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  • April 18, 2013

Those who teach, learn.

At Happy Cog, we take pride in our work teaching others and sharing what we’ve learned. Whether by speaking at a conference, leading a class, or writing on this very blog, we’ve taught or shared our knowledge on best practices for web design and development, user experience design, business advice, and even the occasional informal primer on animated GIFs. Decorative Illustration

When someone at Happy Cog tells me that they’re teaching a class for Girl Develop It or a local university, or a workshop at a conference, my first response to them is one of encouragement. Then, I say: The best way to get better at what you do is to teach others how to do it, too.

If you want to test your own prejudices and assumptions about the tools and techniques you use, then volunteer to teach a group of local designers or developers or do a short, instructional talk at your local Meetup group. Do you want an even easier way to get started teaching? Write a blog post or article sharing a development or design technique. Regardless of where or how you teach, the experience of preparing the material and then sharing it will make you better at what you do. Ready to get started?

Five Things I’ve Learned About Teaching

Know Your Stuff

For starters, make sure you know the information you’re teaching. If there are aspects with which you aren’t as knowledgeable, do the proper research and become informed. The biggest mistake you can make is to try to teach something you don’t thoroughly understand.

Make the Sale

Teaching requires you to share and transfer your knowledge to your students. But, that knowledge is transferred with a good sell. A good sell? So, teaching is a sales pitch for the material your students are learning? Precisely.

Think about the worst teachers you’ve ever had. Mine was my high school algebra teacher. She was smart and knew all of the material, but her delivery was dry and uninspired. She sat behind the overhead projector and slapped one transparency after another onto the glass. My takeaway from that was that she didn’t care about the material she was teaching, so why should I have?

Show your passion for the topics that matter to you. Remember back to the first time you learned the technique or technology you’re teaching and how excited you were about it. Channel that excitement, and relive that moment for your students.

Teach with Context

Every lesson should have context. Embed the topic you’re teaching in real-world examples. If you’re teaching responsive web design, then the material should walk through how to code a sample project. Give your students the opportunity to immediately apply and try what they’re learning. Give them scenarios that will fit how they’ll use the new technique after the class is over.

Improve and Iterate

Here’s a big secret on teaching: your curriculum is never done. You will always change and improve your lesson and approach based on classroom experiences (e.g. your students are confused by how you’re explaining a topic) or changes in the topic you’re covering.

While you’re teaching, make notes of where your curriculum isn’t working. After the class, go back and adjust it. Improve and iterate on your material after every class.

Be a Student

Take other classes, and be the student. As a student, you get to learn a lot about how others teach: the order of the material they cover, the examples they use, and how they explain difficult concepts. Good teachers always watch others teach.

Alas, these tips are only useful if you actually apply them. So, go find your first opportunity to teach someone something new, and improve your own knowledge!

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