Teaching Others to Tutor Breakthrough Learners
The woman said to Him,
“Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.
Where then do You get that living water?”
— John 4:11 (NKJV)
“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said,
out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
— John 7:38 (NKJV)
This is the most difficult blueprint to create that I have written for the 400 Year Project. It’s also the blueprint that’s probably going to be the least helpful to you. For that deficiency, I apologize. You may, then, be wondering why I bothered to write the blueprint. It’s simple: I think you will gain some benefits from the blueprint despite its weaknesses.
I don’t want you to be misled by anything I write so let me explain the reasons for the inevitable shortcomings of this blueprint. In that way, you will be forewarned to be careful about its least helpful aspects.
My gifts as a teacher of tutors are different from yours, I’m sure, and that’s all to the good for learners. When it comes to helping you through writing this blueprint, the differences in our gifts present a drawback. I need to write the blueprint in a way that builds on as many of your gifts as possible without my knowing what your specific gifts are. At the same time, I need to avoid writing the blueprint so that it focuses too much on teaching in the ways that someone with my gifts should. As a result, this blueprint is more generic than I would like it to be.
Perhaps you didn’t understand the last paragraph. I’m sorry if I confused you. Here’s a brief paraphrase of the preceding paragraph: You and I aren’t alike; I want to honor our differences in constructive ways in this blueprint, and it’s very difficult to do so without knowing what your teaching gifts are.
In addition, I haven’t yet helped very many people learn how to tutor others in making breakthroughs, even though I have more experience in this subject matter than everyone else combined. As a result, I’m sure that there are a lot of things about teaching breakthrough tutors that I don’t even know that I don’t yet know.
I’m sorry for burdening you with these limitations. However, I still feel called to press forward to do my best, contributing at least a little something to the body of knowledge so that you might possibly be helped to accomplish more. Hopefully, you can at least learn from my mistakes some actions to avoid.
That being said, here are my goals for the blueprint:
• To expand your knowledge about ways to teach recent breakthrough learners to become breakthrough tutors
• To take into account the special gifts that you and your learner bring to making breakthroughs, and to leave wide open the door for you to discover improved methods
Before describing what you should do, let me start by relating what not to do. I take this approach in part because I’ve only run into one recurring problem among those I’ve helped to tutor others to become breakthrough creators: Doing too much for their new learners.
I mention the issue first because it’s a serious problem. When a tutor does too much for a new learner who is seeking to create a 2,000 percent solution, the learner is likely to become psychologically limited by leaning too much on the tutor’s help. In this way, someone who is potentially capable of making breakthroughs with very little assistance may develop the habit of relying on the tutor rather than becoming independent.
Because few feel compelled to create breakthroughs, many breakthrough learners who receive too much help will never create independent breakthroughs. When that happens, most of the efforts of the tutor and the learner are wasted, causing a great loss compared to the opportunity: The tutor could have used the same or less time and effort to help the person become independent and the learner could have gone on to make many breakthroughs.
I suspect that for many learners it’s natural to seek as much help as a tutor will provide. As a result, I believe that the burden has to fall on the tutor to know when and where to stop before doing too much.
A good place to begin a tutoring relationship is by letting learners know that it’s up to them to find stalls, to develop stallbusters, to create their own 2,000 percent solutions, and to repeat the process on their own. Tutors will help learners to accomplish those results a little more easily and confidently, but tutors are not to take the lead in creating the results.
Even after taking my warning to heart, it may be hard for you to resist showing off how intelligent, knowledgeable, and creative you are. Stop it! Your learners already know you are good, or you wouldn’t be tutoring them. Go tell someone you want to impress about what you have accomplished, but do not provide too much assistance to your learners.
I think of creating a 2,000 percent solution as being a lot like Dorothy’s trip down the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City with her new friends the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Woodman, and the Scarecrow in L. Frank Baum’s children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (George M. Hill, 1900). When Dorothy stayed on the road, she did fine. When she left the road, troubles quickly multiplied. Sometimes Glinda, the good witch of the south (you may remember her as the good witch of the north in the movie version), intervened to help Dorothy accomplish her goals, such as when Glinda pointed out that the magical Silver Shoes (Ruby Slippers in the movie) could be used to return home to Kansas. Glinda’s minimal, but timely, support is a good model for what tutors should be doing with their learners.
