The Desk

August 25, 2007

Building Blocks

Filed under: Education and Training — Yvonne LaRose @ 11:09 PM

It seemed like an innocuous thing, just putting together a batch of cookies for noshing as the week passed. Who’s aware of body language or facial expressions when they’re involved in innocuous activities? Apparently the body language, the dexterity, the confidence, and the facial expressions were sufficient to catch the attention of the teen. Sufficient enough to distract them from the rock music, the TV, the phone calls, and all the other distractions that go with being a teen.

First Step, A Toe in the Water

“What’s that you’re doing?” the teen probed. Interest had been sparked.

This was not the moment to shoo the youth away. This was a coachable moment that was being requested. This was a door opened and reception to being involved in those faltering steps toward taking on responsibility. This was definitely not the time to become smug. Instead, it was the time to take things in stride, as though this happened everyday, and just get more than a toe in the water. This was the time to get them ready to go swimming.

So, it was a matter of explaining what was being done. “Oh, just mixing a batch of cookies. What do you think? Should they have more cinnamon or vanilla?” What harm could there be in drawing the student into the activity? With the potential creativity, the usual batch of oatmeal cookies might turn into an entirely new recipe of delight.

Passing Control

A recommendation was offered. It was followed. Then the stirring began. “Do you want to try it?” The whirring beaters were turned off and passed to the new cook. Explanation of proper use of the equipment was offered. Put the mixer in the middle of the bowl. Turn the bowl slowly as the butter and sugar and spices turned into a creamy mixture with no lump, just waves of gold.

Value in Explanations

Each phase of the mixing and stirring was a success. Eventually, the entire process was overtaken by the student while the adult merely read the recipe and watched, guided, explained.

Therein lay part of the success of the endeavor. What was being done was also being explained as it unfolded before the eyes of the participants. A foundation for why things were done, a connection from one step to another was formed so that the student had a sense of the big picture. There was no sense of being dictated to or controlled. Instead, it was a pleasant project being shared.

More than just explanations about how to do each step, the conversation flowed into why things were done in the order they were. There was discussion about the tools, which were more efficient and why, what could be used instead. Efficiency was added to the endeavor as the student was shown how to have several parts of the project evolving in different parts of the kitchen: readying the oven, preparing the cookie sheet, rinsing and washing the preparation instruments so that the kitchen stayed as clean as possible and tools were still easily accessible.

A Spoon at a Time

The flour and other powders were put into the batter. Now that mixing was extremely rigorous, the beaters were put aside in deference to the wooden spoon. The rationale was not only explained, mixing the powders was turned over to the initiate. That didn’t take long to catch!

Chopping nuts and measuring raisins were the piece de resistance. How fine do the nuts need to be chopped? How many cups of raisins should be added? And of course the new cook spooned the batter onto the cookie sheet. Carefully, the tray was inserted into the oven and the timer set.

Then the process turned into how to do production. While one or two trays cooked, the next two were prepared so that the cooking could be completed in optimal time.

Cure for the Talent Shortage

The endeavor was a success. It was the young cook who became the baker of the oatmeal cookies. It was the youth who earned the bragging rights of who made the cookies. And the youth modestly wore the mantle while enjoying the rewards of the endeavor.

It doesn’t have to be a kitchen where a batch of cookies are being baked. The time and place to train, to teach our youth how to do things properly and as responsible individuals can happen anywhere.

The foundations of good training, however, are the essentials. They get the ball rolling for the day that they actually step into the workplace with real-world tasks waiting to be completed. Facing those tasks with the right attitude and discipline is essential for having positive results. We complain mightily today about the lack of training and reliability of our youth and bemoan the impending talent shortage. However, it is the preparation of those same youth that will take us out of the talent shortage mindset. explanation of what is being done, why it’s done that way. Give them the big picture so that they know where they’re going.

Once they have a sense of what’s being done and why, it’s time to start putting the tools in their hands. It’s one thing to arm someone with a bunch of equipment. It’s another to explain what each tool does, its special function in the range of tools available.

Finally, it’s important to imbue the youth with sequencing knowledge so that they, armed with all of the other aspects of their duties, have a sense of how to do multiple things simultaneously. They not only have a sense of what they’re doing but why; they have control over the project at all times.

There are three types of learning: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. The kitchen example used all three. The narrative explanation provided auditory training as well as reinforcement when guidance in one direction or another was required. The youth had control of the equipment so that they literally had a “feel” of how things were done. And their coach was right there so that f something went wrong, there was another responsible adult available to set things right if they got too far out of control. Nevertheless, the supervision came through auditory reinforcement.

Is it possible to overcome the forecasted talent shortage? Yes, it is. But we need to take stock of who the cook is and use the proper building blocks — enticement, explanation regarding the why and how, teaching utility of the tools and proper use, show and develop scheduling and organization skills — in order to reach the level of entry expertise that we desire.

How can we expect good results when we are putting forth little to no effort to teach, to train, to develop the talent that we want and need? They cannot simply walk into the building and have these skills leap from their desirous hearts. It takes preparation.

Have an oatmeal cookie. Happy birthday, Vick.

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