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Teaching Principles that I have Learnt and developed

Setting up the Right Learning Environment

    1. The Non-Aggression Pact
    2. “It is easy” Pitfall
    3. Teaching groups of participants with varying ability
    4. “That’s once” story

It is important to set the desired tone and parameters of a teaching session which should be productive and fun for the participants. A little humour here  and there helps the enjoyment of the experience. I want the participants to realize that it is my serious intention to help them learn the skills I am teaching without wasting time and with the least confusion and stress.  Learning takes us out of our comfort zone but unnecessary stress gets in the way of the progress of a participants learning.

1. The Non-Aggression Pact

When I first started teaching I was sure that participants would be out to get me. This is a sign of my paranoia. Owing to experiences at dental school and the nature of dentistry the development of some form of paranoia is almost inevitable. The governing bodies of dentistry also make their contribution to the condition.

As a result of this I developed my Non-aggression pact to protect me from negative experiences while teaching.

In my experience of attending lectures I always get upset by lecturers who give  participants a hard time when they asked a question. Equally I am upset by participants who give a lecturer a hard time during a lecture. My non- aggression pact is designed to reduce the chances of this happening.



At the beginning of a teaching session I make the agreement with the participants that I will not give anyone a hard time. In return I ask the participants to agree that they would not to give me a hard time

I say that they are free to ask questions but please keep them to ones that they think I may know the answer to.

I know that I will not give them a hard time as I have  trained myself to respect participant’s difficulties and to answer even simple questions in a caring and helpful way.

Beware of answering questions with false premises. For example “As you know all about xxxxxx” then the questioner asks their question. By answering the question you have agreed to the first statement which is a setup.

I also tell them not to expect me to quote papers   I have learnt from people who do dentistry not people who just talk about dentistry.


2. Teaching groups of participants with varying ability

I say “We have a group here who have varying abilities and experience. I would like those of you with limited ability and knowledge to be patient and I will help you through the procedure. Those of you who have a moderate ability when I tell you something you know just smile and when I show you don’t know just smile and those of you know everything just smile all the time.

This will keep me happy”

3. “That’s once” story

Sometimes I have experienced subversive participants who have caused me stress. To reduce the chances of this happening I started to use the “That’s once”  story at the beginning of a teaching session.

“In the United States a hundred or so years ago there was a couple who were married in their local town. After the reception the couple left in their horse and trap (buggy) for the farm, fifty miles away, which was to be their family home.

After fifteen miles the horse tripped.

The husband stopped the horse and buggy, got out of the trap and went up to the horse’s head. He looked into the horses eye and, wagging his finger at the horse, said “That’s once”

The husband returned to the trap, got into his seat and started on home again.

After a few more miles the horse tripped again.

The husband stopped the horse and trap, got out of the trap and went up to the horses head.

He looked into the horse’s eye and, wagging his finger at the horse, said “That’s twice”

The husband returned to the trap, got into his seat and started on home again.

As the horse and trap came over the brow of the hill and the homestead was in sight in the distance, the horse tripped again.

The husband stopped the horse and trap, got out of the trap and went up to the horses head. He looked into the horse’s eye and wagging his finger at the horse he said “That’s three times”

The husband then took out his gun (remember that almost all Americans carry guns)

He then shot the horse in the head. The horse dropped dead at his feet.

His new bride went berserk. She shouted, and screamed and yelled at him saying how cruel he was, how intolerant he was and that he was a dreadful man.

After ten minutes she stopped.

The husband looked at her in the eyes and said “That’s once”

The use of “That’s once” occasionally during a course, usually in a light hearted way, helps the introduction on some humour into the occasion and warns participants to be careful ho they behave.

4. Do as I say today

To encourage participants to cooperate and do what I am teaching I say

“Do as I say today. Next week do whatever you wish. There is no use in participants carrying on doing what they have always done taking no notice of what I am teaching. If they do as I teach them during the course they can evaluate the merits of the methods and decide whether to change what they do.

During a Teaching Session

The “It is easy” Pitfall




Never say something is easy. Only say something is easy after someone has learnt to do a task or has understand a concept. It is easy to forget one’s own experience of doing something for the first time. Saying something is easy puts a person about to be taught under unnecessary stress person. They may not find the procedure or concept easy to grasp and, as a result of being easy, may feel inadequate.

The capacity of different people to learn varies tremendously. What is easy for some people may be difficult for another. The way people learn is also very variable as is the speed at which they learn.  People who progress slowly often make better progress in the end.

The Hands off if Possible Technique

Several years ago I had someone help me teach on a course. One of the participants asked him how to do something. The person helping went over and did whatever the participant was trying to do.

Half an hour later the same participant asked the same question again. I asked the helper to come over. I then talked the participant through what he wanted to do without doing the job for him.

I then asked the helper to keep his hands in his pocket while helping a participant. He then helped participants by talking them through any problem they wanted to solve. I cannot over emphasise how important this is to the progress of participants learning.