When I was a young boy, I was visiting with some very dear family friends. I was in the car with a man I admired greatly, and we were on our way home from a fun event we had just finished. Along the way, there was a statue in front of a cattle farm. The statue was a prominent bull, to include a set of rather large male “spheres” (yup they wanted people to see it was a male) hanging proudly from the statue.
As we drove by I noticed someone had taken it upon themselves to deface the statue from its original form. The male portion of the figure had been painted thoroughly with a sky blue paint.
I was not quite old enough at this point to get the underlying joke affiliated with the graffiti artist’s sense of humor. The noticeable change in color did still demand my attention, and I pointed them out to my friend, “Look. There’s a blue balled cow.”
My friend, being much older and wiser than I was immediately focused in on correcting the error I had made in my statement. He responded with a question. “Blue balled, what?”
Well, I was not entirely certain what he was asking. My first reaction was that he simply might not have heard me, so I repeated my statement. “A blue balled cow is back there,” I said again with a little more confidence.
My friend was looking for a different answer. So he, in turn, repeated his original question. “Blue balled, what?”
I was now certain I had made some error in my statement. So, it was time for me to work out what the mistake was. I spent the next few minutes placing emphasis on different words within the statement. I will admit I was completely clueless at this point what answer my friend was looking for, and so I began using my responses to fish for what he was hoping to hear.
“BLUE, balled cow?”
Still the same question from my mentor.
“blue BALLED, cow?”
Again, he persisted.
“blue balled, COW?”
Finally, he realized I was not comprehending where he was trying to guide me. So he asked me another question. “What do you call a baby cattle?” he asked.
I was a little confused still but realized he was leading me somewhere. “A calf,” I answered.
“And what do we call the Mom?” he continued.
“A cow,” I answered again. “Oh! Bessy!” I jumped thinking I might have the answer.
My friend smiled and shook his head. “And what do we call the Dad?” he was finally guiding me where I was supposed to arrive.
The light bulb went on, and I finally understood what my error had been. “Oh, a blue balled BULL!” I declared with steadfast confidence.
“There you go,” was his responding praise.
Silly I guess that after more than two decades I can still remember so simple a topic of discussion, but there’s a reason I can readily recall this conversation. You see he had not told me the correct answer. I had been lead to it. I had “discovered” the answer by my efforts, and the work I did for it gave it a much more lasting value. Today I never have trouble remembering a male cattle is a “Bull.”
More importantly, I had just learned one of the most efficient methods you can use to instruct another person. There was no lack of patience; there was no rush to reach the answer; there was only continued guidance to help me arrive at the truth through my deductions. “Earning” an answer was not a lesson I ever forgot. In fact, I use it a great deal today.
When I am giving a seminar or speech I try to be direct in my language selection. I want to get my point across clearly. However, when I enter the role of being an instructor or teacher for others, I prefer to handle those situations more like my friend had done for me.
First- Foundation Principals need to be clearly defined. In my experience with my friend, I of course already knew the difference between a calf, a cow, and a bull, but I simply had not made the full connection to use such knowledge accurately and correctly. Which was the lesson, but if I had not already known what a bull was then there would be no way for me to reach the answer.
So whatever the topic is you need to begin by ensuring the foundations or the basics are clearly defined and understood by your students.
Second- Once you have got the basics down, it is time to start asking questions. Questions should be designed to help the students make connections between standard concepts, and also assist them to discover for themselves how to use the topics in practical applications.
Questions are so powerful because they not only force your students to comprehend and retain what you have already covered, but it also makes a new epiphany stick much more efficiently.
Third- As you ask more questions the students are not only answering them, but they begin to form more inquiries of their own. As they ask their questions, try and guide them to those answers as well. Unless you have not covered that topic yet, then you will need a direct answer.
In this way, you are encouraging them to become problem solvers who are learning to see past the course and into the realm of creative thinking.
Fourth- Remain patient and light-hearted. Once you have the students actively participating in the course, they will start to take on and mimic the attitude and personality you display. If you are having fun teaching while drawing them into the course, you will find they are much more willing to learn because the students will be enjoying their lesson. We all remember how much more we learned from classes we enjoyed as opposed to the ones we dreaded.
Believe me, when I say there is no better feeling than knowing you have helped someone to comprehend some new knowledge, they had fun doing it, and you are confident the lesson will stick with them for a long time.
I will forever be grateful to my mentor and friend for teaching me such a useful lesson, even if the topic was as silly as a “Blue Balled Cow; I mean Bull.”