Permission To Be Human

Teachers are humans too!

As professionals an awful lot of teachers want to believe that they are objective, detached and that their thinking about every child in their care is shaped by professional considerations based upon pedagogy, all their training and learning and the desire to support every child to fulfil their potential.

Ahem! Reality check!

Let’s get real teachers. We’re no more or less subjective in the way that our minds work than other mature adults.

Here’s one way that we’ve all either done or certainly heard teachers doing in staff rooms (or might I say even Principals and leadership team members in management meetings! (Shock, horror!)

The Danger of Teacher Nostalgia – Cult of Pedagogy

Another example comes from my reading a few years ago. I wish I could remember or find the source for this. Apparently, there was a training programme going on for a group of around 30 teachers in a Scandinavian country. The teachers were asked to come up with a collective definition of ‘naughtiness’ in a classroom – what constituted bad behaviour? After arriving at a shared definition they were asked to think about who was the naughtiest child in their current class, to write the child’s name on a piece of paper and put it in an envelope.

Then, over the course of a couple of months their classes were monitored and analysed with video and other tools in great detail and all acts by children that fell within the shared definition of naughtiness were noted and recorded. In this way, they were able to rank the children in all the classes for the extent of their naughty behaviour.

So, the the million dollar question – how many of the teachers had the same name in their envelope as appeared at the top of the observed naughtiness lists?

10%, 25%, 50%?

Exactly none of them, 0% had a match in the children’s names.

The researchers concluded that innate subjectivity of teachers and their own personalities mean that some children’s ways of misbehaving were more noticeable and memorable than others. In short, the teachers were nothing like as objective as they thought they were (or wanted to believe they were).

This leads to two critical questions;

a) Does this level of subjectivity matter?
b) If so, what can teachers do about it?

In my view, absolutely this matters and has potential risks that some children are going to get their education potential hampered by the subjective clashes with individual teachers. As to the solution, I believe one of the most valuable tools for a teacher to get more objective is daily journaling – a regular habit in which the teacher records simply the facts of what happened in their classroom, wherever possible avoiding applying their emotions and feelings to it. Regular review of these journal records can enable the teacher to get a more holistic and objective perception of what’s really happening, class dynamics and how their own personality and those of the children are interacting.

For some teachers this may sound like a big investment of time and effort. However, I believe if the habit is built solidly it’s a task that can be carried out quite quickly. The biggest payoff comes at report writing time and the time of parent teacher meetings. All that objectively gathered data enables far better reports to be written in far less time.

Incidentally, i believe this also applies to leaders and the people they work with in terms of being objective about performance and development. Again, the payoff comes at the time of appraisals and performance management feedback sessions. For that, another day, another blog post.

Hold The Chocolate Chip Cookies

The theory and principle behind ‘Ego Depletion’ has been with us quite a long time (close to 20 years). It’s been incredibly powerful and influential, shaping theories related to effective handling of procrastination, losing weight, motivating employees in the workplace, point of sale techniques to get people to buy, classroom management with young children and many other important ideas.

So, to learn that the experiments that led to the development of the theory are now being questioned amid conflict and argument in the world of social psychology is a bit unnerving.

The whole spat is well explained in this article:

Slate – Everything Is Crumbling

Having read Roy Baumeister’s book – Willpower a few years ago my own personal belief is that the issue is more about difficulties in setting up experiments that isolate the single factor being studied. Intuitively, I believe in the idea of a reservoir of willpower that gets drained more or less by certain things. Anyone who’s ever tried to lose weight through modifying their diet can vouch that the slip-ups and failures don’t happen early in the day. They happen later in the day, often catching the vigilant dieter completely off guard. it’s almost as if the harder they try, the greater the risk of failure.

Again, this highlights that as our knowledge in the fields of psychology grows there will be times when there will be setbacks, when routes to new learning turn in to cul de sacs. Nevertheless, this is important work that leads us to better understanding how we as humans can live our best lives.

Exercise for Better Learning

Why deny children regular exercise, when the evidence in favour is so powerful?

I would put particular emphasis here on the word ‘regular’. I get very troubled when i see data or evidence in schools that suggests that the amount of physical activity the children are getting is actually dwindling. Even when they do gt physical exercise, all too often for administrative convenience it’s squeezed in to one weekly session, thereby significantly reducing the benefits.

Here’s a nice, short article that sets out in very simple terms what we know about the benefits of regular physical exrcise. Incidentally, this article isn’t even written to refer to children – it’s just as relevant for us adults!

Fast Company – 3 Reasons Exercise Makes You Smarter

It’s ironic that the volume of curriculum is often given as one of the primary reasons for squeezing out time for recess or PE. As the article highlights, our memories actually work better when we get good regular exercise – which should mean we can learn more in shorter time. Also, in schools there’s a very big factor that isn’t touched upon here. When children are getting good exrcise every day they’re calmer and more focused in the classroom – thereby significantly reducing discipline issues and off-task beaviour.

Not only does this make the classroom a more effective place of learning, but it reduces health risks for the children and makes the classroom a ‘nicer’ more empathic place. It’s really time to rethink the role of the physical body in the school.

Fun in the Classroom

Here’s an interesting follow up to the article I posted a couple of days ago about being prepared to teach ‘outrageous lessons’.

Washington Post Blog on Fun

This piece talks about the proven neurological benefits of fun. There are some interesting follow up comments at the bottom, especially the one about Flow. Incidentally, i can thoroughly recommend the book mentioned there – “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

I remember going through a time when I couldn’t understand how or why some apparently really fun, amusing, entertaining people became so deadly serious and sometimes downright dull when they walked in front of a class of students. Somewhere along the way I realised that one of their biggest fears causing thisa was the fear of losing control – children having fun cannot be ‘controlled’ as rigidly.

I think there is one genuine downside and that is that one child’s fun can be another child’s distraction. There are also all the challenges about children struggling to understand limits and boundaries. However, rather than teachers becoming fun-less deadly serious task masters, the answer lies in balance, variety and teachers having the confidence to know that children in the classroom want boundaries and want to respect them. It’s also vitally important that teachers ensure an atmosphere in which the fun is inclusive, not targeted or aimed at anyone and sensitive.

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