5 Micro-skills I’ve Gained from Teaching

The great James Altucher, whose podcast I am subscribed to, talks a lot about micro-skills. When I Google for a good definition of micro-skill, I get a very specific definition that doesn’t ring true to how I hear him use it with Mr. Altucher’s guests. It’s a very specific definition having to do with counseling. Therefore, I’m going to quote from some show notes:

Anything worth learning has 100 micro-skills that you have to learn.

Business, among its many micro-skills are: sales, negotiating, management, deal structure, execution, creativity, and on and on. I can list 100s of micro-skills in business.

In chess: you have to learn the opening, the middle game, the endgame, and it gets more granular. You have to master king pawn openings, queen pawn openings, closed tactical situations, open middle games, rook-pawn endgames, and on and on.

That’s more of an example than a definition, but you get the point.

Listening to a more recent podcast, I started thinking about the micro-skills one needs to be a good teacher. They’re sort of the same as the ones that his guest that day listed off, as the guest was a performer (a comedian to be specific) and I’ll also list a few that I grabbed off a website about counseling.

I think it’s important to recognize these micro-skills that we’ve all developed. I’d also like to come back to this idea at some point. Teaching isn’t just standing in front of a room talking. It’s a thousand other things one is doing at the same time (like many jobs).

Here’s a starter list:

  1. Be present: Being in the moment is essential to teaching (to my mind), as so much is happening. There are anywhere from 12 to 25 students in my classroom at any one time. (Some teachers have many more than that, of course.) That’s a lot going on.
  2. Trust yourself: I learned very early on that I am the captain of the ship, the king of the castle. I am the one making the decisions. There is simply no one else I can ask if I need help in the moment. I must trust myself. If I do not, to continue with the metaphor I started, there could be mutiny!
  3. Be fearless: Being fearful or scared or nervous is never the answer. Some students are like sharks. If they smell blood, it’s over. But even if they don’t attack, I know might lose them if I’m not willing to take a chance now and then.
  4. Questioning: This is sort of about being in the moment, but it’s also about coming up withgood questions (coupled with the willingness to actually ask). Be willing to ask probing, interesting questions that are meaningful and that will help my students to inspire my students.
  5. Observation: Being able to take in the atmosphere of the room, changes in a student’s behavior or a strange new vibe is key to classroom management. Why are they quiet all of the sudden? What just happened? Where is their attention?
  6. Re-focusing: With all those bodies, minds and personalities in the room, things can go off the rails (or even just off the path). It’s essential to be able to get students back on the subject at hand with a gentle, guiding nudge.

I’d love to come up with a longer list of micro-skills of teaching. When I look at even this short list, it makes me imagine trying to balance myself on a large ball. There is so much going on and so many of these skills are done while on autopilot.

Would you like to add to my list? Please help me out here.


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