Tuesday 22 July 2014

Driving Instructor or Amateur Psychologist?

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How much can instructors be reasonably expected to understand about the psychology of their pupils?

Following on from my last post about unit 6.4.1. of the NSDRT document we focus on the knowledge and understanding requirements of minimising risk. This segment would have been much more helpful to instructors if it had some some reference materials listed so we could obtain the specialist knowledge required to fulfill the new criteria. I'm sure you'll see what I mean.
   We must know and understand the signs that a learner's fitness may be impaired by alcohol, drugs or prescription medicines. How do we do this? Apart from using your eyes and ears, combined with the gut feeling you get from experience I don't think there's a lot to go on. Pupils are regularly tired, irritable or have other things on their mind which all adversely effect driving performance. When a pupil gives the signs of any of these I ask if they are OK to drive and I suggest we make the lesson less demanding than previously planned. The signs would be more or less the same if a pupil was under the influence of drink or drugs. So what specific signs are we looking for?
   Item b) tells us we must know the signs that a learner may be suffering from a physical or psychological condition making them unfit for the lesson. This includes conditions that the learner may be unaware of or trying to hide. We are not trained doctors, we are driving instructors. How am I supposed to know that a person has a psychological condition they are unaware of? This is not my field of expertise and I find it unfair that these requirements are being imposed on us without any real support. Physical conditions would be easier to spot but you would hope the learner would be aware this and not try to hide it.
   What do you do if you believe a learner is unfit to be trained or has a permanent physical or psychological condition they have not revealed. I would stop the lesson certainly. Other than that I would talk to them as best I could given my skills and experience as a driving instructor. Other than that I don't know where to acquire the specialist knowledge the document seems to hint at.
   Knowing how far you are responsible for the health and safety of yourself and others is somewhat abstract. How far and on what scale? What is the criteria for this. We know we are sharing responsibility so we're not 100% responsible. How far is too far or not enough? This item doesn't make sense to me.
   Knowing what action we can take and how to use dual controls brings us back into the real world. I expect we all know how to use dual controls and move the steering wheel etc. They're the basics of our everyday working lives. I've had a problem with a small number of clients when it comes to feedback on risk-related issues provoking a fear based response. Some learners and their parents just don't want to know about real life and expect to drive around as if in a huge ball of protective cotton wool. This is unacceptable. We've got to make people aware of the risk or we are not doing our jobs properly. If you're old enough to drive then you're old enough to deal with the issues around driving I say.
   Once I encountered deliberate behaviour that placed us at risk. A disturbed young man aimed the car at a lamp post before swearing at me. Don't know why he did it. He just exploded in rage. I kept calm, drove him home and made sure we were all square money wise. I bade him goodbye and left. That's all you can do really. We must demonstrate consistent attitudes ourselves so when we do say something of a serious nature it is not taken as being frivolous. I've enjoyed writing this post. I feel I've got a lot off my chest.


Thursday 17 July 2014

Managing Risk on Driving Lessons

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Maintain Command of the on-road environment.

I was going to write about the unit on teaching in groups but that stuff just isn't for me. I find it all a bit uncomfortable to be honest and wouldn't be in a position to comment. Much more appealing to me is unit 6.4.1. which is all about Managing the on-road environment to minimise risk. A subject dear to all our hearts or we wouldn't even be here.
   In the performance standards column we find we must be able to take reasonable steps to make sure that the learner is fit to take the lesson and what to do if they aren't. You'd think that learners would not go out on Friday if they have a lesson on Saturday morning but with some this is not the case. You can tell as soon as they start moving the seat and setting up that something isn't right. I keep a close eye on things and usually it all becomes obvious very quickly. Recently I asked a pupil what time he'd been up drinking til and it was 4.00am. Lesson is at 8.30 so probably over the limit. Time to end the lesson there before we set off and get into trouble. Perhaps driving instructors should be able to legally breathalyse pupils if they suspect that they are under the influence of alcohol? Red eyes and wavy steering is probably cannabis as it was one Saturday morning. 3 hours of sleep and plenty of joints the night before is not good prep for a driving lesson. I always let them know they will have to pay for the lesson as I drive them home.
   Making sure a learner understands how you will share responsibility for the safety of themselves, the instructor and other road users is a tricky one,. It all depends what stage they are at and the subject being taught. The level of responsibility shared with the learner could go up and down depending on the environment and experience of the subject. As the learner gains in competence they will take on a greater share until they eventually reach total responsibility upon passing the test. Too much responsibility too soon can be detrimental to the learning process whereas too little too late can lead to a sense of stagnation and boredom. Sometimes leading to the pupil finding another instructor.
   Clear instructions and directions are the very basics of the job and I don't think many instructors would have difficulty with this. I like to become a bit less formal if I've got to know a pupil but I like to maintain clarity. Explaining when we may jump in with instructions or helping with the controls is good to explain just before the first move off. It goes a long way to helping the learner feel safe. 
  Staying one step ahead of the learner is paramount so we need to scan the environment for hazards and keep the other eye on what the pupil is doing and providing training inputs at the same time. No wonder it's a tiring day. This can all be done with ease after a few years of experience. Because we are so alert and on it we can take timely action when there is a hazard that the learner is not aware of. Simply bringing it to their attention should be enough. Physical intervention or talk through will be required when we encounter a hazard that the pupil does not know how to deal with.
   We need to take a client-centred approach to all this so the pupil is better equipped to deal with the hazards independently should they crop up again. If the learner becomes unfit to drive then timely action is required. I ask the pupil if they are ok and invite them to end the lesson themselves if they feel they can't go on. It's not often this happens but the learner has always communicated a sense of relief knowing they can stop when they want. The requirement to record specific details of situations and the risks that arise occurs more in fleet training I find. The assessment form should record such details to present to the company and to help the driver to deal with the hazards safely in the future. More next time.


