Teachers in training have a lot to focus on. From government-defined curriculum standards, to fast-changing technology, to differing styles of learning, to pedagogy itself, there’s a great deal of subject matter to cover. But there’s one skill teachers need that is seldom taught: communication. Alexander Schmieden wants to change that, and that’s exactly what he’s doing in his native Germany with his company, just ask! Alexander Schmieden Kompetenzpool.
Schmieden, who has business training background, and his partner Markus Dormann, a former school teacher, strongly believe that teachers must learn to communicate effectively before they ever begin working with students. As Schmieden says, “When [teachers] stand in front of the class forthe first time, it’s too late to train an individual, strong and authentic way of communicating.” He adds, “University students have a strong need for practicing, trying out and reflecting their communication skills, which is not covered by the standard university education program and requires external knowledge from communication experts.”
With several sponsors, including Microsoft, the company began offering their course to teachers in training in mid-2012. According to Schmieden, “Since then, we’ve trained around 300 students at 10 different universities and received overwhelming feedback. Right now we have more than three applications for every seat in our seminars. What really makes us happy is the fact that we are able to contribute to strengthening the teaching skills of prospective teachers – a quality all of their future students will benefit from.”
Not only does Schmieden’s company help future teachers, they are now also focusing on helping small and medium-sized companies develop their new employees, or apprentices. Because of the worker shortage that is impacting Germany (along with much of the world), these smaller businesses often get undertrained employees. Schmieden’s just ask! Alexander Schmieden Kompetenzpool, offers these companies affordable training to make their workers better communicators – helping both employee and employer.
We’re proud to have Schmieden in today’s Daily Edventure, where he talks about what motivated him to address this real-world challenge, and about his perspective on the state of education today.
What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?
It happened by coincidence. Right after leaving university a good friend of mine asked me if I was willing to take over one of his classes (unemployed adults) for job application training at a private agency working for the authorities. As I myself had gained a lot of expertise in the field of application and was already supporting my university friends with their own applications, I said: “Ok, let’s give it a try.” So the first time I was standing in front of a class I had a group of 25 adults, many of them not willing to learn and to go to work. It definitely was a hard time and a lot of “learning by doing” but somehow I managed to create a good learning atmosphere and to motivate my “students.”
Soon, I really enjoyed doing this kind of training and helping to support people make a
positive change in their lives. Then I was asking myself: “If you can successfully work with people who are initially not willing and more or less driven to visit class – what if you are working with young people that have a life full of opportunities ahead?” As a result I founded my company and focused on the development of social and personal competences accompanying education at school or within companies –especially for young people (14-30 years old). Working together with our “future,” to encourage their passion and to support them in taking the chances the world is offering to them is nothing less than a privilege. I love my profession as it allows me to make a difference – to positively change things.
Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education or inspired you the most?
Right at the very beginning of my career I attended a seminar called “conflict resolution” and was overwhelmed by the atmosphere and honest appreciative way of dealing with the participants. A trainer or educator should not perform a one man show – it’s all about the participants. They should be in the center of what is happening. This trainer was Matthias Wedler, who was my mentor and later on became a good friend of mine.
Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education. What has changed as a result of your work?
One of my company’s main projects is called “Kommunikationsstark im Unterricht” excellent communication skills in class). My senior partner Markus Dormann (formerly a school teacher) found out during his classes that there is a high and uncovered need for training and optimizing the communication skills of prospective teachers in Germany. For sure they know a lot about methods and didactics – but more or less mainly in a theoretical way.
To counter this situation Markus and I put together all our expertise – Markus from the teaching profession and me from my communication trainings for companies. We went from university to university, offered our approach and heard the same sentence over and
over again: “We also see a high need for our students to professionally practice their communication skills – but we do not have the money to run such a program.”
So we looked for sponsors who had the belief and the resources to promote the education of teachers in Germany. We found them with Münchener Verein, co.Tec and Microsoft Partners in Learning and established a unique way of reliable sponsorship at German universities in the sensitive field of educating teachers in mid-2012.