Let me suggest a sequence of appropriate interventions, along a continuum of what you should provide as assistance:
• General examples of following the directions
• Answers to questions about directions
• References to places where helpful information can be found
• Reviews of a learner’s work in progress that assess what’s good, what’s not yet good, and what’s missing
• A sample 2,000 percent solution that’s different from what the learner is working on
• Questions to help a learner overcome some stalled thinking
• General observations to help overcome misperceptions the learner has about identifying stalls, developing stallbusters, creating 2,000 percent solutions, and implementing the solutions
• Encouragement to spend more time in certain aspects of the tasks where the most fruitful results may be found
• Discouragement from working on problems or tasks that are much too advanced, too difficult, or unnecessary for the learner to address
• Encouragement to seek out specialists who can assist the learner to accomplish a few essential tasks that are obviously beyond the learner’s capabilities
• Checking on a learner to find out what the learner is doing
• Simplifying instructions or assignments for those who are having problems
• Reviewing a learner’s progress more frequently
• Sharing your own experiences with working on 2,000 percent solutions in a general way that shows that you had occasional problems, too
Along with the preceding list of appropriate interventions and forms of assistance, let me also draw some contrasts between what is and isn’t appropriate for tutors to do:
• Ask a learner who is making slow progress to provide a journal of what she or he is doing every day and to comment on how the learner might improve time allocations and effectiveness, rather than arbitrarily telling the learner that he or she has the procrastination stall and how to overcome it.
• Direct the learner to a source for designing a questionnaire to be used in locating best practices, rather than take a questionnaire draft the learner has developed and rewrite it into final form.
• Politely request that a learner supply what’s missing to complete an assignment, rather than allowing the learner to proceed by ignoring that required work.
• Point out and explain that a learner’s proposed 2,000 percent solution goal is a 687 percent solution goal, rather than turn the learner’s goal into a corrected 2,000 percent one.
• Explain why what the learner describes as a “future best practice” is an outdated practice that has long been exceeded, rather than tell the student what the future best practice is.
• Refer a learner to the Ideal Practice Blueprint in 2,000 Percent Living, rather than tell the student what ideal practice principles to apply in creating a breakthrough solution.
• Ask a learner to explain the questionable part of a doubtful solution in more detail, rather than tell a learner what a better solution would be.
• Inquire about a learner’s assumptions or sources for making an unsupported statement, rather than telling the learner what your views are about what is the right answer.
• Suggest that a learner obtain more background information about those who are to implement a 2,000 percent solution, rather than tell a learner which people to use in implementation.
• Require the learner to write a brief paper describing stalls, stallbusters, a proposed solution, and an implementation plan to share with you, rather than draft or write the paper for the learner.
Let me comment in general about another common source of problems: eager learners who try to delegate their work to you. While such attempts can take many different forms, here are some of the most common ones and the ways I have most successfully handled them:
• The learner sends you something that she or he is working on that’s unrelated to your tutoring relationship. (I thank the person for thinking of me, wish her or him well, note that the request is outside of our professional relationship, and mention in passing near the end of a communication that I can provide fee-based services in that area if the person wishes to hire me to assist.)
• The learner sends something that isn’t good enough to be an effective first draft of the assignment with a request for detailed comments. (I thank the person for sending the material, explain or remind that I will only review any section of written material twice, and ask the learner if he or she wants me to use one of the two reviews on the current draft.)
• A learner doesn’t correct something that you’ve already commented on in hopes that you will fix it. (I thank the person for sending it again and point out that he or she forgot to fix the section. I express confidence that the learner will successfully improve that section before the assignment is completed.)
• Every time you respond, a learner sends you another e-mail with more requests for you to help with the same problem. (I thank the person for each communication, double check that what I’ve already sent is adequate, characterize what’s going on in a positive way, assume that I’m dealing with an anxious person, and try to reassure the person in hopes of reducing the anxiety. If this sort of exchange goes on too long, I politely point out that no other learner is doing this and inquire about what I’m doing wrong to cause so much misunderstanding.)
Having looked at what to avoid, let’s shift to considering some of the most positive things you can do as a tutor, beginning with helping a learner to identify her or his best breakthrough-creating gifts and to make excellent use of them.
Help Learners to Identify and to Make Good Use of Their Breakthrough-Creating Gifts.
A man’s gift makes room for him,
And brings him before great men.
— Proverbs 18:16 (NKJV)
Beginning with the very first communication from a learner, look for evidence of qualities that can assist the learner in creating and implementing better breakthrough solutions. Such qualities will almost literally shout out to you because the most valuable gifts are always found in the learner’s dominant personality characteristics, observational skills, technical knowledge, and thinking habits.
Despite their obvious appearance and potential to you, learners are often unable or reluctant to appreciate the advantages that such gifts can bring. Your job is to not only identify the gifts for the learner but to also provide thought-provoking examples of how the learner can apply those gifts to accomplish more.
Let me also note that useful gifts for creating 2,000 percent solutions may not be viewed positively by society in general. Here are a few examples:
• Someone who asks a lot of questions may be seen as a pain by many, but such questioning can be extremely helpful in locating stalls, designing effective stallbusters, finding best practices, and avoiding implementation problems.
• A person who seeks to be faultless in following instructions to the letter can be annoying to colleagues and friends who take a more casual attitude, but such adherence to directions can help a learner avoid mistakes during the 2,000 percent solution process.
• While a learner who thinks of lots of examples that demonstrate a principle may seem compulsive to the casual observer, someone with this cast of mind will more quickly draw on past observations and experiences to design future best practices and to approach the ideal best practice.
