Building relationships that support learning

Key components to consider when building a relationship to facilitate learning are:

  • Collaboration. Jointly determine how learning needs are to be achieved, with both the educator and student having responsibilities in the outcome.
  • Respect – in action. Showing commitment by being available, open to feedback and by following through with agreed-upon actions.
  • Being an effective role model. Your professional behaviour and attitude to learning will directly influence the students. 
  • Flexibility. Tailoring to needs of individual student, as is reasonable.
  • Setting expectations - use of a supervision contract, mechanisms of feedback, support requirements and confidentiality in the relationship.

Communicating Effectively

Effective communication is essential for facilitating student learning, but takes practice and dedicated personal reflection. Communication skills are important to:

  • explain techniques and highlight essential points
  • develop clinical reasoning
  • provide feedback on behaviour
  • encourage a student’s professional growth
  • effectively ask questions to develop the students’ ability to reflect and self evaluate

Strategies to optimise communication include:

Understand the topic or the message that you are communicating

  • Do you understand what you would like to communicate about?
  • Have you thought about it from different perspectives (pros, cons)?

Explain well: identify the key points and communicate them clearly to the receiver

  • Understand the content. Identify and emphasise the key ideas, concepts and principles.
  • Find out what the students already know about the content so you can build on their knowledge and engage the student in deep learning.
  • Structure your explanation and organise the ideas so it is logical. 
    • What do you want to communicate?
    • Who is involved?
    • Where and when is it occurring?
    • How does it work?
    • Why does to work?
    • Why should this happen?
  • Be clear and concise.  Do not talk too fast and use pauses.
  • Make the explanation interesting. Use examples and pauses to emphasise the key points.
  • Monitor for understanding of your explanation (e.g. ask for a summary, pose questions).

Be person-centred

It is important to hear and understand the sender’s message and acknowledge the message and the person. To do this engage in:

  • Understanding – demonstrate that you are willing to explore the other person’s point of view
  • Cultural competence – seek to understand what it means to be in the culture of the person you are communicating with
  • Self-monitor

Be aware of how you are communicating and how successful your communication is.

Use active listening techniques

Active listening is a skill that greatly enhances the efficacy of feedback, reflective practice and facilitation of clinical reasoning. It demands alertness on the part of the listener (Trevithick, 2000 as cited in Health Education & Training Institute, 2012), aiming to understand the intended message as well as the content. Tips to practise active listening include:

  • Allow student time to articulate thoughts.
  • Summarise or paraphrase to ensure understanding.
  • Seek clarification if necessary.
  • Ask questions or give feedback to facilitate learning.
  • Useful active listening reosurce include:

    1. University of Adelaide - Active Listening Learning Guide

 Be professional

  • Show respect for people
  • Being aware of body language: ensure the content matches the way it’s said
  • Minimising distractions and interruptions
  • Provide sound evidence for your decision
  • Work within the code of conduct for your profession

 This video is an interview with a Clinical Education Co-ordinator discussing tips to facilitate the smooth running of a placement including the value of effective communication..


Use briefing and debriefing techniques

Briefing and debriefing can be simple interactions between the supervisor and student and can have long lasting effects on how the clinical placement unfolds. The purpose of briefing is to optimise student learning by addressing student expectations and feelings about new and unfamiliar experiences they are about to undertake (Mackenzie, 2002, p. 83).  Debriefing assists the student to digest the experience and learn from it for future practice.

FACT SHEET: Briefing and Debriefing

Occupational Therapist and Clinical Educator Wendy Szatkowski shares some recommendations for briefing and debriefing with students.


There is a myriad of resources available for learning through reflective practice.  You might find the following resources useful in your practice:



Please Note: References remain valid until superseded by later research. The resources referenced here are regularly reviewed and are considered current and relevant to the topics presented.

  • Health Education and Training Institute (2023). Clinical supervision: The superguide: a handbook for supervising allied health professionals
  • Higgs, J., McAllister, L., & Sefton, A. (2005). Communicating in the health and social sciences. In Communicating in the health and social sciences (1 ed., pp. 3-12). Oxford University Press.
  • Mackenzie, L. (2002). Briefing and debriefing of student fieldwork experiences: Exploring concerns and reflecting on practice. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 49, 82–92.


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