This week I read a few discussion boards that were discussing the differences between observations and perceptions and it got me thinking about how these two ideas apply in the classroom.
As a trainer, you are often asked to provide assessments (your perceptions) of staff’s ability to do perform. You’re asked this because you hear the participant’s during skill practices, you see their engagement levels during activities, you see how quickly they’re connecting to key concepts and much, much, more.
These observations combined with your training experience shape your assessments. You observations can be right (and many times are right on the money), but they can also be wrong. I’m sure you’ve heard “perception is reality,” but this is only true in some cases…as a trainer it DOESN’T apply to your perceptions.
Consider Case #1—You have a learner who is having a hard time staying awake over the course of a week-long class. When you catch her sawing logs in class at least three times over the first two days and address the situation, she gets defensive stating, “I was just resting my eyes and was listening to the conversations.” She is passing her tests, but only by a small margin. When she is awake, she doesn’t ask questions and isn’t very engaged during conversations and group activities.
How could your observations of her behavior shape your perception about this employee? What do you do when these observations start sending up red flags? Do you assume the employee is disengaged and hates training? Would your perception be that your HR department has hired the wrong kind of person for the job?
Or would your observations lead to the perception that there is something bigger going on that is getting in the way of the learning? What if you learned the employee recently had a child that has special needs and she hasn’t been sleeping well? What if you learned that on top of that, she has a two-hour commute each day? How would this change your perceptions? What would you do differently to support her learning?
Consider Case #2—I received an email from a friend the other day with a great story about a school teacher’s observations and perceptions about a student. I’ve pasted some of it below:
As she stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children an untruth. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. However, that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.
Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he did not play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. In addition, Teddy could be unpleasant. It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X's and then putting a big 'F' at the top of his papers.
At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child's past records and she put Teddy's off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise. Teddy's first grade teacher wrote, 'Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners... He is a joy to be around.'
His second grade teacher wrote, 'Teddy is an excellent student, well liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illnessand life at home must be a struggle.'
His third grade teacher wrote, 'His mother's death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best, but his father doesn't show much interest, and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren't taken.'
Teddy's fourth grade teacher wrote, 'Teddy is withdrawn and doesn't show much interest in school. He doesn't have many friends and he sometimes sleeps in class.'
By now, Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and she was ashamed of herself… On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children. Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded…
What if the teacher would have just kept on thinking that this child was a lost cause? What would the consequences of her perceptions formed from her observations have been? What do you think the impact of her changed perception had on this child? (hint, he became an amazing doctor and always thought of Mrs. Thompson as the best teacher he ever had!!)
The idea here is to seek understanding when your observations are making alarm bells sound in your mind. Ask the employee what is causing them to be so tired and irritable in class or why they seem to be in another world. Your assessment of the employee may change and you may be more willing to create win/win agreements to support them through the remaining days of training. Or, alternatively you may learn more information that supports your perceptions. Either way, you will be in a better situation and more apt to provide appropriate recommendations for next steps.
It can be very easy to make snap judgments about employees, but that isn’t serving anyone well. Be sure you slow down, ask lots of questions and ensure you have exhausted all options before giving up on a learner. It’s your job to take your observations as cues and validate, validate and validate. Then you can make your assessments/affirm your perceptions.
Tip: Add a recurring reminder in Outlook that says “Are your observations about your learners influencing unfounded perceptions? How can you learn more?” This will help to keep you focused on how you can provide amazing service to your learners.
Happy training y’all!