• Anyone who craves recognition may seem narcissistic and shallow to the casual observer, but such a person will often be highly motivated to set and achieve high solution goals that are designed to impress others.
• A learner who has held a lot of different jobs may seem like someone who is ill-equipped to be a reliable and focused performer, but such a person may be filled with curiosity and experience that will enrich his or her 2,000 percent solutions.
In fact, I believe that virtually any personal quality, habit, inclination, or quirk that’s grounded in honesty and caring about other people can be channeled into helping a learner to be more effective in creating and implementing 2,000 percent solutions.
Naturally, most helpful gifts are clearly beneficial. You won’t have as much trouble convincing the learner that you are right to approve of those qualities. The learner will also more readily accept your encouragement to employ such gifts.
Where a learner has received criticism or has self-doubt, you may find that encouraging use of such a gift will be met with skepticism by the learner. If you sense that’s possible or is happening, it’s essential to explain why the quality, habit, inclination, or quirk is helpful for making 2,000 percent solutions through sharing an example. If you happen to share that quality, habit, inclination, or quirk and it has been helpful to you, be sure to cite your personal experiences. If you don’t have the gift in common but you know a 2,000 percent solution creator who does, use a disguised example (to protect the creator’s identity and privacy) to describe how the gift helped the other creator.
While your learner is working on the process, it’s also very important to praise the learner when his or her work demonstrates a good use of the gift. Such encouragement will help your learner feel validated as a person as well as someone who is making progress in creating a 2,000 percent solution.
I also suggest that you avoid pointing out where such a gift has led a learner to get off track. Instead, just point the way back to the right track. If the person opens up the subject of her or his quality, habit, inclination, or quirk, be quick to provide new reasons why that gift can be very helpful in the 2,000 percent solution creation and implementation tasks that lie ahead.
If you find that a person would benefit from disciplining a particular gift in a certain way, it’s good to praise any helpful uses of the gift. Most learners will concentrate on doing more of the same in hopes of being more successful and being praised again. You can use such feedback as a powerful tool to channel attention in similar ways. For instance, if the next assignment would be done better by applying a given gift that your learner has, be sure to mention that opportunity as part of the assignment. If you receive the results and something is missing that could be easily accomplished by using a particular gift (such as employing more curiosity), specifically suggest using the gift to improve the work.
Now, let’s shift from helping to identify and to use gifts into considering what your learner likes and doesn’t like about what you do as a tutor.
Identify What Each Learner Likes and Doesn’t Like about Your Tutoring Methods.
Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.
— 1 Corinthians 10:24 (NKJV)
Many people view feedback as a good thing, but few seek feedback when it would do the most good. Instead, the typical way to find out how an interaction has gone is to wait until the activity is over.
The problem with that approach is that corrections aren’t made while learning is taking place. I encourage you to tell your learners to let you know any time they are uncomfortable, when they feel lost, when they disagree with what you are doing or asking them to do, or when they feel a need for more help. I make such comments more in terms of seeking to serve the learner than in suggesting that either of us might be on the wrong track. I avoid any such characterizations of how things are going because I don’t want to plant any ideas other than ones that encourage success as a natural consequence of the learning process.
To reinforce this message, I conclude as many communications as I can with writing or saying something like, “Please let me know how I can help.” Over my many years of helping people learn how to create 2,000 percent solutions, more learners have praised that practice than everything else combined I do to help them.
Naturally, one use for feedback is to shift how you work with the learner so that she or he feels more comfortable, gains more of the kind of assistance that is helpful and encouraging, and eliminates distractions and difficulties. Many people will stop with this application and miss the major opportunity: to help the learner develop a better tutoring style than you used.
Let me give you an example that I run into quite often. I love visual displays of 2,000 percent solution concepts, but I’m not good at creating them. As an example, it took months of my efforts to make such an exhibit that appears in The Irresistible Growth Enterprise (Stylus, 2000). I have yet to hear my first comment from anyone that the exhibit was helpful. By contrast, about a quarter of the learners I assist are quite talented in this form of expression. I never ask people to create such displays, but many of those with this gift will produce the displays on their own. Whenever that occurs, I make it a point to explain about my own deficiencies in this area, to share my appreciation for those who can create such displays, and to praise the display while commenting on its strengths. I also comment that I hope the learner will produce more displays in the future, and they almost always do. What a blessing!
By communicating in this way, I want learners to realize that I don’t think my methods are the only ones that will work, that I am aware of deficiencies that I wish I could change, and that I want to open their minds to other possibilities that they can use with those they teach. In doing so, I make it a point to share with people who are preparing to tutor for the first time different examples of solutions that might be relevant for what either they or their learner will be doing that exhibit methods other than the ones I normally employ.
Before starting his or her tutoring, I also ask the learning tutor to tell me about what she or he would do differently for himself or herself and what other changes might be helpful for learners. Let’s look further into this aspect of assisting a learning tutor in the next section of the blueprint.
