"Here is the fourth in a series of articles by Susan McCormack on the subject of driving instructor training, first published in The Intelligent Instructor magazine.
I hope you enjoy it."
With the DVSA announcing that the Part 3 will be replaced with a Standards Check-style assessment, this series of articles continues to explore how we train people to be driving instructors and the knock-on effects of this training on teaching people to drive and, ultimately, on road safety.
The last article looked at what makes a great lesson and discovered it was no coincidence that the vital ingredients in a great lesson happened to be the very ones being assessed in the Standards Check and the new Part 3: Lesson Planning, Teaching and Learning Strategies, Risk Management.
This article follows on from the earlier ones in this series and considers what makes a great trainer. There are five essential communication skills: Rapport, Listening, Questioning, Feedback and Intuition. When you measure yourself against these skills, you will be able to self-develop and ensure you are delivering great lessons.
The relationship between the learner and the instructor – or the trainee driving instructor and the trainer – is fundamental to ensuring learning takes place and value for money is given. The relationship needs to be client-centred, equal and based on the understanding that learning comes from within. This is very different from the traditional hierarchy between learner and instructor (trainee and trainer) where the relationship was based on the belief that learning takes place through a transfer of knowledge from the expert to the person doing the learning.
To create this equal relationship, the trainer needs to use non-verbal communication skills, such as eye contact, nodding, smiling and matching body language. Above all, the trainer must have unconditional positive regard for the other person.
To maintain the rapport, the instructor must actively listen and work hard to remain on the agenda of the learner. Active listening involves:
· Repeating back
Try repeating the exact words the person has used. Sometimes, it is only necessarily to repeat the last two words and make them into a question, to encourage the person to keep speaking. For example:
Trainer: ‘What would you like to do today?’
Trainee: ‘I’m not sure.’
Trainer: ‘Not sure?’
Repeating the words the person has spoken but putting some interpretation on them will also encourage the person to continue speaking. For example:
Trainer: ‘What would you like to do today?’
Trainee: ‘I’ve been practising my commentary and trying to watch other people’s driving since I last saw you. I don’t know whether listening to my commentary or seeing if I have learned anything from watching people’s driving would be a good idea?’
Trainer: ‘Okay, so if I’ve understood you correctly, you would like to demonstrate your commentary and pupil observation skills so that we can discuss the progress you have made since practising this at home. Is that correct?’
Asking questions will enhance learning, providing they are focused on the individual’s development. Often, we ask questions as driving instructors to check knowledge, rather than asking questions that are focused on developing critical thinking skills in the individual. Here are some examples:
‘How have you been getting on since we last met?’
‘Are you able to fit in your studying and practising with your home and work life?’
‘Do you know how you learn best?’
‘What do you need to get out of today’s session to advance your understanding of what is involved in being a driving instructor?’
‘What do you need to get out of today to be able to continue practising at home?’
‘How can I support you?’
All of the above questions are far more effective than anything to do with knowledge and information.
The purpose of feedback is to develop self-evaluation skills in the trainee or learner. Understanding how you learn best, what strengths and weaknesses you have, and how your emotional state affects your ability to learn, are key skills. Scaling is a very effective form of feedback because it raises this sort of self-awareness. For example:
‘On a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 is no good and 10 is very good, where would you put yourself for the progress you are making in learning to drive / becoming a driving instructor?’
‘What have you done well to give yourself that score?’
‘How do you need to develop?’
‘What support do you need from me?’
‘How will you feel when you have succeeded?’
Eliciting (drawing out) the feedback from the person learning is far more effective than giving your opinion on their progress or achievement. Sometimes, it is necessary to give your feedback because this helps the other person benchmark themselves and sets a standard – so long, as the standard you are using is not the test - practical L test or Part 3.
This essential communication skill is hugely underestimated in its relevance to client-centred learning. Only when we use our intuition can we recognise whether effective learning is taking place. If the trainee driving instructor suddenly appears disengaged from their learning, you are wasting your time and theirs. Often, this is about noticing a mismatch between their body language and what they are saying. Are they suffering from task overload and no longer able to process the huge amount of information that is being given to them? Change tactic and re-focus your training on their learning.
Remember, it makes no difference who you are teaching – whether a learner, fleet driver or trainee instructor – you need to deliver a great lesson around lesson planning, risk management and teaching and learning strategies; and to do this, you need to use five essential communication skills: Rapport, Listening, Questions, Feedback and Intuition.
My next article will look at the DVSA National Standards.