3 Steps To Getting Focused

In the past week, I completed a large project with a local primary school - to train their P5s for the upcoming Science Olympiad. It took 4 days of 4 hours each and I felt it  to be a little too intense for them. I realised that many of the participants didn't have enough prior knowledge to complete a large percentage of the test questions so I had to bring them up to speed in as little time as possible. 4 years' worth of Science education in 4 days of 4 hours? Well, we tried.

A glaring oversight was that the Primary students of today are getting less and less able to remain attentive for long periods of time. It was immensely difficult for them to sit still for the time of each session, let alone focus long enough to absorb the information.

Gratifyingly, though, I noticed that there were a few who could.

Perhaps all is not yet lost to touchscreens and other devices for instant gratification, including those incredibly annoying 'fidget spinners'.

If you're thinking of getting one such 'spinner' for your child or someone else's child, please don't. They really don't need another distraction. Instead, they need to learn to focus on their tasks at hand.

Focusing is difficult even for adults, what with the myriad distractions around us. As such, I've found it very useful to do a few things to help me focus:

1) Have a dedicated work space and work routine

This means setting a specific part of your desk to do work at. Use that space for nothing else but work. When you want to take a break, move out of that space so you don't end up mixing its use. It sounds like a lot of bother but, being creatures of habit, it will really help once you get this going.

If you're the nomadic type, like me, then you need to set up a strong work routine, since your work space will keep changing. Still, try to keep one such space at home, if possible.

For your routine, once you fire up the laptop, you immediately open a document file (or PowerPoint or Excel file, whatever you're working on) before you start trying to connect to the Wi-Fi, which will likely lead you to waste time doing endless searches on Google or some other site. 

If you prefer to write, start writing the date once you crack open your notebook / organiser.

2) Record EVERYTHING down

I create a 7 Day Plan for myself, in Excel format, in which I have the things I need to do each day already typed out. It doubles as my secondary calendar of events, because I can occasionally lose track of things.

I also keep a notepad-type app on the home screen of my mobile phone. On it, there is a To-do List that I check at certain intervals every day. Any time I think of something that needs doing, in it goes. Every time something gets done, it gets ticked off (and removed).

By having all these things down and ready for the days ahead, I don't have to waste space in my mind on remembering where I need to be tomorrow or what I need to get done later.

3) Announce your focused time slots

Let people around you know not to bother you at specified time slots. These will be the periods during which you do what you have to do.

This may be difficult in an office environment or if you work from home but try anyway. Once others know you have a routine set up, they will learn to respect your time and you will find fewer distractions.

You may even find your co-workers or family reminding you that you need to get work done when your time slot nears.

The Introvert Teacher Spoke Out

Last Saturday, 12 Nov, I spoke at a Toastmasters event organised by District 80, Division S.

Being the last speaker, I was originally concerned that the audience would be tired and less receptive to information by the time I got up to speak.

I therefore made sure that my presentation slides contained as few words as possible, filling it instead with thought-provoking and question-eliciting pictures. I also made extra certain that the flow of the session would be smooth, as I practised my segways and transitions.

The moments leading up to my turn were quite nerve-wracking. It really was rather difficult to concentrate fully on what the other speakers before me were saying. I was watching more for overlapping content (not much) and information (a fair bit) that I could point the audience to when it came to my turn. I was also looking out for what sort of things the audience seemed to respond to.

With all that information, I was working out, on the spot, how to tweak my delivery to better suit them.

When I was finally introduced and took the platform, it was part relief (Finally!) and part apprehension (I hope this goes well...). 

As soon as I spoke, I felt myself kick into gear, and I knew to trust my body to do the session delivery. I've already done this in my head. It's simply a matter of letting them turn into action.

As I tested the waters of audience response, I found a certain frequency that certain people seemed to enjoy. With that mental note, I further tweaked how I would phrase future questions and perform future actions.

With about 15 minutes to go in my presentation, I knew that I had built a rapport with this audience. They were freely responding, laughing and nodding along to my points. The only regret I had was that I had very little time left with them.

I finally got to my round-off slide, gave them information for a future workshop and encouraged them to speak to me after the session as I made my final point.

As I somewhat reluctantly handed the platform back to the hosts of the event, I felt the elation of a well-executed presentation - the fruit of constant preparation and deep thought.

To you who asked about the upcoming workshop, allow me to do the necessary putting-together of things before I let you know when and where it will be. Let's keep in contact until then. It was a pleasure to have benefited you.

To the organisers and fellow speakers at this event, let's do this again some time.

To my guests (you know who you are), thank you for your never-ending support.

September's APTS Meeting

Last night, I was at the 123rd APTS meeting. 

As was usual, there were two speakers - Richard Style and Avi Liran, both of whom happened to be speaking on a similar theme - connecting with your audience.

Richard is a professional emcee and certainly knows his way around the stage. He gave very useful tips on how to build up and maintain the energy of an audience. He admits that things are slightly different for trainers, but insists that the techniques he suggests can easily carry over.

I agree.

When he describes what he does as he is getting on stage, I notice the similarity to what I do as I am about to begin a teaching session. Both of us are looking for similar things - what Richard calls 'hotspots'.

Hotspots are groups of people who are responsive and energetic. For an emcee, this is a huge asset to lifting the overall atmosphere. For a teacher, it is no different, except that there may be moments when the teacher has to get the group to quieten down.

Richard also talks about looking for a 'Mr. Tan'. He explains that he uses this term because 'Tan' is the most common surname in Singapore. A 'Mr. Tan' is someone the audience recognises and listens to, who can drum up enthusiasm when he is asked to participate and who is willing to do so. His advice is to treat 'Mr. Tan' well, and never to over-use him or abuse him.

As a teacher, this is undoubtedly familiar. It is easier to get enthusiasm from our learners when someone gets the ball rolling. This someone has to be known by most of the participants and willing to be your 'guinea pig'. Otherwise, it's going to be a difficult ride.

Avi, on the other hand, has a slightly different approach to connecting with his audience. He prefers to share his heart and be intentional about adding value to those who learn from him. It's not so much about entertainment as it is about giving them something.

With such a wealth of experience, he freely shares his stories and experiences, encouraging us to never be ashamed of making mistakes, since the audience will have made mistakes in their lives too.

He says to learn from these mistakes instead of focusing on the pain they are causing. This has the added advantage of helping us to connect, and to prevent us from intimidating our audience with a 'perfect' persona.

I've learned a fair bit from these two speakers and am grateful that they were willing to give of their time and expertise.

Picture taken from  APTS  website

Picture taken from APTS website

Feedback (from The Introvert Teacher)

As teachers, one of our roles is to provide feedback to our learners so they know where they can improve. We may do this through test scores, examination results or pep talks. 

We constantly remind our learners to improve themselves and their abilities so we need to practise what we preach.

In order to improve ourselves, we need not only the desire to do so, but to get feedback from the right people for the right reasons.