Questions / Reflections

Unconditional Positive Regard

Hi everyone! I just finished a two-week teacher training in Bahrain for teachers of English who are working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I’ve been left thinking about the nature of training itself, but more specifically about the forming and reforming of impressions and opinions regarding those who come to and participate in the training. Trainings are often intensive—involving long days with little time for processing, for down time: people work together, eat together, go out together. Participants’ expectations and concerns run high, they make and form first impressions, their comfort zones are challenged.

As a trainer I feel it is part of my role to establish and help maintain a sense of safety for each participant so that they can explore themselves as well as the issues at hand. I have noticed over the years that within the training context participants may find a professional colleague, a new friend, or they may experience an interpersonal clash. After all, we have taken people with different personalities, different needs, different styles of communicating, thinking and expressing themselves, and different cultures, and put them all in a relatively closed environment for an intense period of work . Under the pressure of an intensive training emotions and needs may be heightened. But none of this is revelatory.

What I have noticed before and did once again on this training is how I may start out in one place, believing a participant is ‘of a type’—not a participator, not a deep thinker, tack on—only to discover there is so much more to the situation than I originally noticed. I may suddenly see the bravery they are exhibiting, the mountain they are climbing, the quiet depth behind their choices. This humbles me every time. And once more, I am taken back to the concept of unconditional positive regard. It seems I rediscover this concept over and over again, each time thinking I get it and then once more being caught off guard. What is it about first impressions that are sometimes so right and sometimes so wrong?

Maybe the learning for me is that I am willing, even after a strong first impression, to keep my mind open, to change my belief, alter my assessment, to gather more information, to keep listening and observing. I need to be comfortable being wrong, knowing that I can misinterpret, misjudge. I am still learning when to stick with my opinion and when to let it go. Maybe it is that practicing unconditional positive regard I can see what I see and also believe that each person is doing what they are capable of doing. Or is it that I separate the person from their actions, their abilities and seek to see the humanity underneath, sometimes hiding?

But what ever it is, it means that I move beyond my sticking point and ask how can I support that person; how can I scaffold them towards the awareness, attitude, or skill that is the content of the training. It helps me to remember that we are all in different places in our lives and our professional careers.

For a read on another teacher’s thoughts on this I can recommend Don Ledingham’s Learning Log

The post written by Tana.

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