For the past week or so, I’ve been writing about five strategies for developing stronger relationships with learners:
- Listen, Really Listen
- Yes Means Yes
- Make Your Teaching Transparent
- Say How You Feel
- Refuse to Give Advice
All five strategies are written up in one article published in the ELMO Review. (Click on the image.)
Any thoughts on these strategies as a whole? What’s your most useful strategy or habit for building strong relationships with adult learners?
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All good strategies. Since I teach teens and not adults, some adjustment is needed, but I think all five strategies are useful. I probably give too much advice (which most ignore anyway), but they so often seem lost. Most have parents who don’t act very much like parents, so we take on more of a shepherding role than many teachers do. For many of our students, school is the safest and most nurturing place they know.
I have a strong reaction to your last sentence. So sorry it’s true, and so glad you are there to make it safe.
I got a lot out of reading your incredible work, Kate. You’re a godsend. The area where I need the most work is in listening. I tend to interrupt when people talk, usually because I think I know what they are talking about and because I’m excited. Bzzzzzzzzzzzz. Wrong. Though I claim to read minds, I really can’t. 🙂 I was reminded of this Monday when a student was asking me a question, I was in a hurry and he said something like “Wait! You haven’t even heard the rest of my question!” He’s a good natured, extrovert, so I learned my lesson well, but I wonder how many students I’ve discouraged by not listening as closely as I should have. (Incidentally, my husband also complains I interrupt him. So there’s a trend there. Hmmmm.)
The next piece I really appreciated was your post on advice. I automatically want to give advice, as most people do. We give advice to our friends and family all the time (which, as you point out, they rarely listen to but usually appreciate). Professionally, teachers, I think, especially fall prey to this habit. After all, isn’t that what we’re here to do–kind of? You are so right on about adult learners having to make adult decisions and that our learners in particular might have lived a lifetime of being told what to do. You’re so right we need to empower them, to make them feel smart enough to make their own decisions. Since I teach in a jail, I really related to your comment about students often having gangs tell them what to do.
Then there was the bit about transparency. Sometimes students seem to take us for granted, especially if we are consistently generous. This isn’t always a negative thing–it means they have learned that to a point, they can feel safe knowing we aren’t going to turn on them. They might even feel loved. It’s bad, though, because first, we don’t want them to become dependent, and second, we don’t want manipulative, spoiled brats on our hands. There are also the students who fall over themselves with gratitude. This is good because usually, they truly are grateful, but bad because if they are being authentic, you know anyone that feels THAT grateful is needy, which means you need to set boundaries on how much you give and avoid creating dependency. I’ve often told my class how much time I put into lessons, that I sometimes run out of time to correct, that teachers need to take “brain breaks,” and that I buy their incentive prizes out of pocket. I think this helps them see where they stand. I am also very open about things like the need for them to return materials to avoid a shakedown, and that I’ve had to have a couple of students removed from class, but that I don’t like doing that. They need to know actions have consequences.
Telling students about our feelings? That’s a tough one, especially in a jail in an ESOL class. I’ve openly said things like, “I love my students,” “I love this class,” and “I love you guys.” I’ve talked about things like brotherly/neighborly love (most of them go to Bible studies and such), but being a white female in a class of men whose first language is not English, I learned (the hard way) that the agape thing doesn’t translate well. I think I’ve also said a couple of stupid things like, “Bosses make me nervous,” which they understand and yes, does even the playing field, but I don’t want to set up a situation in which they think I identify with them more than I do the officers. Sometimes my mouth runs ahead of my brain. 🙂
Finally, in one post, you said something about sitting close to your students, even if you feel uncomfortable. That doesn’t work well in the jail setting for several reasons, security being one of them. My students are cleared to attend class, but that doesn’t mean we should be rubbing elbows. Finding a way to work one-on-one with a student or even in small groups while maintaining personal space can be really challenging because of the way tables are configured (and because I am left-handed). So I’ve had to give some more thought on this and haven’t quite figured out a solution.
Anyway, I want to thank you again for all your hard work and passing on the wisdom you’ve obtained. I feel like I’m getting free education, something we don’t usually get here in the U.S. so this is a real blessing for me! 🙂
Thanks for your careful attention to my posts. I love to read your comments. I’ve never worked in a jail, but I’ve worked with people who have, and occasionally gone in to give a session with them. SO many extra things to take into account! Also teaching an all male group is a different kettle of fish.
I was especially interested in what you do to make students aware of how you work. I really think being clear about that takes the “magic” out of what we do, and makes it seem possible that they could learn those reading and writing skills too.