Relating to Students - Training and Development

Carl Rogers (1969) stresses that instructors should be just as concerned about their relationship with students as they are about their course content or expertise. This doesn't mean that they stand up in front of the class and immediately seek affection.

Unskilled ego-centered instructors do that. Nor does it mean that instructors win popularity contests—or that they confuse comradeship with a useful instructor-learner relationship. It does mean that they care about the relationship. That, in turn, probably means that they care about the learners enough to make certain that every one of them achieves all the desired learning objectives.

In a somewhat oversimplified way, this means that instructors consistently look for student behaviors to reinforce positively. Why? Because instructors know that people tend to repeat behaviors for which they feel "rewarded." Thus when a student gets part (but not all) of an answer correct, the instructor commends the correct part—then follows with a question that encourages the learner to improve what's wrong or to add what's missing. The essential technique? To form the habit of doing this; to develop skill in locating "what's right"; to find out the private, unique personal "rewards" each person cherishes.

Beyond—or better, before—positive reinforcement comes letting students know that the program means business—that they are accountable for learning. This can be implied in the initial discussion about objectives. However, it's likely that this important message should not be implicit: It's wise to make a statement that when one is in training, the organization expects that learning will occur "just as our organization would expect you to complete your regular tasks if you were on the job today instead of here." Above all, the message that learning is serious business is communicated by instructors who themselves are business like and professional.

There is always a temptation to "do as the Romans do." In modern organizations, the Romans nowadays are using lots of words that only a few years ago were considered to be in bad taste. No definitive studies prove this next point; but it does seem that when the instructor's language becomes too informal or profane, students lose respect for the learning experience. Conversely, stilted formal language can impede learning. Students may not know what those big words mean. An instructor's display of an extensive vocabulary can discourage and even humiliate learners.Yet some technical words are big words, and they are absolutely necessary. Instructors need not apologize for using jargon; it's the only correct word,and professionalism must involve a concrete, specialized vocabulary. Similarly,some earthy words are the only ones, and they precisely convey feelings. Perhaps the moral is just this: Use technical jargon and slang when it is accurate, necessary, and comfortable—but don't use either too much! The excesses, not the words themselves, are what may impede learning.

Humor is another thing. Like language,it involves the issue of taste. Since taste is an individual thing, humor isn't universal in the learning world. The danger is that when one is "being funny," nobody laughs. That silence can make an instructor mightily lonely! Nobody can really define humor; only a few ground rules are of much help to instructors. One vital criterion: The humor must be relevant to the topic or the immediate situation. Jokes seldom work if brought in just to let the instructor say something funny. Another important point: The joke should be kind, not scornful. It should not ridicule a person or a group. Next, the joke should be new to the listeners. It's difficult (if not impossible) to be sure that a relevant story hasn't made the rounds. So smart instructors follow this rule: If there's even a glimmer that this is an "old clinker," forge tit. Finally, the joke should be short. It need not be a one-liner, but nothing kills humor so much as embellishment. Added details belabor the point; adapting a story to local conditions is often painful; pretending that it happened to someone in the room seldom adds to the hilarity—it usually just makes the situation awkward and amateurish.

If instructors focus on learners' needs, classroom dynamics make for pleasant, exciting relationships. However,there are such things as problem students. What does the instructor do when trainees refuse to invest energy in learning or when a trainee consistently distracts others? Sometimes this problem takes peculiar twists. Maybe a student talks a great deal, consuming valuable class time and distracting other learners with irrelevant ideas. What's the "desired behavior"? Longer periods of silence, right? Reinforcement theory would urge the instructor to listen for significantly long periods of quiet. After such silence, the instructor should give the student a chance to do something pleasant—even if that "something" is to talk!

There's a general rule: "Never interrupt a talking student." Well, the case of the excessive talker maybe one exception. Instructors may have to remind such "chatterers"that time is limited—just to protect other learners. If instructors can send such messages in private counseling sessions, or at breaks, so much the better.That strategy avoids calling the entire group's attention to the problem.

But as a last resort, an instructor may need to be a timekeeper. What about "the mouse," the student who talks too little or not at all? The instructor may get mice to"attend" by trying these techniques:

  • Open questions, seeking opinions or feelings, produce answers that are easy to reinforce.
  • One-on-one conversation, at breaks or over-the-shoulder, may establish rapport and allow the instructor to reinforce private comments so that the student will want to talk to the entire class.
  • Small groups may be more comfortable for "the mouse" and make it easier for the instructor to"eavesdrop" and commend something about input from the quiet one.

Then there is "the parrot,"who talks an appropriate amount, but always quotes someone else, goes the party line, or avoids expressing an original idea.

