Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Gentle Art of Teachable Moments

I hope by now that most librarians have come to realize we all do instruction. Some of us in formal learning situations, but all of us in various informal ways.  Is this kind of worldview of the profession taught or discussed in LIS schools, I wonder? It certainly wasn't when I went in the late 90's and I suspect it still isn't.

In reality, every single interaction we have with students, faculty, patrons, colleagues, administrators, what have you, is a potential teachable moment. Using those teachable moments effectively is not a skill that can be quantified or taught. Rather, it is an art form that has to be felt instinctively (but grows with experience), and acted upon confidently.

The real artistry of our profession comes in recognizing when and how much teaching can be injected into any interaction. The reality, at least in my dealings with adult distance learners, is that knowing when and how much "providing the fish" versus "teaching them to fish" to use is extremely tricky. Give out too much fish and you've missed the teachable moment and perhaps harmed the ability of that person to improve their own information skills in the longer term. But you can go overboard with the teaching part, too. Some people don't have the time or inclination or have the current frame of mind to want to learn in that specific moment. Trying to inject too much teaching into those interactions can turn the person off to using library services at all.

One of the John Henry's of the librarian twitterati (I mean that in a good way!), Andy Woodworth (@wawoodworth), posts an excellent periodic twitter poll and recently asked what librarians thought the number one quality of library staff should be. There were a ton of great answers to that poll question. My answer is: the ability to effectively recognize and act upon teachable moments. Everything else we do successfully, in my humble opinion, can flow from that crucial skill.

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