Stephanie Burns Logo Stephanie Burns
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The introduction to Artistry In Training (1996, 1999, 2000) is the most comprehensive biographical information on my career as a professional trainer.

 

 

   


A bit of history

For the past twenty-one years of my professional career I have, in one form or another, been involved in the arena of 'training'. On reflection, I have found that my experiences fall neatly into two distinct categories: my experiences as a practitioner - someone who stands up, presents training to others and is paid for it; and my experiences as a student and researcher - someone who studies the theoretical literature, does research and then lectures on the findings.

 

Receiving my
Military Instructor badge
U.S. Army, 1974

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artistry In Training

 

Artistry in Training is published by
Allen & Unwin Book Publishers

If you cannot find this book in your local bookstore it can be purchased here on the website.

 

 

 

If you'd like to order a copy, use the kiosk

CCS Advanced Skills for Training Professionals The Emotional Experience of the Adult Learner Learning To Learn Guitar Move Closer Stay Longer Great Lies We Live By

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Over the years, I have conducted several thousand training events. I have taught in many different environments: classrooms, ski resort lodges, hotel conference rooms, garages, convention centres, churches, university lecture halls, boardrooms, living rooms, a few tents and even once, on a boat. To some groups I have lectured for just one hour, delivering a keynote address; other groups have required seven days of intense skill development; still others I have trained for a few hours each week for many months. I have been both a sideshow in someone else's conference and the main event.

I have stood in front of small groups of twelve, and larger groups consisting of thousands. I have delivered lectures on new research into human brain function, trained engineers to use computer design tools, taught teenagers to take notes more effectively, provoked teachers to raise their expectations of their students, explored drawing skills with prisoners in the Hawaiian women's prison system and even taught guitar to fifty beginners at one time so that they could all play Rock Around The Clock with the back-up band at the end of the first lesson. I have taught old people to juggle, young people to think and a lot of people (amazingly, a lot of nuns) to use personal computers. Today, I mostly teach others how to teach more effectively and explore issues related to the training of adults - how to influence others to learn and, ultimately, how to influence others to change.

Like many trainers I meet, it is not a career I sought, nor one I would have chosen. When I was young, lying in a field of grass dreaming about my future, I never once - not once - fantasised about becoming a trainer. For most of us, entry into this career stems from existing circumstances. Many times we are selected because someone else has identified us as an expert on a certain topic. In my case, having graduated at the top of my computer engineering course, logic dictated that I should be a good instructor of other budding engineers. In other words, there is an assumption that a good guitarist should be a good guitar teacher; a good salesperson should be a good teacher of sales techniques. That most trainers do not choose their career, but stumble into it based on their competence in a particular area, is in itself a fascinating phenomenon.

As a military instructor, I had little experience to draw upon for my training technique - only memories of how my teachers taught in school. My style was therefore very much based on what I had seen others do, along with my personality and the circumstances I found myself in. But the starting point for my commitment to students' achievements - and the inventiveness (sometimes sheer craziness) of the methods I used-goes all the way back to those first days standing in front of a classroom of students: all males, all of them older than nineteen, most with more stripes on their sleeves than mine. It was most definitely appropriate in that context that I took the blame, or blamed my own inadequate experience, for anything less than successful results. It was equally appropriate that I did whatever it took (with the exception of cheating) to ensure my students succeeded.

Three distinct phases in my training career

Computers and technology

I have primarily taught three different subjects during the twenty-one years of my training career. The first phase centred around technology. I taught my military students basic electronics and computer design, and how to write simple software routines. After leaving the military, I taught service engineers in Chicago how to install and troubleshoot nuclear medicine imaging and cardiology equipment. I travelled extensively for another company, teaching its clients (all from diverse engineering companies) how to use the company's newest microprocessor design tools. In 1979, I made what at the time felt like a risky move - I started my own training company, in Los Angeles. The first private training contract I procured was with NASA, which called for me to train a number of engineers to use microprocessor design tools. I conducted the training in a small computer room at Edwards Air Force Base, in the California desert. I spent one morning a week for ten weeks working with brilliant aeronautic-computer engineers and made enough money to live comfortably for three months. I felt reasonably confident I would find another training contract before my money ran out. Fortunately, I did - with ABC-TV. Others soon followed.

