The last blog post I wrote dealt with establishing and maintaining rapport when working one-to-one with a learner or in a small group. The tips given included matching body language, gestures and posture; matching vocal tone, speed and volume; and awareness of cultural customs and norms. However, many of us teach or train large groups of people and this post deals with the topic of managing rapport with a group. Although many of the tips from the last post on rapport with individuals can be used in groups, there are also special characteristics of groups which should be taken into account as well.
Starting with this definition may be helpful. Rapport means creating mutual trust and understanding and establishing a good working atmosphere in the classroom. This is certainly what many of us strive to do in our everyday teaching situations and these tips have been helpful to me over the years.
Finding commonality with the group
What are the different factors that make up a group? This is important to know in order to be able to react in a way that sets up the feeling of trust and understanding mentioned above. We need to consider the age of the learners, their family situations, the values they have, where they live, their religious beliefs and customs, their interests, special abilities they have and where we may meet resistance. Although it is not possible to gather all the information about everyone in every situation, if we know that we are teaching a multi-cultural, multi-lingual group we then need to find ways to include everyone in the class. This may mean choosing words and phrases carefully or checking if particular topics are appropriate to discuss. It also includes using more inclusive phrases such as ‘Happy holidays’ or ‘Have a good break’ rather than assuming that everyone in the group celebrates the same holiday on the same day and in the same way. Using the wrong words may not be tragic but will not help to establish rapport with those who find them offensive in any way. We need to consider such things in the same way we choose age-appropriate materials, know whether or not to use first or last names in adult groups, avoid certain topics if we know that they might be sensitive topics for some in the group, create a safe space for all to express their opinions, be ready to learn from our learners and not be afraid to create different group constellations allowing learners to find ways on their own to cooperate with each other.
Focus of interests
It is very helpful to find out what the majority of the group is interested in and find a way to use these topics in lessons. On the other hand, a learner with a very different interest could be asked to prepare a short talk or a handout to teach others about their special topic. Another factor in establishing rapport is to bring up a topic which might be considered ‘the elephant in the room’. If there is something that is something very present for all the learners at the moment or is likely to cause problems, it is a good idea to mention it yourself and perhaps come up with some ideas on how to handle it as a teaching experience. This can go a long way to establishing rapport within a group and helping with the goals of mutual understanding and trust.
Physical situations when leading groups
When we work with one person or a small group, we try to look them in the eye when speaking with them or to indicate that we are actively listening. In a large group we need to practice being less focused on one or two people or even on one side of the room. We need to be able to ‘sweep’ the room with a look, give everyone the feeling that they are included and acknowledge that all are there and important to us. There will be times when we need to focus on one student but in general we need to try to include them all when teaching a group. This can take on physical attributes such as making sure we stand in a different place in the room, move about the classroom, allow learners to be the ones at the board and go directly to learners to chat with them or have learners sit in different places if possible.
These are some of the ideas I have discovered and worked with over the years. I am sure that colleagues have their own tips and tricks and would love to hear about them as I feel an open discussion on this topic would be beneficial to many of us. There is nothing like teaching a group when the rapport is there, I think it may be one of the single most important elements in learner progress, well-being and helps to motivate both learners and teachers.