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what makes a good trainer


updated on 25/07/13 to include my thoughts now on what makes a good trainer (bottom)

this question has often aroused my curiosity - so I conducted an informal survey - I asked dozens of tutors what skills or qualities make a good trainer - the results were remarkably consistent

what makes a good trainer ? - perceived wisdom

most people questioned gave the same four answers and in the same order or importance: 
1.    subject matter knowledge
2.    communications skills
3.    being organised
4.    good sense of humour

at face value, these answers seem entirely reasonable, they have been offered by highly intelligent, experienced and successful tutors and they make perfect sense - yet I had nagging doubts that something was amiss

why is the perceived wisdom wrong ?

clearly it isn't wrong - the popular answers are obviously desirable traits for a tutor - who could argue with such sound logic ? and yet ...

reflecting upon my own teaching work over nearly 30 years, I'd like to think that I now have these qualities in respectable measures and use them wisely - but that hasn't always been the case ...

I can think of instances, many years ago, when I lacked some or all of the above qualities at least to some degree - yet those classes were enormously successful, with students being moved to tears and developing more than they would have thought possible

so there must be some other attributes at play         

what does make a good trainer ?

for imparting information and for straight-forward skill-development courses, the perceived wisdom certainly has its' place

however, in the realm of adult education, particularly with respect to leisure courses (music, art etc) many students are, wittingly or otherwise, on a journey of personal discovery to fulfill a dream

for workshops like these, with a personal-development aspect, different skills are needed - dreams can be of great importance to students' lives and sensitivity now becomes a great asset - the poet W.B. Yeats wrote: 'tread softly because you tread on my dreams' 

when students struggle with learning new skills, they often develop phobias, which we call creative blocks - tutors need to become psychologists to find innovative techniques to help students overcome these creative blocks in ways that are sensitive, effective and confidence-building    

I have also come to the conclusion that for personal-development workshops the perceived-wisdom qualities are important but not critical, whereas empathy and humility seem far more relevant  

with empathy students will trust you to take them on a journey - without empathy they won't board the bus in the first place (to extend the travel metaphor)

with humility you lead by example - if you modestly show how you overcome a stubborn problem you both give hope to students and legitimise their struggles too



my thoughts now on what makes a good trainer

1.    empathy & humility ~ you need to get on same wavelength as the students
2.    belief ~ you need to not have limiting beliefs for them
1.    environment ~ you need to create a safe environment for growth
2.    praise ~ you need to praise success and effort - to raise confidence & performance


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