Friday, July 1, 2016

Don't Let Fear of Participation Keep You on the Sidelines

I'm still surprised at the eclectic personalities I encounter at classes and conferences. Some stand out and some are forgettable because they are too afraid to participate.

I learned a lesson years ago in band class--yes, I played flute and sousaphone in the marching band, go Highlanders! I remember the scene so vividly; the way the band hall smelled of stale spit and old carpet mixed with Drakkar Noir and Sun Ripened Raspberry, staples of the mid 90's gym locker; my climb to the mountainous third tier back row to join the tuba section; the two other tuba players who'd been to State and come back with ribbons flowing and me, fresh from the practice rooms just learning my scales. 

When the band director asked me to play, I could have simply shared what I learned, been crappy as I knew I would be next to the others in my section, and no one would have given it a second thought--they'd been newbies at some point, too. Instead, I let my insecurities get the better of me and I refused to play the stupid scale. All heads in the room turned towards me, exactly what I wanted to avoid but had caused by my lack of participation. The more the teacher cajoled the more I refused. I earned a big old F that day.

My lesson was this-suck it up and get in there! People are generally nice and you (meaning me) will have a better time and learn more with interaction.

This was classic fear of failure. Rather than making a mistake and letting others know of my possible failures, I chose to let them assume I didn't know anything. I've come a long way since then. Perhaps its because of maturity, gained confidence, or it could be because of the way I manage my class. I expect my students to make mistakes. I expect them to share all ideas-even if they are crazy. You never know when the crazy idea will be the right idea....just at a later time. I want my kids to participate and so I've learned to create a classroom atmosphere in which this is the expectation and where not being perfect is okay. I totally agree with the suggestions for getting kids to participate in this article.

Adults need encouragement as well and lucky for us our fellow authors are out there waiting to give out pats on the back. Our writing classes are built for risk taking and reaping the rewards of participation. All you have to do is believe you have something to contribute-an idea, a skill, a new point of view. By even showing up at a class you have already announced your intentions to improve your craft. People admire that commitment. You might as well just speak your mind while you are there.

If you are giving a class and want to encourage participation, here is a short list of tactics to try:
  1. Keep things positive. No one like to speak up if they feel they might be shot down.
  2. Give time for others to talk. People may shy away if they feel rushed.
  3. Encourage creative thinking. Sometimes we stray from the norm and those who do should still be able to share their thoughts.
  4. Keep things rolling and maybe provide an outline of the class. As a participant, I might not feel confident about all the aspects of a class---after all, I am there to learn--but I might be brave enough to share my knowledge about a certain part of the overall topic.
  5. Give praise, even if  the answer is 'wrong'. Remember the old rule about giving a compliment, critique and another compliment. Everyone is doing something well.
  6. Use visuals. Personally, I learn better if I can see and hear and DO while taking a class.
  7. Try the old teacher trick of wait time. After you ask a question or call for a volunteer, count to ten. This lets people think about what they want to say.
  8. Create a relationships with your class. Let them know why you should be trusted--share your expertise and act like someone who wants to be there. Your attitude will influence theirs.
I chose to face my fears head on by jumping into writing and classes and conferences. I started a    writing group and placed my learning in a positive atmosphere. The more I attended the better I felt and the more I participated. Not everyone can do that. It is okay to ease into conquering a fear. Tips and techniques abound and getting started in any way will clue you in to the benefits of become a participant and not a wallflower. 

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