Another project, partnered by JCI Schweinfurt, is called “AzubiCamp” (ApprenticeCamp). In Germany we are facing a situation where, due to the demographic development, companies are facing a severe challenge in winning the best young people to work for them (a “war for talent”). As a result, especially small- and medium-sized companies have to offer a good working atmosphere, personal development opportunities and also have to rely on fewer well-educated graduates. A limiting factor is that they can’t spend the money to pay a professional trainer for only two apprentices — in comparison to large companies that have dozens or even hundreds of apprentices. This project addresses all of these factors.
It is a seminar, unique in quality and price, providing the apprentices with the needed time, space and framework to evolve on a personal level and enhance their social skills. The main objective is to promote sustainable personal development of the participants, especially:
- Reliability and commitment
- Communication and conflict skills as well as the ability to deal with criticism
- Responsibility and perseverance
- Comparison of self-perception and the way one is perceived by others
It is crucial that young people hold up a mirror to themselves to understand their strengths. In this way, unnecessary apprenticeship dropouts, with negative consequences for the company, the community and the young people themselves, are avoided. And small- and medium-sized companies can also effectively address the lack of qualified staff.
The “AzubiCamp” soon became the best known apprentice training within our area and received several awards. Today there are already 26 companies regularly taking part in this project.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work? “Kommunikationsstark im Unterricht” also includes a video analysis of the prospective teachers’ communication skills. We analyze the video within the group and provide the personalized videos to each single student via an individual SkyDrive link. We also have linked a SkyDrive folder where the students can find the script of the seminar and other helpful material like exercise descriptions and hints for good communication.
In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education
It is the integration of tablets with keyboards at school. Students can learn and be connected wherever they are. For example, we have a group of very small islands in Germany – the Halligen – where only a handful of students are living. It is practically impossible to let them attend school on the mainland – at least it costs a lot of money and time. Now they are able to study in a virtual classroom.
Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?
All of those are highly crucial – I think it’s about the combination of these skills.
Already at school we have to create a learning atmosphere that allows critical thinking. We need a solution-oriented perspective to problems. We should communicate righteously and to the point more often. When cooperating with others we should always keep in mind that every single person has his or her own point of view, based on his or her personal
experiences. So it’s important to promote collaboration between different professions to get a broad view of the challenges we face. And we should not forget that it’s not always the talkative ones who have the best ideas. Creativity and innovation can only happen
when we are allowed to think as if everything is possible. Afterwards we can see how it can be realized.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
It would be a good and committed teacher as he/she influences the child and his or her attitude toward learning for a lifetime. He/she can inspire a child about learning
– or do the opposite. The teacher plays a highly important role in the personal development of young people.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
Education in Germany is still relatively easily accessible. We have quite low tuition fees at universities (until several years ago it was completely free of fees) and so we still have an open educational system which means that good education does not depend on the purse
How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?
In the course of the Bologna Process, Bachelor and Master degrees were established in Germany. As a result, the character of studying fundamentally changed at universities. Now it tends to be more about educating specialists instead of more multidisciplinary- thinking graduates who automatically get a broader view on topics and specialize quickly on the job later on. It’s important to look beyond one’s own nose. This process is also accompanied by the trend to finish one’s studies as fast as possible – disregarding that the time at university itself offers many precious chances for personal development.
More than a few university professors complain about this situation – and more and more companies, too. Of course degrees, comparably worldwide, are highly necessary in the 21st century – but it was not necessary to lose a strength our educational system once had provided. We should think it over and try to adapt it so that it really meets the needs of the 21st century and not mainly bureaucratic formalism.
About Alexander Schmieden, CEO & Founder, just ask! Alexander Schmieden Kompetenzpool; Communication Expert Maßbach, Germany
- Birthplace: Werneck/Schweinfurt, Germany
- Current residence: Maßbach, Germany
- Education: University degree in Political Science (Diplom)
- Website I check every day: http://schweinfurtundso.de/ podcasts featuring
most interesting people and issues from my city.
- Favorite childhood memory: Playing soccer with my friends every time a lesson was canceled at school.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Barbados (getting married!)
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? Everyday – there’s always something happening that makes me smile – whether it is the dogs or the participants in my trainings.
- Favorite book: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson