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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.