Train Like a Classroom Teacher

The 7 Steps of Quality Retail Training

Before I worked in specialty retail, I was a classroom educator. Straight out of the military I took a job as a non-credentialed physical education teacher. I lined kids up like they were in basic training and had them shout a call-and-response while I guided them through stretches and calisthenics. They loved it, I loved it, but the teachers within earshot weren’t big fans. Nonetheless, this job still holds the #1 spot on my all-time favorites list (and, unsurprisingly, is also high on the list of my lowest paying jobs, too).

After getting a degree and working a brief stint in as a private school administrator where my official title was “Dean of Discipline”, I tried my hand at special education. I worked with kids who were labeled “emotionally disturbed” (ED) which in most cases meant they were misunderstood by faculty and thus removed from regular education. I started with middle schoolers, then later moved on to high school. Once again, the work was wildly rewarding—but the day-to-day drama was sitcom worthy. Even when I was at my best, I was scrambling to barely tread water.

I can confidently say I did all I could to offer every student a clean slate. I wasn’t concerned with their past, their previous (so-called) failures, or even their grade history or GPA. I did what I could to set them up for success while challenging them with contextually relevant goals. Now, some fifteen years since I last stepped foot in an academic setting, I wonder if I made an impact. And since I’ll never know the answer to this question, I can only rely on what I know for certain—I made learning exciting. I dressed up and acted out history lessons, used NBA stats for math class, had spelling tests on ancient swear words (i.e. slubberdegullion, which is old Victorian for ‘asshole’), and interspersed all of it with lots of physical activity. Which is to say, we played together as much as we worked together. That matters.

Making the learning process exciting is the absolute golden rule for anyone in a teaching role. If you are not excited about the content you are trying to relay, you may as well throw in the towel. You can’t expect your students to be excited if you are not.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter what the topic is, you can make it worth learning. Whether you’re a number cruncher teaching Polynesian history, or a footwear expert teaching the psychological nuances of modern apparel, you better bring it. Because if you don’t, you’re wasting everyone’s time.

That’s STEP #1 for your role as a trainer—BRING IT!

But you still must follow a few more steps to ensure your learners retain the info you deliver (and FYI – this is the stuff they teach modern-day teachers at the university level, so don’t hate on it).

STEP #2—PROVIDE THE CONTEXT: This is “the why“. Trainees need to understand why they are training before a concept makes sense. The trainer needs to clarify the exact reasons they are taking up learners’ time and explain why it matters. This applies to a 5-minute training or a 5-hour workshop.

STEP #3—EXPLAIN THE CONCEPT: This is “the what“. You gave them the why, now give them the what. As in, “Here’s what we’re going to work on today.” Be clear, confident, and remember, you are still bringing it.

STEP #4—DEMONSTRATE THE CONCEPT: This is “the how“. This is where you stop talking and start doing. You told them what’s about to happen, now you are showing them. And please make sure you show them the right way to do it first. Using wrong-way examples is fine to reinforce the right way, but always lead with the right way.

STEP #5—PRACTICE TOGETHER: Essentially, you are demonstrating the concept as explained in step #4, but this time you have some trainee volunteers to help you illustrate this. Folks will be uncomfortable during this “role play”, but that’s OK. Vulnerability is part of the learning process.

STEP #6—PRACTICE WITH PEERS: Take the previous step to the next level and send everyone off to practice with each other. They know what’s expected, they’ve seen it demonstrated, and now they get to put it into action while you bounce around and occasionally check in. Learners learn as much (if not more) from each other as they will from the teacher. Make sure you are honoring this and giving them time to lock things in with their coworkers.

STEP #7—CREATE A FEEDBACK LOOP: Soliciting feedback is necessary and must happen. It can be executed in various ways to suit the training environment, but the loop must always start with the trainee. Let the learner critique themselves before anyone else offers their two cents. Psychologically, this is imperative if you want anyone to have a positive training experience.



Tom Griffen is a highly sought after trainer and presenter whose message transcends industries. He’ll help you raise the bar while you reinvent your business.

Contact him: make the change you’ve been talking about.

Also check out Tom’s January 2018 Walk Across America! YES…you can still hire him during this adventure! Book your dates today!

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