Instructors need to listen for the first trace (or "successive approximation") of originality, praise it,and call the attention of the class to the uniqueness of that idea. Special techniques include these:

  • Probing with open questions.
  • Asking learners to give Pro/Con analysis of a cliched opinion.
  • Having learners imagine what opponents would say in rebuttal to a statement they've just expressed.
  • Having them work with others (and eventually alone) to find metaphors for the views they parrot or the theories,models, or processes the class is studying. For example, a computer might be"Otto" because it's so automatic; in one factory they call their robot "Clyde the Claw." Parrots are troublesome to convert to creative contributors, but they are less disruptive to the group processes than"the contradictors," who take exception to everything said by instructors and anyone else.
  • Again, Pro/Con analysis helps because it makes sure that contradictors are required to contribute to both sides and are reinforced for the "both-sidedness" of their analyses.
  • Paying very little attention to their negativism eventually helps mules who seek only attention.

Confrontation is probably a"No-No!" because the attention it involves may be perceived as positive reinforcement by the class. If it must happen, the confrontation should probably occur privately, and must focus on the negative behavior— not degenerate into a debate about one of the issues raised by the "problem"participant.

In all these situations, reinforcement theory helps. If instructors can find no behavior to reinforce positively, then neutral reinforcement at least prevents the situation from worsening.

What does that mean? Merely doing nothing to encourage the undesirable behavior. For example, during discussions,one trainee consistently wanders from the subject. The instructor merely says,"I see" or "Yes. Who else would like to comment?" or"Oh." There should be no further inquiry, no insistence upon an explanation. Or again, a trainee takes exception to many key principles.

Rather than argue or draw attention to this, the instructor gives a minimum response:

"This may become clear later," or maybe the instructor says nothing at all. The less attention to the behavior, the more likely it is that it will disappear.

But that can be a slow process, and it isn't always easy to accomplish. Furthermore, ignoring troublesome trainees may destroy the businesslike atmosphere that supports other learners. How much heckling can you tolerate from a satanic "devil's advocate"? How long can noisy splinter conversations be allowed to distract? What is your obligation to see some activity from those who refuse to participate—even to take part in the performance tryouts?

At such times, private counseling is probably necessary. Away from the classroom pressures, instructors may discover mistaken expectations or hidden reasons for the poor performance. They may help learners discover that the two can have a profitable relationship in reaching behavioral objectives. Some confrontation, gentle or forceful, may be necessary. There may even be occasions when the instructor must request the trainee to drop the program.

We need to distinguish between two behaviors: ongoing appropriate reinforcement and discipline. The first process is inevitable; the second is only rarely necessary in organizational classes or conferences.

When do adult instructors need to discipline adult students? Very, very rarely. Professionals agree that discipline is necessary only when their authority is being challenged. Now,this doesn't mean that discipline is applied each time the learner questions the correctness of data, or the tasks, or the processes. It's only applied when there is open defiance, when the gauntlet has been thrown down so clearly and so persistently that the instructor can no longer function effectively with other learners. Instructors must deal with such an impasse, and discipline is one way of doing so.

Discipline in organizational training does not mean punishment. There is no authority for (and less sense in) making them "stay after school" or stand in the corner. Instructors can't give forty lashes or draw-and-quarter their trainees. Verbal tongue-lashings are about all most instructors think of as available disciplinary action.

Discipline often results only in defiance by the employees. Since instructors will never be able to please all their students on every issue, failure to deal with defiance means that the defiance will recur. In organizational T&D, trainees who do not invest a minimum effort in the learning process are not doing their assigned work. Why not return them to their regular workplaces and send explanations through regular channels?

If policy prohibits such expulsion,then isolation of the problem students as much as possible may minimize their ravages on other learners. When there are early signs of defiance, instructors may schedule individual (or "small team") activity. This method gives the defiant one less visibility, and therefore less reinforcement for the defiant behaviors. It also provides a chance to observe individual behaviors;instructors who do that often find the cause of the defiance, or the"private reinforce" to use on the belligerent learner. Above all, the instructor has closer contact because of the smaller group—and thus has a better chance of discovering something to reinforce, some successive approximation of constructive participation in class activities.

On rare occasions, several problem students appear in the same session. Isolation is probably the most effective strategy after positive and neutral reinforcement have failed. Because instructors don't want the negative ones to infect the more positive learners,they seat troublemakers at the same table and assign them to the same buzz groups. This doesn't solve the real problem, but it limits the scope of the damage such students can inflict.

Another solution that doesn't solve anything is direct eye contact with the troublemakers. It doesn't reinforce their negativism, and it makes their behavior less public—but it probably throttles their energy, encouraging later, more active insurrection. Direct eye contact is useful only as a stopgap before private consultation when the instructor can get at the real root of the problem.

Incidentally, when people talk inappropriately, instructors might well use more directive questions: Specific people are asked to reply to factual inquires. These questions offer more containment and are appropriate when control rather than facilitation is necessary. But it's wise to remember that control is necessary only when other techniques have failed—and that it rarely becomes the central need in organizational T&D systems that have communicated and maintained business like policy about learning. It is even less necessary in classes and conferences where teachers are facilitative and andragogical.

All rights reserved © 2018 Wisdom IT Services India Pvt. Ltd Protection Status

Training and Development Topics