As it turned out, I was in the right place at the right time to catch the rising industry demand for computer literacy and computer applications training. Companies and individuals were buying any old computers, with no idea how to drive them. For perhaps the first time ever, there were not enough training hours to meet industry demands. That led to large-audience lectures - sometimes 500 people, split into 100 five-person teams, each team with its own computer station, with me literally jogging from station to station during the hands-on exercises. The rising interest in computers and the attention it drew to adult learning and training led to my participation in television programs and interviews, radio interviews and press conferences at computer shows.

Two important things happened in my career as a trainer at that time. The first was a request to give lectures - one-hour stand-up routines in front of large audiences. Sometimes the topic was computers in general, sometimes it focused on the effect they were having on industry, sometimes it was about the phobic response some employees exhibited. I quickly learned that lecturing is very different from teaching and requires a different set of skills.

Along with this recognition came another observation, this time more to do with the trainees than the trainer. When you take competent, otherwise successful adults, and put them back in the classroom, they begin behaving in many ways as they did as six or seven year olds in school. They rock back on their chairs; they doodle on their papers; they avoid eye contact with the teacher. If they do not understand a concept, most will not raise their hand to ask a question for fear of being embarrassed. I learned early on that many people prefer being confused (and suffering the consequences, such as not learning) to being embarrassed. Essentially, my adult students exhibited behaviours that went a long way toward inhibiting their achievement in a learning situation.

Learning to learn

I was fascinated and befuddled: the more I observed my adult learners' behaviours, the more I wanted to understand. In 1983, I disbanded my computer training company and said goodbye to a dedicated staff of trainers, writers, sales and support personnel. The next four years were spent off-stage, studying the literature and working on projects in an attempt to understand more about the process of learning for adults and how we, as trainers, could assist them to learn more effectively.

Those experiences brought me to the second phase of my training career, which centred around teaching learning strategies to adult learners. I transformed from an expert in computer technology to a quasi-expert in learning technology. I designed a program called Learning to Learn, which has now been conducted throughout Australia and New Zealand for tens of thousands of adults of all ages, from every level of education and from a wide range of occupations. While teaching this program, I did almost everything a trainer can do on stage and used most methods available to achieve the outcomes. More than anything, I learned a lot about the experience of adults as they re-enter learning situations or choose learning goals to pursue. That work inspired my first articles for publication and even my first book, Great Lies We Live By. My knowledge in this area also led me squarely back into the academic environment as I began to train teachers who work with students every day.

Training other trainers

Not long after entering that second phase, the third (and hopefully not final) phase of my training career began to bubble to the surface. I began receiving requests to train other trainers. But being able to do something does not necessarily mean you know how to pass those skills on to others. Once again, I began studying and researching. What was I doing on stage that worked? Did it have a name? And could someone else be taught to do it?

I began seeking out others who had teaching or communication skills that consistently produced excellent results. I found them in a variety of careers: schoolteachers, university lecturers, corporate trainers, consultants, ministers, nurses, therapists and coaches.

For the past eight years I have been teaching these skills in the Training To Train program around Australia. Once a year, over a four month period, I work with professionals who are exploring adult education and adult learning, with the aim of enhancing their ability to produce consistent results. I am no longer surprised by the variety of careers represented in my courses: psychologists, schoolteachers, radio announcers, business owners and managers, counsellors and, of course, trainers, or those thinking about a career in training. They all have one thing in common: they are responsible for educating, informing or creating change in other people. This book is an attempt to capture the experiences and lessons I have learned from those people.

Life as a student and researcher

Another way I have personally been involved in this industry is as a student and researcher, specifically in the disciplines of adult learning and adult education. Although I've grown to be quite comfortable on stage - most certainly it is how I am best known - on most days I am studying or writing. I like thinking more than talking. I am also a stickler for ensuring that my practice -what I do, or what I teach others to do - has theoretical grounding and is based on rigorous scientific research. I study, design research projects, experiment, discuss, argue and write; but mostly I think. In the end, the goal is to make a contribution: report a new finding, refute an existing theory or develop a new question. By no means am I a scholar, but I am learning with the guidance of others to do scholarly work.

