The Learning Relationship

The Learning Relationship

In life we often take time to build up relationships with others, and for more meaningful ones there can be many tests that we subconsciously set to test integrity before we enter that particular relationship.

How is it then that we often forgoe this preparation when establishing learning relationships, because we often expect this type of relationship just to work straight away on the basis that we have reached a business agreement with our clients.

The two elements are not the same and recognition of this is pivotal to developing a successful partnership. The old adage of “trust has to be earned” is still as relevant to today as ever before.

Personally having reflected on the early stages of my driving instructor days I also was guilty of not spending too much time setting the scene and building a working relationship.

I suppose I just expected it all just to work because the client was there to learn (as they’d paid me) and I had accepted them as clients by taking payment for their lessons.

Not any surprise then that I had some uphill struggles moving forward with some of my clients. Whilst it worked ok with the majority of my clients with minimal ‘bumps’ in our learning journey, with a few it was hard, they were the ones who seemed to take up most of my time.

I’m not really sure when exactly my ‘eureka’ moment occurred as to the cause of my struggles but what I do recall are the steps towards it, a milestone step was when I met Mavis (as she’ll be known).

I was a newly qualified driving instructor enjoying my work and still  learning lots. The driving school I was with was helpful in showing me the ropes in respect of diary and time management.

What they didn’t focus on was the pastoral care of instructors, such as working on building learning relationships, environments or taking time to use reflection and debriefing to aid the learning process.

You really were pushed to fill your diary and move clients along at a quick pace, this in itself did not encourage you to take time in building a foundation with your clients from where progress would be guaranteed.

How do you build a base with a client when all they want to do is get on and drive. Mavis (as she’ll be known) was that same client, from day one we met she just wanted to be driving.

Although in my heart I knew this was not ideal, I didn’t really object as I felt I should adhere to ‘the customer is always right’.

Whilst this is true if the relationship is one of a consumer, this is not the same type of relationship that a driving instructor has with his client.

The reason being is that the relationship has many other dimensions, mentoring, coaching, teaching, counselling, career advisor to name a few.

Mavis was in her late twenties when we met, she was small in frame and very eager to learn. I didn’t really know much more than this when we started. I hadn’t asked her any questions regarding her hopes and aspirations for driving and whether she had any fears or anxieties that required analysing.

We had over a months worth of lessons, where we met twice a week. So you would think things were progressing. Wrong, we weren’t progressing at all.

Mavis seemed to just be so preoccupied that she was not taking on board any information. And at times she almost looked vacant (fleetingly I must add) with a fixed look on the road.

I decided that the next lesson I would broach this issue through some reflection on our lessons together.

It was a Saturday morning when I met Mavis next and she appeared quite upbeat and rearing to go. I explained that in this lesson we would take some time out to reflect on our learning. She was surprised but open to this plan.

We started by discussing what she felt she had learnt over the past couple of months. To which surprisingly she was quite positive. I asked her more about what had prompted her to start her lessons now how would it affect her life.

This is when I gained a real insight into her life, Mavis was a high flying lawyer who worked in the city and the reason we could only meet at set times was due to a big job where she was working with a very exclusive client.

Who was asking her to take on a specific role that required driving as an essential requirement. Mavis had already accepted their offer without disclosing her lack of a driving licence, the irony of the situation made me chuckle.

I also learnt that Mavis learnt best through being presented with theory work first and being able to reflect on this before being tested.  This told me more about her learning needs in twenty minutes than I had learnt in a month, what an eye opener!

I also asked Mavis if she had any issues with concentration as I had noticed on our lessons that at times she appeared pre-occupied. Well she turned to me wide eyed and asked me to expand, I said that I’d seen her in fleeting episodes staring at the road and I wasn’t sure she was always taking on board what I was saying.

She grabbed my arm and said “thank you Kenny thank you so much!”  Mavis went on to tell me that her colleagues had also said she appeared distracted and she had at times felt this too, she hadn’t been sleeping too well and had been to see her GP who had referred her to a Neurologist as he thought she may have had some absent episodes.

Wow! and Double Wow!

I wasn’t going mad these episodes were real!

We went on to speak in detail how we would address her needs and what steps we would have to take in response to what her medical advice could be as well as discussing our legal responsibilities.

This encounter taught me a great deal of what I needed to improve in regards to my own assessment of clients needs and also how much more needed to go into building a safe learning relationship.

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