The Power of Completion: Great vs Excellent Teachers

When I practiced aikido, I was struck by the difference between good and excellent teachers. The good teacher would be more than willing to correct me when I did something wrong. Too willing, in fact. So eager were they to instruct me that they would interrupt me mid-motion to show me how to improve. The excellent teachers never did this. They would always let me complete a full technique, only stopping me when it was all done to explain, very briefly, one small thing I could do differently.

The difference was profound. I became annoyed at the instructors who interrupted me. I felt I couldn’t really learn anything when being interrupted all the time. With the good instructors, I would often find out myself what I was doing wrong, and correct myself before they could. I don’t know about you, but I find that things I discover myself stick a whole lot better than things I’m told by others.

What was going on here? I believe that being allowed to complete a full technique, even if that meant doing it less well, made it possible for me to judge the results by myself. The good instructors could spot I wasn’t going to get a great result just from watching my early movement, and stopped me. The great instructors saw this too, but understood that only by discovering this myself would I truly learn.

Systems thinkers will recognize this problem: it is a problem of working on the parts versus working on the whole. The good instructors thought that improving the parts separately could work. The excellent instructors knew that focus needed to be first on the whole, second on the parts.

What kind of teacher are you? What do you do to ensure that you give your students a chance to learn by themselves?

Author: Tobias Fors

I'm a software management consultant. I help other people succeed with software development. In my work, I help teams and organizations be more effective and ship software.

7 thoughts on “The Power of Completion: Great vs Excellent Teachers”

  1. really nice point Tobias! This reminded me firstly of when I competed in swimming as a kid and had two trainers, one who shouted and pointed out faults and the other who was encouraging, positive and constructive. Guess which one made me swim the fastest. But this also made me think of a more profound lesson in teaching that I learnt through being introduced to the work of Timothy Gallwey (check him out on Wikipedia for example, I guess you may have already heard of him). He wrote the book the inner game of tennis which I highly recommend as an easy to read introduction to his philosophy. He speaks about the inner and outer game where the inner game involves playing against obstacles like fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions while it’s only the outer game that focuses on the external obstacles that we usually focus on. Timothy Gallwey became well known for, amongst other things, demonstrating (on TV) how he could teach a lady to play reasonably good tennis after about 20 minutes. This may not seem so incredible until you understand that the lady had never played tennis, was a long way from being athletic and didn’t even want to be there at the time either. He taught her by doing everything other than actually describing what it was that she should do, which is of course the usual way we learn to play things like tennis. He is one of the most important founders of modern day coaching.I won’t take up space here trying to describe this in more detail but check out the book, it can be a life changing experience!

  2. I’ve noticed this especially in new teachers of any subject, sport or technical issue, and oddly, it’s something that doesn’t tend to change unless they have a really excellent mentor/teacher/friend.

    Some are flabbergasted by the 1001 goings-on in a classroom at any given moment, and panic. A shout erupts from their mouth, and at that moment, it’s almost as if their inner soul is making a decision.

    I’m not saying they can’t change, not by any means! If willing to learn, everything can be remedied.

    But if they hold that thought in their mind, that inclination to erupt–it pops out again and again. It takes conscious thought several thousand times to stop it!

    Just a feeling I have, but it’s true more often than not. Heaven help the new teacher with a poor mentor. They haven’t got a chance…unless a Good Samaritan comes along and rescues them! I hope that was me when I was in the schools.

    Now I work alone, and I love it! Me and a kid–learning from each other. Bliss! And oh, the books we read…

    Good luck in your work!

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