness,” “reduce usage errors,” “get more people to use this service,” or “reduce those damn pings with the same question” via private chatting, we are naming opportunities to call on teaching skills.

A second scenario is presentations, whether to your team, your sub-organization, your entire organization, or even your entire company (which could mean a global reach). Whatever size the audience is, there are several teaching skills that come into play that can absolutely transform the experience for both the speaker and the audience, and ensure that the speaker’s idea isn’t misunderstood or worse, forgotten about, as soon as the presentation is over.

A third scenario is professional development or “training.” This ties into the work a company does to retain their employees and help them grow in their role and career. It is easy enough to quantify what it costs to recruit and hire an employee, so we can subsequently sketch out how much it costs to lose that employee. How about quantifying the money lost to burned out employees who have no energy or enthusiasm to do anything beyond the tasks at hand? What innovations are they not discovering? What solutions are they not finding? Continued learning done well helps people keep their critical thinking and problem solving skills sharp (or develop some in the first place), and makes space for hobby learning, which can lead to more creatively innovating at work.

A fourth scenario is the ability to scale programs. Incorporating teaching as a professional competency means you have another tool to smartly strategize for taking a program beyond a single team or office. Done well, teaching others to teach means you have more people not just parroting your content, but making that content their own by sharing perspectives that can help solve for communication blind spots along cultural, gender, age, language, and/or geographic lines.

These scenarios where teaching comes into play but is not named or conscientiously developed are lost opportunities to:

  1. Make the best use of people’s time (valuable resource one)
  2. Ensure you don’t have high turnover (which costs money, valuable resource two)
  3. Keep your company’s community growing and thriving as you scale

So, what is this teaching all about, then?

In my framework, teaching encompasses three general skill areas:

  1. Explaining (you talk to students)
  2. Listening (they talk to you)
  3. Facilitating (they talk to each other with you ensuring it goes in a productive direction)

These can be taught so they are more easily and conscientiously leveraged in any of the scenarios above, or whatever unique situations your company has. In every event, the key is to call on research and resources from educational research. As part of the educational research community and the professional community, I can help determine which research and resources to call on, as well as how to interpret and apply them.

To that end, I propose to create a bridge between these two areas and see what kind of innovation we can do together to make learning efforts in professional settings scalable, efficient, and/or effective.

This is nice, but how can we know if any of it will really work?

Speaking to the above idea of being “effective,” as with any major budget area of a company, we have to be able to measure if an investment of time or money is working and worth the investment. The good news: there is a professional field called program evaluation (different than people evaluation), which can guide us in determining these things methodically and responsibly. The bad news: it involves letting go of many of the business and marketing metrics that companies tend to rely on heavily, and is not quick.

Curious to know more or have questions for me? Let’s talk. Find me on Twitter! -AGC