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The Power and Importance of “Just”- The Dirty Word of Learning.

“Just” is one of the worst words you can use in most situations. “Just” is also one of the hardest words to remove from a conversation when referring to situations like new instruction, tests, goals, or personal development. When analyzing the success of my teaching method at Big BUS I found that when using “just” I was met with eye-rolling, grumbling, defeat, and condescension. What is it about the word “just” that causes people to react so negatively to it? What is the attribute that the word “just” gives to an action?

For example, when giving somebody directions on a place to go that’s a small distance away we might say, “ it’s just around the corner”. If I want to imply the instruction I’m giving doesn't require a lot of technique or a lot of specificity around what to do next I would use the word “just”.

“Just put it in the fridge”


“Anywhere, in the fridge.”

Context, tone, and body language are important in the use of “just”. Commonly it is used to express frustration or that one might be upset.

“Just do the [insert action] already and we can move on.”

This is received as impatience when used during instruction and especially when parenting.

Thusly, the reaction is more often than not almost always a negative reaction. The reaction is negative because people perceive a lack of patience, or lack of respect, and condescension.

In an instructional space that is the exact opposite goal. So how do we infer or gain the reaction or response that we’re looking for? When we're talking about teaching and instruction especially in the outdoor space without using “just”. While still getting the desired result from students?

What is the solution to “Just”? One we can use every day?

The answer is to talk more.

Explain more.

Specifically what you're going to try to teach them before you do. In greater detail, it doesn’t have to be a whole extra page but a few extra sentences never hurt.

A lot of the time teachers take for granted what they know. They can see things, they can hear things, and are observing everything that's happening at once as a system that they are familiar with. Especially in terms of cause and effect. Commonly instructors fail to communicate environmental cause and effect to the person who's learning and experiencing the environment for the first time. The student is operating with a different degree of stressors that the instructor isn't registering because that knowledge is the difference between an instructor and a student.

For example, in teaching someone to stand up on a paddleboard I’ve heard other instructors say-

“Just put your palms down and hold the paddle and stand right up.”

Right, in theory, a simple thing to do, you step up….. and suddenly you’re in the water swimming as the board floats away. Cool.

The conversation didn’t include anything about the motion of the board on the water or where to put your feet on the top of the board or what to do with the paddle as you move.

The student has no bearing on the physics of the action they are undertaking. So even a few additional sentences can make a huge impact and provide a better understanding of the action. This effort also reduces the stress in learning because the added information can be quickly processed and used.

Removing ‘just” is a better way to teach more effectively. There is a balance to providing the additional information, however. It’s important to know as an instructor exactly what to add to prevent from overwhelming the student with information. It is imperative to remember the person whose learning might already be overwhelmed with the environment or social aspect of learning as an adult. Being able to recognize how a teacher might overload somebody with information on their new learning something or when trying to get a point across or achieve a goal.

Again the key is to break instruction down into small manageable chunks

Example again using paddleboarding.

To emphasize starting by wading into the water and either laying or sitting on the paddleboard close to the center where the board will sit flat and level. Then use this space to encourage the student to take a moment to feel the water at their legs and listen to the lapping sound of the water on the board.

The cool thing here is that by instructing the student to actively stop and observe their environment the teacher is allowing them space to get comfortable with the stressors and variables that they are learning in. By not rushing to standing or paddling, and instead of pausing at this step space is made for experience, growth, and trust.

In the outdoor space especially it’s important to encourage students to listen to their bodies. It is an opportunity to learn how their muscles are going to move. When you feel comfortable and able then string it together when it feels correct. The result is much more often one of success.

Teachers have to start with the student's awareness of what is the expected outcome. Then what variables to expect and then what steps to take and know when to pause to observe before moving to the next step.

What are your experiences with the word just?

Have you observed or learned other words or phrases that elicit an undesirable reaction in a teaching environment?

Stick around for Part 2 "How to Recover from the use of JUST "

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