Michael E. Webber
“These people feed me, shelter me, and love me . . . they must be God.” – Dog
“These people feed me, shelter me, and love me . . . I must be God.” – Cat
“These people show up just to listen to me talk and hang on every word and do what I ask . . . I must be God.” – Professor Who Speaks Down to Students
“These people come here just to learn so they can better themselves and improve society . . . they must be God.” – Professor Who Speaks Up to Students
One of the biggest mistakes I see teachers and other public speakers make is to speak down to an audience. Academia in particular invites this phenomenon, because the unspoken currency on campus is intellectual superiority. Professors are known to use specialized jargon and complicated equations that are designed to show how smart they are rather than to convey the information effectively to their audience. The downside of this approach is that the students feel patronized and are likely to tune out, which inhibits their learning.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou.A better approach is to elevate the audience. Teachers are there to serve the students, not the other way around. Speaking up to the students grants them the respect they deserve and will invite them to participate fully. I start classes off each semester by explaining why this subject is important, and why those students are important. Although my students might not remember everything I teach, they will remember the feeling they had while learning.
“Michael Webber takes a direct approach: Explain to students why they are important. Three interrelated assumptions “behind” this approach are that it will raise students’ self- esteem, that elevation will encourage them think that they are capable, and this elevated self-concept will enable them to do better work.
I first witnessed a demonstration of the elevation via an indirect approach, not at a university, but at a children’s theater. My daughter was auditioning for her first musical. She got a good part, Twinkles, that required her and many of the other children to learn 18 songs plus dialogue in about three weeks while doing homework for their regular classes. My response: no way. Fortunately, I was not the director. She never questioned the children’s ability do the show, so most of the students assumed they were good enough to do it. And they did.
I think of this example when I assign challenging individual or team work. I act as if it is a normal task, and assure students that they can do it. Most of the time the students respond well because embedded in the challenge is the assumption that you are good. You can do this. That’s the “Twinkles” effect.”