Ask the Learner How She or He Would Tutor Differently for Himself or Herself. Ask for the Reasons. Comment and Encourage.
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.
And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:
for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit,
to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit;
another faith by the same Spirit,
to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit,
to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy,
to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues,
to another the interpretation of tongues.
But one and the same Spirit works all these things,
distributing to each one individually as He wills.
— 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (NKJV)
Tutors-in-training know themselves better than anyone but God, and their experiences in creating a first 2,000 percent solution are usually still fresh in their minds. While tutors-in-training may lack knowledge about how to apply their insights into assisting the learning process for other people, it will be a rare tutor-in-training who cannot identify how to improve the process just used to better meet her or his own needs.
The main drawback of this approach for seeking improvements is that learners know themselves so well that they can usually think of needed changes without necessarily being conscious of why those adjustments will help. By asking the learning tutor to explain why those approaches would work better for himself or herself, you will help the tutor-in-training to put the observations into a mental context for deciding when to make such adjustments for other breakthrough learners.
To encourage developing useful perspectives, use positive comments when reacting to the reasons provided by tutors-in-training, especially if the logic is sound. To your comments, add questions designed to probe for when it will be appropriate to make such changes for other learners, particularly for those whose gifts and attitudes are different from the tutor-in-training’s and from yours.
Assist tutors-in-training to notice and to consider if they had any mental roadblocks that were never removed while creating their first 2,000 percent solution. My experience has been that breakthrough learners unconsciously make arbitrary decisions that limit their choices of solution goals and methods. When the choices are never made explicit, tutors-in-training have few, if any, opportunities to evaluate whether the choices are appropriate.
Because you assisted the tutor-in-training during the first breakthrough, you are in a better position than anyone else to help identify possible areas of inappropriate arbitrary choices. Explain first that your purpose isn’t to criticize the solution or the tutor-in-training, but simply to gain more understanding of the mental processes that the learner employed so that you can be of more assistance while the learner develops breakthrough tutoring skills.
Let me give you an example of what I mean about arbitrary choices. Almost every person will create a first breakthrough that is almost exactly a twenty times increase in some dimension of performance. Yet in many cases, it would have taken only a little more effort to create instead a twenty-five, thirty, or thirty-five times increase in performance. Such a small effort to gain so much is obviously well justified, but such an opportunity is rarely grasped.
Some people stop at a twenty times increase simply because the goal is to produce a 2,000 percent solution. It never occurs to them to seek to create accomplish more, such as a 2,500, a 3,000, or a 3,500 percent solution.
Other learners feel a bit overwhelmed by the idea of accomplishing twenty times more. At some higher goal, such a learner could lack enough confidence to go forward. In fact, these learners secretly wish that the idea was to produce a 1,000 percent solution instead. When tutors know about such concerns, they should provide more encouragement and examples.
Still other learners are concerned about embarrassing those who have been performing at the lower level of effectiveness. To such a learner, choosing to accomplish more feels like slapping the faces of the people doing the work. Yet the people whose practices will be changed may hate what they are doing; and they may be delighted to spend less time, money, and effort. A learner who has such a concern will sometimes be a shy person who projects personal insecurities onto other people without checking first to find out what the others think.
Yet another learner may find it difficult to calculate what a 2,000 percent solution is. Having struggled to figure out that answer, the last thing such a learner wants to do is to also learn how to determine what amount of improvement is needed to make a 2,500, 3,000, or a 3,500 percent solution. If a tutor explains that improving the increased output of a 2,000 percent solution by 25 percent establishes a 2,500 solution, by 50 percent provides a 3,000 percent solution, and by 75 percent delivers a 3,500 percent solution, some of these learners might well choose a higher target.
Some people associate missing a goal as being a failure, even when the results establish world-record performance. Consequently, such people will always choose the lowest possible goal that is acceptable to others. If these people can learn to think about so-called stretch goals in a different way, as something exciting to reach for that pulls them out of an arbitrary comfort zone to what’s more desirable, some of them will choose higher goals.
The key for helping tutors-in-training is asking about each choice that was made to encourage making explicit the learner’s reasons for the decisions. It’s good to encourage tutors-in-training to create a mental road map of the territory their minds covered. Such a picture of their mental processes will help remind tutors-in-training when their learners are reaching important decision points where external direction and encouragement can help.
With this preparation, it’s time for a tutor-in-training to search for a learner to assist in making a breakthrough. Let’s look next at what advice and encouragement you should give during this activity.
Encourage Tutors-in-Training to First Assist a Learner Whose Thinking Is Similar to Herself or Himself.
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you,
but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
1 Corinthians 1:10 (NKJV)
Lesson Eight of 2,000 Percent Living has a section about selecting an initial learner that your tutor-in-training should become familiar with. I stand by that advice for the tutor-in-training. Here, I supplement the advice with one additional direction for you: Encourage tutors-in-training to first select a learner who has all of the other qualities described in that lesson, but who also thinks in ways that are similar to the tutor-in-training’s own thinking.
