Sunday, October 30, 2011

Building Trust, or You'd think that I'd know better

One of the interesting things that happens over a multi-day course is that a certain level of trust builds up between the instructor and the participants. It could just be an example of the Stockholm syndrome: The captives begin to identify with their captor.

One result of that effect is that, when participants evaluate the course and the instructor, it's very unusual for the instructor to get a lower score than the course. When the participants aren't happy, they blame the course rather than blame the instructor. This is obviously a good thing for the instructor.

What this also means, for the instructor, is that there are things you can do on the last day of the course that you can't do on the first day.

I got a measure of this effect, to my detriment, on the course I taught last week. The course I was teaching  incorporates several videos demonstrating bad practice. One video has two people (one of them a blonde woman) acting very badly. In debriefing this video, I'm fairly harsh about the behaviour of the two people. Because I don't expect class participants to catch the name of the characters in the video I refer to the woman as "the blonde."

I've never had a problem with this approach until my last teach. The course had been revised and this video was moved up to the first day from the last day. Not only did I lack the trust that three days together builds up but, exacerbating the situation, by day 3 the participants have had enough training to recognize most (or all) of what the characters to do wrong. I failed to recognize the looming problem and did the same debrief for the video on day 1 as I did when it ran on day 3.

Without the trust that gets built up over three days of class and without the training, I must have come across as a brutal madman. By referring to one of the characters as "the blonde" I must have came across as a sexist brutal madman.And, in fact, I discovered that I had deeply distressed at least one participant.

The only reason that I know this is that the participant came up to me at the end of the class to discuss how upset she'd been, which I appreciated. Without her specific feedback, I would never have figured out how I had put my foot in it.

And, thanks to her, I got a good measure of how much trust does get built up over a week of teaching.

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