Wednesday 9 July 2014

The Coach Has Arrived

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It's the one we've all been waiting for!

I've been looking forward to this particular unit of the National standard for driver and rider training. 6.3.1 deals with the subject of coaching which is the most important single element of the new approach for my mind. Funnily enough this unit is a lot shorter than some of the others which didn't seem to be dealing with much. Let's take a look.
   Driving instructors must be able to listen when the learner tells us about the obstacles they experience that prevent them from applying  practical driving skills and understanding the theory. I find that this takes a bit more than listening. Sometimes a little bit of questioning is required to find the obstacles. Often the learners themselves do not know where the obstacles are coming from. I recently had a pupil trying to drive through red lights and never knew what the speed limit was. After a question and answer session it turns out he used to ride a motorbike and that's the reason that he stares at the road surface. He is so used to looking for potholes and things as you do on a bike. Once the problem is brought into awareness then we are in a position to put things right.
  Sometimes learners are embarrassed to say what the problem is. Pupils who have been involved in a crash which has left them feeling nervous seem loath to admit it. This happened recently with a pupil of mine who burst into tears recounting the crash. When she saw there was no ridicule or judgement coming from me then she calmed down and the driving improved. Pupils who have difficulty reading may not wish to admit it which can lead to problems passing the theory test. Simply listening without judgement can be the most powerful way to help learners overcome obstacles.
   Working with the learner is the main thrust of coaching rather than just telling them things. We need to help them reflect on their experience of the lessons. How our feedback is helping them or not and also the feedback of other training providers. If the pupil feels that a previous instructor has been unduly harsh or critical it can be a problem. The instructor may not have been harsh but if the learner thinks they were then that is what makes the obstacle. I find feedback must contain at least a couple of positives even if the actual driving performance on the lesson was poor. Parents can also give unguarded criticism which can destroy confidence. Again, talking it through seems to work wonders.
   Some pupils are reluctant to take ownership of their learning and actively want the instructor to be in charge right up to the test. I tell my pupils I am teaching them to be independent and the worst thing an instructor can do is make a learner reliant on them. As soon as they are ready we've got to transfer the responsibility. Not forgetting that at all times we are responsible for the safety of ourselves, learners and other road users.
  When it comes to formal assessment I take it this means the driving test. I always agree with the pupil when it's time to book it. I never recommend me going out on the test with them. It's not something I enjoy but I let the pupil know I will go out if they want me to. It's mostly people from overseas who want me out on the test it seems. After the test we need to help the learner reflect on the outcome. This is more important if they failed so we know what needs to be done in order to pass next time. A high degree of positivity is needed so they don't give up altogether. Most instructors will already be practising the recommendations in this module I would say. Next up is the unit all about group based learning. Not something I've ever done but worth a look nonetheless.


Sunday 6 July 2014

Lets Have a Demonstration!

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Demonstrations are an important part of driver training.

In unit 6.3.2. of the National standard for driver and rider training we look how to explain and demonstrate skills and techniques. This unit will seem familiar to most driving instructors who do this sort of thing every day. Like most instructors I mainly give demonstrations when it comes to manoeuvres or junctions unless I think there's a need to demonstrate on another subject. I find pupils are reluctant to request a demonstration so I always tell them I'm happy to demonstrate anything they want if they think it will help.
   \Regarding the performance standards of this unit we must be able to select suitable locations for a demonstration. Pretty easy if it's a manoeuvre. The suitability of a location would seem to be obvious. If you want to demonstrate roundabouts then it will have to be where the roundabouts are. However the difficulty level of the location must be taken into account. What may be manageable for the instructor may be too demanding for the pupil.
   We must provide timely and appropriate explanations and demonstrations of the required skills. Most of the time this is simply talking yourself through the subject while you put it into practice in front of the pupil. Sometimes it pays to perform the skill a little slower than if it was a natural drive to allow for a clearer talk through. I like to do one with just me talking and then see if the learner has any questions. I'll then do a second demonstration based on what has been asked. That way it's not just me showing off that I can do it.
   We must make sure that the learner understands any theory that links to the demonstration. I find the best time to demo something is right after a briefing with a diagram. That way the info is still fresh in the pupil's mind. After the demo we need to make sure that learners have enough opportunity to practice. No point doing a demonstration at the end of the lesson. As the learner practices we need to give feedback. This is a more straightforward unit as the vast majority of driving instructors will be putting these things into practice anyway.
   Where possible we need to be able to encourage learners to practice in a structured way outside of lessons during private practice. To facilitate this I made videos which can be watched on You Tube. Each video contains an explanation and a demonstration for that particular topic. That way learners can remind themselves in between lessons. parents and other accompanying drivers can also check that they are teaching the right stuff. Next time we will be looking at the element on coaching. Should prove interesting.