In most cases, the tutor-in-training will select a first learner from among colleagues, friends, family members, and acquaintances who have expressed interest in the breakthrough-creating work that the tutor-in-training just completed. Such a selection is especially natural where a number of potential learners have had an opportunity to observe and appreciate the power of the 2,000 percent solution process.
As a result, if the solution is work-related, the person selected will probably be a colleague the tutor-in-training knows well from day-to-day involvement. If the solution is related to a volunteer activity, the learners considered will probably include staff members of the organization as well as other volunteers engaged in similar activities. If the solution is a personal one, those affected will be family, friends, and acquaintances, and selection will typically be made from among them.
Encourage your tutor-in-training to talk to a number of potential learners about the opportunity to study and apply the process with him or her. The purpose of such conversations is to provide the tutor-in-training with a choice of several people to teach at first.
Advise the tutor-in-training to gather evidence from the potential learners that will allow her or him to apply the criteria described in Lesson Eight of 2,000 Percent Living. If several potential learners have similarities in those dimensions, point out to your tutor-in-training that helping someone who thinks a lot like he or she does will help make the tutoring process go more smoothly.
In doing so, it’s important to emphasize to the tutor-in-training that you aren’t suggesting that she or he select someone who will draw exactly the same conclusions, but, rather, that he or she choose someone who will apply many of the same mental processes, disciplines, questions, and perspectives. As a result, if two potential learners are reasonably similar in their thinking, the tutor-in-training would do better to select the one who is a more independent thinker.
It’s best to avoid first working with learners where the tutor-in-training has a great deal of formal or informal authority over the person. The tutor-in-training will learn more by working with someone who is of similar power and authority in their professional or personal relationship. It’s easier to be respectful, while not fawning, in such a circumstance.
Having made a great choice of which learner to assist, the tutor-in-training needs to be sensitive to allowing the learner enough room while exploring opportunities. Let’s consider next how you should encourage that kind of relationship.
Encourage Tutors-in-Training to Allow Their Learners to Head Off in Unexpected Directions That Could Bear Fruit.
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you,
not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think,
but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.
— Romans 12:3 (NKJV)
In writing this section of the blueprint, I may only be addressing subject matters that affect me. I apologize if that’s the case, but I want you to know about two persistent personal challenges that I experience while working with breakthrough learners: thinking that I know a better answer and too quickly dismissing something that they want to explore. I’m going to discuss how I overcome these tendencies on the assumption that your tutor-in-training may have the same challenges from time to time.
The good news is that I am always able to overcome my itches to share my “better” idea with them and to discourage what they want to try. To resist, I spend a few minutes composing myself and pulling back from the urges. Here’s one place where tutoring over the Internet is an advantage because I don’t have to respond immediately. I can take time to compose my thoughts and to select the right response without the learner realizing that I’m struggling with anything.
To resist my itches, I remember those times when what sounded like crackpot ideas from a learner instead turned out to be poorly expressed excellent ideas, far more advanced than what I could have come up with. By the time I’ve mentally reviewed five or six such experiences, I find that my curiosity begins to take over, and I start instead to look forward to seeing something wonderful from the learner instead of itching to “fix” things.
In a face-to-face situation with their learners when such mental itches arise, I suggest you advise tutors-in-training to keep thoughtful expressions on their faces while asking for more time to think over what the learner has just shared. It can also help to start asking questions, explaining to the learner that the tutor-in-training just wants to be sure that he or she understands what has just been expressed before sharing any reactions. If the tutor-in-training cannot immediately think of any questions and wants to buy a little time to think, it’s always good to ask for an example of what the learner has in mind.
Preparation can probably help your tutor-in-training, as well. You could lead some role-playing simulations where you pretend to be a learner who shares some off-the-wall ideas to help the tutor-in-training practice making appropriate responses. If you have had any experiences where a learner’s idea turned out to be much better than your initial reaction or an unlikely proposal to explore another area was unexpectedly fruitful, it’s good to share those experiences with your tutor-in-training.
Working with an imaginative learner is a lot like reading a novel by a brilliant author: The process will take you into entrancing circumstances that will delight you. That’s the potential reward tutors-in-training can gain by being supportive of learners who are taking independent initiatives.
I think it can also be a little threatening to a tutor-in-training if a breakthrough learner shows strengths in one direction or another that far outshine what the tutor-in-training can do. Tell tutors-in-training to think of such moments as being good lessons in learning humility.
If tutors-in-training always approach breakthrough learners as people who know a lot and who have unique gifts, it’s easier to take a hands-off approach while feeling overwhelmed by either the learner’s brilliance or an unexpected investigation. I make it a point to tell learners they know a lot more than I do, even when I think that I may know quite a bit. As a result, learners tell me more to help me appreciate what they are thinking about and doing. I can also ask more obvious questions to help me understand the hidden assumptions behind what the learner is thinking about. As a result, the relationship is friendlier and more fun.
