Box of Crayons Blog


4 Learning and Development Secrets from a Six-Year-Old’s Homework

When my son was almost six years old and in grade one, he’d only been reading for about two and a half months. Part of his learning included nightly reading. One night, about halfway through the book, he said, “Mama, whoever drew these pictures is REALLY good. They look so real!”

Plot twist? Ummm … yeah. They WERE real. They were photographs, not an artist’s rendition.

This moment REALLY struck me and made me think about a few things related to learning and development that I’d like to share:

1Your skill level DOES NOT dictate where someone else should be

Skill acquisition and learning is personal. It comes at its own pace and on its own schedule. I was genuinely shocked that he didn’t know that those were actual photographs. Because it seemed so damn obvious to me. But what the hell would my level of learning and understanding have to do with his?

Challenge: Look around you at those employees whose skill level and learning acquisition is surprising or frustrating to you. Humbly ask yourself how much of that frustration is coming from evaluating them against YOUR bar? How might you approach coaching and supporting skill development if YOUR level of skill attainment WASN’T the bar?

2Someone’s skill level in one area DOES NOT NECESSARILY dictate their skill level in another area

My son is bright in so many areas. His intelligence in these various areas made it almost impossible for me to understand how he wasn’t yet able to differentiate between a photograph and a drawing. Truth be told, I almost felt a bit frustrated. In my head I was thinking, “Seriously? You’re so bright, Aiden. How can you not know these are photographs?”

Challenge: This little game can often play out with our high performers. The bar is set so high that sometimes we have little patience if/when those employees don’t/can’t shine in EVERY aspect of their role. That lack of patience can truly negatively impact your ability to support, coach, encourage and engage that employee. Think about a particular high performer who is struggling in a certain area and consider how you might coach and support them differently and allow for them to not be brilliant in every area.

3Your response to a skill gap can make or break the learning to come

A learning opportunity presented itself that night because of a very organic and safe conversation. I wasn’t prodding my son to figure out what he knew and didn’t know. He just happened to mention something that let me in on a little secret about his current learning state. How I acted in that very moment meant EVERYTHING in terms of how willing he was to investigate his current beliefs and learn something different. I didn’t react. I didn’t say, “Well of course they look real. They ARE!” I didn’t “teach” him much of anything. I asked him why he thought they looked real. I asked him to describe what he saw. I asked him if it was possible that they weren’t drawings. I asked him what else they could be. I asked him how we could test it. How could we know for sure. I asked a bunch of questions that made him feel safe and curious and open to another perspective.

Challenge: Choose one person who has a documented skill gap that you would like to support the improvement of. And without frustration or annoyance or assumptions, start asking some questions. Rather than going into “fixer” mode by suggesting the next training session that’s going to close the skill gap, create a safe space for an open and curious dialogue about the situation at hand. Be open to where it leads.

4Assumptions I’m making are impacting my employees’ effectiveness

In many employment situations, our various skills impact and interact with each other. If I am making an assumption about what skills or learning my employees have, I might inadvertently be negatively impacting their success. My assumption that my son knew the difference between a photograph and an artist’s rendition wasn’t going to have a major impact on his learning to read. However, if I make an assumption that my learning and development consultant knows how to deliver an effective and engaging learning opportunity because they are very effective at doing a learning needs assessment, that employee’s success in their role is very likely to be negatively impacted by that assumption.

Challenge: It’s critical to be regularly reviewing and assessing your employees’ competencies and skill gaps via regular coaching conversations in order to decrease the likelihood that you are making any assumptions about their learning and skills and to increase your employees’ ability to offer up their best and truly make a difference in their role. Who have you been making assumptions about? Who is really deserving of a coaching conversation and support about their development and learning? Why don’t you book a meeting with them before the end of the day tomorrow? You know what happens when you make assumptions, don’t you?

Happy learning, everyone!

Dr. Chantal Thorn, Ph.D.
Director, Program Development
Box of Crayons

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