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
- Be professional! Use neutral language.
- Adhere to the course lesson plan.
- Leave your unsolicited or biased opinions out of the discussion.
- Avoid using words that slur, label, or stereotype any culture, race, ethnicity, sex or gender.
- Use the correct language or terminology when referring to any culture, race,
ethnicity, sex or gender.
Classroom Management Strategies
- Set clear directions during the course introduction for participant conduct, and remind participants often.
- 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.
- Be diplomatic and professional. Do not lose your temper when confronted with a situation; do not voice or write a disrespectful response.
- Communicate directly to the participant on a scheduled break or privately by email, explaining the situation and some possible solutions to modify the behavior.
- 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.