Every once in awhile, I experience a different problem: A learner proposes or takes such a timid step forward that even the most successful results are going to be vastly below the opportunity. An example might involve merely combining two lesser current best practices to gain a 2,000 percent solution. If a learner can do that without even employing a future best practice, there’s clearly some major amount of lost opportunities involved. In such circumstances, I suggest that you help your tutor-in-training to locate something about the breakthrough learner’s values that can be used to encourage trying to accomplish more.
In the example I’ve shared in the preceding paragraph, as a tutor I would first look for any human-interest benefits of accomplishing more. That’s because most of us would do more to help someone else we sympathize with than to improve life for ourselves. Next, I would appeal to whatever sense I have from the learner that he or she wants to improve herself or himself. I would then point out how seeking to do more will provide more skill and confidence in future situations when the solutions are more difficult to develop and to implement. In addition, I would point out that the learner could use this 2,000 percent solution investigation as an opportunity to examine some area of long-standing interest without feeling any pressure to necessarily find any helpful information there. The invitation to go on such an interesting “fishing” expedition can often be liberating to timid learners. Finally, if there are any career or recognition benefits to accomplishing more, I’ll point out those opportunities as well.
I’m sure that your tutors-in-training will encounter totally different challenges than I have in working with learners. I encourage you to pass along to me any such different experiences so that I can include them into any future blueprints (or updates on existing blueprints).
Let’s now turn our attention to the last aspect of this blueprint, directing the tutor-in-training to begin thinking about how people unlike himself or herself might benefit from receiving different tutoring approaches than the first one used by the tutor-in-training.
Direct the Tutor-in-Training to Consider How People Unlike Herself or Himself Might Benefit from Different Tutoring Approaches.
If the ax is dull,
And one does not sharpen the edge,
Then he must use more strength;
But wisdom brings success.
A serpent may bite when it is not charmed;
The babbler is no different.
The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious,
But the lips of a fool shall swallow him up;
— Ecclesiastes 10:10-12 (NKJV)
Let me share a personal example. I gain enormous perspective on long-standing issues I struggle with by simply being exposed to new influences. I can draw such perspectives from meeting people while I travel, being in new places, doing new things, listening to music I haven’t heard before, or simply by reading about unrelated subject areas. If I was stuck trying to figure out what to do next while creating a breakthrough solution, my tutor would only need to direct me to try virtually any new activity, locale, or experience.
From assisting others to learn how to make breakthroughs, I found that my ways of abstracting life lessons from unrelated experiences are unusual. If I told a breakthrough learner to do what works for me, he or she could invest a lot of time and effort without gaining any solution-related benefits. Clearly, I had to learn a different tutoring approach from suggesting what works well for me.
To do so, I developed an ability to ask questions that lead learners to reframe the meaning of what they already know or to gain new knowledge to connect to the improvement they are seeking. Here’s a typical sequence of how I employ such queries to help someone gain new knowledge:
1. A learner tells me something that makes me suspect that the learner either hasn’t investigated the subject or sufficiently thought through the situation. In one case, a person who wanted to earn a great deal of money indicated an interest in starting a nonprofit organization as the way to do so. In most places I know, there are substantial legal limits on how much money anyone can earn by working for a nonprofit organization, even one founded and funded by the person seeking the high income.
2. I decided that it would be helpful to start by directing the learner to gain some perspective on this apparent contradiction.
3. I picked the simplest question I could that would launch an examination process. I asked the learner, “Why do you want to establish a nonprofit organization rather than a for-profit one?” In phrasing the question that way, my purpose was to be as neutral as possible while raising the alternative of a for-profit organization, opening the dialogue door for the learner to provide me with some strong reasons for establishing a nonprofit organizational structure (such as customers not being willing to buy from a for-profit organization).
4. The learner came back to me with questions that I could not answer about the legal consequences. I simply pointed out that it would be good for the learner to find those answers, but that a for-profit structure usually generated a higher income for individuals than a nonprofit structure. I also observed that many people establish more than one type of structure in cases where there might be customer, income, tax, or benefit advantages to one structure or the other. My intent was to leave the dialogue door wide open to whatever the right opportunity was and to focus the learner on gaining more information.
I also find that many learners don’t know where to find answers or, even in some cases, how to begin the process of locating potential sources. Learners also may not realize how limited their research skills are. If I find that a learner intends to investigate a question or a topic, I ask the learner to tell me how she or he intends to do so. I often receive a comment like, “I have no idea.” In such a case, I’ll suggest one or two steps that are likely to start a learner on a fruitful hunt. Often these suggestions involve how to do Internet searches. I know this approach to helping learners sounds like doing too much, but most people I work with only know how to do Internet searches in topics that they have explored before and often feel intimidated while trying to learn in a new area. In providing the suggested starting steps, I do my best to express confidence that the learner will succeed. If the research issue is more substantial, I may point a learner to something I’ve written on the subject, such as the Ideal Practice Identification blueprint in Appendix B of 2,000 Percent Living. Just in case the learner has trouble, I use my normal reminder to encourage contacting me, “Please let me know how I can help.”