When approached by Woodslane to write Artistry In Training, I was in the middle of conducting three Training to Train courses, one each in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. There were 120 students participating in those courses and, as with every other year, they came from diverse backgrounds and industries, and had diverse reasons for doing the course. In addition to this training, I was still doing the occasional short lecture for schools, companies and conferences. But mostly I was in my office studying. I was just reaching the halfway point in my studies for a doctorate degree in adult education. As part of that work, I met with my volunteers every three weeks, read hundreds of their written narratives, and spent hours on the phone conducting semi-structured interviews. Together, we explored the effect of emotions on the learning process and goal achievement of adults.

That first day as a military instructor

On a hot, sticky morning in August 1974 I woke on my bunk to a familiar cacophony - one that could only be produced by thirty women soldiers living in close proximity. Sounds of a blow dryer mixed with Mexican ballads came from the bay to my right; elsewhere, Minnie Riperton's screeching voice sang Loving You in competition with Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra; Barry Green's Rock The Boat Baby emanated from somewhere on my left. And unbelievably, an alarm clock blared for someone still asleep in the back corner of the barracks.

My bunk mate sat, dressed in fatigues, on her foot locker, eating a bag of potato chips while teasing her hair. The bass to her munching melody came from a floor buffer grinding along the corridor as it slowly followed two Privates who were on hands and knees dripping hot wax from a tin which they kept melted with a cigarette lighter.

I was agitated and nervous. I hadn't been sleeping well for the past few nights. It wasn't the noise; I had long ago forgotten that I disliked music or any other kind of noise in the morning.

I carefully dressed in my summer uniform - a lightweight bluegreen regulation-length skirt and a heavily starched, perfectly creased, board-stiff blouse-jacket, with too few stripes and one measly medal. The brass on my collar sparkled from its daily encounter with Brasso and a soft rag. I had perfectly positioned the brass the night before, using a tissue to keep my fingerprints from showing. I clipped on my orange throat scarf, representing the colours of the Signal Corps to which I belonged. I looked at my feet and could see my reflection - I'd spent hundreds of hours spit-shining my shoes.

Last, I clipped a round, engraved, silver badge onto the bottom of my name tag. It was a new ornament on my uniform, presented to me in a ceremony just the day before. It was also the source of my anxiety. It reminded me, and announced to everyone else, that I was now Specialist Burns, Military Instructor. I had just celebrated my nineteenth birthday, and it was the first day of what would be a long career as a trainer.

So what happened that first day as a military instructor

I climbed the three flights of stairs and walked along the green hallway to my classroom. I entered the room: tables and chairs all in tidy rows, an instructor's podium at the front, computer terminals lining the walls. I knew of nothing important I should be doing, so I waited. I checked that my instructor's manual was in order and double-checked that the reviewer's manual at the reviewer's chair was open at the proper section. It was the first hour of the first day of a four-month course. I opened the windows to the sound of a drill session taking place outside and tried to remember my own experiences as a student in this very room, which had ended only three weeks before. I was shaking, quite uncontrollably, as the chatter of my students grew louder in the hallway as they waited for the morning bell to ring. I prayed it would never ring. It did.

As the students entered, taking seats randomly, I fiddled with my notes and looked at myself in my shoes. The room was quiet and attentive long before I ever noticed. My head was pounding; I could hear my heartbeat in my ears. My lip danced to some odd tune, and my knees moved spontaneously in directions knees were never designed to go, making my skirt do funny things. As I looked up and attempted to speak I began to stutter, not for the first time in my life, but certainly at the most critically important. The harder I tried to control it, the worse it became. The only rational thought that came to mind, as silly as it seems now, was to write my name on the chalkboard. Without yet having spoken a single comprehensible word I turned and walked to the board. I picked up a piece of chalk and with every ounce of effort I could muster I attempted to glide the chalk onto the flat surface. The next thing I remember is choking down chalk dust and hearing a rapid-fire clicking as the chalk slammed repeatedly into the board, shattering into thousands of little pieces. My name had been forever changed to something resembling shots from a machine gun, still firmly ingrained on a blackboard at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.

When I recovered some many minutes later, turning to face my class, I discovered that my students, out of a mixture of confusion and understanding, had all respectfully left the room.

I say this with all sincerity: given that I have gone on to become a well-respected, highly paid and sought-after trainer since that first experience, forever cemented in my mind is the belief that those with perseverance and a willingness to make all their experiences useful, will without doubt succeed.

Stephanie A. Burns

 

 

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