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From the Road

From the Road: Break the Plane

Steve WillisSteve Willis is a Master Trainer and Vice President of Professional Services at VitalSmarts.

From the Road

They say the West was tamed eventually—not by rough characters and the guns they carried, but by settlers. They came from the East staking claims and portioning off land.

In much the same way, many teachers stake out their claims in the classroom. They arrive to a new class, pace off an eight-by-twenty-foot space in the front, and establish their figurative, yet extremely real, territorial borders. In essence, these teachers declare that space as theirs—they walk it, stack and pile their stuff in it, and lecture from it into the space beyond (the area staked and claimed by the participants), thus creating a great continental divide (but at least it solves that terrible “student-teacher mixing” problem they’ve been experiencing for so many years).

If the teacher wants to establish him or herself, he or she needs to think in terms of the whole room—not “my small territory in the front,” and “the badlands” . . . I mean, “the participants’ space.” And to do this, one of the things a teacher needs to do very early on, and very deliberately, is to break the plane. In other words, walk into the participants’ space and spend some time moving around within that space, thus marking the whole classroom as their joint territory.

Moving into “participants’ space” allows the teacher to walk around during assignments, make sure people are on task, offer comments and suggestions to individuals, check understanding, etc. You ought to break the plane within the first fifteen minutes, and then frequently thereafter—especially during activities and exercises.

When you do this, you’ll find that you’re able to catch problems early, help participants internalize learning, and attain a higher rate of compliance in following exercise instructions.


Steve Willis

As one of the original trainers at VitalSmarts, Steve has been on the forefront of developing award-winning training programs, perfecting quality training platforms, and delivering training content that has influenced more than 500,000 people to date. In addition, Steve has trained and certified thousands of employees, managers, and trainers from Fortune 500 companies across the nation. read more

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