A classroom instructor is constantly aware of the group dynamics of his or her participants. This allows on-the-fly adjustments to keep the atmosphere conducive to learning. However, sometimes things occur in the classroom that throws an instructor off their game. But maybe these things don’t mean anything at all.
Here are six behaviors that may really be the “small stuff,” and some instructional techniques to handle them:
Negative body language.
Crossed arms, lack of eye contact, head shaking, frowning. All these are taken as signals that our message is being rejected. But, what does body language mean? Actually, very little if it is from just one person. Read the group, not an individual. Sometimes crossed arms may simply mean the person is cold. Don’t be put off by negative body language, unless it is being displayed by many.
Sometimes a question is posed that can be perceived as challenging. “How could that ever work?” “Would anyone actually do that?” In a social environment, I would certainly find such these questions challenging. But, for a trainer, the goal is different. Our self-esteem is not the goal. Rather, the improved performance of the participants back in the workplace is important. Look for something factual in the question and answer the question patiently and respectfully.
Questions are sometimes asked that have little bearing on the content being discussed. Left unchecked, these will take you fully beyond your time line. A respectful response such as, “Interesting, but maybe outside the scope of this session? Could we discuss it during the break?” or “Could we put that on the parking lot to discuss when we have time?” may encourage other, content-related, questions.
Sometimes, questions like, “What happens when you select the third option under the tools-options menu?” leave you without a clue. Instead of, “I have no idea,” try, “Interesting. Does anyone know the answer?” At a minimum, this gives you some processing time, but someone else in the room may actually have an answer. Additionally, if you do have to confess that you don’t know, at least you have established no one else does either. Don’t let it throw you off. You really aren’t expected to know everything.
You may have participants who are having a little conversation when coming back from break or chuckling over something they find funny. It’s easy for an instructor to find this distracting. However, you’ve got enough on your hands getting the content across clearly. There are low-level intervention techniques you can use (e.g. just stop talking for a moment) to dampen the behavior and end the conversation. Again, your personal goal is meaningful learning. As long that is happening, you’ve got little to worry about.
We live in the age of technology. Many of us aren’t in a position to prohibit the use of technology in the classroom and these behaviours can be viewed as disrespectful or distracting. Why should they? It’s just a signal that we’ve got to do something else to make our training more engaging for our target audience.
Altering your game plan to address the small stuff may be creating more work than you need. Make your classroom life easier. Incorporate a variety of instructional techniques and, remember, don’t sweat the small stuff!