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Stepping On or Stepping Out? Rules for Classroom Etiquette.

When I first started instructing for a living (versus as an occasional sideline), I was eager and intensely interested in sharing what I knew. Every moment was a teaching moment!

On one hand, that’s swell. But sometimes, not-so-much. Let me explain.

During a course where 2 or 3 or more of us would be delivering a course, one instructor would be at the front of the room or “at the podium”, covering the material, sharing what they knew to the class.

Since I was usually well versed on the same topic, I sometimes felt like my perspective should ALSO be shared, especially if - from my perspective - it wasn’t covered well enough by the 1st instructor. So, I would stand up and make my way towards the front and find a moment in the other instructor’s presentation where I could - and would - step in on their podium time so I could share my self-proclaimed nuggets of valuable information.

After all, I justified, wouldn’t the student benefit from hearing two viewpoints on the same topic?

However, since I was approaching this from my perspective and not from the perspective (or the cost v. benefit) of the student OR the other instructor, I was missing an important dynamic:

It’s simply poor classroom management to interrupt another instructor while they’re addressing students.

As I’ve grown as an instructor I’ve been honored to serve alongside some outstanding educators and leaders. Through them and through my own, increased situational awareness, I’ve come to embrace a more professional style of classroom leadership.

And that includes not interrupting another instructor.

Unfortunately, the most impactful way to learn this is when it happens to you.

Recently, I was team-teaching during a large course delivery for a client involving several professional instructors and a few support staff.

A back office, support staff issue started bogging down the course and began putting the student’s focus on things other than their learning.

So I bypassed the issue and re-focused the students on the material.

That decision apparently provoked an already stressed-out member of the support staff. He marched out of the back office - while I was coaching a room full of students - and from the side of the classroom repeatedly and vocally demanded that he be allowed to give me his explanation about what went amiss in the back-office. Right then. Wow.

Sadly, unprofessional outbursts say the most about the person with the outburst but they also reflect poorly on everyone else on the instructional team.

When I work with other experienced, professional instructors it’s accepted that for better or for worse, when you have the floor, you have the floor.

If there’s a time issue like someone instructing past the lunch break (!), then standing at the back of the room within eyesight of only the instructor, a discreet tap on your watch or holding 5 fingers in the air (for 5 minutes) can respectfully signal that they need to wrap it up.

But what if the instructor presents inaccurate information?

There can sometimes be a very fine line between factually inaccurate and simply a different opinion or interpretation. Calling out someone for being wrong when they simply have a different opinion damages relationships and embarrasses yourself!

Sometimes though the info presented may actually be wrong.

Assuming that the instructor has earned their right to be there, then they should still be given the opportunity to fix their own error.

Imagine you and I are teaching together and you say that it’s Tuesday when it’s really Wednesday.

Would it be better for everyone if I corrected you in private and you were able to fix the mistake your way?

Or if I stood up and highlighted your mistake to everyone and then gave them the correct info myself?

Students like authenticity more than perfection so for each instructor to maintain credibility with the students they should be able to take responsibility for their own delivery.

For better or for worse.

For current and future world class instructors, there is no good justification in interrupting another instructor while they are interacting with a student.

Stepping out of the room to deal with any differences is imminently better for the student than stepping in when an instructor is interacting with a student.

Mike McKenna

About the author

Mike McKenna is the founder and president of TEAM Solutions. He helps public and private sector leaders improve their outcomes before, during and after a planned event or unplanned crisis.

Please contact Mike via the Contact page.

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