In this week’s article, Dave Foster MA, Dip.DI explains the 6 best ways to quickly and easily build a rapport with your pupils on driving lessons, and why it’s so important that you do.
Probably one of the most essential (and I should say obvious) skills for a driving instructor is that of gaining rapport with your pupil. To be fair, it’s the same for any business really. So, why is it so important to gain rapport with your pupil? I’d like to think this was a rhetorical question but for the benefit of the doubt I’m going to explain.
Rapport – so what? Does it really help make safe drivers?
As driving instructors, we are teaching a life skill, a skill that will give some a future, most independence and many a way of enjoyment. Part of our role, as defined by the DVSA, is to encourage our pupils to evaluate their beliefs, attitudes and values in driving.
This helps them to look at and manage risks associated with not only skills to drive safely, but trip related influences and motives. Two examples of this are: ‘Can I drive while under the influence of alcohol?’ or ‘I’m really tired after this 12-hour shift, should I be driving?’
It’s great to get paid for our job, but it’s nicer to love our job and get paid for it
There’s the teaching aspect, and then of course there’s the business side of our role. Pupils just do not want to sit in a car with someone they do not have rapport with. They will cancel lessons (we’ve heard a lot of instructors complaining about this recently). Pupils will be negative and passive in their driving lessons, or sometimes even stroppy or uncommunicative. This is not good for business – after all, we’re all looking to get paid.
6 quick and easy tips for building rapport with pupils
Be curious and ask questions likely to create conversations, but avoid topics like family and pets unless they bring them up themselves. While most people will wax lyrical about their family and pets, for a few it’s a way to shut them down.
Once they’ve raised a subject then it’s good grounds for the future. A great opening line to a new pupil can be “Tell me about yourself.” They will mention things of value to you. Ask about their motivations for learning to drive and their aspirations when they have passed. This is so valuable in the weeks ahead during driving lessons. They can be used as encouragement and in a supportive role. You can use this as ways to enhance driving lessons.
Something you may not know about me is that I am also a qualified teacher of English as a foreign language, and we use these skills a lot to develop our students. It might be business English they need help with, so we use real examples of English from their business. We are helping them not just to learn the language but learn the language they will use. This equally applies to driving. If they want to learn to drive to go to work, take them from home to work and back. This gives real purpose to their learning.
Listen – What’re you hearing?
Listen to what they have to say, even if someone’s views do not match your own, they are still valuable views. The world would be a boring place if we all wore pink, even as bright as the colour can be. Listen to your pupils throughout lessons and hear what they are saying. A normally placid pupil who would not normally say boo to a goose, but says ‘I am shitting myself at this roundabout’ is saying more than “This roundabout is difficult.” Oh! And don’t have this conversation on the roundabout either.
Try to use empathy where you can. Many driving instructors talk about how they hate their Part Three exam or Standards Test but fail to see the connection and empathy in their pupils sitting the driving test. So, listen to what they say and offer connections to how they feel.
Open up (a little)
A little honesty can go a long way, tell them something about yourself that they can associate with. They will feel they can trust you and are more likely to be open with you. But on this note be careful what you tell them. A year or so ago, an associate school of mine had a complaint from a parent that the instructor was telling her daughter about all the prostitutes he had used in Thailand or somewhere and how he thought it was acceptable to use prostitutes. I believe he went into more detail. It was clear that although the learner must have appeared to be joining in with the conversation, I suspect body language was not ‘joining in.’ Or of course maybe the daughter proudly told her mum how cool her driving instructor was using prostitutes (not).
You do need to remember who you are talking to. Keep your conversations strictly professional and avoid conversation on sex, religion and politics at all costs.
According to Mindtools, a great way to gain rapport is to subtly mirror your pupils. Match their body language and stance (position). You can even try to match their breathing rate, but a great one I find is to match their energy level. Energy is after all what makes the world go around, and if you’re a particularly high-energy person then you won’t like sitting with a low-energy person and vice versa.
What you wear does count!
First impressions do count. It’s a fact that people judge you in the first few seconds. Pupils must feel comfortable sitting next to you and hairy legs out on show just don’t cut it for rapport. I’ve seen instructors who try to dress like their pupils (yes, a 58-year-old man with a baseball cap on sideways looks like a ****.)
I’ve seen instructors dressing like they are trying to ‘pull’ their pupils not teach them. In our role, rapport is about dressing just a little better than our pupils. As a fleet trainer, I would always wear my suit. When I turned up for a client I never knew if I was going to be taking the managing director out or the store-man. If I turned up and I needed to dress down, I would make an excuse to retrieve something from my car and remove the jacket.
We need to look smart and professional. Those who follow me know it’s no secret how I always used to wear a shirt and tie. This worked so well for me, as I attracted more influential pupils and my lesson rates went up. You don’t necessarily need to wear a tie, but you need to be better dressed than your pupils. A joke at the test centre I once heard:
“How do you tell the pupils from the driving instructors at the test centre?
The pupils are the better dressed ones.”
It was so true!
Think before you speak on social media…
Pupils read social media, their parents read social media and the DVSA read social media. Why do so many instructors use insulting and derogatory comments about pupils. Calling them “numpties,” “wastes of space” and sometimes far worse. I have to ask myself, “what is the rapport like with their pupils?”
Building a rapport with your pupils is easy when you start it right. It’s no more than polite conversation. I am always so jealous of my wife how she instantly gains rapport with people and makes friends so easily. Her secret is a genuine desire to be interested about them, and this can go a long way in driving instruction.
Dave Foster MA, Dip.DI (or Driving School Dave) is the most qualified driving school owner in the country, after completing his Master’s Degree in Driver Training Education in 2011 at Middlesex University. He also holds a diploma in Driving Instruction and is a Cert Ed. qualified teacher. Dave is the founder and Managing Director of 1st 4 Driving Ltd, and also looks after over 15 driving schools across the country on a consultancy basis.