I also want to equip learners who struggle with finding literal answers to be more successful in the future. In addition to improving research-related skills, I introduce such learners to free and inexpensive resources that make success virtually certain. An example is directing learners to research librarians who have skills in the topics of interest. In some communities, there are also volunteer experts who help people with research into various topics. I’ll suggest those volunteer experts, as well, when they can be useful.
If such directions don’t work, I offer more pointed questions that provide clues much like those found while reading a detective story. Acting on each clue brings a learner closer to the solution. In the preceding example about compensation in nonprofit organizations, I might first look up the answer for jurisdiction where the learner lives. My more pointed question then might be to ask if the learner has considered the source where I found the answer … without sharing the answer. If that approach doesn’t work, I’ll next provide directions to the correct part of the source. Eventually, the learner will succeed, will be delighted, and will gain confidence that will help make future research activities more fruitful.
Okay, now you have an example of what I do as a tutor in one area. Just assume that kind of approach can be taken for any other issue where the learner should use a learning method that’s different from mine.
Let’s expand the scope of this discussion to identify where there might be large differences in mental orientations, preferences, and skills between your tutor-in-training and his or her learners. As a starting point for identifying the need for such alternative tutoring methods, most learners can tell you how they like to learn … or at least how they don’t like to learn. Pay attention to what they tell you and act on it.
Let me provide some other points of reference to consider when helping tutors-in-training to choose more helpful tutoring methods. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is the foundation for the first suggestions. Although people employ all of their senses (see, hear, touch, taste, and smell) to learn, some rely much more on a few senses than on the others. It’s good to think first about which senses you most rely on. In my case, I almost totally process information by seeing it. By contrast, I find it much more difficult to learn by listening to words and speaking about something. Touching, tasting, and smelling things rarely ever occur to me.
Now, that visual orientation is great if I work with people who also like to see things as their primary way to learn. Since I write a lot of books and mostly teach over the Internet, that’s who I will mostly attract to work with me. In a few cases, however, I run into visually oriented people who don’t do well with words and instead want to see images and diagrams. When that occurs, I have to adjust because I’m not very good at creating such visual resources. Instead, I encourage learners to send me images and diagrams they create for me to comment on. Learning progress eventually follows, often greatly slowed down by all the questions I ask to be sure I understand the images and diagrams.
When I work with learners who like to hear and converse about things, I have to be prepared to speak with them. In such circumstances, I rely on the Socratic method (asking questions to direct them to the answer, a frequently used method in law schools) because it’s very similar to what I do in writing for visually oriented people, and I have most of the material already available. Now, the questions may be the same questions that I had written down, but the person hasn’t been able to absorb the questions in that form. So I ask the questions aloud, listen, clarify, and comment; and we slowly go forward. At some point, a key idea “clicks” in the learner’s mind and self-directed progress follows.
If I am working with a learner who likes to physically touch things, I design tactile experiences that will help the learner note what’s going on and think about what the lessons are. Over the years, I’ve developed a number of such experiences that help touchers to get a feel for what the issues and possible solutions are. With taste or smell preferences, the necessary steps are obvious in taking advantage of the learner’s strong associations. I often have the most fun as a tutor while engaging in such experiences.
It’s not difficult to check on such learning characteristics. Because the right tutoring adjustments are obvious, my task is mostly done when I remember to check for learning characteristics and preferences.
I suggested earlier that tutors-in-training find out what learners have liked and disliked about their past learning experiences. From such answers, I can often identify what are the present and missing elements that make learning difficult.
It’s also good to be open to noticing if someone has a broad learning issue, such as dyslexia (seeing sequences of letters and numbers in disordered fashion). Such learning issues can be uncovered by investigating why a given assignment has taken a long time to do. Ask the learner to keep track of how time was spent. If reading ten pages took three hours, you know there’s a reading issue. For someone who is reading in a non-native language, facility in the language may be at least part of the issue. You can usually spot language facility issues by reading e-mails or listening to the learner’s speech. If you cannot identify the cause of slow reading, send the person to a diagnostic reading specialist, and the learner can begin to receive help. If writing two paragraphs takes forty hours, the learner may lack understanding of how to organize writing assignments. Suggest a good source for adding that skill and watch to see if the performance improves. It usually does.
The most difficult people to help are those who don’t have much ability to remember. Some people have this problem all the time. Others forget more when they are under stress. Others may experience a weak memory as a side effect of aging or of depression. Regardless of the cause, it helps to give the person a new experience that substitutes for what has gone on before and to capture the new experience in some permanent form. Then, ask the learner to write about the experience and keep the notes, record an audio description, create a video, or make some memento.
Another special circumstance involves people who need to learn in teams. Some people do this because they lack confidence in general. Others have learned what their skill deficiencies are (such as people who have difficulty with arithmetic), and they join with fellow learners who are strong in their weakest areas. People who already realize they need a partner will show up on the tutor’s doorstep with a teammate … or will soon ask if they can work as part a team. By all means, say yes!
