Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why and How I Teach Writing, Part 11: Self-development

Teachers need to learn and trainers need training to expand their knowledge and to cultivate their skills. The more I learn, the more I bring to my educational situations as a consultant, writer, trainer, coach, and teacher. Therefore I have two full-time jobs: teaching and learning. I structure my learning opportunities eclectically and by diverse means.

DomainsThe areas in which I continually seek learning areas fall into seven broad areas:
  • Training – topics, trends, and innovations in the training and consulting business. This area has kept me on top of new approaches to virtual and asynchronous deliveries as well as coaching, classroom training, and webinars.
  • Client – the concerns, endeavors, and practices of the industries and disciplines of my clients. Working with project managers has led me to read about the critical path method, with scientists to review clinical research, and with humanitarian professionals to study global efforts to reduce poverty, promote gender equality, and lead peacekeeping efforts.
  • Discipline – theory and practice on the art of writing. Regardless of how much I write about writing and teach writing, I discover new theories and approaches to instruction.
  • Academia – fields that have applications to the writing discipline. Learning from writing-across-the-curriculum research, science, history, literature, journalism, philosophy, and the arts provides plenty of new ideas that I can connect to my clients’ writing needs.
  • Business – topics of business leadership, management, marketing, investment, and real estate. These areas are all a part of the complex web of fields that directly affect my clients.
  • News – world and national, and local governmental, political, cultural, and sporting events. Being informed of world affairs affords me a deep reservoir of timely cultural references.
  • Electives – my own non-business interests. Lately, these have included the topics of creativity, linguistics, neurology, theology, and yoga.
I learn whatever I can from reading books and articles; attending lectures, seminars, and webinars; watching videos, documentaries, and feature films; and discussing ideas with students, clients, and friends. Social gatherings are great opportunities to learn, so I always keep a notebook or smartphone nearby to take notes and followup.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Why and How I Teach Writing, Part 10: Follow-up

Following up with clients about their writing skills is essential in ensuring the integrity of my consulting practice. Here are four ways I follow up:

1. Offer additional coaching. Writing needs change as clients move into new positions that require more technical or managerial writing.

2. Respond to all queries. Current and even former clients write or call with specific questions about grammar, reference books, or websites. I respond to all of them.

3. Address their issues on this blog. Often questions directed to me become the source of a blog post. Those posts seem to be the most popular on WORDS ON THE LINE.

4. Suggest additional courses. Many of my clients have taken more than one of my courses, and some as many as six in different areas (e.g., grammar, email, business writing, technical writing, executive summary writing, and persuasive writing). I see their improvement with each course they take.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why and How I Teach Writing, Part 9: Coaching

Coaching, or one-one-instruction, is a constant part of my consulting. Whether I am working with a junior associate or an executive, I apply these standards to my coaching:


1. Diagnose the issue. Through diagnostic tests (usually several writing samples from the client’s collection and an assignment I create), client interviews and questionnaires, and, if appropriate, feedback from the managers, I learn the client’s writing strengths and needs.

2. Determine the coaching goals. I articulate the coaching objectives based on two sources: my assessment of the diagnostic and the client’s stated desired outcome.

3. Create rich content. I develop content specific to the writing the client does and that addresses the coaching goals.


4. Stick to the plan. While staying flexible to detect other areas of need as they arise during the coaching, I ensure that the goals remain foremost on the coaching agenda.

5. Provide continual feedback. Every piece of writing and every writing observation that the client makes is valuable in the coaching situation. I use it all to tie into the goals and to move the client to the next logical step in the coaching process.

6. Raise the bar. Those next logical steps should spiral toward greater mastery. Repetition for the sake of busy work is unproductive; therefore, successive assignments graduate in complexity and competence level.

7. Assess honestly. I try to keep the assessment positive, but I know my reputation is on the line when I give feedback. I summarize both strengths and weaknesses with each writing activity.


8. Provide a roadmap. Once the coaching concludes, I refer the client to print and electronic resources for continued improvement

9. Check in occasionally. – In fact, the coaching does not conclude; once a client, always a client. I contact former clients periodically to see how their writing is doing and provide guidance for further development.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Why and How I Teach Writing, Part 8: Leading

In this and the next post, I discuss the difference between training in a group or a one-on-one context. I devote this post to training groups. Let’s start with this point: I train in writing. I train in managerial, leadership, sales, and technical skills only as they relate to the written word; in other words, I do design and deliver courses the following areas:
  • Managerial – executive summary writing, proposal writing, analytical reports
  • Leadership – speech-writing, white papers, business plans
  • Sales – PowerPoint decks, customer service correspondence
  • Technical – blogging, writing root cause reports, writing audit reports, writing procedures
Having made this point, I remain focused on group dynamics when training in onsite or online courses that involve multiple participants. My attitude about working in this context is quite the opposite of a typical college professor (although I have taught in the university context as well), who takes the position that if students fail, that’s their problem. I feel responsible for the learning of people who attend my workshops; if they do not get it, then that’s my problem.

I need to engage all my program participants. A simple way to achieve this goal is keep in mind these ideas: 
  1. Teach a point briefly, give them a practice opportunity, and debrief on the point.
  2. Group participants diversely throughout the workshop so that they all get to learn from each other.
  3. Divide groups for assignments by pair, trio, and quartet. More four could be a crowd and take too much time for learning the teaching point.
  4. Give plenty of writing opportunities, since that’s why they’re in the workshop.
  5. Ask plenty of questions to which you do not know the answer. Speak to their experience so that they can apply the learning point and you can learn something from them.
  6. Expect of them no more than you would expect of yourself. Use realistic timeframes to complete assignments and give assignments that make you work as hard as they do. Do not give them a writing assignment for which you will not give them feedback.