What does Caitlyn Jenner have to do with training?

Guest Author Dr. Rayford Barner, MATD Alumni

Guest Author Dr. Rayford Barner, MATD Alumni

Recently, I was a guest observing a law enforcement training class that was lecture, facilitation, and scenario-based. During a scenario involving physical contact in a pat-down of outer garments, a trainer, role-playing, said, “I’m not on that Caitlyn Jenner stuff.” You can take the trainer’s comment to mean what you want; I will leave that to you. (In case you missed the headlines, you can learn more about Caitlyn Jenner at caitlynjenner.com)  The remark drew laughs from some participants while others were quiet. While I understood why the comment was made—to add realism to the scenario based on participants’ experiences of citizenry in the presence of a police officer—I could not help but wonder if some in the audience felt uncomfortable after hearing the remark. Would you?

I want to provide suggestions about how trainers can avoid remarks that may be perceived or viewed as offensive by participants, including opinions expressed  in an online learning environment.

My overall recommendation is that you thoroughly review training content beforehand to look for language or images that could be offensive. If you have co facilitators, brief them on your expectations. Additionally, listen carefully (or read carefully if online) to the comments expressed by participants. By doing so, you can anticipate when to make adjustments to the course content, respectfully correct participant behavior, and prepare for potential “hot-button” issues that can emerge from discussions on the topic. My suggestions are as follows:

Good Instructional Practice

  1. Be professional! Use neutral language.
  2. Adhere to the course lesson plan.
  3. Leave your unsolicited or biased opinions out of the discussion.
  4. Avoid using words that slur, label, or stereotype any culture, race, ethnicity, sex or gender.
  5. Use the correct language or terminology when referring to any culture, race,
    ethnicity, sex or gender.

Classroom Management Strategies

  1. Set clear directions during the course introduction for participant conduct, and remind participants often.
  2. Allow the expression of feelings or thoughts by participants provided they are respectful. Respond immediately to any participants(s) whose remarks may be considered offensive to correct the behavior.
  3. Be diplomatic and professional. Do not lose your temper when confronted with a situation; do not voice or write a disrespectful response.
  4. Communicate directly to the participant on a scheduled break or privately by email, explaining the situation and some possible solutions to modify the behavior.
  5.  If you are unsuccessful at modifying participant behavior, refer them to management or the stakeholder responsible for hosting the training. Do not allow them to disrupt training.

Presentations that achieve the purpose of the training are the direct result of good facilitation. Do not allow your personal opinions or commentary to distract from the goal the lesson. My suggestions should be viewed as a starting point. Remain mindful of the dialogue participants express in class or online to reduce the chance of offensive language.

Regarding comments expressed by other trainers who are co facilitating, I concede that it is impossible to moderate with absolute certainty, but should you encounter or experience awkward dialogue, respectfully carry out the necessary adjustments to ensure the discussion remains on topic. Your participants will not be left wondering what Caitlyn Jenner has to do with your training.

Good luck to you!

Questions for Discussion

1. Can you think of any other behaviors that a trainer can demonstrate in class or online to avoid offending participants? If so, what are they?

2. What are some respectful classroom or online management practices you have used to address offensive comments made by participants? If so, how did you deal with the participant?


Caitlyn Jenner. (2016, February 21). Caitlyn Jenner.com. Retrieved from http://caitlynjenner.com/

Renner, P. F. (1993). The art of teaching adults: How to become an exceptional instructor & facilitator. Vancouver, Canada: Training Associates.

Ukens, L. L. (2001). What smart trainers know: The secrets of success from the world’s foremost experts. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

You can learn more about Rayford Barner by visiting our Social Justice page.


  • This is an interesting topic and I have found it to present itself in a lot of trainings that I have experienced. Sometimes it’s hard to settle in a space as the trainer where bias does not shine and stance on a specific issue in not highlighted in some way. For many, I think it would be easy to try and stray from talking about certain positions on things, but I advocate for the opposite. We (as the facilitator/trainer) should be able to show the things we are passionate in our work. the important part is finding the appropriate moment to do this and how we choose to deliver this to participants.

  • Nice post! I really like how you ask the reader to consider his or her own reaction to the comment and give great tips on how to avoid/deal with this behavior. With regard to instructional practices, I would also highly recommend that trainers learn about and have a working knowledge of people-first language. A simple guide can be found here: http://www.inclusionproject.org/nip_userfiles/file/People%20First%20Chart.pdf and there are a lot of other resources out there as well. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  • Really nice article. I can see how the trainer was trying to use an attention getter but I can also see how it could have offended people as well. Your good instructor practice tips and classroom management strategies were most appreciated and very insightful.

  • This post is a great reminder at the beginning of a new school year. I feel like online asynchronous classroom creates less opportunities for offensive comments, since everyone takes time to formulate their thoughts in an appropriate way. However online setting creates a lot of room for interpretation. Especially if students are from all over the world, there is definitely risk of some cross cultural misunderstanding and sometimes even offence to be taken. Instructors play critical role here to create and manage communication practices that are civil and inclusive. However I have to agree with Evelyn that these days almost anything can be interpreted as offensive, and it makes our job as trainers and facilitators even trickier.

  • I really enjoyed this post! It is a topic that definitely needs to be addressed more however, I do believe that in todays day and age it is extremely difficult to say something that someone somewhere would not find to be offensive in one way or another. I do however feel like as professionals we must do our best to follow and live by the simple set of rules you posted. I have been in situations where someone had said something unprofessional either in the classroom or in the workplace and I remember thinking each time that it is more of a statement of the type of person that individual is. Most times it gave a very unflattering perception of that person and that always sticks in the back of my mind and helps me to think twice before I speak, something that many people need to learn how to do in my opinion.

  • Very interesting read. I do all I can to stay away from being unprofessional in my workplace and at school. I have seen situations like this both in the workplace and in the classroom. In this situation, I probably would have been one of the audience members who kept quiet.

    • I agree Cole, I would have been one of the members who remained quiet and maybe even a little embarrassed for the individual that made the comment. I feel like with individuals that have a strong sense of humor, they tend to resort to jokes when they get a little nervous. Or even to lighten the mood sometimes. I found the comment to be extremely inappropriate and could have potentially been very offending to people around. With these situations a good suggestion mentioned above would be to clarify professional conduct ahead of time and then correct any deviant behavior. Great post!

  • Great Post!! This is a very appropriate topic and I can say that I have been guilty of making comments during training that may have been less than professional. I was used to dealing with contractors all of the time where in some cases swearing was acceptable, but when I made the switch to the corporate world I had to watch it a little closer. I have slipped a couple of times, but for the most part I have been good. When you are looked at as a leader keeping it professional is the best course of action.

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