It’s essential to connect with pupils, not least the most challenging
Whether we like to admit it or not, we are in the ‘people business’. Just as in navigating life in general, we will meet a variety of different people; some we will gel with straight away and feel like we’ve always known them, while others require a lot of effort to find any common ground to share. So why is the personal connection so important when developing others? Because if we want to be effective teachers and transfer information and skills, we need to find the wavelength that will make them receptive and what we are imparting understandable. For any working relationship to be successful, mutual trust, honesty and respect must be there. However, it’s easy for any one of these key factors to falter or fail, and then even harder to turn back the dial and put things right. A great piece of advice I was given once was to treat your most challenging learners like precious relatives. This way, you’re less likely to fall into the trap of furthering tensions with ‘challenging’ learners. Add to this the reality that those challenging learners are very often your own best teachers; personal growth requires permanent nurturing and protection.
Switch on and listen in
My secondary school’s motto was ‘Nemo sibi nascitur’, which means ‘No one is born unto himself/herself alone’, or in more common parlance ‘No man is an island’. As an only child, it struck home then and has always stuck with me; it’s a key message about the importance of human connection and mutual recognition. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we all need to be alone, but generally speaking, we all thrive through basic human interaction. In driver training we need to take the time listening and getting to know one another, understanding what makes each other tick and tock. The finer details of each other’s characters can prove a vital tool in identifying positive and negative learning styles, as well as behaviours when behind the wheel. Sometimes, it can feel like no matter how hard we try, we cannot get messages across – there’s a disconnect. But if we’re relating to our learners on their terms and showing willing compassion, kindness and empathy, we can often turn things around, you find a mutually rewarding frequency that you both tune in to, avoiding the static, distortion and an intolerable and unworkable reception where they can’t learn, and you can’t teach. As the professional, the grown up in the car, we have to be able to raise our antennae and receive the signals before any damaging disconnect.
Allowing our frustrations to compete with their negative characteristics will only lead to an escalation in hostilities, frustration on both sides and a collapsing relationship. We can undoubtedly feel questioned, defensive, intimidated and often frustrated to the point of even doubting ourselves. It may lead us to react negatively, retaliate by becoming aggressive or defensive and find us acting completely out of character in our own responses. But it is abundantly clear that we are both losers in these situations, and more than anything, we have failed in our professional capacity to understand our customer and provide the service they are paying for.
Being a teacher and utilising the skills of coaching, is about understanding and adapting approaches to different characters and changing situations. Experience is the greatest teacher, and the different characters we meet are in turn character building! Yes, some pupils are easier to teach than others, but as humans and teachers we want to learn and develop too, and facing challenges is key to a sense of achievement and satisfaction. We have to be open to learning new tricks and new skills too, just like our pupils, and in our profession a big part of that is understanding different character traits and how to work with them to achieve the best results for both parties.
A Strong Signal
While different people will challenge us, we will in turn challenge them. We need to constantly make the effort to get to know the real ‘them’
and help them to get to know the real ‘us’. To truly get the best out of people:
● Assess each person as the individual they are
● Adjust your style to suit them
● Deal fairly and accurately with each situation as it arises
● Treat individuals with the same respect you’d expect
● And if in any doubt, re-read the above!