Return to site

What I've learned about teaching

· English

It all started some years ago, when I responded to a job ad that read: “Business school is looking for a lecturer.”

A couple of weeks later, I was standing in front of the main entrance of a four-storey Haussmann-style building located in a beautiful district in Paris. I had walked by the school on several occasions without ever knowing what it was; the logo, incised on a rectangular glass panel next to the gate, was very discreet.

I pressed on the heavy portal. The interior was rather sombre.

“Yes?” said the lady at the welcome desk.

“I am here to meet the programme director.”

Six months later, I was giving the opening lecture to a group of fifty students in their final year of studies for a master’s degree.

Now, you should know that I am a habitué of educational institutions. I am a proud holder of three university degrees in three different subjects, and my quest for education spanned four countries. I stretched my student years well into my thirties. The truth is, I love learning and studying.

But when I looked at the students in front of me, the once familiar world of classroom discussions seemed a distant and faded memory. This group was different.

I was facing the millennials, seemingly the most written-about generation. Here they were before me, dressed smartly in dark suits. They were looking at me expectantly, seated in neat rows in the packed classroom.

I decided to welcome them bravely, in spite of their overwhelming advantage in numbers. I was, after all, responsible for building from scratch the 20 hours of class on one of the hottest subjects in management of organizations, and I felt I had relevant experience to pass on.

Little did I know then, that the experience of teaching this group of young adults would turn out to be the start of a rewarding, rich and transformative professional challenge. 

I’d like to share some insights on the art of creating opportunities to learn that I have gained in working with business school students:

  1. Being a teacher is about speaking from the heart.
    You can only teach what you know, what you deeply, intimately believe, what you’ve experienced. Your sincerity will earn your students’ trust.
  2. You have to become a storyteller.
    Theory is important, but what makes the theory come alive is stories – not made up, but lived. When I succeed in picking the right stories for a class, I can see what listening looks like.
  3. Learn how to design experiences right there in the classroom.
    Find ways to involve students in corporate decision making, ask them to design a company policy, to motivate a hiring decision. Classroom is a laboratory,  use the opportunities for micro-innovation. 
  4. Respect the people you are teaching.
    The more time we spend together, the more I respect my students – for their candidness, their diversity, their strong opinions. Showing respect to students means making no judgements whatsoever; it also means welcoming each comment sincerely – finding a way, in middle of a discussion, to take a contribution and shed light on it to bring out the best in that comment. Students immediately recognize respect, and they pay it back fully.
  5. Become a curator of content.
    I strive to select thought-provoking material and design experiences around this content to make it relatable and personal. Content is king, in the classroom as everywhere else.
  6. To teach, you have to see the world with your students’ eyes. 
    Their world is diverse, boundary-less and complex. My students' choices can be dramatic and polarized – they rarely take the middle position during a debate. They show genuine interest when confronted with issues that are important.
  7. You have to manage the group.
    This must be done in a way that is reassuring, but you nevertheless have to be the enabler and guardian of good learning conditions.

Thanks to my students’ invaluable feedback, today I am a better lecturer than I was a couple of years ago. I look forward to learning more.