The more difficult challenge is when learners don’t realize that they need teammates. In such instances, it’s good to notice where learners have problems and point them to the person or type of person (either by profession or preference) who can help. In a few instances, there isn’t much to gain by teaming, and I will just become the teammate in a temporary, limited way by simplifying what needs to be done so much that the person can function just fine. Such an approach often means outlining the exact tasks to be done, along with examples.
It’s more important to do a lot of encouraging for those who are having special difficulties than for someone who is going smoothly through the tasks. As a result, I’ll lay on some lavish praise for what has been done and explain how pleased I am. Then, I’ll point out that there’s an untapped opportunity and humbly offer to help the learner seize that, too. Most will grab hold of my offer as long as they feel that I am optimistic and supportive.
I am pretty well organized and keep schedules in my head of what I want to accomplish and by when. Most people don’t use this method. Few take the time to write out a schedule that includes check points for interim reviews. As I wrote in Lesson Eight of 2,000 Percent Living, I seek to keep learners focused by giving them short deadlines and tasks that can just be accomplished on schedule if learners stay focused on the work and are reasonably productive.
Despite those efforts, some learners are easily distracted and will lose track of what they should be doing. Here’s an example from a recent class. Immediately after meeting, I asked each person to fill out a one-page questionnaire and requested that they give it to me just as soon as they were done. Even though this assignment took only ten minutes, only two of the seven learners remembered to fill out the questionnaire and to give it to me. Most filled out the questionnaire and sat there smiling happily as though they were done.
Seeing what looked like completed questionnaires, I asked each person who hadn’t turned one in if the work was complete. If they said “yes,” I asked them to please give it to me and reminded them of the instructions. Despite these reminders, other learners also failed to give me their filled-out questionnaires. Seeing this, I mentioned to the whole class that they would gain a lot more out of the course if they carefully noted instructions and followed them. Then, I provided a few examples of instructions that many learners have trouble remembering to follow, such as keeping to a schedule for how long to speak during an exercise.
Realizing that this particular class is full of easily distracted people, I will be sure to do extra checking on their understanding of future instructions and to warn them of the consequences if they don’t follow instructions. (Usually, ignoring directions means someone will lose an opportunity to learn.)
Perhaps the most intriguing learners to assist are those who produce way more than is asked for in some areas while ignoring the most important parts of an assignment. For instance, it’s not unusual for a learner to produce for me a 200 page outline of a 300 page book, totally unasked. Sometimes, this outline will be turned in with the expectation that no more work is required. I always attribute such responses to having been taught the approach to assignments by some earlier school or course that the learner attended. In other cases, written directions are ignored. A limit of 1,500 words might be given to a learner for identifying personal stalls and stallbusters. I have had students provide me with as many as 75,000 words on the subject.
There are two problems with such misapplications of time and effort:
1. Learners have a long delay before finding out that they are misfocused.
2. They may become discouraged by realizing how much more work remains, particularly if they continue to overproduce beyond what is requested and helpful.
My experience has been that such learners are likely to be secretive people so that inquiries into how they are doing when deadlines are missed aren’t likely to elicit any response beyond, “I’m doing just fine.” I suspect that the secretiveness is related to trying to overcome some basic learning challenge that they want to keep hidden from the tutor. In many cases, such learners lack facility in reading or writing. From such experiences, I’ve learned to keep nagging them to see some sample of their work. If I can nip the misapplication of effort in the bud, such hardworking people can go on to become highly effective breakthrough learners.
My final caution is that learners inhabit a subjective world made up of their own cultures and imaginations. Without the learner guiding you through such a subjective perspective, a tutor-in-training cannot appreciate it. The moment a tutor-in-training or you read or notice something about a learner that makes no sense to you, politely explain that you aren’t sure that you understood what was written, or happened, and ask for help. If you aren’t satisfied with what the tutor-in-training expresses, keep digging until you receive an explanation that makes sense. The more alien what you notice is to you, the greater the likelihood that the tutor-in-training needs to provide some suggestions to redirect the learner. Your questions will help make the tutor-in-training more alert to noticing such barriers to mutual understanding and asking for help from learners in overcoming them.
I am sure that you will run into situations far different from the ones I’ve expressed here. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss any of them. I would also love to hear about your experiences with addressing such situations.
I would also be pleased to learn from you about what happens when you employ different methods for helping tutors-in-training than I have shared here.
In both cases, I’ll be sure to use what you tell me to improve this and future blueprints so that breakthrough tutoring will spread more rapidly and successfully to meet the needs of learners, those who benefit from their solutions, and the tutors and tutors-in-training who help such learners.
With these three blueprints, you can expect to make great accomplishments if you focus your attention and regularly apply what you have just read. I pray that you will. The results will bring many blessings to you and others in becoming more fruitful for the Lord.
Copyright © 2011 by Donald W. Mitchell. All rights reserved.