Building Rapport & Bonding with your Learners

A comment I read this morning from Chia ( got my mind rapidly ticking over and has inspired me to write this post.  In her comment, Chia requested that I should write a post on the tricks for bonding with your learners / students.   One of the area’s which for some reason I seem to quite effortlessly do well.  Until Chia requested this, I had never really asked myself, how do I really manage to connect and bond with my learners so successfully?  So after a morning of reflection, here it is…

Chia requested I do a list of the top 10 tricks on bonding with your learners.  Thinking about this, I wasn’t comfortable with the word ‘trick’.  The work trick implies magic, or some kind of deceit or manipulation.  I certainly have no magic trick and I feel using them would be counter productive.  Let me explain, which brings me to my number 1 and the most important….

1.  Be genuine & be yourself!  Try to be something or someone you are not and your learners will eventually see through you and the act.  I also feel that pretending to be someone you are not can only be destructive to your energy levels and self-esteem.

2.  Your learners will almost certainly be curious about you. (I know mine generally are).  So be open and encourage this curiosity.  Share your stories, your life, your memories (good and bad) and fears.  Encourage your learners to ask questions about you (and other learners).

3.  If you are like me, I love spending my free time reading other EFL blogs, books and literature which is great!  But this isn’t always too interesting to your learners.  So ensure you have an interesting life outside of work that you can share with your learners.

4.  Use a coaching & moderating training style and promote collaboration & teamwork (it’s not a competition).  Don’t be a lecturer (stand at the front, here I am, I am the leader, I am better than you and I know best attitude)

5.  Lose your ego.  Okay you might have something you want to teach, you might have a great story to tell, you might not teach what you had planned, the learners might not learn what you want them to learn, they might not like something or find something useful that you thought they would….SO WHAT!?  Get over it and don’t be stubborn.  Focus on your learners.  Which brings me to……..

6.  Encourage the learners to talk about themselves.  Take a real interest in them.  Take notes on their plans or events, so you don’t forget and you can ask them about it next week. When they do talk don’t just listen, LISTEN properly & carefully.  Don’t talk over them, dismiss what they say and then move on or change the topic. Encourage the other learners to comment or to ask follow-up questions based on what the other learner is saying.

7. Respect and honesty.  This is a two-way thing that I promote and enforce when necessary.  Always treat your learners (no matter how old or where from) with respect and how you would like to be treated.  Be honest to your learners, encourage honest from your learners (for example through feedback), be honest with yourself.  If you are tired, exhausted or worried or even ecstatic.  Be honest and share this.  I do! (again it is a 2 way thing).  Finally on this point.  If you say you will do something, ensure that you carry it out.

8.  Have fun, crack some jokes, take the mickey and of each other or yourself.  Don’t take yourself to seriously.  Laugh at yourself.  Exchange a little bit of banter.

9.  Remember.  Everyone is DIFFERENT!  What works for one, doesn’t always work for another. Don’t challenge or resist but embrace everyone’s differences and uniqueness.  Be sensitive to your learner’s values and opinions.  Adjust your style to suit the dynamics of each group.  (I said adjust – not be someone you are not!)

10.  Gather regular feedback and explain why you want it (to improve yourself, because you value your learners opinions and you want to train them as effectively as possible).  Also and probably more importantly…ACT up on the feedback!

If you haven’t already noticed.  All of these ideas / points can be implemented from the very first lesson, and almost all of them from the moment you first meet them.  So don’t be thinknig that raport and bonding takes time.  Done correctly and sensitively it can happen in a flash.  Remember you don’t get a second chance to make a good 1st impression.

I hope you enjoyed and found this post useful.  Please feel free to share this with you other connections and followers.

Thanks Chia for inspiring me to do this post and for switching a light on in my (at that time, tired, gloomy, weary) head.

I also want to give you some background info and bring to your attention that all of my current learners / participants are business-based learners in Germany.  Most of my learners are aged between 25 – 63.  I would say the average is around the late 30s / early 40s.  I’m not sure what you know about Frankonians, but (excusing the generalisations) during their everyday life when meeting someone for the first time (in business and play) they are generally quite serious, cautious and restrained. So in theory not be easiest people in the world to connect with and to get to open up.  In a nutshell, basically the total opposite to me.   So how do I connect and build a rapport with these people?  How do I break down these walls of restraint and seriousness?  How do I bring out their warm, fun nature in such a short time?  I shouldn’t blow my own trumpet but maybe I am a natural, cos I admittedly find it quite easy to do (most of the time)

Thanks for reading


1 Comment

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One response to “Building Rapport & Bonding with your Learners

  1. Hi Karl, (- right?)
    I’m with you on the bonding, and would add: Understand your learner’s agenda, walk a mile in their shoes. I have an accute sense of this at the moment because I’m having trouble bonding with a group of 18-19 year-olds at an FH, and with a large class of accountants going for a parttime BA, just as I had trouble with a group of technical trainees a few years ago – odd groups out that never really gelled with me because their interests were so far removed from mine. It takes a much greater effort to build rapport then. I mean, you can be respectful and interested and funny and empowering and so on, but if you just don’t “get” what makes them tick, you can just go home. And I do, and am happy to pass the group on to someone who connects with them more immediately.

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